Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 Helping Your Athlete Manage Performance and Social Anxiety
(9/23/2020)
 
   

5 Strategies to Help Your Athlete Manage Performance and Social Anxiety


Suggestions to help athletes control their sport anxiety


Every athlete will likely feel some kind of nerves during practices or in competition. Some athletes thrive under pressure and embrace the nerves, while others will crumple if not bolstered by a supportive coach and team.

Nerves aren’t inherently bad, and they can actually indicate interest in sport, but it’s important for athletes to learn how to manage anxiety for long-term mental wellness, especially since the anxiety created by sport is often similar to the social anxiety experienced outside of sport.

To help athletes control their sport anxiety, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders , has some suggestions.

Sports should reduce anxiety, not cause it

Emphasizing the ‘fun’ aspect of sport is important at all ages, especially in the adolescent years. It’s easy to get caught up in the points spread or results as a coach, but that’s not the main reason sports matter for youth. Research has shown that playing sports can have positive impacts on mental health and anxiety in young people, and ultimately, it’s important to understand that for many young athletes, this will be the greatest benefit that sport will provide them. With that in mind, coaches and parents’ language and behavior should reflect that the goal of playing sport is the social and physical benefits, not the scholarships or tournament wins. For example, make your first question after a game, “What was your favorite part of the game?” rather than “What did you do wrong today?”

Teach mental strategies early and often

Coaches are often so bogged down by mandatory practices, busy competition schedules, and other demands on their time that they completely skip over the importance of teaching mental strategies to athletes. But visualization and other mental techniques have been shown to improve performance.

Start early in the season with a discussion of mental techniques and make practical recommendations, Chapman says. Walk athletes through a visualization exercise that they can do before games, have everyone download a free guided-meditation app, and have a discussion of what success looks like for this team, this year.

Avoid failure avoidance

When athletes are nervous or anxious, they often fall into a failure avoidance mentality, meaning that they begin to avoid taking risks that could end in failure. The problem with that, Chapman explains, is that while an athlete is avoiding failure, they are not going to be trying to win or to improve, they are just going to be trying to "not mess up.”

To avoid this mentality, explain early in the season that the goal for the team isn’t to win every game, or sink every shot, but to actually try new techniques, take risks, and make mistakes. Praise attempts, including the ones that fail, to create a culture where students can feel safe pushing their limits in sport.

Remembers, coaches can continue offering advice for improvement while fostering a positive outlook on failure. “Rather than saying something like, ‘Stop turning the ball over,’ a coach could try to say, ‘Focus on having better ball control,’” says Chapman. Flip your script to focus on positives rather than calling out errors.

“Punishment is meant to decrease behavior, whereas reinforcement is meant to increase behavior,” he adds. "And reinforcement is much more powerful than punishment. Therefore, the best way to get an athlete to do the right thing is to say something reinforcing."

Anxiety isn't always about winning and losing

According to Chapman, “The team dynamic piece is important and can cause a lot of anxiety as well. Social anxiety, fear of teammates making fun of you if you miss a shot, teammates won’t like you if you don’t act a certain way—that’s another huge contributor to anxiety in athletes. It always comes back to a fear of a negative evaluation.”

But this type of anxiety can be harder to recognize because, as the coach, you’re not in the same culture as the athletes. You aren’t privy to their texts and other communications, but you can help to create a team culture that doesn’t allow for bullying or the idea that winning is everything.

Listen to your athlete

There comes a point where the anxiety produced by a sport outweighs the benefits of playing. Chapman explains that if an athlete isn’t deriving any pleasure from playing, it may be time to consider a new sport rather than pushing through. “If an athlete is anxious before a game but always thrilled afterwards, that’s fine,” he says. “But if the anxiety never goes away, that’s a signal that there is a problem. I think that if they have a low desire, you never should push a kid to play, period.”

Takeaway

Sport anxiety is not preventable, but it should be manageable. It’s up to parents and coaches to communicate and behave in way that reduces anxiety around sport performance and reinforces the positive benefits of sport.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Reducing Anxiety to Make Game Day as Good as Practice
(9/9/2020)
 
   

Reducing Anxiety to Make Game Day as Good as Practice


How to best support your team


Game-day performance anxiety is common in athletes of any age, but the worst possible time to start tackling it is, unfortunately, on game day. Yet most coaches ignore the potential for pre-game jitters until the last minute, when a pep talk is the best anxiety-reducer that they can provide.

But with a few shifts in your coaching throughout the season, you can help foster a team that’s as mentally prepared for game day as they are physically prepared. Specializing in sports-based anxiety, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, breaks down how you can best support your team.

Set expectations for competition that are process-oriented

According to Chapman, process-oriented goals give kids tangible things to focus on that they can control in a game. The more in-control your athlete feels, the calmer they will be.

“The reason outcome occurs is because certain athletes follow a process,” says Chapman. "To reduce anxiety and realize success, we can focus on processes like positive self-talk, game day tactics or strategies, mechanics or techniques, imagery and visualization, getting better, and having a learning mentality. When athletes focus on learning those things and perfecting them out of the love of the game, there’s always a successful outcome regardless of how bad or awesome an athlete plays.”

Watch your language around competition

Often, parents and coaches accidentally play into competition nerves. Telling your athletes that they are ‘absolutely going to wipe the field with the competition,’ screaming at competitors, and generally focusing on the score rather improvement is going to show athletes that winning matters most and everything else is a cause for distress.

Statements like “This is the big game,” or “This play could make or break the season,” are also likely to add to an athlete’s anxiety.

Help your athletes create rituals

To calm their nerves and focus on process, encourage athletes to create their own ‘down to business’ routines. That could mean creating a certain mantra, finding a lucky ‘talisman,’ or developing a ‘secret routine.’

“Most pro athletes have some kind of ritual, talisman, or secret pre-game routine that they do, and that's how they get into that game-day state,” says Chapman. "I think we really should be letting kids figure out what their secret routine is. What is going to help them feel focused and in the zone?”

Encourage your athletes to come up with their own rituals and stick to them on game day. For younger athletes, helping them write a mantra or practice visualization might work best.

Make practice like game day

If you can make some practices more like game days, then game days will feel more like practices, Chapman says. In more severe cases of performance anxiety or in higher-level sports, he actually will have hecklers in the stands during practice.

That may be extreme for a school or youth team, but as a coach, you can set up some practices to be like timed or scored competitions. Make it as realistic as possible: Set aside pre-game time for the usual pep talks and the time spent waiting for the game to start, have athletes do their own pre-game rituals, set up start and finish lines, put out the same food and drink you would normally have available on the sidelines, and even encourage athletes to wear their uniforms.

Takeaway

Game-day performances often look different from practice performances due to anxiety, which means that athletes need to focus on their mental preparedness as much as their physical preparedness. These strategies will get athletes mentally prepared and ready to manage anxiety to perform at their best on game day.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Consistency
(8/11/2020)
 
   

Consistency


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses how consistency in baseball is key. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 Finding an Edge
(7/16/2020)
 
   

Finding an Edge


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


For all the wrong reasons, the Astros were the talk of the off-season. Following an extensive investigation by the Commissioner’s Office, it was found that Houston had implemented a system that illegally enabled their hitters to know what pitch was coming, giving them a distinct advantage over their opponents en-route to a World Series title in 2017. Well before technology, analytics, and data were even on baseball’s radar, players and coaches have been looking for an edge as long as the game has been around. The Astros just took it to a whole ‘nother level, going leaps and bounds beyond the appropriate line of gamesmanship within the game.

Players and teams who are constantly looking for even the slightest of edges are able to separate themselves from the pack when they find it. The edge is about the smallest of details; and for those with the eyes and the mind to find it, an edge can be found all over the game.

From 2006-2011, as a member of the coaching staff at Rutgers University, I was responsible for creating scouting reports for all of our opponents. In addition to developing a plan of attack based on the overall stat lines for the opposing players, we also compiled additional information and tendencies that were potentially valuable while easily able to be implemented in game by our players and coaches. Knowing a few of these different things and finding a way to use that information could help us on every side of the ball.

Looking at a spray chart to know where to position our infielders might just enable us to make a play defensively that otherwise may have gotten through for a hit. It may allow a pitcher to get ahead in a big at bat in a key moment to know that the hitter was not a first-pitch swinger. It might open a window for us to get a stolen base on a pitcher’s slow delivery or stretch an extra 90-feet against a weak-armed outfielder. All of those types of edges add up, and over the course of a game and a season, they add up to wins.

The eyes can also create an edge by simply paying close attention. For decades, baserunners, when on second base, have worked to subtly relay pitches to the hitter by intently watching a catcher’s sign sequence. This is essentially what the Astros got in trouble for, only they didn’t use their eyes from second base; they used a camera from centerfield. Similarly, the keenest of eyes can pick up when a pitcher may be tipping his pitches by seeing the most minute difference from pitch to pitch.

For as detailed and challenging as getting pitches may be for a lineup, when out in the field, that edge can be gained much easier. Foul balls tell a story for the defense. When a hitter is clearly late against a hard-throwing pitcher, infielders and outfielders should clearly see that and position themselves a few steps to the opposite field. Pitchers can get a leg up against a hitter by reading swings; was the batter completely fooled by a change-up? Then it might be a good idea to throw it again. Baserunners may get a great jump on a dirt ball when realizing that the pitcher always throws one when he gets to two strikes. All of these tiny, little edges add up, especially when everyone on the team is looking for them.

Finding an edge is all about preparation off the field and in the dugout, allowing players and coaches to anticipate when the game comes around. Information enables those in the game to take the guess work out of it. With all of the variables that can occur over the course of an inning, a game, and a season, every pitch can be a crapshoot. The more variables we can eliminate, the easier we can make a really, really hard sport.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Difficulty of Baseball
(6/30/2020)
 
   

Difficulty of Baseball


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer reminds us that baseball takes a lot of practice to develop the skills needed to play well. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.