Within a sport and during the game, a player’s challenge is to clearly and intently focus their mind on the game without letting the game take over their mind. They must have the ability to calmly and instinctively recognize what needs to be done to execute the task at hand. The key is to be able to realize what needs to be done and doing it without having it enter their mind what would happen if they did not.
But what allows some players to be able to do this while others cannot? Why can some players flush the past and stay in the moment while others let the time between opportunities during the game, and the time between games, consume them with frustration and doubt? What allows some players to have a Growth Mindset to accept failure as a necessary part of progress and development while others are defeated by it?
The first thing I emphasize to my players is you cannot become on the field or court what you are not in life. If you pay attention to the details and the process to achieve success in school and in your personal life, you will have the best chance to do so in your sport. If you master life skills such as organization, time management and goal setting, and have an unwavering positive attitude and perseverance outside of your sport, you will have an easier time applying those essential traits in your sport.
Second, I think a player must know that no matter the outcome, they are loved and supported by their family, friends, coaches, and teammates. It is also extremely important that youth realize very early in their lives that while they may not have been able to choose their family, they will benefit immensely by choosing friends with high character and integrity. These emotional components will provide a foundation for inner peace from which excellence in execution can be achieved.
Next, a player must believe their success and happiness in life is not governed by the outcome of a game. The measure of them as a person and of their team is not whether they won the game or championship; it is determined by how they reacted to winning them.
A player must also believe their talents, skills, academic study, hobbies, and life experience will prepare them for rewarding opportunities outside of their sport. In this regard, it is critical they choose a college first as if they were not an athlete.
During a game, a player does not perform to the level of their talent; they perform to the level of their training. Again, these habits begin outside of their sport. Good grades, for example, are not a true indication of a student’s achievement unless they were obtained from high standards, against elite competition, and through consistent hard work. The same can be said for the benchmarks of success in the player’s sport.
A player’s teammates must be held accountable to meet these same standards of excellence so that during the game a player can trust their preparation too. All parts and aspects of practice must include competitions so players can learn the critical lessons of learning to control what they can control and being comfortable being uncomfortable.
A player will know they are winning the mental side of the game when, regardless of whether they are playing well or not, they are excited to come back tomorrow to do it again. In other words, they are playing the game for the same reason they played it originally – because it is fun.