The Strongest Muscle: Your Mind
In addition to helping a team and driving desired outcomes, mental skills learned through athletics can apply to life off the courts and fields. Learning how to find common ground and resolve differences with co-workers to achieve team goals or learning to cope with performance anxiety when making a big presentation, are a couple ways mental skill training in sports can apply to one’s career.
I’ve seen firsthand how habits and lessons learned in sports can easily be apply to other aspects of an athlete’s life
In my 27 years of experience as a Division I soccer coach, I’ve seen firsthand how habits and lessons learned in sports can easily be apply to other aspects of an athlete’s life. Watching Aly Wagner raise triplets while pursuing her ambitious career goals, I see her utilizing some of the same skills that helped us win a national championship, e.g. time management, mental toughness, resourcefulness, teamwork, communication, preparation, goal setting, and leadership.
A successful sports team is built on tactical, technical, mental, and physical skills. Mental skills have typically been undervalued until recently, favoring instead, time spent on x’s and o’s, skill acquisition, or strength and conditioning. I believe “seeing” or measuring the results of mental skills training is less obvious than the other areas and therefore many tend to somewhat ignore this area. However, the best coaches focus more time and energy on the mental pillar even though it may be more difficult to measure.
It’s difficult to quantify the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to each pillar. Most of the time we are working on more than one area at a time -- sometimes all four at once. But as you can see from the charts below, we are not spending enough time and energy on developing leadership, mental toughness, goal setting, teamwork, communication, and stress management skills for our student/athletes.
Parents and coaches need to develop each of these skills to improve the player’s mental strength. They will also need to create a competitive environment that has a culture of respect, thoughtfulness, and humility.
On the SCU Women's Soccer Team we have five core values that help us reinforce the importance of mental training. The values are on the walls of our offices, in the locker room, and on the cover to our team binders. It is a constant reminder that we have a responsibility to create a healthy, positive, and competitive environment. We ask the athletes on the SCU Women's Soccer Team to dedicate at least two of their five daily goals to a mental skill.
Our core values are:
- Bronco pride
- Respect the game, others, and our tradition
- Personal responsibility and commitment to excellence
- Embrace the opportunity for growth and success
- Compete with toughness and determination
Parents and coaches are becoming more aware of their responsibility to develop our youth beyond the next game, the season, and the sport. As parents and coaches, we need to create a meaningful, challenging, and rewarding experience for our students/athletes. It should help them grow to be successful in sports and in life.
At Santa Clara University, the new Jerry Smith Coaching for Life Academy focuses on the importance of these pillars, especially the mental pillar. Students need to develop skills to succeed today, tomorrow, and the rest of their lives.