– Your Mental Skills & Toughness Training Plan of Action
Ask any athlete, coach or sports fan ‘of all the athletic attributes, which is the most important?’ Even the most casual athlete, coach or sports fan will provide an answer that in some way relates to the mental toughness, potential and power locked away in our mind. Yet, for so many coaches and athletes, unlocking the incredible athletic potential and power held in our minds is as much a mystery as it is a source of constant heartache and frustration. For those athletes who have experienced a major performance or skills slump in a big game or even over the course of a season – the frustration can feel like a slow death. Unfortunately, far too many coaches and athletes know this feeling all too well.
Now a respected discipline and science, mental skills training has been around since the late 70’s. The startling success of many ‘Eastern Bloc’ athletes in major international competitions threw a spotlight on what were at the time, experimental and relatively new training methods. A mental training revolution in the 1980’s and 1990’s was expected that would permeate almost every sport at every level. The revolution never came. Why? Time after time, a disciplined, structured approach to mental skills training has yielded significant, and sometimes breathtaking sports performance improvements. The results have been unquestionable. Yet, we have not witnessed the expected mental skills training revolution. Why is it that the remarkable benefits of mental skills training only appear to be available to a fortunate few?
The discipline of sports psychology continues to be shrouded in mystery. What has led to this misunderstanding is largely a question of athletes’ and coaches’ inability to access the most useful skills and training. Much of the existing material on the subject is not easily transferable to the athletic arena and is just not practical under the ‘intense heat’ of competition. The mental skills misunderstanding and mystery that has resulted has continued to be a constant source of frustration for both coaches and athletes in early 21st century competition. However, some elite coaches, players and teams have begun to develop innovative solutions to their mental skills and toughness training needs. These teams recognize that at least 50% of an athlete’s performance is related to their state of mind. In fact, as the age, skill, and competition level increases, many of the more successful coaches place this percentage closer to 90%. As a result, many of these elite coaches, players and teams now consistently devote a percentage of their daily practice time or a block of time outside of practice to mental skills training – and their consistent winning records and championship trophies reflect this commitment. Teams that play well in the clutch are simply able to win more games.
So how does a coach and team begin to implement a mental skills and toughness training program for clutch performance? It has been said that “sometimes things do not go according to plan because a plan did not exist in the first place.” For mental skills this plan begins with an honest assessment of each athlete’s mental skills and toughness strengths and weaknesses. But what kind of mental skills and toughness traits should you assess? While a seemingly endless stream of words and phrases can be used to broadly describe mental skills and athletic toughness traits, a useful summary traces each of these traits to one of more of the 4 C’s of Peak Performance – Composure, Concentration, Confidence and Commitment.
The 4 C’s of Peak Performance
Together, these “4 C’s of Peak Performance,” Composure, Concentration, Confidence, and Commitment – work like a model of a 3 leg stool. The first 3 C’s of Peak Performance – Composure, Concentration, and Confidence are like the legs of the stool. Lose one or more legs and the integrity and balance of the stool is compromised. Translation – our performance suffers. And the 4th C of Peak Performance – Commitment - is the seat or platform of the stool that takes our weight and sustains us. No commitment or motivation, no stool. Each of these 4 C’s of Peak Performance profoundly affects the others. Developing tremendous composure allows us to better perform our concentration skills. A composed athlete who is able to effectively concentrate whenever necessary, will be a confident and highly effective athlete. And finally, a fully committed athlete will have harnessed the necessary drive and motivation to passionately pursue their mental and physical potential – committing to the necessary physical and mental training, maximizing their composure, concentration and confidence, and striving for Peak Performance. The “4 C’s Stool” diagram illustrates this Peak Performance Model.
The Peak Performance Assessment
The Peak Performance Assessment is divided into three parts and examines current levels of competition composure, concentration, confidence and commitment. This assessment also gauges stress indicators that can profoundly affect each of the 4 C’s of Peak Performance such as excessive stress, an excessive amount of self-imposed pressure, poor nutrition, over training, rest levels and other important variables. Part 1 = Questions 1-15. These questions are scored on a scale from 1-10. A score of 1 = a “strongly disagree/very low” score. A score of 9 = a “strongly agree/very high” score. A score of 10 is a very rare “near perfect” score and should only be used sparingly. Complete questions 1-15 for each of your players and then instruct each of your players to complete questions 1-15. Encourage each of your players to complete the Peak Performance Assessment with complete honesty. Great athletes are great because they work on their strengths AND their weaknesses. Only complete honesty will allow your players to objectively identify these strengths and weaknesses before they are able to effectively improve these skills. The coach and player evaluations should be compared against each other by you in a one-on-one meeting with each player. Any question with a score below a 7 should send up a ‘red flag’ and you should strongly consider working on this weakness with the athlete in question and turning the weakness into a future goal for improvement.
Part 2 of the Peak Performance Assessment = Questions 16-18. These questions are also scored on the same 1-10 scale but these questions only need to be completed by the athletes. The answers to these questions provide some great material for optional team discussions. Another difference with questions 16-18 is that they are scored on a ‘question-by-question’ basis. This means that a score of 9 i.e. “highly agree/very high” score could be a negative or positive attribute, depending on the question. Once again, your scores to these questions in Part 2 should be evaluated on a question-by-question basis. Any score that is more than 3 points away from the best possible score should send up a red flag and each player should strongly consider working on this weakness and using the area of weakness as a future goal for improvement.
Part 3 of the Peak Performance Assessment = Questions 19-20. Like Part 2, these two questions only need to be completed by the athletes. Also like Part 2, the answers to these questions provide some great material for optional team discussions. The difference between Part 3 and Part 2 is that it does not contain a scoring scale. The answers to questions 19 & 20 of Part 3 should be recorded by each player in the space provided in the assessment. The answers to these questions are very important. Like Parts 1 & 2, search out any areas of weakness that are revealed in the answers to help each player to develop their goals and performance improvement plans.
Examine the scores from the Peak Performance Assessment carefully. How high did each player score on questions that concerned the 4 C’s of Peak Performance, especially their levels of motivation to improve their mental skills and competitive toughness?
Developing a mental skills and toughness training plan for your team will certainly involve a time commitment. But this critical skill set will add a new, challenging and fun component to your practice schedule. In addition, the more you continue to train your team’s competitive mental muscle and refine your player’s mental training skills, the closer you will come to your team’s real potential. The pay-off in consistent peak performance, individual player improvement and your overall win column will be tremendous.
This article is an excerpt of a CD from a Multi-CD training pack called icebox - The Ultimate Mental Skills & Toughness Training System. icebox is the Preferred Mental Skills & Toughness Training Provider of the WBCA. For more information, or to order a copy, visit www.iceboxathlete.com and learn how icebox has helped some of the World’s greatest athletes. About the author and founder of the icebox Training System:
Spencer Wood MS, BA, BS, CSCS, PES, Member AAASP, is an internationally renowned speaker and dynamic trainer of athletes and coaches in the area of Winning Mental Skills & Toughness Training and Explosive Speed Training. Spencer continues to use his unique blend of passion for athletic excellence to impact the lives and careers of 1000’s of athletes and coaches of all ages from middle school to the professional ranks. www.iceboxathlete.com
No portion of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the Icebox Athlete National Marketing Director.
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