In October I spoke at a regional clinic put on the the American Baseball Coaches Association in St. Paul, MN. It was a great opportunity, one that forced me to put pen to paper regarding what I teach within the mental game. This post will more or less be a summary of what I covered during that clinic, as it seems to be an adequate jumping-off point for future discussions of the mental game.
First thing’s first; what am I talking about when I talk about the mental game? There are a lot of different takes on this, but in my mind it boils down to equipping players with the tools they’ll need to deal with the mental and emotional challenges the game will present them with.
When it comes to the athlete’s mind, they’re often asked to be “mentally tough” without receiving much instruction as to what that means, or how to achieve it.
As coaches we are great at thinking of all of the different scenarios that will arise in a game, from a physical and strategic standpoint, then addressing those issues in practice. We come up with creative drills, build game-like scenarios into practice, and come up with skill development and strength plans for the off-season. However, when it comes to the athlete’s mind, they’re often asked to be “mentally tough” without receiving much instruction as to what that means, or how to achieve it.
The decision to coach the mental game means we’ve decided we want to coach our players as people. It means we understand that they are not athlete-robots that we can program to complete a task. It means we accept they are in fact young men and women with countless variables in their lives that can impact their performance. It means we’re committed to putting enough tools in their proverbial tool belts that when things happen, they know how they should respond to perform consistently.
For the most part, the skills that athletes need to develop fall into a few different categories; awareness, perspective, and response. Each facet will have posts devoted to them specifically, but let’s start by defining them.
Awareness: Being conscious of one’s mental and emotional state—energy level, focus, attitude—and understanding where those components need to be to perform at the highest level.
Perspective: Viewing all things—adversity, opportunity, success, failure—through the correct lens.
Response: Knowing the steps one must take to get to a mental posture where he/she can perform consistently.
I recognize that time is precious when it comes to practice planning. No coach wants to spend time on something without a reasonable expectation for what the outcome will be, so I’ll leave you with the answer to this question:
“What will I get out of it?”
If you invest time, on a regular basis, to building mental skills with your players, you’ll get more confident and consistent players. Plain and simple.
Those are two of the best attributes for a person to have, right? And both of those skills can be improved by coaching the mental game. Consistency will be improved because they’ll be performing in a more stable mental and emotional state; and confidence will be improved because they will know they are ready for anything—not just physical or tactical challenges, but mental and emotional ones as well.
In upcoming posts I will detail specific lessons that you can bring to your players, lay out plans for a daily breathing routine, and review some books that can help you build consistency with your athletes.
Next: Building Awareness