Jan 19, 2017
Mental Rehearsal
Anthony Lanzillo

When you are coaching athletes, it’s very important to provide mental skills training along with the physical conditioning program and overall development of their athletic skills. One essential tool for all athletes is what we call visualization or the mental rehearsal. It’s showing your athletes how to use mental imagery and using such senses as sight and sound to mentally practice how they want to perform in the actual game. It is a fairly simple process to teach and learn.

This process will strengthen their mental skills, and thereby, help the athletes become more confident and self-assured when they find themselves in different game-time situations. It gives the athletes a stronger mindset, and assists them in making smarter decisions. By mentally practicing how they plan to perform, they will be focused on themselves, on what they control, on being task-oriented and what they want to accomplish.

For athletes who don’t use this process, they are often distracted and overwhelmed by negative feelings or fears. They can easily think about things they don’t control and worry about what they don’t want to do or have happen to them in the game.

The mental rehearsal is something that you can introduce and incorporate into team practices. Let’s say you are at a football or lacrosse practice, and running through different plays on offense or defense. After you have the offensive unit physically run through a play, you have the players get back into their positions at the beginning of that play. Then you ask the players to do the following five-step exercise:

  • Take a deep breath and slowly close your eyes.
  • Identify the play you just ran through.
  • Identify your primary role and responsibility in this play.
  • Identify a personal strength that will help you in this play.
  • Identify the performance objectives during the play (a short series of visual and verbal cues that highlight specific moves you are making in the play).
  • Identify a positive feeling from a successful performance.

You can even give your players a “mental prep playbook,” a notebook with single-page forms called “mental prep playsheets” where they can take a moment to write down their answers to the five steps for each play. After writing it down, you want to encourage your players to review their mental rehearsals of the different plays on a regular basis. They need to understand that the more they do their mental rehearsals of these plays, the more confident they will be when they find themselves playing in the actual games.

Also, during the team practices, you can talk to your players about how to plug into a short list of visual or verbal cues during a game. The moment a player finds himself in a particular play he can simply focus on:

  • Role
  • Personal Strength
  • First Performance Objective
  • Positive Feeling

In fact, during practice when the team is scrimmaging, you can blow the whistle to stop the scrimmage, yell a player’s name, say “cue” or “plug in,” and have that player verbally state his five steps in his mental rehearsal for that play. You want your players to immediately go to the key mental prompts or cues when they find themselves in different plays during competition.

A mental health professional for over 20 years, Anthony "Tone" Lanzillo has more recently been exploring how athletes can use mental skills in their practices and games. He works with athletes in such sports as softball, boxing, field hockey, football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse and writes for FirstDown Playbook, Coaches Training Room, Ultimate Hockey Source, Lax Playbook, Online Soccer Coaching, World of Basketball, Lacrosse All-Stars, Coaches Clipboard and Coach Book. More information on his ideas and services is at: http://www.thementalpeak.com/.

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