In “The Basics” I defined what I believe to be one of the foundational components to the mental game—awareness. As coaches, we already talk a great deal about situational awareness; the four-minutes-left-and-we-have-the-lead type of stuff, but we should be equally concerned with self-awareness. This means teaching our athletes how to evaluate their mental and emotional state at a given time, then encouraging them to do so.
Here’s the thing about self-awareness, it’s about as simple as hitting a home run. Which is to say, it’s not that simple. “Hit that ball, over that fence,” would be about as helpful as, “Evaluate how you feel, figure out how you should feel, and then feel that way instead.” Which is to say, it’s not that helpful. It will be tricky at first, so you will have to start small. Treat it like any other complex skill that you teach your athletes—break it down for them.
I recommend starting with discussions about self-evaluation. It will help to divide it into a variety of different categories at first, but eventually they’ll be able to assess their overall state, and compare it to what they’ve determined is their ideal condition. Then, with your help, they will develop a set of strategies that will allow them to get to that ideal mental posture on a more consistent basis. Self-evaluation is the first block in the foundation of awareness, so be sure to take the necessary time for your athletes to feel comfortable with it.
Skill: Players will have the ability to check in with themselves and honestly evaluate their mental and emotional state, beginning with individual components of those things: energy level, attitude, focus, enthusiasm, mood, etc.
Why: If players can evaluate their own mental state, then they can make informed decisions regarding what actions are necessary.
Method: Have a discussion about self-evaluation; define the term, the why, and how they’ll be evaluating themselves. Throughout practice, ask players, individually, or as a whole team, to evaluate a single aspect of their mental posture on a scale of one to ten. Don’t make judgments about the rating, just have them check in with themselves and move on.
Understand that during the early stages of self-evaluation no judgments need to be made about the information they are gathering. If on a given day a player feels like his energy level is a 5/10, they don’t need instructions on how to change it. It’s most important, during this time, that they get to know what certain levels feel like to them, and they are able to move past preconceived notions of where they should be.
Remember, this is the first step in the process. Like any skill, it will become more nuanced and complex as it is developed, but building this base of awareness will pay dividends down the road. It will take time, effort, and commitment; and it will be worth it. Your athletes will be better on and off the field as a result of your efforts.
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