Kids invest an enormous amount of time and energy trying to become better athletes. Practice time is filled with drills intended to make them better players, stick-handlers, golfers, etc., with many players electing to get specialized athletic training to hone their physical skills.
What are players doing to prepare themselves to improve their mental strength? It is a generally accepted premise that as the level of competition increases, what dictates an athlete’s ability to perform at a higher level is stronger mental preparation. Yet as important as mental preparation is to athletic performance, the skills associated with this type of preparation are rarely addressed in youth athletics. Virtually all the emphasis is placed on the physical skills such as skating, shooting, golf swing, or the physical skill of the sport the athlete plays.
In most cases, players, parents and coaches don’t address the area of mental performance unless a problem arises, such as:
• An athlete loses their cool and acts in an out-of-control manner resulting in severe consequences to the team and the individual.
• A highly-skilled athlete underachieves, leaving those that recognize his or her physical abilities wondering what might be going on.
• The joy of the game fades away without any visible reason and the player simply decides the game is no longer fun and quits.
To mentally and physically engage in the game without any emotional interference allows an athlete to perform at their highest level of competency.
All of these are signs of a player that is lacking in proper mental preparation. So, what does it mean to be a mentally prepared athlete? I define it as the ability to mentally and physically engage in the game without any emotional or mental interference, allowing an athlete to perform consistently with, or at times above their level of competency. In this issue we will introduce the first in a series of skills that will help young players to develop mentally. In the future, we will also introduce information for parents to help them understand how their actions and attitudes can support their child’s activities and help to build self-confidence. We will also invite questions and comments from players, parents and coaches relating to the mental aspects of youth athletics. Ultimately, mental skills can be applied to enhancing competitive behavior of young athletes to improve their levels of satisfaction and self-esteem, while decreasing self-defeating behavior. Our first thought skill is called Framing. As individuals interact with the daily events of their lives, they interpret it through a mental frame of their own making. These mental frames either result in positive or negative feelings about events that occur. For example, a hockey player attempts a difficult pass to a teammate that does not connect, resulting in a scoring chance for the opposition. In a situation like this, a young player may create negative mental frames that make it difficult for the player to perform. This thought process is self-sabotaging and, in the case of the player above, may result in the player being afraid to attempt passes that are considered “high risk”. With proper training, players can learn to overcome mental obstacles by developing an ability to “reframe” events during the course of a game, resulting in greater confidence and ability to overcome mistakes. When players learn to positively frame things that happen during the course of the game, they effectively manage the ups and downs adversity brings. An accomplished athlete recently commented to me that he has played with more confidence because he feels stronger mentally because of this framing skill.
Shaun Goodsell earned a Masters degree in counseling psychology from the Alfred Adler Institute and has developed a sports performance enhancement business called The Mental Edge, located in several metro locations. He has worked with many top hockey players and other athletes at the youth, high school and collegiate level.