Youth and Applied Sports Psychology

I work extensively with youth athletes from many sports. They come to me with support from their parents and sometimes at the urging of their parents. I’m pleased to say that more often than not I meet well-meaning, objective and intuitive parents. They want what is best for their youth athlete. But they see my services as a way to allow their youth to experience sports more fully, enjoy it without negative stress and to aid the youth in other areas of life.

Most parents recognize that it’s not just about sports. They recognize that not everyone makes it to the pros, get athletic scholarships or become elite athletes. Parents need to have the larger perspective that learning to be mentally resilient, have proper focus, persist in the face of adversity, rebound from disappointment, control emotions and maintain motivation is about being as effective and successful in life as possible. So though people do not have to be great at sports to have a fulfilling life; they do have to be able to handle life to be successful and satisfied.

Youth come to me with similar issues to adult athletes (get focused, keep motivated, stop worrying, reduce fears, don’t dwell on bad performances, be a peak performer, make the team/varsity, etc.). Parents often present both sports related areas (be coachable, be a better team player, communicate/express better with coach) and life areas (control temper/emotions, listen, follow-through and execution as directed, get along better with others, be more confident and sociable). Let me be clear that not every youth issue can be addressed with mental game skill development, but the ability to deal with them is.

During our sessions we delve deeper into environments, precursors and inputs to both good and poor performances we explore then apply various techniques to overcome issues. Their practical assignments between our sessions is to apply those techniques. Here is where the cross-over occurs. I instruct them to apply whatever topic we are covering not only to their practices and competitions but to other life activities. Most often for them this is with academics, family and peers.

Let’s take the topic of focus for instance. The key is to identify when you are not focused and then of course to refocus on what is important at that one moment.We identify distractors. Then we identify the task relevant cues for their sport or position or move. The goal is to be able to quickly identify when you are not focused on the right things and refocus your attention on those things. To broaden their perspective and to open them to more opportunities to practice I have them also identify distractors and task relevant cues in the classroom. Then to drive home the lesson that they control their focus, they practice in the classroom – all day, every day. We monitor how this goes in subsequent sessions.

It is gratifying for me to hear parents talk about positive changes in their youth beyond the playing field. It is through regular practice of mental game techniques that you improve your mental skills as well as build confidence in your ability to control yourself. These lessons are true for youth athletes – elite and professional athletes – and everyone in the classroom or business setting.

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