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Community Blog: Where Do I Even Start With Mental Training?

When we asked our Mental Training for Coaches Facebook group, “For a coach just starting mindset work, what advice would you give them?”, we received a flood of advice. It was exciting for us to read through comments posted by coaches of all age groups, sports, levels of experience, and longevity in the field, and we realized, the advice shared on that Facebook thread was too good for us to keep to ourselves.

We handpicked what we believe to be the most valuable advice from those that contributed to the discussion, and added our own perspective into this blog to help coaches who are new to mental training get started on the right foot. 

Here's what our coaching community had to say...

Adopt A Growth Mindset As A Coach

The first life you change is your own. Live what you teach.

If you follow Positive Performance at all, you have probably heard us say it before; it all starts with you. 

Implementing mental training into our your life means making it a daily habit and asking athletes only what you ask of yourself. In coach Kadee Gray’s words, “It’s such an underrated part of the process of becoming a coach… [to do] the things we’re actually asking the kids to do.” 

Getting to coach your athletes and be an example of what’s possible is a privilege, coach Zachary Hooks reminds us, “We get to be a vessel and healthy space for learning - Particularly in sports [...] one of the greatest teachers of life lessons.”

Hooks goes on to share, “[I need to] provide clarity within myself so that I can be the light for others.” 

Be Honest About Not Having All The Answers

It’s a journey, not a destination. Even experienced mindset coaches don’t have all the answers. 

Coach Kadee Grey discusses the importance of being gracious to yourself as you begin mental training. In Grey’s words, “Be comfortable not knowing the answers. Guide the athlete, but get really good at asking questions to help them process their performance and create their own solutions.” 

At Positive Performance, we have tons of free resources to help you get started mental training, but mental training is a skill and it takes time to grow. Don’t forget that you’re dealing with individuals who have different ways of thinking, processing, and learning; what works super well for one athlete may not work at all for another.

It's important to:

  • Keep asking questions
  • Have faith in the process
  • Know that even if all you’re doing is making space for and bringing awareness to mental training, you’re still helping your athletes. 

Grey offers valuable insight by reminding coaches, “[Your athletes will] take what they want/need. They don’t have to do it the way you think they should or your version of perfect[...] Allow the athlete the space to own their own mindset practice under your guidance.” 

Start With What You Know

One of your most valuable resources as a coach is your own experience as an athlete.

Coach Cherry Johnson admits, “I started with me first”. Johnson recommends starting with what you know by reflecting first on your own experience as a young athlete. What lessons would have had the biggest impact on you as a young athlete? It’s likely your athletes are struggling with some of the same things. 

Once you've defined your team's biggest challenges, you'll have a better idea of how to start tackling them with mental training.

Below, we put together a short list of common challenges along with recommended resources that will help you grow in these areas.

  • If your athletes struggle to be competitive during competition and have difficulty bouncing back from mistakes, join our webinar on competition, Game Face: Inside the Minds of Great Competitors
  • If your team lacks focus before practice and competition, implement a pre-competition routine like The BRAVR Method.
  • If your athletes struggle with confidence, work with them to develop their Positive Self-Talk
  • If you aren’t seeing improvement in practices, take action by snagging a copy of our Coaches Cheat Sheet

Use Language They Understand

Especially when you’re just introducing your team to mental training, it’s important to use language that your athletes understand and resonate with. 

Your athletes might be aware of their biggest challenges and struggles in performance, but they might not think of them right away as issues related to the mental game. It’s up to you to connect the dots. Talk to your athletes about their biggest struggles while using the language that they use when they talk about their own performance. 

Here’s a quick example, if you’re a tennis coach, you might have an athlete that’s a really good server, but occasionally they’ll miss their first serve. When that happens, they almost never make their second serve. When you talk to that athlete about mental training, don’t start by throwing around terms like “mistake recovery”, start by talking to them about how frustrating it is to double fault and ask them questions about what goes on in their brain after they miss that first serve. Once you connect double faulting with mistake recovery, your athlete will be much more receptive to learning a mental exercise that will help them recover from mistakes and bounce back from failure.

As Positive Performance community member, Coach Brian Buck points out, “Not many people would say, I need to improve my mindset or I need to influence the mindsets of those around me...If your [athlete] wouldn’t use that word then it won't be something they relate to when [working with you]” 

Get Buy- In

If you believe it, they will too.  

When coaches say, “I’m afraid my athletes just won’t buy in!” our first question is, “Do you really believe in it?”

If you believe in mental training, live it out, and know first-hand how impactful it is, you will bring mental training to your team with confidence, and you’ll do it regardless of potential pushback. After all... 

You don’t ask your athletes if they’d like to lift weights or run sprints, you tell them to do it because you know that it will help them. You have to approach mental training the same way. 

With that in mind, if you’re starting a brand new mental training program, it's normal to experience some resistance. Here are a few tips from our community on how to get everyone on board from the beginning:

Community member and Positive Performance Certified Mindset Coach, Bryan Price offers a few important talking points for discussing the value of mental training with athletes, coaches, and parents:

    • The best players in the game (in any sport) are using [mental training] to get an edge.
    • [Mental training] is severely under-used. Ask [athletes] how much of success in their sport is due to mental skills, then ask them if they’re practicing mental skills in accordance with their percentage. 
    • The higher you go in sports, the more success is determined by mental skills. Not by size, speed, or strength.
    • [Mental skills] are life skills which can be applied to every facet of life (school, profession, relationships, public speaking, test taking).

To that last point, Coach Fernando Santos adds that mental training teaches athletes skills that will make them "happier, autonomous, responsible, and self-regulated". Positive Performance Certified Mindset Coach, Amy Holt Oliphant adds, “Why wouldn’t you do [mental training]? It’s definitely not going to hurt, and will definitely help give [athletes] a one-up on their competition.”

Define What Success Looks Like.

To define success in mental training, start by thinking about what you hope to gain from implementing a mental training program. 

Coach Johnny Whitby says it best. He encourages coaches to define what success looks like so that you have a clear idea of your purpose in starting mental training. In his words, Whitby encourages coaches to “reverse engineer the process [by asking questions like]...

  • What do I want these kids to learn about themselves as contributors to their team?
  • How can I create an environment that feels safe, where taking risks and stretching competence is rewarded? Where you learn from failure and not fear it.
  • What life skills do I want these kids to learn during this season that they won’t learn anywhere else but on a team? 
  • What do I need to do on a consistent basis to ensure these kids feel that I have their best interests [in mind], and that I want them to succeed, and they can trust me?”

If you spend time answering these questions, it will not only help you pinpoint your purpose, it will also give you some talking points to help you get athlete buy-in and show your athletes the transformation that they can expect from mental training.

Start With One Thing

One thing is better than nothing.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of starting mental training with your team. So overwhelming, in fact, that it's easy to avoid it all together.

The good news is, you don't have to do it all at once. In fact, one could argue, it's more effective to start small. Introduce your athletes to just one thing that you know will make a big impact, then watch how it makes a ripple effect.

If you aren't sure where to start, we'd love to help you! For coaches who want to do just ONE thing that is proven to work, we recommend our pre-competition routine, The BRAVR Method. The BRAVR Method is a simple, easy-to-implement mental exercises that teams do at the start of practice and games to get athletes focused and ready to compete every time. Learn more about The BRAVR Method.


Thank you to all our coaches who contributed to this discussion! 

Let’s keep the conversation going. 

  • If you are a coach who practices mental training with your team, how would you answer the question: Where do I even start with mental training? 
  • If you are a coach who wants to begin mental training but doesn’t know where to start, what questions do you have? 

Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below!

Wanna be involved in the next discussion? Come on over to our private Facebook group for coaches. There, you'll find thousands of coaches who are passionate about mental training coming together, sparking conversations, and learning from one another every day. 

See you inside! 

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