Youth Runners – Is Mental Game Training Needed?

[I will soon be releasing a white paper on mental game training and youth runners. This is a portion of what is presented.]

Here are several common questions and some comments I have overheard on the topic of youth runners, performance and the role of their mental game:

  • My coach says it’s all in my head.
  • Parent to runner: “Just get over it.”
  • Coach to runner: “You could do it if you just wanted to.”
  • Coach to runner: “Just make up your mind you’re going to stay with so-and-so (insert name of choice).”
  • Coach to parent: “If she just trained harder she wouldn’t have these problems.”

These comments illustrate the lack of understanding of both the role of one’s mental game in performance and how to effectively deal with mental game issues. It also underscores a two-fold fallacy: The athlete is an exception – not thinking like everyone else – and the athlete is weak and simply needs to decide to toughen up.

How wrong is this thinking? Well according to data from three years of assessments of youth runners this view is completely unsupported.

Background

Each summer for the past three years I have had runners who attend the Arizona Running Camp complete a mental game assessment (M4PAASS). Scores are calculated for four primary mental game dimensions and a total mental game. Scoring is as follows for each dimension and for the cumulative mental game score:

  • 0-69% = Very high need for mental game training. Scores in this range indicate that the mental game is clearly and dramatically adversely affecting athletic performance.
  • 70-79% = Moderately high need for mental game training. Scores in this range indicate that the mental game is clearly and dramatically adversely affecting athletic performance.
  • 80-89% = Moderate need for mental game training. Scores in this range indicate that mental game training is needed for specific scenarios or situations and less widespread.
  • 90-100% = Targeted need for mental game training. Scores in this range indicate a generally strong mental game and that issues are highly specific or scenario based.

Findings

Three years of data collection on the mental game of youth runners has yielded some interesting findings. The 3-year average for mental game scores for youth runners (male and female):

  • Confidence (66%)
  • Composure (66%)
  • Focus (66.2%)
  • Commitment (68.8%)
  • Total Mental Game (66.7%)

What else did the data reveal? Approximately three out of four youth runners have a moderately high to high need for mental game enhancement. And less than 6% of runners score above 90% in any single dimension or in total scoring. It is abundantly clear that the issue is not isolated. In fact, the case can be made that virtually every youth runner would benefit from a integrating mental game training into their program.

And with the attitudes expressed in the opening remarks it is also obvious that it is not being effectively addressed.

What do you think?

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