Mental Game Coaching in Youth Athletes

There is a misconception amongst athletes and coaches that developing the physical
skills to compete at a given sport is the only key to achieving success. Although this way of
thinking is starting to change and more people are starting to pay attention to the mental side
of competing at an elite level, there is still an imbalance between time spent developing
physical skills over mental skills. To define what mental skills training is for anybody who might be unfamiliar with it, mental toughness training is the systematic and consistent practice of mental skills for the purpose of enhancing performance, increasing enjoyment, or reaching a greater level of self-satisfaction in one’s given sport.
Essentially it assists athletes to develop new skills and gives them tools they can use to help
them reach their full potential.

Developing the mental skills to compete at an elite level is at least equally as important as the physical side of playing a sport, so more emphasis needs to be placed on this to start and level out the imbalance between time spent developing these two sets of skills. For instance, how many times have you seen a team or an
athlete get into a high pressure situation and they start falling apart and making mistakes that
they weren’t making earlier in the game or wouldn’t normally make? Or what about a team or
an athlete who gets a big lead just to collapse and end up losing? It is not that a team or
individual in these situations just miraculously lost all the sport specific skills and forgot how to
play – this is a weakness in the mental side of their game. Yet, the majority of the time, when
athletes tighten up under pressure or lose concentration and end up performing poorly,
coaches try to fix this with more practice. However, the issue often is not a lack of physical
skills, it’s usually a lack of mental skills that is responsible. Anybody who has played sports in their life can probably relate to some of the

● Getting to a critical point in competition and choking
● Have your mind start wandering in the middle of competition
● Getting angry or frustrated with your performance and putting yourself down over it

Those are just three examples, which hardly scratches the surface, of what mental skills training
can help an athlete with. Developing mental skills help athletes with their ability to focus, ability to rebound from failure, ability to cope with pressure, and have the motivation and determination to persist when facing adversity. Mental skills are present in all aspects of competition so why wouldn’t we put more emphasis on
developing these skills?

The simple answer might be stigma. A stigma still exists that sport psychology and the mental
side of competing is reserved for athletes struggling with their mental health. This is nothing
more than a myth. Mental skills training has the ability to help all athletes gain a competitive
advantage, maximize their potential, and reach peak performance. But it is more than that as there is still a lack of knowledge about what mental skills training is and the benefits it has.
There is also a belief that some people are just born to compete. Yes, everybody is born with
certain physical and psychological predispositions, but skills can still be learned and developed.
There has been a shift in thinking and more attention being paid to the psychological aspects of
competing. The more momentum this gains, the more we will be seeing resilient athletes both
in sport and in everyday life.

Reid Coleman,

B.Sc. (Honours) in Psychology, Master of Science in Psychology (Sport Specialization), Mental Game Coaching Specialist