Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do
(12/5/2019)
 
 
   

Role Modeling for Young Athletes: What Not to Do 


In youth sports


As a parent, raising a happy and healthy child is probably one of your top goals. Throughout this journey, you’ll not only be cultivating a positive, caring environment for your young athlete to thrive in, you will also be acting as a role model of the behaviors and values you want to instill. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines a role model as “a person who serves as an example by influencing others. For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers.” 

Leading by example and embracing the fact that you are your child’s key role model will help them develop the kind of behavior you want them to adopt and practice throughout life. The AACAP explains that “children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, relationships, or when making difficult decisions.” 

It’s imperative for parents to take a look at the way they are living their own lives and reflect on what they want their children to mirror, especially since “negative role models may also influence children,” according to the AACAP. Here are five practices that parents should avoid in order to position themselves as the positive role model their young athlete needs to build character and confidence in sport and in life.  

Don’t Silence Your Goals 

According to Michele Borba, PhD, an internationally recognized character development education expert and educational psychologist, “To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations.” 

Borba adds, “The secret is to purposefully model goal-setting when your kids can watch or listen. In fact, modeling is such a simple way to learn the skill. All you need to remember is the formula for goal-setting: I will + what + when and then teach it to your kids.” 

Practice writing out a few goals with your athletes with the formula above. For example, you can suggest, “I will improve on passing the ball more accurately by the end of the soccer season.”  

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations 

While there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, be aware of your athlete’s true capabilities and work with them to set realistic expectations for themselves. 

“Be careful of setting too high a standard. Putting your kid in situations that are too difficult puts them at the risk of failing and lowering feelings of competence. Aim for ‘one step more.’ Effective expectations encourage kids to be their best, so that they can develop a solid belief in themselves,” says Borba. 

For instance, if your child is learning a new sport skill, like shooting the basketball with their less-dominant side, you cannot expect them to perfect that skill in a season. Instead, help them set an expectation that they’ll be attempting to score 1/3 of their shots with that less-dominant arm by the end of the season.  

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture 

At times, it can be easy to lose sight of the big-picture benefits sport participation can bring to your young athlete’s life. Some sport parents get so bogged down in wins or loses that they forget how sport enriches the lives of young athletes by teaching them values and life skills, such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and teamwork. 

Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, suggests, “Parents should never shout criticism or instruction at their children – even to teammates and opponents. If parents wish to shout encouragement or praise, codes of sportsmanship dictate that recognition be given to other athletes as well.” 

He emphasizes that “there’s no reason why a great play or great effort made by the opposition shouldn’t also be appreciated.”  

Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You 

In recent times, we’ve seen how a bad call can push some parents over the edge and create tension on the sidelines. But that behavior will only teach your child that it’s okay to erupt in violence when things do not go their way. 

“When parents yell at or criticize athletes, coaches, or officials, they set an incredibly poor example. It’s not surprising to find that parents who exhibit poor self-control in their own lives often have children who are prone to emotional outbursts and poor self-discipline,” says Smoll. 

He adds, “If parents are to expect sportsmanship and self-control from their children, they need to exhibit the same qualities.”  

Don’t Forget to Show Empathy 

According to Borba, “Empathy is the ability to identify with and feel for another person. It’s the powerful quality that halts violent and cruel behavior and urges us to treat others kindly.” 

When parents can display empathy on a daily basis, they encourage their young athlete to show the same grace to their teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials. 

Borba confirms that “the more aware that kids are of what empathy sounds like, the more likely they are to use those behaviors in their daily lives. Let’s not assume our children know how to show others they care. For instance [phrases to share are]: ‘You look upset.’ ‘I understand how you feel.’ ‘It makes me feel sad that you’re hurt.’ ‘I bet that hurts a lot. It happened to me, too.’”  

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Your influence as a parent is something that should not be taken for granted. Remember, young people are always observing your actions and attitudes. At the end of the day, the way you behave can easily impact your child’s development in a positive or negative way. 


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Help Athletes Navigate Between Seasons
(10/10/2019)
 
   

Helping Athletes Navigate Between Sports Seasons


In youth sports


Serious student-athletes are being pulled in so many directions now: from academic responsibilities, to school and club sports with seasons that often overlap. Everyone wants those teams to do well, but this can often come at great cost to the student-athletes, who may encounter burnout, overtraining, and mental stress from trying to juggle multiple teams at the same time.

As a coach who focuses on collegiate sports, Celia Slater, former college basketball coach and Founder of True North Sports, often sees athletes coming to college burned out from trying to balance club and school sports. Here she explains how coaches can work together to create stronger, more resilient athletes by sharing the training load, not doubling (or tripling) it.
 
Don’t Force Them to Choose

“We shouldn’t put student-athletes in a position where they have to choose,” says Slater. “We should be creating systems that support the student-athlete and what he or she wants to achieve in sport.”

It is more work — you’re going to have to individualize plans, communicate more with other coaches and talk with parents and athletes more. It might mean relaxing the rules on the number of practices required or working with another coach to create a cohesive strength-training and interval routine. But ultimately, if the goal is to create great athletes versus simply stake your claim on them, extra time and considerations need to be given so they know they can play for both teams.
 
Create Lines of Communication Between Coaches, Parents, and the Athlete

Right now, you may be relying on the athlete to tell you what their other practice and competition schedule looks like, but that doesn’t always work. High-achieving athletes will feel the need to try to satisfy both coaches, and as a result, may end up doubling up on practices, or not telling you that they already did a lifting session or interval workout that day for their other coach.

“Talk to the other coach and come up with a plan that’s healthiest for the individual athlete, which also means including the athlete and their parents in creating a schedule that works for everyone,” says Slater. Make sure it’s clear that communication is necessary and expected. An athlete should feel comfortable talking to you anytime, not just at the start of the season.
 
Think Critically About Your Values Overall

“Are the policies on your team in the best interest of the team or of each athlete?” asks Slater. You may have unintentionally created policies that force athletes into unhealthy situations.

“Athletes are getting pulled in two directions, and eventually, they’re torn in half and will quit, or will pick one or the other. Look closely at your policy and culture and see how it aligns with the values of creating healthy, happy athletes,” she adds. Again, that might mean that your current hard line policy of ‘no missed practices the week before key games’ may need to be relaxed in certain circumstances.
 
Focus on Teaching Self-Leadership

Ultimately, most student-athletes won’t go on to become professional players, but no matter what skill level they have at sport, you can support their ability to succeed in life. “Student-athletes get sport skills at an alarming rate but often miss skills like self-awareness that they need to get through college and life,” Slater explains.

“You have to teach athletes to lead themselves for success later in life. We underestimate how difficult that transition can be, and don’t teach it.” This might mean letting a student athlete create her own schedule of practice, it might mean assigning more leadership rolls, or asking for a certain type of accountability. Remember that the goal of sport at a young age is about creating good people, not just good athletes.
 
Keep a Close Watch for Signs of Burnout

“Many athletes pulled in different directions by club and school teams end up quitting by college,” says Slater. “I think very few of these kids who go through club and school sports get to college and don’t want to play anymore, they just want to finally relax.”

This is avoidable: Be on the lookout for signs of burnout.

Slater adds, “Generally speaking, coaches need to be able to see if an athlete is having a high anxiety level, is depressed, isn’t enjoying the sport anymore.” Those signs may indicate that the athlete needs to take a break from one team, or to cut down on practice or play time.
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Whether an athlete is on a school team, a club team, or both, it’s a coach’s job to help create a healthy environment for all athletes. To develop happier and healthier student-athletes, it’s important to let them play different sports and learn how to balance their interests in a safe, effective way.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 5 Practical Self-Care Tips for Youth Athletes
(9/26/2019)
 
   

5 Practical Self-Care Tips for Youth Athletes 


In youth sports


From dealing with pressure on social media, to balancing academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, teenagers are under more stress than ever.

Amy Saltzman, MD, author of A Still Quiet Place for Athletes, believes that athletes who practice mindfulness develop a more balanced approach to self-care, which ultimately helps them achieve peak performance in sport and in life.

According to Saltzman, “Being mindful means simply being aware of what is happening here and now with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behaviors.” She adds that young athletes who “bring kind and curious attention to all aspects of their health and well-being have an advantage in learning what works best for them during training, competition, and in life.”

Saltzman, a long-time athlete herself, explains that “in the long run, it’s up to young athletes to learn from coaches, parents, nutritionists, athletic trainers, sport-specific articles and books, and most importantly their own bodies, and develop and refine the self-care routines that create the opportunity to perform at their best.”

With that in mind, Saltzman shares five scientifically proven self-care habits athletes can practice to improve their physical health and maximize their ability to compete at their best. 

Prioritize Rest

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting extra sleep over an extended period of time improves athletic performance, mood, and alertness.

Saltzman says, “Oftentimes in sports, young athletes are encouraged to push beyond their perceived limits to progress, but pushing too hard and too often can result in injury and physical, mental, and emotional burnout.”

Overtraining doesn’t help anyone. Creating and actively implementing a proper rest and recovery schedule can prevent young athletes from reaching the brink of burnout and injury. By avoiding unhealthy extremes and prioritizing rest, you can help your athlete improve their physical and mental capacity. 

Make Healthier Food Choices

It’s essential to the development of young athletes to fuel their bodies with well-balanced meals of nutrient-rich foods instead of processed foods. In addition to preventing major health issues like osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease, healthier, whole foods develop their brain function.

Saltzman encourages young athletes to “bring their kind and curious attention to what they eat, how they eat, and how their body feels after they eat.” Over time they can take note of which foods complement their physical exercise and build a meal plan around the foods that help their body function at its best.

In general, Saltzman notes that athletes’ “bodies will function best if they eat natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, milk, cheese, and eggs.”

Drink More Water

Saltzman reports that “research shows that exercise performance is impaired when an athlete is dehydrated by as little as 2 percent of body weight. When the athlete loses an excess of 5 percent of body weight, their performance capacity is decreased by about 30 percent.”
Encouraging your young athletes to properly hydrate is essential to their athletic performance and, more importantly, to their overall health and well-being.
Saltzman adds, “It’s especially important for athletes to be aware and properly hydrate when they’re traveling, competing in hot or humid climates, or at altitude.” 

Focus On Conditioning

Youth sports offer athletes a place to improve their bodies’ overall performance and physical capacity. Not all conditioning has to be sport-specific.
Saltzman explains, “Young athletes can benefit by adding age-appropriate, developmentally-paced strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and core strength to their exercise routines. And if young athletes do these activities mindfully (being present and discerningly aware of how their bodies feel, rather than just going through the motions), they will increase their physical, mental, and emotional strength, endurance, and flexibility.”

This self-awareness gives athletes a keen sense of when their bodies need to rest and recover, or hone in on where they need to dig deeper. 
Develop game day routines

For young athletes, game day often requires the parent shuttle or a school bus ride to the game. According to Saltzman, “It is wise for young athletes to develop a game day travel routine that allows them to arrive physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to compete at their best.”
Saltzman recommends athletes create routines that will help them be prepared for game day by:

Creating a detailed game day packing list
Having healthy snacks and plenty of water on hand for travel
Developing a mental preparation habit, such as listening to music, practicing mindfulness, or visualizing their ideal performance during the game
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Saltzman concludes, “Athletes who are actively paying attention to their health and preparation are less likely to suffer from burnout, overuse injuries, overtraining, adrenal insufficiency, and chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Help your young athletes develop a stronger mindset to deal with the stresses of sport and daily life by introducing self-care strategies and encouraging them to practice them daily. 


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Talk About Mental Wellness with Your Athletes
(9/12/2019)
 
   

How to Talk About Mental Wellness With Your Athletes


In youth sports


It can be a daunting task, speaking to your athletes about mental wellness. It’s a sensitive topic and one that can’t be tackled lightly. Knowing that, psychiatrist Dave Conant-Norville, MD, shares some valuable tools and tips on how to start the conversation about mental well-being with your athlete, and how to keep those conversations moving forward.

Understand That Mental Wellness Starts Now

“Mental wellness includes all of the processes that go on in your brain — thinking, emotions, behavior, relationship processing. There’s a lot going on. The idea of mental wellness is optimizing, being free of disease. We want to talk about mental wellness in order to help prevent mental illness,” he adds. “We shouldn’t start the conversation after there’s already a problem, we want people to be mentally well.”
 
Start with the Performance Benefits

Some kids are naturally going to be skeptical when it comes to talking to any adult about feelings and emotions, but Conant-Norville suggests leading the conversation with an explanation of mental wellness as performance-enhancing for sport.

“I always say your health is only as good as your mental health, because it’s the governing factor for the rest of your health,” he adds. “It impairs your physical function. An athlete can’t function optimally without mental wellness. It’s really important to get over the dichotomy of the mind and body, that the two are separate.”

Implement Mindfulness 

Deep breathing and meditation are two of Conant-Norville’s favorite practices for athletes, and it’s one of the fastest, simplest ways to get ‘buy in’ from your athletes. Starting and ending practice with a minute or two of silence or even using a short guided meditation can be a great way to introduce the key mindfulness element of mental well-being into your athlete’s life without adding stress of ‘meditation as homework.’ For parents, this can also be a great after-dinner wind-down that the whole family could take part in.

Provide Other Mental Tools

“Successful coaches help students build a vocabulary around things like stress and anxiety. They teach game-day tactics like how to focus and how to relax and mentally prep for a big game,” says Conant-Norville. “For example, if you’re not sleeping adequately, you’re not going to do well,” he adds

Help athletes create a toolkit, whether it be teaching them about the importance of full nights of sleep, practicing deep breathing exercises that an athlete can use before a key practice, or simply making it OK for an athlete to come to you with an emotional issue.

Create a Trusting Community

Creating a sense of trust and fun goes a long way towards encouraging mental wellness. According to Conant-Norville, it also creates a sense of community and encourages open lines of communication. The team that truly enjoys their time together is the team that can share their feelings.

But, don’t just start a conversation with ‘tell me about your emotions,’ says Conant-Norville. That puts most athletes on the defensive, and likely won’t yield authentic results. The same is true for parents: it’s easy to want to demand an emotional conversation but without that sense of trust, it’s unlikely that your athlete will be open with you.
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Part of opening a conversation around mental wellness is paying attention to warning signs and knowing when it’s time to seek professional help for an athlete.

“Coaches are not therapists. You’re not equipped to treat mental health issues,” warns Conant-Norville. If you suspect that an athlete is dealing with some kind of mental health problem, make sure the athlete gets the help he or she needs from an expert

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Visual Training
(9/3/2019)
 
   

Visual Training


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, the process and benefits of visual training in baseball. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.