Winning the Mental Game
By Greg Bach
Helping young athletes learn to shove aside all the negative thoughts that bombard them and consistently compete with a clear, focused, and confident mindset is one of the biggest challenges for coaches and parents.
And one of the most important, too.
“The earlier we can learn these things about how we’re wired and how we can be our best selves by managing our minds and our emotions is really important,” says Dr. Amber Selking, author of the new book WINNING THE MENTAL GAME. “We get to choose and control our thoughts. While there are a lot of uncontrollables out in our world today the single most influential driver of our success and our ability to live healthy, happy, and grounded lives is in our control and that’s managing and choosing the right thoughts on a more consistent basis.”
Selking is one of the nation’s leading experts in the sports and mental performance coaching sphere and she is the mental performance consultant for the University of Notre Dame football team. She is also the founder of Selking Performance Group, a leading performance consulting practice that works with individuals, companies and sports teams; and she hosts the popular BUILDING CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSETS podcast.
Each chapter of WINNING THE MENTAL GAME features real-life stories from those Selking has worked closely with – from Notre Dame football players to Fortune 500 business professionals – and how they reached new levels of achievement.
And sustain it.
Selking explains how our brains work, how it impacts performance, and how anyone can take their performances to the next level in easy-to-understand language.
There are also golden nuggets at the end of each chapter, as she shares some championship mindset training techniques.
“The brain is not a muscle in the scientific sense, but it functions like a muscle to the extent that the parts that we use grow and get stronger and the parts that we don’t use get weaker,” she says. “So we want to train our brains just like we train our bodies with strength and conditioning and just like we train on the skills, techniques and fundamentals of whatever sport we are in.”
MATTERS OF THE MIND
Selking shared these tips for parents and coaches to help their young athletes compete with positive mindsets, have more enjoyable experiences along their journey, and perform at higher levels:
DITCH ‘DON’T’ – While communicating with young athletes discard ‘don’t’ from your vocabulary, as it tends to be counterproductive. Selking explains: “The brain actually sees in pictures so when we say ‘don’t strike out’ what does an athlete see? They see a strikeout. We don’t have a picture for the word ‘don’t’ but we have a picture for the very thing we don’t want to do. So just helping kids know that and asking them what they want to happen, like hit it on the barrel of the bat, follow through, or whatever it might be. If we can get them to say the affirmative of what they want to happen that’s one way to help with that negative self-talk.”
STOCK UP ON SHARPIES – When Notre Dame football players take the field on Saturdays many have black-inked words or phrases scribbled on their gear. These are power statements that Selking recommends for helping stay focused on the right thoughts; and they can be utilized with athletes of all age levels. “We have them write these simple phrases on their wrist bands or their gloves,” Selking says. “These are just reminders that ‘I am strong,’ ‘I am powerful,’ and ‘I am focused’ so when they are competing they can look down and actually see the right thoughts. Sharpie markers have become a staple in our locker room.”
MOLDING MINDSETS – Legendary coach Lou Holtz, who wrote the Foreword to her book, was well-known for telling Notre Dame players ‘it’s a great day to work’ every time they stepped on the practice field. “What stood out to me is that Coach Holtz said that every day and what we know is that repeated thoughts build mindsets and mindsets are actual protein patterns that change how our brain works,” Selking says. “You can think of a mindset as an Instagram filter: you’ve got a picture and depending on what filter you put over it depends on what the picture looks like. So every day he was building mindsets in his players.”
POWERFUL WORDS – “I think as coaches, even youth coaches, we underestimate the power of our words and the environment that we create for these kids to show up to,” Selking says. “What are the life lessons that you want them to learn? And can you say that to them over and over and over again to the point where it starts to build a mindset in them. I think that’s one way as coaches, as parents, as teachers that we can really impact the mental game of those people in our sphere.”
CELEBRATE THE PROCESS – “We need to be very intentional about what we celebrate and what we praise and teach kids,” she says. “Even if they might fail on the outcome if you can celebrate the process they learn that this is a safe place to learn and to grow and to get better.”
You can follow Dr. Amber Selking on Instagram @champmindsets and Twitter @DrSelking.
Dr. Amber Selking
Former NFL safety Dr. Myron Rolle, author of The 2% Way, shares the mindset that he uses every day to keep moving forward and how young athletes can benefit from it on their journeys, too
Dr. Julie Stamm, a leading neuroscientist and author of THE BRAIN ON YOUTH SPORTS, shares important research and insights on repetitive head trauma and the long-term impact on young athletes’ brain
Acclaimed psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross, author of Chatter, shares tips to help your young athletes use their inner voice to perform better when the pressure rises
Former NFL prolific pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen – dad of three and a busy volunteer youth coach these days – hosts the new podcast Youth Inc., featuring his conversations with athletes, coaches and psychologists covering different aspects of youth sports