Athletic performance is not just about the physical. Mental skill training is incredibly important in helping athletes deal with the stresses that come about from sports and can make or break an athlete during a competition. With proper mental training, physical skill will come out with more consistency.
There are a variety of tools available to allow athletes to manage their stress and direct their focus on their performance. These tools come in the form of guidelines, which are outlined below.
Use Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards
Coaches have a unique motivator in their arsenal—rewards. Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards help athletes keep dedication, motivation, and a desire to learn.
Intrinsic rewards are those that players experience within. These rewards include things such as praise and encouragement. While these are intrinsic, because they cannot be touched or quantified, they are some of the most influential rewards you can offer a player.
Extrinsic rewards include things that are physical or otherwise quantifiable, such as plaques, preferential treatment in practices and competitions, or medals. These rewards are seeable and touchable and often are more effective for entire teams than individual players.
Rewards can enhance motivation and learning, but they can also cause a rift to develop among your players, so you must learn to use these rewards appropriately. Intrinsic rewards should be used to encourage players as they work and to recognize their initiative and drive.
When some players stand out for their desire to improve, their dedication, and their significant work ethic, intrinsic rewards are a great way to help those players keep up the good work. It also shows fellow players that you recognize and appreciate hard work in your players.
Extrinsic rewards are more appropriate for serious achievements and consistent work. If a player is the highest performer for the season, they deserve a certificate, medal, or plaque. If the team wins an important championship, they deserve some sort of physical reward.
Smaller extrinsic rewards, such as leading warm-up or receiving extra playing time, help players stay motivated throughout the season. It also encourages them to pay attention to the players who are receiving these rewards and learn from them.
Learn to Manage Stress
Stress management helps players keep their focus on the practice or competition instead of on the things that are weighing them down. When you notice a player buckling under stress, work with them to understand effective techniques. Encourage players to try any of the following to help deal with stress:
As their coach, you should be prepared to talk with players about the stress they face. Most of the time, the stress will come from the sport, but often times players will bring in outside stress and let it affect their playing. It is your job to work with them to leave those issues behind when they come into practice so that practice can be a place for them to excel without stress or anxiety.
Work to calm your players when you know their stress comes from the sport. Encourage them to look at their good qualities and to work objectively on their weaker areas. Offer to help them improve and give them praise where appropriate.
Believe in Yourself
Self-confidence comes from feeling good about yourself and about what you are doing, and coaches have a big part in developing an athlete’s self-confidence. Coaches must realize that everything they say and do is noticed by athletes and mentally catalogued. To keep yourself from mistakenly knocking a player down, keep a watch on your mouth and your body language.
To help build up players’ self-confidence, recognize their strengths in front of others. By praising them in front of the team, you show that not only do you recognize their good qualities, but also that you are willing to tell others about them as well. To keep this fair, make an effort to recognize everyone equally. While their strengths are bound to differ, your treatment of them should not.
Other good mental skills to build self-confidence include:
Develop a Mental Game Plan
Everyone should have a game plan for competition. When a player consistently gets nervous in front of a crowd or gets psyched out after making a mistake, a contingency plan can help them get back on track and forget the earlier problem.
Each player should have a contingency plan that includes the following:
Plans for errors during the competition
Avoiding competitive stress
Pregame preparation should be a routine that the player chooses that helps them focus and calm themselves before the game. For some players, this includes listening to music or meditating. For some, it involves warm-up drills or visualization. Help your players identify what gets them prepared, focused, and confident, and work with them to create a routine that prepares them for the game.
Errors are going to occur during competition, but the players that have a plan for getting back on track are more likely to bounce back and succeed. Sit down with players to find out what motivates them after they make a mistake.
With that knowledge, help them devise a strategy for dealing mentally with errors that happen during the game. Perhaps they should take a few seconds to say silent affirmations, such as “I am good, I am worthy, I can do this,” or maybe they should visualize making their next play perfect. Whatever works for players is the right contingency plan.
Finally, help players avoid competitive stress by talking it out. Explain what players should expect during every game. Work with them to channel their nerves into power.
Nerves are a natural part of competition, but those players who learn to control those butterflies in the stomach are the ones who come out as winners. Teach players to take deep breaths, focus on one thing at a time, and believe in themselves. With that plan, competitive stress becomes an asset, not a liability.
Boosting Focus and Concentration
Concentration in the game is an essential part of staying competitive and successful. Helping the team develop concentration is a great way to build unity and help everyone see that what they do affects their teammates.
Try these attention control strategies to help prepare your team for their next big game: