Is Your Coach Supporting Your Mental Game?

Let me start this article with a few observations about sport coaching and mental training. First, I believe that great sport coaches are also great intuitive psychologists.

They may not have the fancy degrees, but through experience and self-education (and sometimes formal education), capable coaches develop a deep understanding of the importance of the mind in sport and develop ways to train the minds of their athletes to prepare them to perform their best and achieve their competitive goals.

Some studies have been made and the results showed that 99, 9% of sport coaches believe in the impact that the mind can have on sport performance. There is no doubt in my mind they do what they can to nurture the mental development of their athletes as much as they can.

Despite this interest in mental side of sport, the problem has been that even the best coaches struggle to offer their athletes the kinds of opportunities to develop themselves mentally as they do in the other areas that influence performance. A major goal of mine is to find ways to help coaches provide substantive mental training to their athletes.

Other scenario is that youth sport programs struggle to provide their athletes with mental training that matches the sophistication and quality of their conditioning and on-field training. Some programs bring in sport psychologists or mental trainers periodically to fill in this gap, but can you imagine having athletes do conditioning or on-snow training only once in a while? Of course not. Though there is some value to having occasional exposure to mental training, the benefits are obviously limited. As I noted in a previous article, effective athlete development programs, whether for conditioning, technique/tactics, or mental, require them to be comprehensive, structured, and consistent.

To their credit, some youth sport programs around the U.S. and other parts of the world have hired part-time or full-time mental trainers, but the challenges are many including finding qualified people with experience in and a real understanding of sport and, of course, budgetary limitations.

I have found four primary reasons why sport coaches don’t do mental training the way they would like with their athletes.

Few Resources to Learn From

As we all know, gaining knowledge by trial and error isn’t a very effective or efficient way to learn anything. Coaches certainly wouldn’t use this approach with conditioning or technical work. Yet, that is the way most sport coaches learn about mental training. There have simply not been any structured means by which they could gain not only clear and understandable information about mental training, but, more importantly, useful and practical tools that they could apply with their athletes on and off the field.

No Program to Follow

Compare mental training to physical or technical training. Every national team on down to the development programs that feed them have clearly defined conditioning protocols and technical progressions they use with their athletes. Moreover, these structures are woven into the fabric of their overall athlete development regimens. Additionally, the internet offers a plethora of conditioning programs that can guide coaches in the creation of effective physical training programs.

Though there is also a wealth of information online about mental training, coaches would be hard pressed to take that information and apply it in a organized and practical way with their athletes. Information is one thing, useable programs are another.

Coaches could watch conditioning videos on YouTube and create a decent conditioning program, but, because the mental side of sport lacks the same concreteness, doing the same for mental training is unlikely. I have searched the internet and found no freely available (or even paid) programs that coaches could use to guide their mental training with their athletes.

Not a Programmatic Priority

Another major obstacle to implementing an effective mental training regimen is that it just isn’t a priority in many sports programs. Running  youth sport program takes energy, time, and money. Moreover, all three are in limited supply. Effective mental training requires a commitment from the leadership of a sports program to allocate sufficient resources to create and maintain a viable program.

Unfortunately, in the real world of limited budgets, teams have to prioritize what they are going to offer their athletes. And, however important mental training is professed to be, it is always the last thing to be considered and the first thing to be dropped. Without programmatic support, as expressed in professional development education, money, staffing, and scheduling, it’s not surprising that coaches don’t integrate it into their overall training with their athletes.

Time!

Time (or lack thereof) is the single biggest obstacle for coaches in making mental training an integral part of athlete development in our sport. Sport coaches are some of the busiest people I know, trying to juggle many responsibilities that include training and competition planning and scheduling, travel, equipment, athlete management, and dealing with parents, not to mention the actual coaching of the athletes, both on and off the field. And that doesn’t even include having some semblance of balance in their lives that keeps them from going crazy.

Without moral and logistical support from their team’s leadership (as just mentioned), there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day for coaches to squeeze mental training in (though there actually is).

Though I can’t provide a comprehensive mental training program in a series of articles, I will devote the next few articles to giving you a few simple, practical, and time-efficient tools you can use this fall to get your mental training rolling.

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