Treat Mental Strength like a Dynamic Warm up: Do it every session

Published by our Partner Harrow Sports as a #featurefriday

As the fall season gets farther in the rear view mirror, many athletes gear up for off-season play.  As coaches we often encourage our players to focus on individual play and return to teams stronger, faster, more skilled and with a higher hockey IQ.  But are we forgetting about the importance of building the mental game?

Maybe we don’t know how to build the mental game, or we assume athletes get these skills as a side effect of playing.  Like a consistent lifting routine, growth happens much faster when we build it into a repetitive, structured schedule.

But how? I know how HARD it can be to add ONE more thing to practice, especially in the off-season.  Club coaches run into even bigger time constraints than high school coaches do. Off season coaches only see athletes 1-2x a week.  But it doesn’t take much-like the dynamic warm up- if coaches ingrain the concept of adding a short mental strength piece into practices, athletes become trained to have their body and MIND ready to grow each week.

I’ve seen a HUGE difference in just making small tweaks to internal self-talk in response to mistakes, setbacks, and positive reframing. As we know (sometimes too well) as adults, the thinking inside our head can stop our natural talent and potential from shining through.

 

Before you start though-winter is a great time to do a baseline assessment your athlete’s mental flexibility-so you know where to start.  How well does an athlete reframe a mistake and move on? Focus on the positive? Encourage others? If they’ve never thought about it before, it’s good to start with baby steps.

 

USA Field Hockey’s partner, the Positive Coaching Alliance has a ton of great resources to adapt to lessons.  A great opening mental drill we use is to have your athletes write down:

  • What are 2 things you’re good at doing?

  • What is an area or skill you want to improve?

  • What makes a practice fun?

Your athletes can hand in 3x5 cards with responses at the end of practice.  This activity gives you you insight into the group and where they stand on speaking positively about themselves! Some athletes are so focused on what they AREN’T good at they have a hard time saying what they can do well! The following week, you can use this information to discuss a Team Mantra that supports individual and team progress. This focus can make every session productive AND fun.

 

At Beyond Sticks, our off-season goal is to shift the athlete’s mindset OFF traditional goals and turn our athlete’s focus back on improving the process. The paradox in athletics (and life), is when we focus less on the final outcome and more on the actions that lead to those outcomes, the score often takes care of itself. Our partner, the Positive coaching Alliance, describes this mindset as the ELM Tree of Mastery.

Finally, off-season is a great time to train with parents too! As a parent myself, I think how I can change the car ride conversations from the often dead end of “how was it?”…response: “good, Mom.” to more substantial conversation. If you have a mental drill-parents can understand and support this at home. (Every parent ever: “Why did they blow that whistle?”!) Ask parents how they can use the mental drill during the week BEYOND field hockey (hence our name, Beyond Sticks-we play beyond the game). An emotionally invested parent is a happy parent!

We’ll be posting our weekly tools on our Facebook page and working with our partners at Harrow to help bring our mental tools to you on monthly basis. Please share your mental strength tips on the post so we can all grow together. Happy hockey!