SportStrata (N.Y.) mental performance coach Ben Oliva offers eight tips.

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

A team that is focused from the opening kickoff to the final whistle has the best chance of maximizing the time it spends training in the weight room and on the field.

SportStrata (N.Y.) mental performance coach Ben Oliva offers eight tips for coaches who are looking to maximize their players’ mental performance.

Goal setting: Focus on process rather than outcome. When coaches are setting goals for the team during the preseason, it’s important to focus on the steps the players will need to take to achieve a particular outcome. “Break down the process of what will lead to those team goals,” Oliva said. “Show up on time, make sure you know the playbook, run crisp routes, communicate on the field.”

Game plan: Set expectations while introducing the game plan. Don’t try to spin every matchup as a positive. “One common mistake I see coaches make is that – by trying to be positive and boost guys up – they end up talking their players into thinking the other team is not that good. While it’s helpful to boost egos and help them feel prepared, you want to set the expectation that the other team is extremely talented.”

Film review: Mix positive and negative feedback. Don’t allow the outcome of the game to influence how much positive or negative feedback you provide the players. Every game – even lopsided outcomes – will offer opportunities to emphasize positives and areas for improvement. “The better the player, the more you can lean toward critical feedback. For the players on the back of the roster, it might be smart to emphasize positive plays.”

Pregame: Go through a mental rehearsal. Oliva is quick to note a mental rehearsal is not the same as visualization. “If you can bring all of the senses into the experience, it will be more effective. First, you should mentally rehearse the way you want things to go in a realistic way. What would you see? What would you hear? How would it feel?”

Rehearsal: Contingency planning. If you only rehearse positive moments, you won’t be prepared when your team experiences adversity. “All football teams have predictable challenges. You might go for it on fourth down and not get it. People are reluctant to mentally rehearse those moments. How will they respond when it happens? By going on the sideline and sulking? Or being supportive of the defense and keeping the energy up?

Mindfulness strategies: Breathing and body language. A player can positively impact his teammates by maintaining a powerful posture and remaining calm through deep breathing. “You can practice using the power of deep breaths to calm yourself and focus in high-pressure situations. Emphasize one thing that you have control over, which is body language. If you stand in a confident way, your hormones are affected by that powerful position.”

Mindfulness strategies: Self-massaging. Be mindful that your inner voice is helping your performance rather than hindering it. “When you make a mistake, it’s natural to say, ‘You suck,’ and find negative ways to respond to your inner critic. It can be helpful in terms of turning around a negative pattern to flip the negativity. Adaptive self-talk can be helpful to performance.”

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About the author

Dan Guttenplan