I have spent the past 20 years teaching coaches at all levels (Olympic, National Team, College & High School) how to run mental training programs for their athletes. Yes – I have also consulted directly with athletes at these same levels – but it is the coach who is best suited to do the mental coaching – because they know their athletes best.
However, most coaches feels that they are not qualified to direct their athlete’s mental training. At this point we need to make the distinction between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Many coaches have taken courses and read books in sport psychology resulting in an accumulation of theoretical or declarative knowledge. In addition, they usually have an intimate knowledge of their athlete’s mental strengths and weaknesses. What is lacking is knowledge of the step-by-step procedures (procedural knowledge) to close the gap between the athlete’s current and desired level of mental mental skills or qualities.
The other major block to implementing a mental training program (MTP) that College and High School coaches face is time – meaning that most coaches have only two hours a day to cover technical, tactical, physical and mental training in addition to team-building. life-skill counselling and other roles they must fufill with their proteges.
The usual response to this challenge is to invite a sport psychologist to come and give a talk (another example of declarative knowledge) that leaves the athletes motivated but without any concrete, routinized steps and follow-up to take to improve their mental toughness. Additionally, most of their advice is not sport-specific, perhaps the most important part of any coaching intervention – meeting the needs of the athlete in the context of the demands of their sport (think about the needs of a marathoner versus a basketball center).
The good news is that it is possible for coaches to run a great MTP program. In 1988 I designed a MTP for the Canadian National Racquetball Team that contributed to both Team and Individual (Heather Stupp and Sherman Greenfield) World Championships. I designed the program but it was implemented by head (Ron Pawlowski) and Assistant National Coaches (Larry Greenfield and Monique Parent), as well as senior members of the team (Josee Grandmaitre) and an assistant mental training consultant (Roger Friesen). Athletes rated the program administered by the coaches as highly as programs administered by sport psychology consultants hired by Canadian Olympic teams (+3 on a scale of -5 (hindered) to +5 (helped).
Check back to read about a “Barebones, Step-by-Step Approach to Sport Psychology for Your Team”. In the meantime you might want to check out these articles, this book and these videos. Here is the link to the Coaches’ Guide to Psyching for Sport available at Amazon.