Sunday, 15 January 2017

Why wait for mental fitness?

What would you think if a top soccer club waited until their players became really unfit before they were given access to any fitness coaching? That would be madness wouldn’t it? And yet, when it comes to mental fitness this is exactly what happens in most teams, even at the highest level.

I am now writing from the NSCAA convention in Los Angeles. This is the biggest soccer convention in the world with over 10,000 coaches attending from all 5 continents. A consistent theme I am hearing even from the most forward-thinking teams is that, even though they are now providing sports psychologists and mental performance coaches to their players to deal with the enormous stresses involved with playing at the highest level, they mostly tend to be used when there is a significant problem such as a drop in confidence or a sudden loss of form. Essentially, teams are waiting for the players to develop a weakness and then dealing with it, often when it is too late to have any useful effect, rather than putting the emphasis on mental training to prevent the problems from occurring in the first place. The sad thing is that many great young soccer players fail to make the grade in this extremely competitive environment largely because of mental factors. They may lose self belief and confidence, they may develop overwhelming anxiety and fear, they may lose motivation or may just be practising ineffectively. Time and time again I hear of players who were considered the best player in their academy at the age of 13 or 14 but end up dropping out of soccer altogether only a few years after purely due to a lack of mental ability.

So why have I come to the NSCAA Convention? My aim is to work with teams to change the way they see mental performance in sport. Rather than putting the emphasis on supporting players who have specific problems, mental performance training should be coached in the same way that fitness and skills are coached so that young players are equipped with the mental strength they require to make it at the top level. Confidence, determination, self belief and effective learning strategies can be all coached. So, let’s not wait for our minds to get out of shape. Let’s start the training now.

Andy Barton
Performance coach