Case Study: Niagara Women’s Basketball

Before mental training

Not long ago, the coaches of Niagara University's Women's Basketball team, including Head Coach Kendra Faustin and Assistant Coach Corinne Jones, felt their program had untapped potential.

In 2013, they knew they wanted to make a change in their team’s collective mindset. More specifically, they knew, in order to get to the next level of performance, there were

4 things they needed to address

  1. “Get Over It.”

    Failure, that is. A fear of failure across the board in their program was manifesting itself in competition. The team would have great practices but were overly nervous about their performance when game time came, resulting in losses and, ironically, failure.
  1. “Drop the Language.”

    The Niagara athletes held on to a lot of negative self-talk (e.g. “I can’t believe I missed that layup in the first half”). Basically, “I can’t” was heard way too often.
  1. Confidence Un-Boost

    Each athlete’s lack of confidence manifested itself in performance as well created discomfort within their role on the team. Athletes were often comparing themselves to others—thinking “I want to be a scorer instead of a rebounder”—instead of taking firm ownership of the position they were entrusted with.
  1. Focus Failure

    The coaches felt their athletes’ focus was far off base. They (1) spent too much time thinking about things they couldn’t control; (2) wasted energy on what they were doing wrong; and (3) were overly focused on the pursuit of perfection.

Head Coach Kendra Faustin, Niagara University Women’s Basketball:

"I was most concerned with our players' level of confidence, with many of our players focused solely on perfection. We really struggled with handling the failures that are always present in the process of being successful. What we found was that, in general, the negative self-talk was OUT OF CONTROL. The lessons and exercises that Positive Performance supplied were excellent tools to help our players ‘get it’. Every player benefited in a different way, but everyone referenced mental training in their end of the year meeting as helping them in some way.”

Clear results

Coach Jones took point on the team’s mental training. She started the athletes on a once a week mental workout and a team mental huddle (team mental training).

They noticed changes in the first year of using their mental training program, with “95% of [the] team really buying into the mental training and using it regularly on their own.”

Here are a couple of the changes they saw:

Player A, a Junior, had limited playing time. With less than 5 minutes in the previous two years, 2013 was a starter year for them. The athlete admitted her improvement was a direct result of not only feeling, but being, more mentally tough than before.

Player B was her own worst enemy. At first she didn’t buy into mental training, but soon started visualizing on her own and doing breathing exercises. Down the road, in the last few games of the season, her ability to take care of the ball and score made the difference for their team. The athlete said specifically that she felt she had more control over her play in competition after doing the mental training.

Assistant Coach Corinne Jones, Niagara University Women’s Basketball:

"As we moved through the training I could tell our athletes were using it because they started talking about it amongst themselves, using their own language. Instead of going through the motions and regurgitating what the staff was saying, they were making [mental training] their own and communicating it with each other in the way that helped them the most."

Conclusion: Now, it's just how they do It

Today, the Niagara Women’s Basketball staff feels their team and culture is moving in the direction they want it to in regard to mental toughness. However, like most programs do, they’re realizing that, while sometimes changes in individual players can come immediately, the organizational change often happens more slowly.

Even so, they definitely see positive changes in their athletes.

That’s why the Niagara Women’s Basketball team will continue to make mental training a cornerstone of their program so that it becomes “just a part of how we do it here at Niagara.”

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