An athlete’s state of mind has the power to enhance or ruin a workout or practice. In some cases, it can even impact an entire season or career. If the athlete exudes confidence and rarely or never has negative thoughts correlating to lackluster performances, coaches don’t know worry. Coach and athlete can skip together to the limits of where talent and hard work can take them without having to worry about a negative state of mind holding the athlete (and sometimes the coach) back from potential greatness. Or, if you live in the real world, you have to address these mental problems head-on and work through them together to maximize the potential of the athlete. It does not matter if the issue comes from a physical injury or an emotional problem at home. All too often, athletes feel like they are alone in the fight against their inner demons and are in some cases. However, they need to be aware that there are people in their lives; in this case, coaches can help them identify and help solve some of the problems they may have.
Working Past Mental Blocks
The first step in working past these negative mental blocks is to identify the mental block in the first place. Coaches often (or should often) double as a trustworthy confidant of information for athletes to share information both good and bad with. That is the easiest way to identify issues affecting performance, them directly telling you. If the athlete is new or there is no personal communication between athlete and coach, then maybe this will start taking relationships with athletes to the next level. This does not necessarily mean that you are involved in every aspect of their lives, but maybe there is just a little more personal connection between athletes and coaches. Another way to tell if something is bothering the athlete is to watch their body language as they walk through the door, during the workout, etc. If they walk around like they are dragging themselves through a mud puddle or not talking with their usual vigor, that is a good indication that there are fowl thoughts at play.
Once identified that there is a problem getting in the way of performance, the next step is to figure out where the problem is coming from. Avoid hypothetically putting a band-aid on a broken bone. Instead, follow the hypothetical phrase: cut off the head of the snake, and body dies. In other words, find the origin of the problem, solve it, and the problem will cease to exist. This is where trust with an athlete is key. If they do not have trust in you, then good luck helping them work through the issue. If trust is present, then they can be lightly probed with questions that may weed out the problem if they are not forthcoming with the goods.
Solve the Problem
Communication between athlete and coach is the key to building a good relationship. If a good relationship is built, they will want to continue to train with you and trust how you are training them.
Simple questions are a great way to get a feeling for how the athlete is feeling that day.
- How are you feeling today?
- Why are you feeling tired?
- What is different today compared to the last time you were in?
Make sure most of the questions are open-ended to allow a quality response from the athlete. The purpose is to start a conversation and help them come to the root of the problem independently if they are not already aware of it. The coach is not always going to be around to help the athlete come to these conclusions, so they need to be prepared to think through things independently. In other words, they need to become self-aware of thoughts and feelings both physically and emotionally.
Without communication, there is no trust, and without a little bit of trust, there is no communication. Showing interest in athlete’s lives and showing them results physically can build trust. Once trust is established, then solving problems becomes that much easier.
Assuming communication and trust are already set up between a coach and athlete, determining what needs to be said to lift their spirits should almost come naturally. You should know a little about how they think and how they will react to specific reinforcements. The typical phrases of “everything will be alright” and “everything will work out in the end” simply are not going to do it sometimes because they are often just not true. Sometimes everything is not going to be alright if the athlete sits and waits for everything to work out. Learning from mistakes and standing back up when they get pushed down will determine what the future holds for their state of mind.
Instead of saying the fluff phrases, ask them how they will respond to adversity in their lives and what they will or have learned from the mistakes that led to their current negative state of mind. It may be frustrating in the short term, but it will pay dividends in the long term.
A negative state of mind can ruin training days, season, even career for an athlete. Whether the problem stems from a physical injury or an emotional pain at home, the brain’s problem is reflected through mood. Everyone has problems and goes through negative moods but it’s how they deal with these problems is that can set them apart mentally from the rest of the crowd. The common theme between rooting out the problem and solving the problem is communication and trust between athletes and coaches. Without these two, there is a lower chance that the coach can help the athlete get out of the discouragement hole.
Identifying that there is a problem in the first place is the first step to ditching the negative mindset. Simple, open-ended questions and reading body language can help identify moods and sources of negative emotions. The conversation is also a key step in finding a solution to the problem. Again, asking open-ended questions that prompt more in-depth responses will sometimes lead athletes to the root of the problem and how they can rid themselves of it. The goal should not be to solve their negative mindset for them but to help them understand that they can do it independently.
Discouragement is a normal part of growing up. However, Suppose your athlete starts isolating themselves, not doing things they used to enjoy, experiencing changes in sleeping and eating habits, and declining grades. In that case, it may be time to talk to someone. Many adolescents struggle with mental health issues that can lead to self-harm or other severe problems without intervention. But, if caught early, kids can get the help they need.