In what is already a challenging environment, elite youth athletes are not clear on HOW to manage their emotions and successfully navigate the highs and lows of a competition. In fact, with the advancements in technology and styles of socializing, it is becoming increasingly more evident that the current generation of youth athletes is distinctly different. The iGen – as they are called – is plagued by achievement and thwarted in emotional intelligence, which is a lethal recipe for stress and anxiety.
In many of my conversations coaches and parents can recognize these changes, but are ineffective at offering the level of training that a professional mental skills consultant can accomplish. Specifically, there are 2 major benefits of finding a separate mental skills coach, including:
1. It provides an objective outlet to have open and honest discussions.
One of the most important discussions in mental skills training is on the topic of a player’s perceived expectations. In other words, what do you think you ‘have to’ do? For many, their expectations demand uncontrollable results, such as “I have to win” or “I have to play my best all the time,” which leads to increased stress, lower energy, and difficulties moving past mistakes.
As a coach or a parent it is difficult to effectively have this conversation without a psychological understanding of the interplay of processes. More importantly, when discussing emotion-driven topics you have to be mindful of power and control dynamics that are unavoidable between an adult and a young player. You can actually cause more stress by sparking conflicting emotions in a phenomenon called the double bind.
Take risks, but don’t mess up.
Be creative, but make the right decisions.
Have fun, but play your best all the time.
When training with a professional mental skills coach, players can feel comfortable knowing that they have an unbiased outlet to share their conflicting thoughts and emotions, with the ultimately goal of learning tangible techniques for competition.
2. It is a platform to develop emotional management skills.
In my experience I have found that the young players of today are stifled by a fear of feeling uncomfortable emotions, which results in greater muscle tension, rapid thoughts, and a weaker performance. Just think of how many times you’ve encountered an athlete who blames others for their mistakes or cries of unfairness – it comes back to a fear of feeling disappointed or embarrassed or any emotion felt as pain.
Since the iGen is increasingly more sensitive and thwarted in emotional intelligence, emotions are experienced as a disposition rather than a temporary physiological state. In other words, it’s as if the feeling of disappointment indicates that the player is a disappointment. This generalization is extremely debilitating, especially since you cannot eliminate uncomfortable emotions when competing at an elite level.
With the help of a professional mental skills coach, players are given the necessary time and space to understand and accept their emotions as a temporary experience and they are guided to develop individualized refocusing strategies for competition. This mental shift is the key to giving young players a sense of control over their emotions, which helps replace fear with courage.
Although coaches and parents may deliver a positive and supportive message, there are tangible skills that players can learn to face adversity. Furthermore, sport psychology has the potential to become a universal platform for the iGen player to learn and master the necessary emotional management skills of life.