Confidence, ability to manage emotions, self-motivation, use of imagery, and the ability to focus. Those are some of the qualities associated with psychologically strong athletes.
One of the things about sports that interest me the most is how players develop. There is, of course, a wide variety of ways development occurs, and players take different paths at different ages. There isn’t, and never has been, a blanket approach to the way kids improve in athletics.
I spend a lot of time thinking about development and trying to make it happen with the players I coach. But I am far from an expert in the field. I am, however, fully versed and have expert-level knowledge in one area of player development. And that is how kids developed back in the Good Old Days.
So I have this great book that I pull out every once in a while. It’s called Sports Illustrated; Fifty Years of Great Writing.
I picked it up the other day and opened it o an old article about Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and world-famous malaprop philosopher. Famous quotes attributed to Berra are somewhere between idiotic and genius. “No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded” … “Be careful if you don’t know where your going. You might not get there,” and “The Future ain’t what it used to be.”
You know what’s interesting? Watch a group of 12- and 13-year-old female soccer players go through a goal-setting session.
There was roughly 50 of them in a conference room which was not built with acoustical quality to match the high-pitch decibel level girls can reach. Once they quieted down, however, they were (mostly) all business.
Researching mental skills of elite athletes prodcues several qualities associated with psychologically strong athletes.
Confidence, ability to manage emotions, self-motivation, use of imagery, and the ability to focus.
And one of the most valuable qualities is the ability to maintain a positive attitude. Is attitude something that separates the mediocre players from the great ones? Alone, no. Combined with other positive qualities, yes.
For a lot of teams, the season is just getting underway. You’ve probably played a game or two, maybe more, and your performance falls into one of three categories.
- You were good, but there’s room for improvement.
- You were okay and need to improve in several areas.
- You were horrible and need to get better fast.
How did you fail today?
Ask your players that question. It can be a useful and entertaining exercise. It might take a while for some players to open up and admit their mistakes, minor humiliations, and embarrassing moments. And you might have to admit a failure of your own to get things rolling.
Old sayings have merit. If they didn’t, people would have stopped repeating them long before they became old sayings.
And the adage that every youth sports coach wants to coach a team full of orphans is certainly grounded in some truth.
Earlier this week, the 14U girls soccer team I coach had a very unique experience. Lauren Gregg, who served as the assistant coach with the U.S. women’s national team for 12 years, trained them.
Naturally, any time your team can have access to a high-level coach, your players are going to get a lot out of it. But the experience for the girls – and for me -- was even better than I thought it would be.
One of the best questions you can ever ask is “Are there any questions I didn’t ask that I should have?” After all, you want to be sure you get all the information you need, right?
Asking questions is an art form and an essential part of problem-solving, which as you surely know is one of a coach’s most important jobs.