Feb 3, 2017
Six Guideposts
Anthony Lanzillo

As a high school coach, there is a simple program that you can present to your athletes that will help them reach their mental peak. This program offers six key guideposts to show them what they should focus on to develop their mental skills in sports. These principles can be introduced and incorporated into every workout.

1. Have a sense of purpose

You want your athletes to know the importance of setting and reaching their goals. They should have goals for each practice as well as for each game and for the season. The athletes need to understand that these goals are about what they want to do or achieve to improve their skills and abilities. Whether it’s working on their physical conditioning, developing a specific game-time skill, or improving their diet, the athletes have to identify and embrace goals that they have personal control over. Too often, athletes choose goals that are out of their control, like winning games or being the top scorer. This can lead to a sense of frustration and doubt about themselves.

2. Embrace the right perspective

You want your athletes to realize that they need to have a positive and proactive mindset in sports. They need to focus on their personal strengths and not their weaknesses. They need to put any negative experiences into a positive frame of reference. They need to understand that any mistake or failure is an opportunity to learn and become a better player. You can ask your players what they are grateful for and identify how they can use their personal strengths to support and serve the greater good, their team.

3. Stay in the present

You want your athletes to always keep their attention and focus on the present moment. They should be continuously reminded that there is nothing that they can do about yesterday or tomorrow. They need to focus all their energies and enthusiasm on what they can do in the now to develop and improve their game. One exercise that you can use is called “game time vows.” Athletes make three vows when they play in a game–now, pow, and wow. They play in the present moment. They play proactively. And they play with enthusiasm and joy.

4. Play with poise

You want to teach your athletes the importance of being calm and composed when they are playing in a game. They need to understand that when they lose control of their emotions, they lose control of their concentration, composure, and confidence. The athletes must also understand that simply playing with their emotions, and forgetting their heads, will put themselves and their teams in difficult situations–including getting called for fouls or penalties by the officials.

Two good exercises are “find your anchor” and “avoid the landmines.” The anchor could be a word, image, or piece of music that the athlete pictures in his mind the moment he begins to feel overwhelmed in any game-time situation. The landmines are when an athlete starts complaining and blaming others, and basically “blows up” his focus and composure.

5. Be passionate

You want your athletes to know how to inspire and motivate themselves. Encourage them to identify positive moments from the past, think about the greater good that they are playing for, and explore what they love about playing the game. They need to understand that they need to find ways to lift themselves up, mentally and emotionally, to give their best efforts.

6. Learn to persevere

You want your athletes to learn how to appropriately and effectively respond to any challenges or obstacles that they may face during their season. You can talk to them about such things as courage and the power of faith or belief in themselves. You could also discuss how the athletes can use different affirmations and personal commitments to keep their focus, and fuel their desire and drive to play their best game.

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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