No doubt that when it comes to a person’s weaknesses the last thing someone wants to do is advertise them. But let’s look at this a bit closer. Any of the following are considered weaknesses in sports: trouble dribbling to your left; hitting high and inside pitches; finishing with a blazing kick; or hitting from the rough; poor free throw shooting. Once acknowledged, what is the typical response of an athlete and coach? Go to work on that weakness so you minimize how your opponent will take advantage of that weakness.
Do you think your opponents recognize these weaknesses? Of course.
When athletes fold under pressure, performances fall apart, they lose focus at critical moments, become tense and tentative in their execution of skills, an inability to push through fatigue/discomfort, experience anxiety or are preoccupied with future outcomes or past performances – or a team that folds on the road or in the big games – they suffer from mental game weaknesses. Once recognized, how is it that elite athletes and coaches go to work on those weaknesses in the same way as a physical skill while many others fear doing so?
Do you think your opponents recognize these weaknesses in you? Yes! Even if they do not know the causes (inside your head) they see the results in specific competition situations and capitalize on them. You can’t hide them. Your performance gives it away.
Dr. Patrick Cohn, sports psychologist and my mentor lists the following reasons or objections to seeking out mental game (a.k.a. mental toughness) training.
- I don’t want my opponents to find out I need mental game help and use it against me.
- My coach or teammates will think I’m weak if I need a mental game coach
These two are the most common issues reasons athletes will not seek out a mental game coach. It’s very important that an athlete (and parents) understand that mental game coaches respect confidentiality. What gets shared is only what the athlete wants shared or shares themselves. Even when a mental game coach is present during competition no one else will know. If there is interaction with coaches, other parents or even teammates, my athletes are instructed to introduce me as another coach or even friend of the family – not my “psychologist”!
Remember, a hallmark of a great athlete is one who seeks improvement in every way possible. If your mental game is holding you back, wouldn’t you want to address that?
- If my coach doesn’t value sports psychology then why should I?
The term may be a turn off. “Psychology” equates to psycho-babble, squishy-feel-good talk, or worse yet – pathology (i.e. I’m mentally ill)! Instead we need to look at sports psychology as improving behaviors and execution on the field i.e. how to enhance performance. Even if your coach doesn’t buy in – pick up a book and get started. Look for athletes from your sport who use mental game coaches. The value of applied sports psychology will become evident.
- Performing well is about working harder than the next guy… not mental stuff.
- I just need more experience in competition then I’ll perform better.
True, hard work is key and you will not succeed without it. And yes experience can help providing you know how to make that experience work for you. Ask any elite athlete what the difference is between champions and not-quite-champions and they will tell you – their mental game – regardless of sport. It is the difference that makes the difference between similarly talented and prepared athletes. It is the difference in come fro behind victories. It is the difference in an underdog upsetting the favorite. It is the difference between choking and coming through in the clutch. And if you cannot demonstrate the right behaviors in practices then it is highly unlikely you can do it in competition.
- If a mental coach can’t beat me he can’t help me.
This is a myth commonly held by athletes and coaches. It is true that a mental game coach must know about your sport. However, their job is not to outperform you on the field or court. Their job is to get you to perform your best on the field or court. Mastery of mental game knowledge, skills, techniques combined with exceptional communication and rapport building skills are what allow mental game coaches ply their trade in many sports – including those they themselves do not excel in. [I have successfully coached everyone from synchronized swimmers to MMA fighters to golfers to volleyball-soccer-basketball-football-baseball players and more.]
- I don’t want to focus on the negative and that is all a mental game coach does.
If anything, mental game coaching is the opposite. We find ways to have athletes focus on the positive, be resilient, not beat themselves up after mistakes, stay tough while behind or laboring, remain focused and finish hard regardless of the outcome. That sure doesn’t sound like focusing on the negative.
If any of this resonates with you (coach, athlete, parent) drop me a line for a no obligation discussion on how I might be able to help your game!