Jan 6, 2017
Mentally Prepared
Anthony Lanzillo

When high school students come out for sports, most of their time is typically spent doing exercises, running, lifting weights, scrimmaging and anything else that supports their physical conditioning. Each practice and training session is designed to help athletes get physically prepared to play and compete. Yet, the one and maybe most important element in showing athletes how to elevate their performance and play their best game is through mental skills training.

With a mental skills training program, coaches can provide their athletes with the essential skills to play with greater concentration, composure, and confidence. This program trains athletes on how to set and reach their seasonal goals, visualize and mentally rehearse their performances, focus on what they want to achieve, effectively respond to mistakes, and play with passion and perseverance. Mental skills training will show athletes the basic tools to becoming mentally stronger, and ultimately making smarter split-second decisions during the game.

The athletes need to understand that they are actually playing two different games when they step onto the field or court. There is the game that everyone on the sidelines and stands is watching with their two eyes. And there is the game taking place between the two ears of each athlete. Your athletes need to realize that if they want to win the game that everyone is watching then they need to win the game inside their head.

One important mental skills tool that athletes need is learning how to make good decisions during a game. With all the physical and emotional demands put upon athletes when they are competing, many of them find it difficult to be mentally sharp and make the smart decision in different game-time situations.

Typically, athletes are:

  • Thinking about what they don’t want to do or have happen to them
  • Unable to tune out distractions
  • Unable to effectively manage their emotions.

That leads to not being able to mentally hold it all together and making critical mistakes. Ultimately, it means they are not playing to their potential.

There are a number of mental skills drills that coaches can incorporate into team practices that will help train their athletes to make informed decisions. Below are three short and simple examples of what you can during a practice. Each scenario is during a scrimmage, and the coach should initiate the drill by blowing his or her whistle, without any warning.

  1. Yell out a player’s name and say “eyes.” What you asking the player to do is to tell everyone what she sees in that moment. The message is that if the player can’t keep her focus in the present moment and clearly see what is happening, then she can’t make the right decision on the field or court.
  2. Yell out a player’s name and say “pop.” Pop stands for “play on purpose.” You are asking the player if he knows what he is doing at that moment — what is the purpose of his actions. The message is that if the player doesn’t know what he is doing or wants to accomplish, then he may start thinking about what he doesn’t want to do or have happen to him, and end up making a mistake. He creates more anxiety and self-doubt, and is unable to make the best decision.
  3. Yell out a player’s name and say “focus.” You want the player to identify the things that she controls and should focus on, and those things that she can’t control and should turn her attention away from. The players must understand that if they want to help their team, and have a positive impact in a game, then they need to stay focused on themselves and the task-at-hand.

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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