Mental Training for Young Athletes
From an early age, athletes are taught the fundamentals of their sport. I can remember being in little league practice and having my coach drill us on the importance of the fundamentals.
That's because the fundamentals are the foundation for success in any sport. And the ones who reach an elite level do so because they do the small things well.
But the fundamentals that are focused on the most involve physical play. And that's extremely important. If a kid can't make a simple pass in basketball or throw the ball accurately in softball, they aren't likely going to get anywhere or have much fun.
Though in addition to learning the physical fundamentals of their sport, I believe young athletes should also learn the fundamentals of a strong mental game.
That's where young athlete mental training comes into play.
Young Athlete Mental Training Defined
Mental training is the practice of using sport psychology tools and techniques to strengthen an athlete's mental game.
With mental training for young athletes, the goal is to build a strong foundation of mental skills.
It's very similar to the approach taken to building physical skills.
When a kid takes up a sport, a good coach will evaluate where they are, looking for the strengths they already have and any weaknesses that may be present.
From that initial starting point, they will work on developing the young athlete's physical skills. This is done through drill work and continual focus on mechanics and the fundamentals of their game.
In a similar way, when a young athlete begins with mental training, the mental coach evaluates their current strengths and weaknesses and then moves forward from there.
To train and strengthen the mind, there are specific skills that are focused on. The tools and techniques used within mental training focus on cultivating these specific skills. Because we know that as the skills develop, the young athlete's mindset is strengthened.
Fundamentals of a Strong Mental Game
The skills taught in young athlete mental training can be seen as the fundamentals of a strong mental game.
Much like a young athlete needs to learn the basics of catching, throwing, shooting, or running, they also need to learn the basics of confidence, calming their nerves, managing mistakes, and so on.
So, let's break down the top six fundamentals taught within young athlete mental training to give you a better idea of what it takes to build a strong mental game.
Mistakes are going to happen. No matter how old the athlete is, or how talented they are, one inevitable fact of playing sports is that mistakes will occur.
So the question isn't, will they make a mistake? It’s, how will they respond when they do make a mistake?
That's why a key fundamental of a strong mental game is learning how to positively and productively manage mistakes.
This helps the young athlete not only bounce back quickly from mistakes during games, but also learn from mistakes. And learning from mistakes is one of the best ways they can improve moving forward.
Not only is it crucial for a young athlete to learn the fundamentals of building confidence, but they also need to learn the fundamentals of where their confidence comes from.
When a young athlete's confidence relies too heavily on external factors (things outside their control), this typically leads to fragile confidence as they get older.
Meaning, one bad game can significantly lower how confident they feel. Or if the coach gets mad at them, they begin doubting themselves more and more.
By learning where their confidence comes from and how to build true confidence in themselves, a young athlete is learning a key fundamental of a strong mental game.
A third fundamental of a strong mental game is focus. Knowing how to improve their focus, but also being able to recognize what distracts them and when they become distracted.
When a young athlete struggles with focus during practices or games, what's happening is that they're focusing on something they don't want to be focused on.
Their focus isn't lost, it's just misplaced.
With mental training, the young athlete learns how to become aware in these moments that they are distracted, and then develop the mental strength to let go of the distraction and refocus themselves.
Calming Their Nerves
It's natural to feel nervous before a game. What we want to make sure of is that these nerves do not turn into full blown anxiety.
Mental training teaches young athletes tools and techniques to calm their nerves going into a game. It also helps them learn how to manage anxiety, if they do become too worried about what may or may not happen during the game, or even practice.
Proper goal setting skills are important for all athletes to learn. And with goal setting, the fundamentals have to do with all types of goals. From long-term goals, to short-term goals.
A type of goal that's focused on a lot with mental training is process goals. These are those goals an athlete sets for themselves during practices or games that are part of the process.
Meaning, these goals are completely in the young athlete's control. This is such a crucial fundamental for them to learn, because worrying too much about the outcome is a major driving force for anxiety and fear.
While having fun may not seem like something that needs to be trained, it's a crucial fundamental for young athletes to learn.
Mainly because…they're out there to have fun.
That's why they're playing. All five fundamentals listed above work to help the athlete have more fun. Because if they're more confident, focused, managing mistakes better, calming their nerves, and setting good goals, they're going to enjoy themselves more.
In addition to that, when an athlete enjoys themselves while playing, they typically play better as a result.
With mental training, the young athlete will learn how to focus on what they enjoy about their sport, along with learning how to recognize and manage external factors and ways of thinking that can keep them from having fun.
Main Tools Used in Young Athlete Mental Training
To build all the fundamentals outlined above, young athlete mental training makes use of certain tools and techniques.
Think of these like the drills a coach will use to teach a young athlete the fundamentals of their sport. To build the fundamentals of a strong mental game, similar drills need to be used.
Here are the main tools and techniques used in mental training for young athletes...
- Self-Talk: gaining more awareness and control of their thinking is a key element of building a strong mental game. Self-talk in sports helps your young athlete train the way they think. Making sure their thoughts are helping them, rather than hurting them.
- Visualization: getting a young athlete to focus on themselves succeeding more than the fear of failing can be done through visualization. Visualization allows them to imagine themselves playing well. This increases confidence and strengthens their self-image.
- Mindfulness: within mental training for young athletes, mindfulness is used to calm nerves, improve focus, and instill a calmer mind. It's a great tool for a young athlete to learn, as it gets them to focus more in the present moment while playing.
- Performance Objectives: worrying about the outcome drives fear and anxiety. Performance objectives are used to help the young athlete center their attention on the process, instead of worrying about what's going to happen.
- Breath Work: right before a game, or even during a game, if a young athlete is feeling very anxious and nervous, a great tool they can use is breath work. This works to calm their nerves, and quiet their mind in stressful moments.
- Reframing: whether it's reframing expectations into goals, reframing the way they view nerves, or anything else, reframing is a great tool to help a young athlete change the way they look at their performance.
- Performance Evaluation: after a practice or a game, the way a young athlete thinks about how they played has a large impact on their confidence and motivation moving forward. To help with this, mental training uses a performance evaluation system to change the way they examine their practices and games.
How to Get Started With Mental Training for Your Young Athlete
To build the fundamentals of a strong mental game, a young athlete needs to make use of mental training. But how they do so can vary.
Here at Success Starts Within, we offer two ways your young athlete can get started with mental training: The Young Athletes' Mental Toughness Course, and one-on-one mental coaching.
The Young Athletes' Mental Toughness Course
With The Young Athletes' Mental Toughness Course, what I've done is taken the six fundamentals outlined above and turned them into six modules.
Within each module, the videos will teach your young athlete how to develop that fundamental.
For example, when it comes to managing mistakes, they will learn why they get frustrated following a mistake, how to recognize when they're frustrated in the moment, how to let go of the mistake and get themselves refocused, and more.
The videos are very active, including exercises for your young athlete to complete in their workbook. I will guide them through how to complete each exercise, providing them with examples, and then give them the opportunity to complete the exercise for themselves.
The course has over four hours worth of video content and is a great way for your young athlete to begin building the fundamentals of a strong mental game.
One-On-One Mental Coaching
One-on-one mental coaching is a completely personalized form of mental training. I will work directly with your young athlete on overcoming any challenges they're facing and build strong mental skills.
The coaching begins with an assessment to help me get a good idea of their mindset. From there, I create a custom mental training plan for them.
The actual coaching takes place via 50-minute virtual sessions each week over the course of the 12-week program.
Following each call, your young athlete will receive action steps for them to complete in their workbook, along with action steps for them to apply to practices and games.
I will also send you, the parent, a follow-up email after each session summarizing what we covered during our call and how you can begin helping them make a change.
To learn more about one-on-one mental coaching for your young athlete, please fill out the form below, or schedule a free introductory coaching call.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
Contact Success Starts Within Today
Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-317-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.
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