Taking a team through a mental training program can be a difficult task even for the best of coaches. Coaching mental skills is as important as coaching technical and tactical skills. Especially when your opponents skills are similar to your athletes abilities.
Coaching Mental Skills Elements
The first time you meet with your team is a good time to discuss goals as a group. If you like, you could also ask the question before you meet so that your athletes can give it some thought prior to getting together.
Some questions to get the discussion going:
- what are dream goals?
- who can have them?
- what are the limits? (there should be a few)
- who controls the limits?
- how can dream goals affect performance?
When you begin coaching mental skills, have the team work on setting goals as a group while making notes of personal goals during the process. Be sure to address each athlete at least one time during the session to ensure they are on the right track. You may want to have athletes work individually on their physical, mental and technical performance plan as these exercises require some deep honest reflection about their own abilities and skill levels.
The Dream Goals can be established in one session although may take some time as athletes reflect. This type of exercise is best done during the off season or preparation phase in order to be more focused on the season as it approaches.
Be sure that the athletes do not complete this activity at the same time as the Dream Goals. It may be very easy for athletes to get confused with the time frame.
The idea for discussing pre-season Goals is similar to the dream goals although more short-term. The average pre-season consists of only 2-3 months before the first competition so the planning must be done specifically to that time frame. The emphasis may be more on specific technical, mental aspects and physical components as they prepare for the upcoming season.
These goals are just as important as the Pre-Season and Dream Goals though are more directed toward the season at hand. The athletes will be working through games, practices and individual work-outs to achieve these goals. It is important to focus on the current season only.
Refining the technical and mental performance and maintaining the physical performance will generally be the focus during the season or competitive phase. Try to remember that everything does not need to be accomplished in one season. It is better to be good at one skill than to be average at a lot of skills.
We as coaches know how important communication is in all aspects of life, not just in sport. We are also aware that a large percentage of a young persons influence if participating in sports is from the coach. For this reason, we have the opportunity to teach athletes not only how to compete but also how to relate to other people which we do every day.
Self – Talk
I have spent may hours watching athletes talk themselves out of participating and even out of a sport that they have always loved as a result of negative discussions that they have in their heads. I have also watched players talk themselves back into a game after a “huge” error.
Have athletes work on this skill individually. This is where they are going to start getting to know themselves emotionally so they need to feel safe enough to be honest. If you are working on this as a group, there maybe some nervous laughter and disruption as a result of initially feeling uncomfortable. It is important to allow athletes to go through their feelings providing it does not affect the groups progress. Perhaps filter around the group offering assistance and reminding each player how we all need to start somewhere.
Coaching mental skills is also about being mentally prepared as a coach. As an experiment you might allow the participants to write what they think you are saying to yourself during competitions. This will promote an open environment which promotes open communication.
Relaxation is the quickest and easiest way to get back on track after something happens during training or competition. By recommending the athlete simply taking a breath, you will be able to physically see the tension leave their body. Have athletes find opportunities during training and less important competitions so they are ready when it is needed the most.
Concentration / Focusing
Work as a group or in small groups for this skill. It can be difficult due to the technical focus that we generally have in sports. Although we are aware that concentration is required in all aspects of sport, rarely do we actually discuss where, why, and how to do it.
This exercise promotes awareness as well as assists athletes in determining their weaknesses in competitive situations. Part of coaching mental skills is promoting self direction in your athletes.
You may want to separate the concentration exercises depending on the age group of your athletes and the experience level. Younger athletes (15 years and younger) typically have a more difficult time compared to older athletes who may be more focused or able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
You may also find the exercises more effective if you physically go through each one with the group letting them know when to blink etc. Ask the participants to experiment and practice with these tools in daily situations and then at practices and games.
Cue’s and Cue Words
In the earlier exercises for Self-Talk, the athletes learned about talking to themselves and how it can effect their performance. Cues and Cue Words are similar but is set up to only have one word that means a lot of words.
You may then want to work as a group or in smaller groups for the exercises on page 42 and then have them work individually on the next page. When this portion of the workbook is completed, the participants will have a bank of words to draw from in all situations during competition.
We are what we see… aren’t we? This mental training tool can effect all aspects of your athletes progress. It can be used for goal setting and all of the active pursuits of improvement. Visualization compares to watching a movie and the same thing applies, we can decide what we watch in the movie if we chose.
As with the concentration exercises, you may want to separate the exercises in order to alleviate any desire to rush through them.
After going through the visualization exercises, have the athletes complete the practice and competition exercises individually. You may want to divide this portion of the workbook over 2 or 3 sessions to allow for discussion on each item.
Ideal Performance State
Now is the time for your athletes to find out what psychological and emotional state works best for them during competition. We are familiar with what is often referred to as “the zone” or “flow” of an athlete when he or she is in her perfect state where nothing can distract them during competition. They are playing the game at their fullest potential with even trying. This is generally when any participant enjoys the game the most.
The first part of this section is to be filled out individually. Have the players do their best to recall their best performances and recording to the best of their ability what happened for them physically, mentally and technically.
In your first competition, be it an exhibition game, remind your players at some point to do a self-check to make note of their emotions, mental focus and physical feelings. Be sure that they fill out the form after the competition to be as close to the feelings as possible for an accurate account. It should take only 5 to 10 minutes as they are only concerned with the “first competition” sheet and no others.
Have the athletes follow the process for the next four games and record the results after each game as they did after their first competition. While you are observing and making “mental” notes about the exhibition games, be aware of what you see in their faces and actions during different situations. How do they react to stress? Are they calm? Can they “shake it off”?
After five games, at a practice before the regular season starts, have them take the time to fill out the “Calculate your I.P.S.” sheet in its entirety. Taa Daaaaaaa. There you have it, each athlete now has an ideal as to where his/her ideal performance state is and will have plans to make as to how to attain that state before regular competition begins. This is a big part of coaching mental skills where your athletes will begin to develop skills to maintain their ideal performance state.
Keep in mind though that things are changing all the time and nothing is set in stone. There may be a time when the participants don’t think that their calculation is applicable any longer. That is when it is time to re-evaluate.
Planning Your I.P.S.
This exercise may be completed individually or as a group. Have your athletes determine how they are going to get to their ideal performance state as they calculated in the last session. This will be frequently referred to as they are preparing for competition during the regular season.
Be sure to remind the athletes that everyone has their own way of preparing and that there is no right or wrong way to achieve this task. Each athlete should also respect each others’ process and not in any way interfere with anyone’s progress.
Have the participants fill out the next 5 sheets on their own and go over them with each athlete individually in debriefing sessions. The forms are self-explanatory and should not be difficult to complete. Be sure to let the athletes know that you are available to answer any questions if anyone is having any difficulty.
Use the debriefing sessions to find out how the players on your team found the work book and how they are going to put all these great tools to work in the future. If some athletes think the whole program is kind of cheesy, well, that’s their opinion and no one can take that away from them. They may be surprised though how much it actually comes in handy and how they will find themselves actually using the tools.
This section of the workbook is perfect for daily planning for progress. The players will refer to their goal setting worksheets to set up their plans together with their practices, games and tournaments. This is a way to put the whole year including the post season in a picture. Most of the organization sheets will be fairly easy to fill out using their performance plans.
This part of the athletes workbook is personal. It is therefore self explanatory that the only area yo may be involved in for this section is the reinforcement of how important it is.
Congratulations to you and your athletes on selecting this type of detailed and commitment-oriented training. And congratulations to you for beginning the process of coaching mental skills. I would like to wish you all the best in your season and ask that you contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback or if you have any questions regarding any aspect of the workbook. Thank you for beginning your journey in coaching mental skills. You are providing tools that your athletes will use for more than just sport.