According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, almost 32 percent of adolescents deal with anxiety. Learning to channel that anxiety can help student-athletes perform better in practice and on game day. Consider staffing a mental performance coach to help players conquer the mental side of the game.
Melissa White is one of just two mental performance coaches at the high school level in the state of Pennsylvania. She recently finished her second season as mental performance coach for the Hempfield High football team. White holds a doctorate degree in sports psychology and is a sixth-grade teacher at Hempfield’s Wendover Middle School.
During the football season, White met with players after practice and also coached from the Hempfield sideline during games.
She offered these 10 tips to help players build self-confidence.
Re-enforce a team-first mentality.
“Teach them how to be a good teammate and encourage others. Through that, they become anxious about their individual performances and end up building confidence.”
Establish an open line of communication.
“We talk about how practice went each day. Some days, they’ll say, ‘We did this play over and over again, maybe six times. The coach got mad and told us we were done.’ They’ll say, ‘I think if we would have had it if we kept doing it.’ I’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you say that to the coach?’”
Visualize successful outcomes.
“We didn’t have a winning record the first year I was coaching. Going in to that situation, I thought we could try some sports psychology techniques like visualizing what it would take to win.”
Set specific goals.
“I teach them to break down goals by play, series, quarter, half, game and season. It’s very detailed.”
Plan for the worst.
“There are injuries in football, so I’ll say, ‘What if this person isn’t here? What are we going to do?’ They adopted a next-man-up mentality for dealing with adversity. That helped build confidence.”
“By allowing them to come up with solutions for problems, I give them a chance to take ownership of their team. They understand it’s not just a bunch of individuals working together for a goal.”
Control heart rates.
“I was on the sideline on Friday nights, and a big part of the job was getting players to calm down. If I could see someone crossing over the edge, I tried to help them refocus on the goal.”
“How will a 15-yard personal foul affect your goal for this drive or this quarter? That will be detrimental.”
Stress staying present.
“Maybe a player just got yelled at by a coach. I’ll check in with him. ‘What’s going on? Why couldn’t you focus? Be where your feet are at this moment. Right here, right now.’”
“If you make a mistake, look at the next play. I’ll ask them where they need to be on the next play. What’s their job? Who are they covering?”
Getting Rave Reviews
Hempfield Athletic Director Greg Meisner believes White is best served coaching football – of all the sports – because so much of the success is determined by mental toughness.
“Other than the first day of football camp, there’s not a day you go through the season where you feel 100 percent healthy,” Meisner said. “Something’s always nagging you. So you need to learn to mentally overcome that and play. It actually makes you play better knowing, ‘Hey, I’m not 100 percent so I’ve got to pick myself up.’ That’s how NFL players make it through a whole 16-game season.”
Hempfield head coach Rich Bowen believes his players genuinely enjoy the sessions with White.
“It’s basically a lot of leadership type stuff and how to support each other,” Bowen said. “We get great turnouts and the kids look forward to it. She’s just been a great part of our program.”