In my introductory blog, I laid out 6 areas that would help elite youth sport organizations develop their young athletes to their fullest athletic potential. Learning and implementing these six areas will not only help the young athletes achieve success in their sports but and can also help them achieve success in other areas of their lives as well. In this blog I want to focus on sports psychology and how this one area can be the difference between success and failure.
You’ve all probably heard the saying in sports that, “90% is mental and 10% is physical.” or “The body achieves what the mind conceives.” Whether you believe in the exact 90/10 break down or not, it is refutable that sports psychology plays a major role in athletic performance and ultimately the success of an athlete. Sports psychology deals with having a positive attitude, positive self talk, positive mental imagery, having a high level of self motivation, being able to manage anxiety and emotions effectively and maintaining concentration. The great thing is, these are all skills just like shooting a basketball or stickhandling a hockey puck. And if you devote time to practicing these skills, you can become a master and gain an edge on your competition.
When I think about sports psychology, I think about routine and I think about “positive”. Let’s start off with this word “positive”. It’s hard to have a positive attitude, self talk and mental imagery if your coach, teammates and parents are constantly putting you down and pointing out your mistakes. Researchers in sport psychology suggest that 80% to 90% of reinforcement from the coach be positive. This does not mean the coach should be praising you for every little thing you do right. On the contrary, psychological studies show that people produce greater effort and persistence for occasional positive reinforcement than for continuous reinforcement. Most athletes know when they make a mistake and it doesn’t help their mental state and ultimately their performance if their coach, teammates and parents are continuously pointing out their mistakes. When punishment is the only alternative, make sure you are consistent by giving everyone the same type of punishment for breaking similar rules. Punishment should be used sparing, but enforced. Experts say that physical activity should be avoided as a punishment and of coarse, no need to berate or yell at the individual. So first and foremost, it is critical that their is a positive environment surrounding the athlete before we can even talk about anything else. So organization leaders should really educate their coaches and parents on what they’re trying to accomplish here and how everyone plays a role in creating this supportive/positive environment.
Once we have a handle on creating this environment, we can now focus a few other positives: attitude, imagery and self talk. Having a positive attitude, preparing with positive imagery and constantly having positive self talk is a great start for success in sport and in life. Let’s start with the foundation, “your attitude”.
Realize that attitude is a choice.
Choose an attitude that is predominately positive.
View their sport as an opportunity to compete against themselves and learn from their successes and failures.
Pursue excellence, not perfection, and realize that they, as well as their coaches, teammates, officials, and others are not perfect.
Maintain balance and perspective between their sport and the rest of their lives.
Respect their sport, other participants, coaches, officials, and themselves.
We are working with young athletes so we need to package this in a way they can relate, understand and choose to implement. The great thing with your attitude is, it is a choice and is contagious. Again, we need to start with the coaches and parents. Set an environment that is predominately positive. Ask simple questions like “How do you feel when one of your teammates points out your mistakes?”, “How can you reframe your complaint and make it constructive rather than destructive?” It all starts at the top and at the start of the season. Coaches and parents need to be on top of this and stay on top of this from the get go. It’s the foundation for everything else. Coaches should single out individuals with great attitudes. Negative destructive attitudes need to be addressed and consequences enforced. Challenges and failure will arise with anger, blame and other destructive forces. This will test attitudes and character but if parents and coaches can focus on failure as an opportunity for growth and learning our young athletes will become stronger individuals.
Now let’s look at positive imagery and positive self-talk. The key here is routine. Set up what ever routine you like. Be it the night before an event, on the car ride to the event, 30 minutes before the event or all the above. Things like motivational speeches and video’s, clear visualizations that engage all your senses and self talk that is constructive. Just get started with a routine. You can always optimize it over time. As I mentioned in my previous blog, this has all been scientifically validated and will improve the performance of the athlete no matter their age. It will also help with emotions, anxiety and nerves. For athletes that struggle with anxiety and emotional issues there are additional techniques and self help procedures that will help and that I may address in a future blog. There is a lot more behind sports psychology but this will serve as a good starting point. In my next blog in this series, I will discuss “Brain and Body Physiology” and what we can do to get our young athletes operating in an optimal physiological state. Questions call Dr. Dukovac at 630.561.7025