Today’s Topic: Help Your Hesitant Athlete With Mental Skills Training | Q&A with Coach Sara
Hello everyone. I’m Sara, a coach with the Complete Performance Coaching team. There are a handful of really excellent, well trained mental skills coaches available at Complete Performance Coaching to help your athletes with their mental skills. Today I’m addressing a question that I get quite a bit. Parents email me about this often.
Q: What can I do if I think my athlete would benefit from working with you or being a member of the online community and they’re not really interested and they’re not into it? What if I’ve talked to them about it and they just don’t want to do it?
Some of you watching might already be a member of our perform happy community. If you’re not, that’s the online portion of our training. We also have one on one training, so if your athlete is already there, that’s fantastic. They’re hopefully warmed up to the idea of mental skills training. You might feel like one-on-one work is the next step and so they’re more open to that.
However, even if your athlete is already in our community, they might be a little nervous about the idea of working one-on-one with a mental skills coach, and that’s very normal.
We really want to help you understand how to talk to your athletes about mental skills training. If you are not familiar with us yet, let’s start off with what mental skills training is.
Mental Skills Training
As you probably already know, sport is both physical and mental.
I work with gymnasts quite a bit. For a sport like gymnastics, many aspects are mental. Being confident, being focused, bouncing back after mistakes, handling pressure, communicating with coaches, reaching your goals, etc. All of that is the mental side of sport. There’s more to it, but those are some of the things that we tend to see dealing with fear. That’s a big one in gymnastics, unfortunately.
When working with the mental side of sport, we’re helping athletes develop or refine their use of mental skills. We might teach skills and strategies like breathing to calm down. It might be thought control strategies if they’re feeling really negative, frustrated, or lacking confidence.
We also help athletes identify skills that they’re already using. If they’ve been in their sport for a while, they have some mental skills, they’ve developed some mental toughness, they just might not be aware of it yet. We want to help them figure out what they’re doing already and help to make it better.
So that’s a little bit of what mental skills training is. It’s working on the mental side of sport and developing and refining the mental skills that are going to help them. This isn’t always going to improve their performance. It’s great if it does, but it’s really about improving thoughts, feelings, and experience. Ultimately, that will help performance.
Part of why I love working with youth athletes, and I know a lot of our coaches feel the same way, is that these skills are life skills. Even though we’re talking a lot about sport in the gym or on the field, these are skills that they can use in other areas of life as well. So if you are bringing this up with your athletes, if they’re a little bit uncertain, it’s also important to understand what mental skills training isn’t.
What Mental Skills Training Isn’t
Mental skills training isn’t therapy. Now, there is nothing wrong with therapy. Therapy is hugely fantastic and really appropriate sometimes, but mental skills training is not therapy. That’s an important distinction because sometimes, unfortunately, we have this stigma of both therapy and even mental skills training, like there’s something wrong with you if you’re doing it and that’s not the case at all.
Developing Yourself Fully
I think there’s actually something really right with you if you want to develop yourself fully as an athlete or as a person. You or your athlete might have this concern that’s holding you back from getting started. “Is there something wrong with me? I’m not ready to admit that. I don’t want to work with a mental skills coach.”
The way I like to talk about this, and you could do this with your kids, is that if they needed help in math, you’d get them a tutor, right? Or maybe you’d have them spend some time with their teacher. If they got injured, you would go to a doctor. There’s lots of support for athletes and as mental skills coaches are one part of that.
Identifying the Need for Support
As a parent, you might know my athlete needs some help, they need some support. Physically things are going well, but then maybe there’s a mental block holding them back. They’re scared of certain skills or they do really well in practice, but then they just can’t get it all together in a meet or a competition. You know they can do these skills, but something is going on. You might realize that mental skills training would be great for your athlete, but the question is how can you sell your kids on the idea? That’s part of what we like to help you with.
Selling the Idea of Support
Now, we don’t want you to have to do a hard sell and really push your kids into this, but sometimes they need help warming up. We have great options for them. They can join our community and start there in this really supportive group environment with other athletes, they can work one-on-one with us, or they can do both.
When to Talk to Your Athlete
You know your athlete best in terms of what’s going to help start the conversation and opened them up to this idea of mental skills training. The timing of this conversation can be super helpful. Consider starting this type of conversation in the car. I love car rides for conversations because one, your child is trapped with you and they can’t go anywhere. The car is great for conversations of all kinds. I just recommend being thoughtful about when you’re doing this. If they just had a tough day in the gym, that’s probably not the car ride to bring this up on.
The car is also great because, if they’re younger or they’re sitting in the back seat, you’re not looking eye to eye, and if they’re sitting the front seat with you side to side. Those tend to be safer kind of positionings for kids, especially teens and tweens. Research has shown, with the boys, when you’re sitting face to face and having eye contact, that can be a little less comfortable. So having these conversations in the car allows you to have a setup that your athlete might feel a little more open to talking about this.
Also, you probably spend a lot of time in the car already. You’re probably already having conversations, so your athlete might not feel it’s that strange that you’re bringing something up in the car; it doesn’t seem like an out of the ordinary “we’re having a talk” so it doesn’t add more stress or seriousness to this then it needs to be.
If you brought up mental skills training and you’re feeling like your athlete is hesitant about the idea, it’s important to be really positive. If they’ve worked with a coach, a private coach of some kind, which most of our athletes have, or a physical therapist, compare it to that. Remind them, “When you need help physically, you get the support. When you need help mentally, we get you the support.”
Having them understand that we’re just one piece of that puzzle to help them be a really strong, well-rounded athlete can help them open up to this idea.
You can say, “You know how you work with coach Joe for physical therapy? Well, I found a coach for confidence and focus,” or whatever areas you’ve noticed your athlete could use some help on or maybe the areas that they kind of complain about. You can say, “I found a really great coach to help you with your fear.” That’s a great way to introduce it and let them know that there are a lot of professional athletes who work with mental skills coaches. Let them know that you found someone that they can meet with.
We do free consultation calls before you have to sign up for any of our packages, so you can let your athlete know, “Hey, we can have a conversation with the person I found and you can decide if this is something you want to move forward with.” I think letting your athletes have a choice and a say in it is really important. Even if you know this is something they really need to do, try and let it feel like they have a choice in a say in the matter.
Helping Your Athlete Feel Comfortable
Another part of this is that your kids are probably going to be more open to working with someone, either in our community or one-on-one, if they feel comfortable and they feel like this could be a good working relationship. The good news here is we have a lot of different coaches. I’m just one of many. You can go on our website, you can watch previous lives that we’ve done, your athlete can get a sense of who we are and feel it out with which of us they would like to start with, have a conversation with, and hopefully that will feel like a good fit. It’s these little steps that will warm your athlete up to the idea.
I know some of our parents have already signed their kids up for our PerformHappy community, but maybe you’ve noticed your kid’s not really in there – they’re a little hesitant to get started. That’s okay. The community is filled with really supportive athletes. Coach Rebecca, who runs everything in there, is absolutely amazing. That’s where I think maybe encouraging your athlete to watch a couple of their videos, the lives, or parts of the courses.
Try going in and do a little research. Find something that you think is really going to hook your kid or resonate for them, and then show that to them. That may help increase their comfort with getting into the course and checking it out. See how it’s going, hen once they get into it, maybe try these ideas and see how they’re helping. They might get a little motivated to try, but if not, don’t be afraid of incentivizing.
Some people call this bribing, but I think we need to relabel it as incentivizing. We do this for ourselves as adults, too. If you say to yourself, “If I do all the laundry, I’m going to reward myself with minds of Chai Tea Latte. I always like to reward myself with …” Fill in the blank. Mine is a Chai Tea latte.
We incentivize the things that we do, so incentivize your athlete. Maybe if they get involved in our PerformHappy community and they go through the lessons all week, you’re going to cook their favorite meal for them at the end of the week. Maybe you’re going to take them to the movie they’ve been asking you about. Don’t give them this big thing for simply doing the mental training that they should do, but incentivize it a bit so that they get in there, try it out, do the lessons, they apply the ideas, they’re seeing how it’s going, and they’re seeing some change.
Extrinsic Motivation Turned Intrinsic
What you did what’s called extrinsic motivating is now becoming more intrinsic. They realize, “Okay, I’m seeing change. I’m feeling better. I like what’s going on, I like the support,” and now they’re more inclined to stick with it. Don’t be afraid to use that extrinsic motivation. It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be ongoing, but it’s a little nudge. It’s dangling that carrot that gets them going, but then you can pull that carrot back.
Target the Reason for Hesitation
If your athletes are still hesitant to do mental skills training, that’s normal. Just keep talking about it. Keep being positive, keep supporting them, and try to get that underlying concern of why they don’t want to start. Are they feeling embarrassed because of what their teammates will say? Well, guess what? Their teammates don’t need to know that they’re doing this. This can be your secret weapon. Try to figure out what it is that’s making them so unsure and then ideally you can find a way to address that with them.
Finding the Right Coach
So hopefully you have some ideas about how to warm your child up to the idea of mental skills training, either individually or within our community, and how to get them started. As I said before, that relationship is really important. If you’re wondering who your child should work with, one of the reasons I love working with Complete Performance Coaching is we have so many amazing coaches. Do a little bit of research. Show them some of our past lives. We all do these “here and there” videos and you can see on our website what our backgrounds and our specialties are. Find someone who’s going to match up really well with your athlete.
Sometimes it just comes down to our availability because everyone is awesome and can really support your athlete. If your athlete is just not into it, that’s okay. They might just be nervous starting something new, which can always be nerve-wracking. Tackling a challenge, that takes some mental toughness to, to really to admit, “Yeah, I need some help and support.”
Building a Relationship
Usually, once we get going, once we have a full session with our clients, if they walked in nervous or hesitant, they usually start to warm up. Some athletes take longer, we’re all different, but all of our coaches have experience working with athletes who come in, not super excited about it and really hesitant and we can help them warm up to it. If they’re feeling uncertain but they’re willing to have a meeting with us, that’s a good place to start. We can go from there. We’ll build the relationship, we’ll help them warm up.
Athletes, if you’re watching this, if you’re feeling nervous, totally normal and that’s okay. If you’re in the community, you’re certainly not the only athlete who’s maybe feeling a little uncomfortable taking those steps. For myself or the other coaches, we’re really used to that. We’re going to help you feel comfortable and help you understand what we’re here for – hopefully, make it a good and positive experience for you.
It’s just like when you met your gymnastics coach for the first time or you’re swimming coach or whoever, you weren’t super comfortable with them right away yet. You don’t have a relationship, yet. The more we work together, usually the better things get, the more comfortable you or your athlete will become.
Keep Encouraging Your Athlete
For our parents, don’t stress if your athlete seems a little nervous or hesitant or doesn’t want to join, just keep encouraging them. Keep being positive, and if you’re in our community and think that working with one of us, one-on-one would be a good next step, maybe your athlete’s fear has really taken over, the fear course is awesome, but one-on-one help might help those lessons sink in a little bit more.
If you’re not in our community yet, but you want to try some mental skills training and you think one-on-one would be helpful, sign up at Complete Performance Coaching for a free 20-minute consultation with myself or one of your other colleagues.
If you have additional questions about getting started and if your athlete is unsure, we can help you with that in our initial call. Have a great day.