Recently, I was speaking to a group of athletes about the mental game of sports and what it takes to be successful. As we were talking, I began to think of different athletes whom I have known who set themselves up for failure because they didn’t work on their mental game, and weren’t mentally prepared for the various challenges that they would face in competition. And then I thought of different coaches who may have set their teams up for failure because they didn’t provide their players with the necessary training and tools to become mentally stronger and therefore, elevate their performance.
In sports, the “setup” is a play or pass that creates an opportunity to score. As a coach, you have to ask yourself if you are giving your players the mental skills that will give them the opportunity to succeed on the field. So, as your team goes through two-a-day work outs, and as the players put time in the weight room to get physically prepared for the upcoming season, are you also showing your players how to be mentally and emotionally stronger, and thereby setting them up for success?
Two high school football programs that have received national attention for their success on and off the field are the Smith Center Redmen in Kansas and the DeLaSalle Spartans in California. Those coaches taught their players to focus on what they controlled and to not worry about what they couldn’t control. While both programs had great winning records, the coaches would tell their players to not worry about the win-loss record but to simply focus on what they could do on a daily basis to become better players and people.
With the Smith Center Redmen, the coaching staff would stress the importance of visualization and would have the team go through their visualizations on the bus trips to games. Also, they would get their team to the game at least two hours before the game so that they could visualize how they wanted to perform. And they would talk to the players about taking a deep breath in the huddle between plays to calm themselves down and regain their composure.
The coaches with the DeLaSalle Spartans would have the players write down on an index card their commitments for the upcoming season that would highlight goals for the weight room, practice and the actual game. Also, the players would share their commitments with their teammates for encouragement and support. Coaches would often talk about how to mentally respond to different challenges in a game-time situation, and at the same time, maintain their concentration and composure.
As you prepare your football team for the upcoming season, you want to make sure that you do everything possible to set your players up for success. To do that, you need to address the mental elements of the game in order to give these players the best opportunity to succeed on the field and in their personal lives. It can begin by having your players set personal goals for the season, showing them how to develop a strong belief system, and teaching them how to use different mental skills to deal with the various challenges and difficult moments that will take place in a football game. It can continue by talking to your players about how to keep learning to get better, taking a proactive approach to resolving mistakes, telling them how important it is to act appropriately on and off the field, and teaching them how to play for each other and the greater good.
Anthony Lanzillo is a regular contributor to the FirstDown PlayBook Community site and also has created a mental preparation tool for athletes called The Mental Tune-Up. It is a great tool and resource for getting your players to make a commitment to becoming mentally stronger and tougher. If you would like more information on this tool, click hereHe has designed this process for 30, 60 or 90 days.
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