5 Mistakes Coaches Make When Trying To Add Mental Training Into Practice

Today I want to talk about the five biggest mistakes that coaches make when trying to implement mental training into practice.

I was a gymnastics coach so I’m going to give a lot of gymnastics examples, but this applies to all sports. Every single sport plus performance arenas can all benefit from mental training. So if you’re reading this, then obviously you are the type of coach who cares and who wants to create a bigger impact in your team. You want to create great humans and not just results. I’m going to give you those big mistakes that people make and that I did. I made all of these as a coach. I actually made these as a mental coach as I was still getting my feet wet and figuring out what was my purpose with these kids when I was doing internships.

And so I’m going to hopefully take some of the learning curve out for you if you are either already working on mental training with your kids or interested in it.

Mistake #1: Assuming One Size Fits All

This goes for coaching in general, but especially when you’re dealing with mindset and confidence coaching and trying to incorporate mental training into practice. My first example of adding mental coaching into my coaching was when I was 15 or 16. I was a brand new coach and I was trying to teach a little girl how to do a glide swing, where you just to grab the bar, you glide out, you glide back and she could not get it right.

So, first of all I had a mindset issue because I was like, “Nope, not right. Nope. Not right. Nope.” Instead of, “Hey, that’s getting better. Oh, you’re on the right track.” So I had to shift over time to a progress focus rather than an outcome focus. But that’s a whole other story.

She couldn’t figure it out. And I was so frustrated. I was like, ‘I don’t understand what she needs.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to try to get her to visualize.’ So I had her sit down, take a couple deep breaths and imagine herself doing it. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing or what I was teaching. But I was like, just sit down, close your eyes, imagine yourself doing it. She gets up. She does it perfectly. And I was like, this stuff actually works. Holy moly! That was the second time where I’d seen imagery. People also call it visualization. I had seen that become very powerful immediately. I call it mind magic.

So I was like, ‘Okay, this is good. Now for that kid that worked. Now if you’re the kind of coach who already tries this sort of thing, you might be like, well, it doesn’t work. And some kids were like imagery doesn’t not work for me. And there’s a reason why there’s this one size fits all approach where people are like, just everybody visualize or everybody write down an affirmation or everybody set a goal and all kids are different. They have different minds. They have different sensory things like some kids are really visual. Some are feelers, they’re more kinesthetic. Some are more audio. They need an instruction.

You’ll notice as you’re teaching your kids mental training in practice, some of them needed to be demonstrated. Some of them just need to try it. Others need you to actually hold them through the skill to get them to understand it. Some, it’s a combination of all. So it’s the same with mental training.

If you just assume everybody can write something on a piece of paper, like kinesthetic or look at it or draw it or imagine it then you’re assuming everybody learns in the same way. So you have to factor that in. And when I’m working with kids, one-on-one, that is the thing I’m feeling out almost usually on the first phone call. If they’re not visual, I’m not going to tell them to visualize right out of the gate. They’re going to have to practice because it doesn’t come naturally to them so that you can sort of relate that to all of coaching.

But if you’re assuming that every kid is going to need the same type of training, you’re going to be leaving some going ‘It doesn’t work for me.’

Mistake #2: Being Inconsistent With Doing Mental Training In Practice

The second biggest mistake when trying to add mental training into practice is being inconsistent. I see this a lot where coaches don’t do any mental training specifically throughout the training season. And then they line up their kids for beam at the competition and they sit them down and say, ‘Everyone visualize three routines.’

I’m like, this is the first exposure they’re having to this. Or maybe you have them visualize once or twice in practice, or maybe you just sort of throw out the concept of visualizing. And then some kids can’t see what’s going on. A lot of them, their mind will sort of take over and then they’ll imagine a fall or something goes wrong. Some people can’t see it at all.

This is a skill you have to build. Some kids it comes naturally to and it works really well. Some kids they’re like, ‘I don’t like this. It doesn’t work and it just makes it worse and it stresses me out.’ But a coach wouldn’t know that if they haven’t really talked it through. So it requires repetition. It requires consistency. If you start out and you’re terrible visualizing, there’s nothing wrong with you. You just start where you are. You’ve got to start with an easier progression and then you work up to it. You don’t want to have them do a whole floor routine if they can’t even imagine their own bedroom at home.

So when I work with kids, I always start with, ‘What can you do? What little bit of this can you grasp?’ And then we do it consistently so that they can actually build some skill. And when they do build that skill, they get better and better and better to the point where they can turbocharge their confidence by just closing their eyes for 30 seconds.

Mistake #3: Staying At The Surface Level

So that’s sort of the same thing where you’re regurgitating things you read online or somebody told you that you’re supposed to or something that your coaches used to ask you to do, but you don’t really know why. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, it’s on the surface. So you have to take the time to learn what it is and why do we do it when implementing mental training into practice. There are so many different techniques like grounding, centering, motivation, imagery, and affirmations. There’s all of these amazing techniques that have a purpose that goes beneath the surface level.

If you’re like ‘Visualize through routines, okay? Write something on a piece of paper. All right, let’s set some goals’ but you don’t understand the theory behind it, then what happens is kids end up with limiting beliefs around it. They’ll start to think that mental training doesn’t work and that it’s dumb or a waste of time because they’ve been doing it wrong and because you don’t know why you’re doing it. You’re just doing it because you think you have to.

Mistake #4: Skipping The Discussion

So when I go in and I work with a team, I play games. I’m all about experiential learning. When I work with my PerformHappy groups online on Wednesday nights, we are playing games. We’re talking, I’m asking them to come up with scenarios, but that is actually not the point. It’s fun. The kids are like, “Woo coach. Rebecca’s here. We get to play a game.” But the game is not the point because the foundation of my work is that how you do anything is how you do everything. So  what’s most important is that you play the game and then you discuss. You debrief and reflect and you talk about what happened. What did you notice about yourself? In your mind, what happened when I gave you that instruction? What happened in your mind and in your body when that person wasn’t cooperating with you?

I set up scenarios where they’re going to get uncomfortable so that they can learn how to navigate discomfort. How do I deal with my own competitive spirit when I’m not getting what I want? Those bigger questions, those deeper questions are how you make those monumental shifts so much faster. You play the game, you do the experience, and then you sit down and you go, “How did it go?” And this requires major trust. I have the benefit of not being the coach. So I’m not the one who’s going to not let them compete if they tell me they’re scared. I’m not the one who’s going to prevent them from getting what they want if they’re honest with me. So I have that benefit.

But as a coach, you’ve got to wear a couple of different hats. And when you go into debrief zone, you go coach hat off mental trainer hat on where you’re like, this is a safe place. You can be honest and nothing’s going to be held against you in practice. And you’ve got to be able to really truly say that so that you can get these kids opening up and talking about what’s really going on so that they can develop that awareness.

Mistake #5: Not Collecting Feedback After Doing Mental Training In Practice

That brings me to the final, big mistake coaches make when they apply mental training into practice. And that is not collecting feedback, feedback, feedback.

If you’re doing any kind of a program, anything new or anything old for that matter, as far as I’m concerned you want to be constantly collecting feedback. You want to find out how is this working for you?

Because if those kids are sitting there going ‘this doesn’t work, this is a waste of time, I hate imagery’ and have all these limiting beliefs and they’re just showing up and smiling and sitting there, then you’re not going to create the impact that you want to make. So I have one exercise that I love to do with kids when their coaches are not there, but this is something you could set up. It’s called Keep-Stop-Start.

You give each kid a 3×5 note card and they write on there: Keep Stop Start. And it’s totally confidential. They don’t write their name on it. But what they do is they write down something they want you to keep doing and you can apply this towards specifically the mental training if you want. So for example: You might say “In our Monday night mental training sessions that we do as a team, what do you want us to keep doing? What would you like us to stop doing? What would you like us to start doing?”

And you have them all write them out and put them in an envelope. Then you read them (not in front of them necessarily) and you see what’s the feedback that we’re getting from these kids. Is this resonating;, what are they liking? That’s one way of collecting feedback.

Another is that you always want to be reflecting as a coach, as a team, the kids reflecting. The first thing I do when I start working with a new team is they get their mental toughness journals. They get whatever cute little journal and cute little pen that they’re going to keep in their bag. And we start reflecting. Because again like that debrief, it doesn’t matter what you do. If you’re not paying attention to what’s happening internally, while you’re doing it, that is the wisdom that we create through mental training.

First, you get aware of how you operate. Then we can build confidence. A lot of coaches try to just build that confidence. If they’re not aware, you’re building your house on sand. You need that foundation of awareness first. Then you build confidence. Then over time you eventually get into trust, which those are the three phases of my online mental training program.

So hopefully those tips help you if you’re trying to implement mental training in practice. If you can go beneath the surface, if you can create that discussion, get feedback, be consistent and know that every single kid is going to resonate differently with different exercises then you can make a really big impact if you’re not already. And if you’re not already a part of our Facebook page, we have a free Facebook group that’s called Gymnastics Coaches Who Put Humans First Results Second. If you’re not a gymnastics coach, you can still join us. But this is really for coaches who want to make a bigger impact for their kids and not just win. But the great news is when you start operating this way, your kids actually perform a lot better too.