By Greg Bach
All athletes bump into some form of adversity during a season.
It’s part of competing – and impossible to dodge.
And it’s up to coaches and parents to help prepare young athletes before it strikes.
“Something doesn’t have to go wrong in order for you to work on your mental skills,” says Darleen Santore, acclaimed mental skills and leadership coach and author of THE ART OF BOUNCING BACK. “This is another muscle that we want to work on to get mentally stronger and stronger doesn’t mean pushing emotions away. Stronger means knowing how to handle adversity, failure, obstacles and struggles.”
Santore, well-known as “Coach Dar,” works with athletes at all levels.
And she’s seen even the best in the world get tangled up in issues that can surface with young athletes, too.
“I had a professional hockey player who just kept beating himself down after a bad game,” she says. “He kept saying ‘I’m so bad.’ I said ‘hold on, the game was bad, but you are not.’ That’s a big difference. So we need to reframe those thoughts.”
Reframing is one of her favorite principles.
“I use it literally every day with myself,” she says.
And it can be valuable for young athletes whose confidence fizzles during a disappointing performance.
“I want people to understand that even at the highest level athletes still question themselves,” says Santore, the former mental performance coach for the Phoenix Suns. “So reframing really sets you up to identify what is true and what is false and then you can align with the truth and not the false noise that you are feeding yourself.”
Among the topics Santore covers in THE ART OF BOUNCING BACK is the value of being mentally agile and not dwelling on a bad play or rocky patch in a game.
“Staying mentally agile would be like ‘hey, something didn’t go well this shift or this play or this inning’ but you stay agile and you keep working on reframing this, and you keep trying to see when you can seize the next play,” she says. “Mental agility is staying in the flow so you can pivot and you can start to adjust emotionally and mentally and physically; and when you can adjust easily where things don’t take you down forever, you bounce back faster.”
As mental health issues among youth continue to rise, it’s more important than ever that young athletes have someone who they can turn to for guidance and help.
“We don’t want anyone to start stuffing their emotions,” Santore says. “It’s really good to talk about it.”
She encourages young athletes to find someone who they can talk to and get the help they need to move forward and thrive.
“You don’t want to stay in the pain of something all the time and talking about the bad of it all the time because what you focus on you feel,” she says. “So you want to be able to get it out, get the tools that you need, and learn from it so you can move on from it. So we’re not going to extremes where we stuff it or we stay in it and it’s all we talk about it all the time. We have to flow through it like a pendulum.”
Adversity lurks during every season.
And at every level.
Those who are best prepared to handle it when it arrives will be positioned to flourish both on and off the field.
“We can’t avoid adversity and there’s not a person who does not need to know the principles of how we handle adversity and bounce back,” Santore says. “So if we can equip our youth with mental skills just like we do with physical skills they will be better able to handle not only the game, but life.”
Follow Darleen Santore on Instagram @thecoachdar and Twitter @TheCoachDar.Adversity Mental Health Darleen Santore Coach Dar Performance Bouncing Back