College sports – it’s a big goal for many young athletes, and a worthy one at that. While it’s true that a very small percentage of high school athletes go on to play in college, there are some clear benefits both while in school and after school. So keep those goals high!
At SPINw we have worked with athletes on all sides of the collegiate equation: from aspiring young players with the dream, to the high school juniors and seniors in the middle of the recruiting process, to those who are currently competing at that level, and those who have been through it and now play professionally.
The mental game, for the most part, is the same for all of these groups: be confident, stay positive, control your emotions, and perform under pressure. But there are some specific issues to be addressed. Here’s are the issues we’ve seen, and some of the strategies we recommend for athletes to build and maintain a strong and positive mindset.
The Young Athlete The Big Issues:
Winning vs development – In today’s youth sports culture, the reasons for participating have been turned on their head in many cases. The reasons young people play are to have fun, learn new things, make new friends, and be part of something greater than themselves. However, the emphasis can change over time to focusing on building a winning program.
As parents, check out John O’Sullivan’s Changing the Game Project for ways to best support your young athletes to that they self-motivate, learn to compete, and most importantly, enjoy playing sports.
Building the mental skills to match the physical – As a coach, I was taught there are 4 “pillars” to coaching: Technical, Tactical, Physical, and Mental. Athletes need to be proficient in all 4 areas to be successful and perform at their best. Most athletes would agree that the mental game gets the least amount of attention, although they say it is the most important factor. Coaches may tell their athletes to “focus!” or “forget about that mistake, move on” but they rarely teach the athletes how to do these things.
This is where sport psychology comes in. SPINw offers tools such as books and audio, plus workshops for organizations where ever you are and in-house workshops at our downtown Portland classroom, and individual consulting for athletes, teams, coaches, and parents.
High school athletes/collegiate hopefuls The Big Issues:
Playing under pressure – As athletes get older, more skilled, and move up in competition, the pressure to perform at a high level increases dramatically. The high school athlete is now playing in front of larger crowds and being asked to do more both athletically and academically. They often find that the sport they once loved to play and blow off stress, in now work, and the cause of some stress. Most of the athletes we work with from this populations need to come back to the enjoyment of the game, and to regain an appreciation for the “process” over the results of competition.
When moving on to the college game, that pressure is only going to intensify, as coaches are more focused on results than development because their jobs depend on it. The extra stress of a new environment and a more rigorous academic schedule can be a lot to handle as well. So it is really crucial to learn new ways to stay focused and positive under pressure.
Uncertainties in recruiting process – The recruiting process can be cumbersome! On a purely athletic level, we see a lot of players who are afraid they will not play well when a college coach comes to watch them play. We see players whose goals are way too high, and players whose goals are too broad or unsure. The best solutions to being uncertain in this process is to educate yourself on the process and the differences in collegiate athletic divisions.
Working with a consultant at SPINw can help athletes re-define their process, implement new strategies and sport psychology techniques to reduce stress and control emotions, and get back to enjoying the sport that they love. We work long term goal setting, relaxation and visualization exercises, and other positive mindset strategies to help these young athletes deal with these pressures.
For extra help in the collegiate application and recruiting process, we recommend checking out Kathy Connor at Connor College Consulting. She is a former Olympic athlete who can help guide you through the process of finding the right fit, securing financial aid, and much more.
In the next article, we will tackle the issues that athletes face once they get to college!
Some of The Big Issues include:
-Time management problems
-This isn’t what I thought it would be!
-My big goal of getting here has been achieved, now it’s hard to get motivated