Pracitcal Implementation And Examples of Mental Skill Training
These are just suggestions on ways to use the mental skills involved in thought, visualization, goal-setting, and task-orientation to your practices. By no means are these the only techniques. Each coach is encouraged to find their own ways of driving these points home. We can show our players the specific lessons found in sport.
A. You are engaged in a sport specific drill that they are not performing well:
Steps to take:
(1) Model the drill, as you want it to be done.
(2) Stop and have them visualize it for a few seconds. For those with persistent problems with the skill, tell them to visualize the skill that night repeatedly. Tell them if they truly want to improve, they will do so. You are giving them the tools to succeed.
(3) Remind them that the last thought they have will affect how they execute the skill.
(4) Just before each repetition, ask, “What are you thinking about?” to solidify the image in their mind what they want to accomplish just before execution.
(5) If they are still having problems remembering it, have them write it down as one of their daily goals for the next day’s practice and every day thereafter until they have accomplished the skill. Writing it down helps them to remember.
(6) Repeat these steps with every drill in your practice until you just have to say, “Think!” as a cue for them to respond the way you have trained them.
B. You want your practice to be more game-like in its intensity, but they are non-compliant:
Steps to take:
(1) Bring the physical energy you want on the practice field to your coaching.
(2) Ask them if the effort they are giving makes them feel good about themselves. When they have reached that level, they know they are doing well. They should know that level as a specific place they can reach. Tell them to know it in their body, through the emotions they feel when they are in top form and the way that effort looks visually.
(3) Remind them that the last thought they have will affect their performance. Have them understand that they must think about their highest level of effort to attain it, as it doesn’t come naturally. Tell them that they must think of it until it becomes their trait, not just a last minute effort to come from behind.
(4) Tell them that practice is devoted to giving maximum effort as a skill until it comes consistently. It takes practice to have that happen.
(5) Inform them that they have a choice: to give maximum effort or not.
(6) If they are not giving maximum effort, give them the consequence up front that they will be asked to sit down until they tell you that they will practice giving that game-like effort.
(7) Before every single drill, ask, “What are you thinking about?” and have them respond – “Maximum effort!” Then tell them to make the choice. Have them execute the drill, visualizing the details, in a game-like atmosphere.
C. You have a negative environment on your team and you wish to correct it:
Steps to take:
(1) Model a positive environment on your team accepting no sarcasm, derision or negative comments about anything. Constructive criticism is not negative.
(2) Inform then that a goal of your team is to create a positive environment where people learn faster and perform better. Demand sportsmanship every day, not just game days. Have them understand that sportsmanship is controlling thought that leads to unsportsmanlike behavior.
(3) Inform them that negative thought about themselves or others creates anxiety, which lowers performance levels. Ask them if their goal is to improve the team or not?
(4) Show them that the consequence for negativity is to sit down until they tell you that they are committed to trying to be positive with themselves or others. Be willing to lose a game to enforce the point. No one likes to lose, but coaches are teachers first.
(5) Have them understand that mentally tough people don’t easily succumb to anger and frustration and mentally weak people do. Ask them which person they want to be.
(6) Admit that that you, and they, sometimes fail to stay positive, but when that happens, you are trying to identify your thoughts as negative and then change them. Recognizing negative thought is the first step in the process of changing it. Merely knowing that we are having them is progress. Thoughts come in our head, but at the point where we have second, third and fourth thoughts that are all harmful to us, we have the power to change them to affect our behavior and performance.
(7) Give them the suggestion that when they have negative thoughts, they can think instead of the details of what they are about to do or some weakness they have in their sport. You are giving them a tool to fight these counterproductive thoughts.
(8) Tell them it is a skill to stay positive and that it must be practiced like a physical skill.
D. You want them to communicate with each other, but they are not doing it:
Steps to take:
(1) Inform them that communication is essential in team sports.
(2) Have them understand that the consequence of not communicating in a game is losing.
(3) In practice, the consequence for not communicating is, for example, running sprints. In this way, consequences always become the end result of our chosen actions. You are not punishing them, but giving them the real situation on the field and in life. For every action we take, there is a consequence.
(4) Enforce the consequences each time they have distracting thoughts and then forget to communicate. They are not disobeying you. They are having other thoughts.
(5) Remind them that they are practicing the skill of communication and that the thought process is for them to keep that in their mind for the entire drill (perhaps make a game of it to see who forgets first).
(6) If it is a problem with individual players, have them write it down as one of their daily goals.
Understanding thought, and how it affects performance, is a way to have all kids learning skills that transcend sports.
For instance, at the end of practice, ask them to question themselves before they do a homework assignment, “How much effort am I going to bring to this? I have to make a choice, just as I do before every drill on the team. Am I going to pay attention to the details or not? Am I going to notice distracting thoughts and then re-focus or not? Do I want to feel good about myself or not?”
How long will they refuse their own power to make positive change? How long will you?