Justin_SuaRecently I had a great conversation with Justin Su’a, Head of Mental Conditioning at IMG Academy. We discussed the current state of student-athletes and ways we can help them (as well as any student) become mentally tough. Through many conversations with athletic personnel like Justin, I am seeing the same trends over and over concerning student-athletes. I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.

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Here are a few notes from our discussion…

How has culture affected the “mental toughness” of young people of this generation?

Mental toughness is a phrase so many people use. When I think about it, it’s your ability to remain in control in any and every circumstance. It’s also your ability to push through things that may be boring. The culture plays a tremendous role in it. It’s interesting to see how this plays out. Young athletes want instant gratification. They want everything to happen now. We need to teach them to focus on the process, and results will follow.

It seems like resilience is diminishing in kids. Talk about the importance of resilience and what we’ll have to do to re-cultivate it.

A quote that I love to share is from Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” At the first sign of adversity, everything’s out the window. You’ll always revert to your dominant habits under pressure. One thing I think we can do to help these youngsters is having them frame their plan beforehand. Young athletes often judge incorrectly if left to judge by themselves. Helping them understand judging correctly will help their resiliency.

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

Walk us through your 5 strategies to help kids become mentally tough.

  1. Coach-ability. Being able to be coachable. Praise their effort and be specific with feedback.
  2. “How do I create the environment for my athletes to motivate themselves?” There are three Cs that we follow: competence, control and camaraderie. Let your students feel like they’re progressing at a task. The less control a student feels they have, the more negative they’ll be. Combine these two things with team building and friendships within the team, and this is a recipe for success.
  3. Providing the right frame. A coach can help their athletes focus on “getting better” rather than being “good.”
  4. Teach kids how to fail. Adaptability is huge. Kids should know they don’t need their ‘A’ game to succeed. Teach them to expect the best, but plan for the worst.
  5. Help them find the right attitude. Pessimism never breeds peak performance.

What difference do you see between Olympic athletes and novice athletes?

Their ability to deal with failure, hands down, and their ability to refocus after being distracted. They’re great at controlling themselves when they fail. They keep themselves motivated and focused always.

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