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Coaching Sport Psychology

Updated: May 6, 2023

Unfortunately, coaches are not often trained in understanding sport psychology. There are many who might unintentionally touch on it, but very few truly understand it. For coaches, their jobs are on the line on top of all the other things mentioned above. This means that their focus is often a “win now” mentality. As they move up to more competitive levels of sports, their window for acceptable failure gets smaller and the lens for criticism gets larger. This can lead to them wanting players to push through struggles and injuries or sit/trade/release players who are under-performing. Although this is understandable given the guidelines that they are often working under, is it really a beneficial way to go about things?

In some sports, coaching has started to change as the leagues become more athlete focused. The National Basketball League (NBA) is a prime example of this. Players are much more mobile now in terms of their ability to move teams. This means that not only do coaches need to focus on winning and still have an expectation of building a long-term successful franchise, but they also must cater more towards their star players as well. This has placed even more of a burden for a balancing act on the coaches between their long-term goals and the goals of star players. Of course, there is also the issue of having to deal with team ownership who also have different goals and expectations. Coaches often get left in tough places or even lost because of these. So how can a coach use sports psychology to meet all these conflicting goals?

Taking care of their players mentally could be one of the most underutilized tools that a coach has as their disposal. Physical conditioning and technical skills are certainly necessary for team success, but so is the mental health of athletes. If we look back at players like Denis Rodman in the NBA and Antonio Brown in the National Football League (NFL). These men were superstars and household names at the top of their game. In a flash it was gone because their mental status was left unchecked until it was too late. Yes, there is plenty of blame on those athletes for their actions. However, it was the competitive nature of sports that helped to create the belief that they needed to push through these on their own because they needed to be mentally strong and keep that competitive mindset.

There is a ring of truth to that in the sense that athletes do need to be able to block things out at times and maintain their competitive mindset. A coach needs to be able to recognize the signs of mental strain on their athletes and understand that they need to help their athletes not just forget those strains or try to keep them to themselves. It can make a big difference to a coach’s athletes if the coach is initiating conversations about the tough mental questions and making sure to check in on their athletes. Having those open conversations and even bringing in a sports psychologist to help the athletes can allow some level of stress relief for athletes that will help them improve their performance.

If you are a coach or leader, knowing where you team is mentally will not only help you achieve your goals and your organizations goals, but it will also help you in the most integral part of your responsibility…taking care of your athletes. You are responsible for the adults and/or children that you are leading and developing. Do not forget that a crucial piece of their development (whether young or old) is the parts of them that we cannot see. It is not just about physical development or improving their technical ability, but you are also a key figure in their mental development. If you find a way to help relieve the mental pressures that all athlete’s face, you will start to see an improvement in the other areas.

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