Part 2 of 2 – Mental Toughness for Youth Sports
In part 1 of Mental Toughness for Youth Sports we discussed when working with youth players, it is much easier and much more effective to define mental toughness in relation to key on-court/on-field and off-court/off-field BEHAVIORS. Key mental toughness behaviors are very easy to understand, simple to create a plan for, and simple to execute. In addition, behaviors can often be scored, which means that improvements can be measured and monitored.
A Smart Mental Toughness Plan for Youth Sports
Part 1 of this series outlined the first six Key Mental Toughness Behaviors, and part 2 of this article will now provide the remaining six Key Mental Toughness Behaviors (ie #’s 7 – 12) for a total of 12 Key Behaviors. These 12 Key Mental Toughness Behaviors provide the youth coach and youth athlete with a SIMPLE and EFFECTIVE way to define toughness and put a foundational plan in place to improve toughness. A smart coach can create an easy plan by focusing on just the same smaller set of behaviors each and every day in practice for a number of days or a number of weeks. For example, a 6 week plan can be created by choosing the same 2 behaviors each day for the 1st week, before moving on to the next 2 behaviors. The plan can be extended or shortened using this same principle. As mentioned in Part 1, the youth coach is encouraged to meet with his/her team before practice, and read to the team the key mental toughness behaviors (and the descriptions of the behaviors) that will be emphasized during that practice. The coach should hang a simple and easy to read poster with bright markers during practice that has the 2-3 key toughness behaviors being emphasized on the day as columns and all of the players names as rows, and keep a simple point scoring system during practice to make a big deal out of each player whenever a player demonstrates one of the toughness behaviors. Remember to keep it fun and keep it simple.
Also remember that all of the toughness success keys are 100% controllable by the player, meaning that each of the keys are based on either attitude or effort or a combination of both, versus success keys that are based on ability/high levels of skill or uncontrollable outcomes. Creating toughness keys based on ability and outcomes have value at professional levels, and to a certain degree at collegiate and varsity scholastic levels, but for youth sports, the more controllable a task the more confidence and motivation the youth athlete will have in the pursuit of that task or goal. Before listing the behaviors, one final point should be made. It is often helpful to show what mental toughness IS and also what mental toughness IS NOT. While it can be important for youth athletes to understand the types of behaviors that are not encouraged or not accepted, a few coaches might choose to deduct a point from an athlete’s overall score when one of the undesirable behaviors occurs. I believe that when using a point tracking system for youth athletes, point deductions can often be a double-edged sword of motivation, because while I am a very strong believer in accountability and a strong believer that the undesirable behavior should be acknowledged and corrected, actual point deductions can be very demoralizing for the youth athlete. Research conclusively demonstrates that for motivation and successful learning outcomes for the youth athlete, the power and effectiveness of positive rewards for the good and desired behavior has greater and longer lasting effects than the negative punishments used in an attempt to avoid and discourage the undesired behavior.
The remaining 6 Key Mental Toughness Behaviors
# 7 CLASS
The Mentally Tough Player – WINS WITH ‘CLASS’ AND LOSES WITH ‘CLASS’
The mentally tough player who has just won a game is respectful to opponents by shaking the opponent’s hands or giving them a respectful fist bump and telling the opponent ‘good game’ or ‘good luck this year’ or something else which is genuine, respectful and encouraging. It is usually easier to be respectful to an opponent after a victory, and yet the mentally tough player will show the SAME amount of respect to an opponent after a loss. Now comes the hard part….the mentally tough player will show a high level of ‘class’ even if that opponent has shown little class or respect. The mentally tough player will not allow himself/herself to sink to the same disrespectful level of a player or a team who has shown little class or respect. The mentally tough player also knows the difference between an acceptable level of positive celebration after he/she has made a good or great play as opposed to a disrespectful ‘over-the-top’ celebration that quickly becomes more about the athlete than the great play.
The Mentally Weak Player – OFTEN SHOWS POOR CLASS WHEN WINNING & NO CLASS WHEN LOSING
# 8 THE EXTRA MILE
The Mentally Tough Player – WILL GO THE EXTRA MILE, EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING
The mentally tough player loves to get to practice early and loves to stay late to get in extra practice and improvement, even when the coach is not aware that the player is going the extra mile and putting in the extra work. When it is not possible for the mentally tough player to arrive early to practice and leave late, he/she will find other opportunities and times to practice and improve. The mentally tough player knows that even when the coaching staff does not see the player putting in the extra work, they WILL eventually see all of the improvements that result from the extra work.
The Mentally Weak Player – WILL USUALLY ONLY DO ENOUGH TO GET BY
The mentally weak player will typically only break a real sweat in mandatory team practice and will rarely get in any ‘serious’ practice time outside of team practice. Serious practice time means putting a plan in place to improve while working on ball handling, key moves, shooting, and other key skills that need work, while practicing at game-time speed. Whenever the mentally weak player decides to play basketball outside of team practice it is typically to just ‘practice’ by casually shooting around or goofing off. This type of activity is really casually ‘playing’ the game vs. actually PRACTICING the game. In the mind of the mentally weak athlete, he/she is just ‘faking’ a practice and pretending to work on their game in an effort to make themselves feel a sense of accomplishment without really getting in any serious practice, work and improvement.
# 9 LISTENING
The Mentally Tough Player – WORKS HARD TO BE A GREAT LISTENER
Great listening skills and great communication skills can be difficult at times, especially when we are tired, frustrated or angry. During these moments, it requires great toughness to communicate or listen well and not give in to our own fatigue, frustration or anger and say or do something that we may regret when we are rested or calmer. In addition, communication and listening is harder for some people than it is for others. However, mentally tough players try hard to be great listeners and great team communicators. Great listeners and communicators look people in the eye when they are talking to them or when they are listening to them. Eye contact means that we are paying attention, are focused, and are giving the other person respect. Great listeners let someone know that they have understood an instruction by verbalizing that they have understood with a quick “ok, I’ve got it,” by repeating the instructions back to the coach or teammate to show that they have understood, or by giving a respectful head nod to let the other person know that they have understood what was said. Great listeners are also patient, waiting for the other person to finish what they are saying before asking questions or making comments of their own
The Mentally Weak Player – MAKES LITTLE EFFORT TO BE A BETTER COMMUNICATOR & LISTENER
# 10 ENCOURAGEMENT
The Mentally Tough Player – WORKS HARD TO BE ONE OF THE BEST ENCOURAGERS
Mentally tough players are always trying to build the confidence of their teammates by encouraging them when they have a made a mistake and praising them when they have made a good play. The mentally tough player never lets a good pass, good hustle play or any other good play made by a teammate go by without a word of encouragement or a high 5. Enthusiasm and encouragement are the foundation of great team energy. Championship teams have great enthusiasm, and a culture of encouragement and great energy.
The Mentally Weak Player – MAKES LITTLE EFFORT TO BE A GREAT ENCOURAGER
The mentally weak player is often too focused on himself/herself to encourage teammates or will allow petty jealousy or insecurity to get in the way of supporting teammates and building team morale and confidence. The mentally weak player will sometimes only encourage teammates they like, while choosing not to encourage other teammates they do not like as much, and will rarely encourage teammates who are competing directly with them for playing time
# 11 SELF-ANALYSIS
The Mentally Tough Player – CONSTANTLY REVIEWS HIS/HER OWN PERFORMANCE
The mentally tough player spends a few minutes after every practice and every game thinking about what they can do to play even better at the next practice or game. The mentally tough player is secure enough to identify areas of improvement and will strive to write down two things he/she did well in the practice or game, and at least three things that he/she can do to improve. This concept is the essence of one of the most important keys to future success of any player – self-driven accountability – (a term that almost every coach will understand, but some youth players will need a definition of) which is the ability to analyze or think about your own performance, plan the changes that need to be made, and then make the improvements. The mentally tough player will even strive to compare previous post-practice and post-game analysis notes to see whether he/she can identify any trends or similar realizations from one practice to another or one game to another. Improvement trends can create a GREAT improvement plan of action, and can help the athlete to set some very specific and very important improvement goals.
The Mentally Weak Player – DOES NOT CARE ENOUGH OR IS TOO INSECURE TO HONESTLY SELF-REFLECT AND OFTEN TO LAZY TO WRITE NOTES ON A PREVIOUS PERFORMANCE
# 12 COMPLAINING
The Mentally Tough Player – KNOWS YOU CAN GET BUSY WINNING OR GET BUSY WHINING
Mentally tough players are more interested in winning than they are in whining. Mentally tough players search for the positive in things versus the negative in things, and even when the mentally tough player feels frustrated, he/she rarely shows it and rarely complains. Mentally tough players choose instead to keep the team energy levels high and the team vibe positive with positive thoughts and comments versus negative thoughts and comments. This attitude takes toughness and maturity. Mentally tough players know that the definition of maturity is “when the things you should do become more important than the things you want to do.” Remember that MATURITY HAS MUCH MORE TO DO WITH YOUR ATTITUDE THAN IT DOES YOUR AGE.
The Mentally Weak Player – SEARCHES FOR THE NEGATIVE OR THE WORST IN THINGS, AND THEN COMPLAINS ABOUT THOSE THINGS
Coaches and athletes of all levels understand the importance of mental toughness in the pursuit of a successful season, particularly in the intense heat and pressure of post-season play. Yet, mental toughness remains both hard to simply define and fairly elusive to maintain, teach and develop a plan for. I hope you have found the preceding article useful to help define mental toughness and put a simple and easy-to-implement plan in place for the youth athletes you coach. Here’s wishing each of you tremendous success as you plan for your upcoming seasons!
Sincerely, Spencer Wood, President, Icebox Athlete Mental Skills & Toughness Training
About the author:
Spencer Wood Ph.D (ABD), M.S., C.S.C.S., P.E.S., Member A.A.S.P., is an internationally renowned speaker, author and trainer of athletes and coaches in the area of Championship Mental Skills & Toughness Training. A featured speaker at five NCAA Final Fours, and an on-site provider of Mental Skills & Toughness Training Workshops for over 100 championship university programs across the United States, and for professional teams in leagues such as the NBA, With the creation of The EDGE 4 part DVD MENTAL TOUGHNESS TRAINING SYSTEM, Spencer continues to use his unique blend of motivation and passion for athletic excellence to impact the lives and careers of 1000’s of athletes and coaches. For more information or to order a copy, visit www.iceboxathlete.com