Life can be bizarre sometimes. The older you get, the more you look for and see these surreal moments around you. I experienced one of those intense moments recently. A week ago I drove from New York to Maryland to work with UMBC Men’s Soccer. It’s fitting that the first program and coaches I get to work with after going full time into the mental performance business is the very team where I recognized and felt the challenge of my mentality and confidence to begin with. I wish someone back in 2003 would have gone in depth with me about the importance of my mindset; the impact of it, how to manage it, how to train it. But of course that type of education and training was not common practice yet. I felt grateful to be able to deliver to the current team exactly what my younger self would have needed.
Once I left the team and was on my drive home, I started to think about what I hope they gained from my sessions with them. Here are the top 3 insights that I hope they get out of their time with me (and what I would hope for any athlete working with a mental performance coach or sport psychologist).
#1 They are in control of how consistent and confident they perform (most of the time).
Although many people know consistency and confidence is possible, and try their best to work on it, most have never been taught the insights or skills to manage the mental and emotional aspect of their sport. We cannot be consistent and confident if our inner world is not managed well. I hope that each individual on the team was able to reflect on where they were most inconsistent, and learned the strategies that could help them gain more control (not perfection) over their performance both in sport and in life.
#2 Disappointment and failure are 100% apart of the journey
They need to be able to respond well to it!
I remember I came in as a freshman at UMBC and played immediately. I scored some goals and made an impact right away, so the coaches kept playing me. Soon enough though my goals slowed down and I got some minor injuries. My spot was taken. I admired the coaches there for always playing who they thought was best on a given day to get the job done (and they still do), but sometimes that means good players don’t get the start. It’s disappointing and incredibly hard for talented players to manage this.
We also make simple mistakes and can be slow sometimes.
We over or under react.
We don’t step up to the occasion.
It takes us a long time to learn a new skill or tactic.
Coaches or teammates criticize us…
We sometimes respond poorly.
We must realize that disappointment and failure will 100% happen, but our response to it will make all of the difference.
If coach subs you out, or you don't play → support your teammates, work harder
If you have a bad game → stay positive, keep your belief, work harder
If you are being criticized → accept the feedback, communicate well, work harder
There are endless opportunities where we will not be our best. Disappointment and failure will happen. How we respond is everything to our success and the success of the team. Continued work and effort must be put in. Like seeds in a garden that are appropriately watered and given sunlight to, growth is inevitable. And lucky us, we have control of that response (refer back to #1).
#3- They value and put time into mental training
This is where the magic happens!
The teams I work with usually end up saying they believe that training the mind is important but most will say that they have no idea how to do it. And it’s true. Schools are just now starting to implement the practices. Parents are new to the information. And coaches, for a lot of reasons, find it hard to implement mental training into sessions.
My opinion is that some sort of mental training should be standard practice for an athlete. A division 1 athlete will train their physical, technical, and tactical skills for over 20 hours a week. The mental, which has a huge impact on performance, should get 5-10 minutes a day, but typically gets none.
So what do we do?
There are three different mental skills that I promote heavily. Click on the links to learn more about each and how to start practicing.
1- Rhythmic breathing - https://positivelyelite.com/blog/the-foundational-mental-skill/
2- Mindfulness / Meditation - https://positivelyelite.com/blog/mindfulness-in-sports-and-performance/
3- Visualization- https://positivelyelite.com/blog/the-power-of-visualiztion/
The wisdom, research, and evidence on the impact of these practices are clear. During each session with UMBC, we practiced one of these skills. They were sent home with audios to guide them so they can keep the training going. My hope is that the team not only listened and understood the training but applies it often in their lives.
I consider myself very lucky to have come full circle… To be able to go back to my alma mater and contribute to the team in a way that I never dreamed… To help them with the very things I struggled with.
Mental performance training should no longer just be a luxury. It should be standard education and practice. I hope the players and coaches agreed and I hope that find continued value from my few hours with them.
Powell Cucchiella, LMHC