Managing the Moment
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
Big moments in games can happen at any time for a young athlete and, regardless if the results are good or bad, they are often remembered forever.
The more young athletes experience these types of moments, the more prepared they are for them, and the better they will be at handling them during their athletic journey.
“Big game moments for the athlete and the coach are different,” says Dr. Treva Anderson, a Certified Mental Performance Consultant based in South Carolina who works with athletes of all ages and skill levels, as well as coaches. “For the athlete, these moments are usually central to their personal participation during the game and their actions may not necessarily involve the rest of the team. Coaches see big game moments from a larger perspective. They see the team needing to work together to get the end result they are looking for. This is an important distinction to be made because some athletes, especially youth athletes, may not necessarily see the importance of how their individual actions relate to the entire team.”
Big moments certainly vary for athletes. For a young child new to sports their moment may be the first time they are dribbling down the basketball court on a breakaway and all eyes are suddenly fixated on them. And for a more experienced young quarterback, his moment may be that last-minute drive in the league championship game in which the team is relying heavily on him to perform at a high level amid lots of pressure.
“Anytime a player is in possession could be considered their big game moment,” Anderson says. “If a football player has the ball, or a hockey player is moving the puck down the ice, that could be perceived as their big game moment. These moments can happen frequently for some players, but it can also depend on what sport the athlete is playing and their overall experience since team sports depends on positions. This is one area I don’t think coaches quite understand because if a youth athlete has little experience playing that means that their skill level is not very high. So, say you have a young athlete that is not very experienced, he/she will feel a lot of pressure when a big game moment occurs that can become almost scary for a child and the focus shifts from executing the skill to the pressure involved. Whereas, if you have a young athlete with a lot of experience and a high skill level, they are more likely to appreciate being in possession of the ball and their moment will be more enjoyable.”
Game-changing moments are challenging to replicate in practice, but the more times you can put players in situations that are game-like in nature, the more comfortable they will be when they do occur.
And a little creativity goes a long way. For example, in basketball practices maybe halt a drill unexpectedly and send a player to the free throw line for one shot. If the player makes it the team wins the game and the coach does five push-ups or runs the length of the floor; a miss and the entire team does a lap.
“First, it is important for coaches to make sure, whether an athlete has a lot or a little experience, that they are prepared for these moments,” Anderson says. “Coaches should be specific and let the athlete know what they are expecting from them.”
During these simulated pressure moments in practices, coaches should also engage players to learn what they are feeling to help them manage nerves or anxiety.
“Ideally, a coach will get to know his or her players,” Anderson says. “Many athletes want specific instructions, such as ‘hold the ball like this.’ This type of instruction should be easy for athletes to understand at whatever level they are playing at and can help them focus on skill execution.”
Of course, athletes aren’t going to be successful in every big moment, but the more lessons they take away from each of those experiences the better they’ll be able to execute the next time out.
And giving feedback, particularly if the athlete wasn’t successful in the moment, requires compassion blended with a confidence-building tone.
“Coaches want to deliver their feedback in a calm manner and try to stay in control of their emotions,” Anderson says. “If an inexperienced athlete was in control during the last play, and it did not go quite as planned, coaches want to make sure they do not get overly emotional and understand that what just happened may have been a big moment for that athlete. Giving calm feedback and reinforcing what he or she did right can make all the difference, and give the young athlete a huge confidence boost.”
Dr. Treva Anderson
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