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Parents as the Sport Psych Coach: What's Your Role?
A somewhat hidden area to improve an athlete's performance is mental training. Every athlete who is committed to a sport wants to get better and become a champion. Looking at professional and elite athletes, many times you can find a connection to their success and sport psychology. Athletes at the college and professional levels have access to mental training coaches to help them cope with pressure, stress, improve confidence and focus, and much, much more. So what can you do as a parent, without a mental training background, to help teach your athlete how to have a championship mindset and strong mental toughness?
Parents can be proactive in explaining the mental aspects of their child's sport. Don't wait until your child has a specific psychological barrier or issue in their game. Give examples of when mental training can come into play: a basketball player bouncing back after missing free throws, staying focused when fans are cheering or the crowd is heckling, keeping composure when the pressure is high, staying motivated during days when you're not at your best. There are so many places you can show your athlete sport psychology skills whether through hypothetical situations, real-time plays during a siblings sport or at a live sporting event, and even in the media coverage of professional events on TV. Examples are everywhere.
Many athletes don't realize how every situation can be a possible resource to developing their mental skills. Show your child how you handle barriers and obstacles. And then bonus, talk it over with them after it happens. Don't assume they are picking up on how you used a skill to readjust your attitude or motivation. Driving in Nashville during rush hours may alone give you ample opportunity to show how to keep your composure when things out of your control affect you.
The best way for athletes to buy into mental training is when they actually experience its power firsthand. When a challenge arises for your child that gives them an opportunity to be frustrated, point out how they are being tested. Their determination, perseverance, patience, and even their will to win are all being tested. In those moments, how can they help themselves succeed? What can they let go of that is out of their control? What aspect makes it the most challenging? Once they determine a game plan, ask them what strategies worked and how can they use this knowledge of themselves in the future to deal with similar issues? This reflection can't just happen once. Learning these skills takes time. Keep in mind, your son or daughter may lack some understanding at your questioning during times of high-stress. Wait until you can really have the conversation. If you teach your athlete how to handle obstacles, mistakes, setbacks, etc., imagine how well equipped they'll be in the future in college, in their career, in the un-forgiving real world? They will have a better shot at coming up with strategies in advance for stressful situations. They will be able to handle anything thrown their way.
Rather than getting frustrated or worried after setbacks, mentally tough athletes are able to grind it out, finish strong, and perform with confidence. They are able to cope with distractions and focus on successfully executing each play. Physical talent does not guarantee success. Any elite athlete will agree. It's important to introduce your athlete to sport psychology and show them the benefits of having a strong mental game. Remind them that they are not dysfunctional or broken if they decide to work on their mental skills. They're smart to take advantage of every resource to get a one-up on the competition.
By instilling confidence, composure, focus, consistency, and mental toughness, athletes are able to take their game to the next level. Contact Coach Abbi if your athlete wants a complimentary session to get one-on-one training to start recognizing their mental weaknesses and how to gain the mental edge needed to break through those barriers that limit their performance.