Have you ever experienced or knows of someone who has AMAZING POTENTIAL in their sport? They are so physically capable and strong but there is something in the way of them performing well… this is a primary sign that the athlete’s mental game may be getting in their way.
Imagine a scenario with me… You are at a baseball game, last inning, tied game, bases loaded, 2 outs, and your child is headed up to bat. The good news is that he is one of the best hitters on the team and knows how to hit the ball well. Unfortunately, as he approaches the plate, he starts hearing that voice inside his head saying “you have to hit the ball or else the team will lose and it will be your fault”. He becomes tense, overthinks, and loses focus. In a moment, all of the hard work and investment in training including time, energy, and money is sabotaged by his mind.
You cannot separate the mental from the physical when it comes to performance. For an athlete to perform their best they MUST train their physical AND mental game skills. As a Mental Performance Coach, I help athletes by identifying mental game strengths and weaknesses. Through assessments, learning modules, and private coaching my athletes learn how to overcome fears and limiting beliefs so they can increase confidence, improve performance, and have more fun playing the sport they love.
Today, I want to share with you one of the core lessons I teach my athletes: THE MENTAL GAME PLAN FOR SUCCESS which includes 3 strategies. For each strategy, I will share current challenges that hold athletes back and what they can do instead.
3 Strategies of The Mental Game Plan for Success
The 1st strategy is CONFIDENCE.
Yes, this is a mental game skill which means that it can be improved with the right tools. When it comes to confidence with athletes there are 2 big challenges.
#1) The first challenge is that athletes allow their confidence to be dictated by their circumstances.
Think about how your athlete prepares their confidence. Before a tryout, they are looking around at everyone else and their talent to decide how confident they will be. Going into a game they assess their chance of playing well based on how good the other team is or how prior games have gone. They say things like “this umpire is really tough so it probably won’t be a fair game.” “This team is really good so it will be tough for us to win” “The kids on this team are really big so it will be hard for me to get a hit”. They are deciding if they have reasons to be confident or if they will doubt themselves based on the situations they are in.
#2) The 2nd challenge for athletes to create solid confidence is that they assess their performance based on a standard of perfection.
Think about the comments you hear after a game? You ask “how was the game” what do they say? I struck out twice. I made an error… They are evaluating their performance based on the things going wrong. This causes them to lose their ability to see progress. Instead of noticing that they played amazing defense or that even though they got out they hit the ball harder than they ever have before they are focusing on the 1 thing they did wrong. The standard is perfect so they are often disappointed.
>>>BTW if your athlete experiences rollercoaster emotions this is a big reason why. They go from feeling on top of the world to the next day throwing their bag in the car and completely silent.
Solution: In my coaching program I not only teach athletes what confidence is but I give them tools to build it. When they go to practices and games they know exactly what to do to create confidence that is consistent no matter how they play that day. The main thing I teach them when it comes to building confidence is to focus on the things they are doing well.
One of my softball clients Hailey really struggled with this. She went into each game so tense because she was worried about letting her coach and teammates down. After working with me for a few months she said one of the most important lessons she learned was becoming more confident. She learned to not worry about the people behind the fence and that was the thing she needed to take her performance to a totally different level!
One very simple way that you as a parent can help your child build confidence is by simply changing the way you check in with them. Instead of asking “how was practice” “how was the game” ask “what are 2 things you felt you did well today? This helps them shift their focus to progress and the good things that are happening so they can look for more good. This is a way for them to feel supported by you without you having to worry about putting extra pressure on them.
The 2nd strategy is Focus
Again, this is a mental game skill which means it can be improved with the right tools!
The biggest challenge for athletes when it comes to focus is they are paying attention to the wrong things.
Challenge #1 focusing on the past or future
“I have to get this out to make up for the one I missed earlier.” They are about to pitch and are thinking, “I can’t let them get a hit or I will lose the game for my team.” “If I don’t play well today, my coach will move me down the lineup.” They are thinking about what happened in the last mistake, game, practice, or in the warmup. They focus on how what they are about to do will impact the score and chance of winning. They are totally distracted and not in the moment.
Challenge #2 Focusing on what they do not want to do.
If they are focused in the moment, they are paying attention to what they don’t want to do… They are going up to bat thinking, “don’t strike out”! On defense, they focus on “Don’t mess up!” Instead of being present in the moment and focusing on playing well, they think, “Don’t let my team/coach/parents down.”
SOLUTION: The secret to mastering focus is to pay attention to things that are helpful, relevant to what they are doing in the moment, and do not feel like pressure. Some examples include – Swing hard. Be decisive. Say active. Eye on the ball. What can they focus on that is helpful to playing well in the moment and does not put unnecessary pressure on them?
As a parent, an easy way that you can help your child improve their focus is to ask the question “Is that helpful?” My clients know this is a coined Mandy Patterson phrase that I say ALL THE TIME! This not only gives you the opportunity to help your child identify things they are focusing on that are distracting them but it helps them become aware of their thoughts. This is a HUGE life skill!
The 3rd strategy: HAVE FUN!!!
Guess what happens when athletes play with unnecessary pressure and are focused on the negative? They lose their ability to enjoy what they are doing. That brings us to the 3rd objective. Have fun! I know I know, but this is high school. College is right around the corner and there is a scholarship on the line. They have played for 5, 10+ years and are so talented and deserve to be the best. They have so much potential!
I get it, but I have to share something with you … athletes who are so focused on grinding to be the best and refuse to accept anything less than perfect are the ones who burn out.
SOLUTION: It is amazing to me how many of the high school (and even middle school) athletes I speak with do not have an answer when you ask what they enjoy about their sport. It’s not that they have to enjoy every second of hard practices or conditioning, but it is important that they know why they are playing so they can push through the tough times and setbacks. They have forgotten why they started playing in the first place and have gotten lost in the grind. They need to know why it is important to play that is specific to them, not just to make everyone else happy.
One of my 11-year-old baseball players, Cody, was really struggling with being too hard on himself while he played. He was so tense because he was afraid that he was going to mess up and not play perfectly. The tension was causing him to make more mistakes in the game because he wasn’t free to react in the moment. The transformation I saw in him as he progressed through my A-Game Athlete Program made my heart so happy!
While working 1-on-1 with me he said, “I am happier with what I do. I feel like I can be satisfied with what I did well in the game instead of dwelling on the bad. Knowing it was ok to make mistakes allowed him to get back to enjoying his sport again!”
Parents, discuss this with your child and be curious about their responses. P.S. Curiousity is the secret to mastering conversations with your child. Check out my last blog: THE SECRET TO ENCOURAGING YOUR CHILD IN SPORTS by visiting mgpcoach.com/encouragementsecret to read the full article.
Mastering these 3 tips is the key to achieving success in sports.
Through my own experience as a competitive collegiate athlete and as a gymnastics/cheer/tumbling coach for over a decade who has helped countless athletes overcome setbacks and fears, I know with absolute certainty that the mental game is crucial to success. All of the physical training athletes spend so much time developing, and the extra coaching parents invest in is only as good as the strength of the athletes mindset.
With my certification through the Mental Game Coaching Professional Program and the experience of more than 30 years of research, I now dedicate my life to teaching mental game skills to athletes so they can reach their full potential.
I love hearing stories from my clients who say that not only did they see progress in their sport but they noticed a positive change in other areas of their lives as well.
“I learned tools to reducing my anxiety not just for my sport but for high school in general. I never thought i could ever enjoy my sport again but I am now!” – Mind Over Mental Block Client, 15-year-old competitive cheerleader
If you want to learn more and see if Mental Coaching is right for you or your child, I invite you to schedule a 30-minute no-cost Performance Check Session.
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