How Important is Mental Health for Student-Athletes?
As student-athletes return to the classroom and the playing field this fall, hopefully, a sense of normalcy will return as well: Full-team practices after school, Friday night football games all over the city and large gatherings of family and friends. Unfortunately, normalcy in sport also involves some negatives: injuries, less time for schoolwork and the pressure to perform well.
Sport comes with pressure
That pressure to perform is the most common reason athletes visit a mental performance coach. After a year of playing sports through a pandemic, other factors could increase an athlete's stress. Athletes might feel pressure to make up for a lost season due to the pandemic and overwork themselves. This could increase pressure while decreasing enjoyment and performance. Athletes could be living under a dark cloud of reality that the season could end at any moment due to health and safety precautions, or that any restriction could threaten to disrupt the rhythm of the season or force teams to go virtual once again.
Control the controllable
We have gone through this once already. This means, if we were paying attention, the lesson was presented to us on how to handle it. The lesson is this: There will always be factors that are out of your control (weather, referees, COVID restrictions, etc.). Focusing on what you can’t control makes the experience less enjoyable. Concentrating on the things you can control not only makes the sport more enjoyable but also improves performance. Focusing on what you can control has always been the optimal approach for sport performance. What better teacher of that lesson than a global pandemic?
A few things to focus on that are under your control:
- My thoughts and actions that lead to doing things right
- The task, not the outcome
- The reasons I enjoy my sport (what I get to do rather than what I have to do)
- The progress I have made over time
Tools in Your Toolbox
Controlling what we can control in and of itself is a positive. But is it enough? We need practical approaches to handle those difficult situations when they inevitably happen. With my athletes, I help them develop trigger words from their explanations on how they do things perfectly. This helps them remember what is important in the moment. We discuss positive self-talk and reframing so that we can control the voice in our heads. How we talk to ourselves should help performance, not hurt it. We spend time improving present-focus to help manage emotions in those pressure-packed moments and so much more.
You're Good At What You Practice
With all the uncontrollable factors around sports, it can make any athlete want to throw in the towel. It takes practice to reframe and restructure the way we think. Athletes are very good at improving their physical skills in their sport. We use coaches to learn how to field a ground ball or hit a tennis ball. We use strength coaches to learn proper exercise forms. We hire private coaches for extra physical reps. We spend time improving the physical skills needed in our sport to have those skills during the competition. Going to professionals to build physical strength doesn’t mean an athlete is weak. But physical strength isn’t the only strength athletes need to compete to their full capacity. Mental strength matters too. What are you doing to strengthen your mind? Using a mental performance coach does not mean an athlete is weak either. It's actually the opposite. It means the athlete is willing to work hard to improve their mindset, much like the willingness to improve the physical.
Student-athletes have always had to manage the difficulties of student life and athletic life. Now they have to do it after a pandemic. But athletes do not have to do this alone. Find things you can control and make those things your primary focus. Seek help when you feel it is needed or wanted. Anything you do to improve yourself can only make you stronger.
To learn more about Warren Fitzmorris and Mental Performance Coaching, please visit: https://performance.ochsner.or...