Tag: Mental Training

People often ask if your glass half full or half empty. This rhetorical question may actually be better referred to as a “loaded question.” When it comes to human behavior, our ability to make logical, sound reactions to the world around us is harder than what one may think. People have a tendency to not only focus on negative experiences, but to cling to them as well. Psychology has defined this tendency within its styles of negative thinking as negative filtering. The concept goes something like this: You have a tendency to focus on the negative. You may have a great performance with plenty of positive feedback from teammates, coaches and fans but one is mildly critical and you become all-consumed by this one reaction. You ignore all the positive feedback and focus primarily on the singular negative comment. If while reading this you could not relate to this concept of negative filtering, you have mastered a skill that very few have. However, more likely than not, this statement rung true to your experiences at some point or another. Looking at the initial question of our glasses being half full or half empty leads to an even better question: How do we defy our human tendencies toward the negative and consistently see our glasses as half full?

Allison Ledgerwood is a social psychologist that decided to tackle this question. She sought out to answer why it is that we let rejection and failure stick in our minds and let the positives pass quickly. She designed an experiment that intended to shed some light on the subject. The experiment consisted of two groups that were told about a new surgical procedure. Group 1 was initially told that the success rate of the procedure was 70% while Group 2 was told that the procedure had a 30% failure rate. Not surprisingly, Group 1 liked the procedure and Group 2 disliked it. It was then presented to Group 1 that they could think of the procedure as having a 30% failure rate. Conversely, Group 2 was told that they could view the procedure as having a 70% success rate. So what happened next? Group 1 changed their opinions and no longer liked the idea of the procedure, while Group 2 stuck to their initial opinion and still did not like the procedure. The study demonstrated that when a negative thought seeps into our brain, we have an extremely hard time seeing the positive. These results led researchers to believe that our minds naturally convert toward the negative implications of a situation…but just how easy is it to convert from negative to positive or vice versa?

In an extension of the initial study, participants were asked to solve a simple math problem. Again, two groups were formed but asked the same question two different ways:

Group 1: If 100 lives are saved, how many will be lost?

Group 2: If 100 lives are lost, how many will be saved?

The time it took for participants to solve the problem that went from gain to loss took around 7 seconds (Group 1). However, when calculating losses to gains, it took closer to 11 seconds (Group 2). This provides insight that our brains have an easier time processing loss/negatives but a much slower recovery when going from negatives to positives. For example, an athlete may be having the best game of their life and score a big goal and feel ecstatic about it. That same athlete could still be having the best game of their life but have one small mistake preceding their big goal. All of a sudden, the mentality has changed from, “Wow what a great goal–I am so happy!” to something more like, “It was the least I could have done after making a mistake.” While our brains may have a genetic disposition to find negatives and hold on to them, there are small steps we can take to find the positive out of situations as well. Perhaps that means letting our negative thoughts and judgments come and go. Maybe it means replacing negative self-talk with positive feedback. Next time, when you are confronted with a situation where it appears that your glass may be half full or half empty, remember that your perception is a choice. Your instinct may gear you toward the negative, but your mental strength can rebound you to see the positive.

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Entering the 2014 Major League Baseball post-season, two of baseball’s longest streaks were going strong: the Baltimore Orioles had not made it to the playoffs in 28 years, and the Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series championship since 1908. For one of these teams, the start of the post-season marked a change in history. The 2014 Baltimore Orioles won the American League East Division and entered the American League playoffs as the #2 seed. The 2014 Chicago Cubs finished with a 73-89, earning them last place in the National League Central Division and ensuring their streak would continue.

So what ties the two together? In 2014, the Baltimore Orioles utilized a sport psychologist as a part of their professional staff. In 2014, the Chicago Cubs fired their sport psychologist. There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a baseball team is going to be successful. It depends on things like the schedule they play, the players they have, the weather they face during the season…and countless other aspects. There is no one recipe for having a successful baseball program. However, if you asked the Orioles themselves, they’d tell you first hand that a sport psychologist is an important ingredient.

“We never had anybody we could really go to or talk to before,” said Zach Britton, part of the Orioles pitching rotation. “You know, we always talk among each other, but if we are all having a tough stretch, you are all thinking negatively, you don’t really have someone outside the situation you can go to and talk to because he has a different perception.”

It’s not just the players–the coaches are all in too. After considering off-season changes that could happen, the coaching staff decided that having a sport psychologist on staff that could address the concept of “mental toughness” was a piece that the Baltimore players could benefit from.

Said Rick Peterson, pitching director for the team, “It’s huge…It was really educational for the players to talk about [motivation, anxiety, goal-setting].”

They had no idea just how right they would be. The Baltimore Orioles took the 2014 season by storm, winning a competitive division with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and then entering the post-season itself with a decisive sweep in the ALDS. Look for the Orioles to continue to make a strong post-season push, confident and mentally strong all the while.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are right where they seem to have been stuck the last number of years. With management changes (and with them, personnel changes), the clubhouse that has seen so much adversity in their long history seems to be looking at even more. The Cubs shouldn’t be entirely discredited just yet, though. President Theo Epstein has made it clear that he intends to bring another sport psychologist back onto the staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, all has not been lost. Maybe they’ll even end up being the team that makes the big push.

In any event, we can be certain of two things: 1) what the 2014 Baltimore Orioles are doing is special, thanks at least in part to their sport psychologist, and 2) the Chicago Cubs are in the process of rebuilding, and with talks of bringing a sport psychologist on again, the future seems to be bright.

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


This post was updated on July 25th, 2018