Building resilience and mental toughness: TIPS FOR COACHES AND PARENTS OF YOUTH & HIGH-SCHOOL ATHLETES
The fall season is coming to a close, and many of our young Ultimate players will be competing in championship events like high school state tournaments or YCC Regional Championships.
As coaches and parents of youth and high-school athletes, you have the opportunity to develop their mental toughness and resilience. While this may as well be considered a full time responsibility of coaches and parents, your impact will be particularly strong during these ‘big’ championship-type events.
Some of your influence is explicit – e.g. how you talk to your athletes about winning and losing. And some of your influence is implicit – e.g. your body language (subtle and grand) when your team scores/wins or gets scored on/loses, etc. The 4 tips below will help you make sure your explicit and implicit influence is developing mentally tough and resilient athletes.
1. Focus on the process and the experience:
Let me be clear, I am not saying winning and losing don’t mean anything. I’m saying winning and losing aren’t everything. The thing is, focusing on the outcome often moves us farther away from our desired outcome. Focusing on the process keeps us motivated, learning, growing, and enables us to move closer to our desired outcomes. While most of us likely understand this, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. Use these strategies and examples to stay focused on the process and experience:
*Parents: These are often the conversations you have after the game or in the car ride home. To keep your kids interested, motivated, and enjoying their sport consider moving your conversations toward the process.
2. Don’t sugar coat performance – have the tough conversation:
Often as coaches and parents, we have a gut reaction to protect our kids and athletes. Making a mistake, getting scored on, or losing a game can be embarrassing, frustrating, or devastating. So when it happens, we try to make them feel better. We say things like, “it’s okay” or “you’ll get ‘em next time.” While both of those things are true, they are not complete. Mistakes/losing/failure “is okay” because it is part of the learning process, but we as coaches and parents need to help that learning occur. That, after all, is what will help them “get ‘em next time.” The thing is, ignoring or sugar coating mistakes, poor performance, and losses prevents learning, growth and development of toughness. Calling-out/acknowledging, normalizing, and processing mistakes and failure fosters growth and resilience. Being sure to separate the behavior/incident/outcome from their value as a human being (“yes you failed, but that does not make you a failure.”)
*Parents & Coaches: It will take some practice. It may not be easy, but it is critical to helping them develop the mental toughness and resilience you want them to have in and out of sport. And, wouldn’t you rather they learn these lessons from you, their loving and caring parent or coach, than someone else?
3. Provide “effective” praise (not just praise/compliments):
Sometimes we inadvertently, unintentionally, or implicitly send the message that the only thing we can learn and grow from are our failures (see above). But that is absolutely not the case - we can learn a lot from our own success and the success of others! Indeed, this can be a great way to develop young athletes as it allows you to ‘coach’ them without criticizing/critiquing their performance. The thing here is simply remembering to label the effort, strategy, or skill they used to produce the success in addition to praising.
*Something critical to keep in mind is that your athletes/kids may not know what they did that enabled their success. By labeling it for them, you’re teaching them how to be successful again. While this might take a smidge more work up front, it actually enables them to repeat their own successes and requires less coaching and correcting later on. Remember: name the effort, strategy, or skill that allowed them to be successful in the first place.
4. Model mental toughness and resilience:
I saved this for last because I want to make sure it sticks with you. At the end of the day our actions speak louder than our words. As a parent or coach you could say all the right things, but if you aren’t living those things yourself – that’s what your kids and athletes will notice and remember most. I encourage both parents and coaches to deliberately think about the values, habits, and qualities you wish to instill in your kids/athletes. Write them down and make note of what they mean to you and what it looks like to demonstrate those values daily.
*Other questions to consider: How do I want my kids/athletes to act when we win? How do I want them to act when we lose? How do I currently act when we win/lose? What words do I choose and what message does my body language send?
Hi! I'm Piers. I am an Ultimate player, spouse, parent, and human performance coach. My passion and my profession is to help individuals and teams perform at their best through research-based mental skills, resilience, leadership and team dynamics training.
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