Mental toughness is arguably one of the biggest factors that can determine the outcome of games, even for young athletes. Many people believe that mental toughness is inherited. For some children it seems to come naturally, while those who struggle with it tend to stay away from sports. But mental toughness is in fact a learned trait that can be taught to anyone with the right methods. Use these tips as a starting point to develop mental toughness with your young team.
Struggle and stress are good
- Let your players struggle a little bit and experience stress — it is an important part of any child’s development inside and outside of athletics. Sports are all about learning to deal with challenges and obstacles — important skills for adulthood!
- Anything worth achieving is rarely easy. Teach children that pressure is something you put on yourself and that competitive situations can be exciting self-challenges, not threats.
Let them fail
- Failure is a temporary feeling. Making mistakes is a necessary way to learn how to do anything well. Coaches should help young athletes learn from their mistakes and make a plan to improve next time, such as changing practice habits. Failure can also be a source of motivation.
Praise effort over results
- Winning is about putting in your best effort possible on that day. Giving total effort and losing is more important than winning with half-effort. Encourage great performance, good play, and sportsmanship — winning should not be a condition for enjoyment of any sport.
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Teach good sportsmanship
- Motivation to perform should not come from anger or hatred for the opponent. Appreciate opponents as fellow athletes who make it possible to compete. A child’s biggest competition should be with themselves.
Encourage children to take responsibility for their performance — good or bad.
- Don’t let players blame other people or factors for their lack of success. If they make a mistake that costs them the game, coach them through options so they are better prepared for success the next time they are in a similar situation.