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Coaches are the driving force in developing young athletes from amateurs into great professional athletes. They help instill the fundamentals of a sport, implement training programs and cultivate the understanding and knowledge of a sport in athletes. Coaches need to have a lot of skills in order to nurture young athletes who may have the potential to one day reach the Olympic medal podium. One skill that is rarely taught to coaches however is the mental skills of sports.

With the interaction that coaches have with their athletes on a daily basis, they get to know their athletes fairly well. They know when an athlete’s mental state is hindering their ability to perform or be motivated. For a coach, phases such as these are when mental skills can be useful. Communicating with your athlete and knowing what the problem is, is the first step to getting the athlete back to being themselves. Some athletes prefer the long pep talk when they are going to battle, while others respond well to just a few words to get them motivated and fired up.

A coach also needs to be aware of the situation that is hindering the athlete’s attitude or motivation. This is a delicate balance because if approached the wrong way, the attitudes of some athletes will remain unchanged and unmotivated. Moments when an athlete is unable to perform a skill that may lead to frustration is a good time to have a teaching moment with the athlete and your team as whole. Explain the skill again and also use that moment to demonstrate how frustration will not help develop the skill.

A few tips to help athletes develop mental skills:

  • Communication – both verbal and non-verbal (some athletes prefer words and others action)
  • Emotions – teach them how to control their emotions (frustration, excitement, etc.)
  • Self-talk – teach them to self-talk through the process of the skill
  • Concentration – teach them the ability to maintain focus
  • Teachable moments – use certain events to demonstrate mistakes and praise achievements 
  • Confidence – have confidence in your athletes but be realistic

Coaches should have mental skills in their repertoire for developing athletes. By developing mental skills, the athlete is able to overcome problems, build confidence and just maybe move to the next level to becoming an Olympic medalist. Teaching techniques and playing systems are great part of sport but developing the mental aspect of sports is just as important.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1.Birrer D, Morgan G. Psychological skills training as a way to enhance an athlete’s performance in high-intensity sports. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports. October 2, 2010;20:78-87. 
2.Creasy J, Rearick M, Buriak J, Wright L. Are You Coaching Mental Skills? Why Not?. Virginia Journal. Fall2009 2009;30(2):13-14. 
3.Crust L, Clough P. Developing Mental Toughness: From Research to Practice. Journal Of Sport Psychology In Action. January 2011;2(1):21-32. 
4.Heller R. 10 Commandments of the Mentally Tough Player. Tennis Life. June 2010;:37. 
5.Sinclair G, Sinclair D. Developing Reflective Performers by Integrating Mental Management Skills With the Learning Process. Sport Psychologist. March 1994;8(1):13-27. 
6.Weinberg R, Butt J, Culp B. Coaches’ views of mental toughness and how it is built. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. June 2011;9(2):156-172.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.