Tag: Adolescent Athletes

Six Traits of Mentally Tough Athletes — Including the U.S. Soccer Team

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed – Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure – Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables – In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude – Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief – We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language – When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

Positively Parenting Your Athlete

By: Premier Sport Psychology

This post was most recently updated on July 25th, 2018

These days, it can be really hard to know how to best parent your athlete in a way that will help them reach their full potential…

Parental “Pressure Cooker”

It seems that more and more of our focus has shifted to performance outcomes and pushing kids to excel in sports, rather than ensuring that they are having fun. Signs that your child may be being pushed too hard in sport: 1) they express to you, peers, or coaches that they are no longer having fun, 2) they report that they no longer want to compete or participate in the sport, 3) they seem to have lost motivation (e.g., to attend practice or work hard), or 4) they display increased anxiety about participating in sport. Creating a healthy balance between having fun and focusing on improvement and success in and out of sport should be the goal for kids. 

Assess the coach and the sport environment and make sure both sufficiently support/encourage your child in a way that fosters life skills and overall positive development, rather than solely emphasizing winning. Youth coaches who over-stress winning are at greater risk of neglecting a young athlete’s personal development and not prioritizing their emotional best interests. Youth athletes who drop out or burnout of sport will more often report that they perceived their coach to be controlling, too focused on winning, and not very encouraging. Look for coaches who provide appropriate reinforcement and praise, encouragement after mistakes, and quality instruction.

Parents can play a huge role in creating a beneficial sport environment for their children! Kids are more prone to burnout when their parents criticize their sport performance and have exceedingly high expectations for them. Numerous studies demonstrate that children who perceive support, encouragement, and less pressure from parents, exhibit more internal motivation, sport enjoyment, and a preference to be challenged.

Compare & Despair

Most athletes–especially teenagers–naturally compare themselves to their peers. Many parents do the same with their children. This behavior is normal. However, communicating comparisons to your child may cause them to feel defeated, “less than,” or as though they have disappointed others. Comparing is easy to do, yet it is rarely motivating/helpful for athletes when it comes from parents.

Put Mistakes into Perspective

Very simply, be supportive of your athlete’s effort and point out aspects of the performance that you were proud of or areas they improved in. Emphasize that wins/losses are not a reflection of them as a person (i.e. what they do is not reflective of who they are), but just a measure of performance for any given moment. Many aspects of both winning and losing are actually out of our control. Elements such as skill level of the competition, equipment, coaches’ decisions, and injury are out of an athlete’s control, yet contribute to whether they win or lose. Emphasize the importance of focusing on those aspects they have control over–such as preparation, effort, concentration, confidence, and skill–and use these as a measure of improvement/performance. Show your athlete that you value these over winning or scoring high. Help them focus on the process versus the outcome! Dealing with adversity can be positive in that it can help shape an athlete’s mindset for future competitions, such as building resiliency, learning from mistakes, and learning to cope with frustration.

 

In summary, here’s some key points to help positively parent a youth athlete:

1. Creating a healthy balance between having fun and focusing on improvement and success in and out of sport should be the goal for kids. 

2. Look for coaches who provide appropriate reinforcement and praise, encouragement after mistakes, and quality instruction.

3. Kids are more prone to burnout when their parents criticize their sport performance and have exceedingly high expectations for them.

4. Comparing is easy to do, yet it is rarely motivating/helpful for athletes when it comes from parents.

5. Help youth athletes focuso n the process versus the outcome

 

 

Lack of Sleep Tied to Teen Sports Injuries

By: Premier Sport Psychology

In today’s fast-paced world, we’re constantly connected…to everything.  Teens and pre-teens are all too aware of the pressures and tasks they face on a daily basis: social activities, school, homework, extra curricular activities, sports–the list goes on.  However, amidst all the chaos, what’s often forgotten is the importance of sleep and how much our bodies benefit from a good night’s rest.

In a 2012 study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition, researchers found that the hours of sleep per night was significantly associated with the likelihood of injury.  Additionally, it was found that athletes in higher grade levels had greater likelihood of injury.  “While other studies have shown that lack of sleep can affect cognitive skills and fine motor skills, nobody has really looked at this subject in terms of the adolescent athletic population,” said study author Matthew Milewski, MD.

So what does all this mean?  It means that you probably need to get more sleep. If you’re concerned about your game and performance (or if you’ve noticed it’s not as great lately), make sure that you’re getting enough rest–it’s one of the best things that you can do for yourself without having to do any work, other than putting on your pajamas.

Read the full article here.