Matters of the Mind
By Greg Bach
Big moments for young athletes can pop up at the most unexpected times – and how ready they are to meet these challenges can be the difference between a rewarding or crushing experience.
“I see so many people not doing the right things to get ready for the moment when their number is called,” says Grant Parr, a mental sports performance coach and the author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown. “And I am fascinated by the people who are doing the right things.”
Parr, a former college athlete, understands how to teach others to take control of their mental space, trust their preparation, and excel when those game-changing moments arrive.
He owns and runs GAMEFACE PERFORMANCE, a consulting firm that enhances mental skills for athletes and coaches; he works with a wide variety of athletes, including Olympians, professionals, collegians and high schoolers; and he hosts the 90% Mental podcast.
We caught up with Parr, who shares some insights for helping young athletes handle pressure, embrace their roles, and more. Check out what he had to say:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is it beneficial for coaches to put kids in pressure situations in practice?
PARR: I encourage coaches to create pressurized situations – the way we practice is the way we play. So, let’s get them introduced to pressurized situations. I’ve been doing this of late with the teams that I have been working with. From a mental toughness standpoint or grit standpoint when things get really tough, when we get out of breath and we’re exhausted, what I think helps us is the way we talk to ourselves and not listen to ourselves. Even with myself as an athlete, when I am dead tired all it takes is one word for me to say “stop” and I stop. But if we can actually fight through that feeling and talk to ourselves and keep talking to ourselves, we can fight through the exhaustion and the pain and keep going. So what I have been doing with teams is having coaches do their normal conditioning, but when they start getting really tired the coach will just call random names and as they are running they have to say out loud the self-talk word or statement that they are saying to themselves right in that very moment to keep them going through that tough conditioning moment.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are some samples coaches could share with their young athletes to use?
PARR: ‘I got this,’ ‘Let’s go,’ ‘Keep going,’ and ‘I’m a champion.’
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can coaches help kids embrace their role, especially if they are in a competitive league where playing time is dictated by skill level and they may not be receiving many game day minutes because they aren’t part of the starting group?
PARR: Being a second stringer is probably one of the most important roles on a team because you never know when your number is going to be called. You might be called in for a minute, for half a game, or for the rest of the season. So how are you going to go into that game and actually blend in with the rhythm of the game and the speed of the game? When you embrace your role it’s a connection. Maybe I’m not starting right now but I’m going to visualize, I’m going to start doing some assessment while I’m on the sideline. I’m not going to sit there and talk to my friends and talk about the latest movie because that’s keeping me out of focus. Regardless if we’re not playing, we have to embrace our role as a second stringer, we have to bring energy, we have to still lead from the bench, and we still have to communicate. I think if we are all doing that the team overall will be more connected and there won’t be any fragmented parts of a team with people not knowing their role.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: When it comes to visualization how can coaches help those young athletes who have negative thoughts creep in when they are trying to visualize a positive outcome?
PARR: I think it’s natural that it does happen because our brain is a crazy thing. It’s ok if we actually see something negatively – but the goal is never end a visualization session on something negative. What we are trying to do when we are visualizing is to train the unconscious mind. The brain doesn’t know the difference between a physical rep versus a mental rep. So if we’re going to do mental reps we’re trying to train that unconscious mind so when we actually do that certain thing physically our mind has already seen it and we’ve already built in the confidence and the motivation in our body. So it’s ok to have a negative one, we just don’t want to end on it because we don’t want our brain to keep on seeing us doing the wrong thing.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is one of the keys to making visualization work with young athletes?
PARR: When it comes to visualization the hardest thing is controlling that image – and really getting deeper with that image is seeing the environment. So if I know that I am going to be competing at a field, I literally am not only going to see myself but I am going to see myself within that environment. I am going to see the team’s colors and who I am going to be competing against. So the hardest part about visualization is just controlling that image and controlling everything within that environment. It’s repetition. I say it all the time – if you want to get good at visualization or mental skills training you have to keep doing reps and trusting it and in the long run it’s going to pay off.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s a key message you hope readers take away from your book?
PARR: To focus on being transformational versus transactional, and to be vulnerable. I believe that word vulnerability is being used a lot in society and I am glad that it is, but I think as we think about athletics we want our athletes to be vulnerable, we want them to be vulnerable with their play and trust themselves. If you are leading people, people sense energy. They feel it, they experience it, they receive it. When a leader can be transformational and also be vulnerable and empathetic, then I think people just naturally gravitate to that type of leader.
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