Before going any further, I want you to consider the following question. In your sport, what percentage of success is derived through natural talent and how much is derived through practice, training and skill development?
Chances are, the way you answered this question in your mind revealed a lot about your mindset as a trainer or a coach, and how you believe success is achieved in sport and in life.
Athletes that believe that a skill can be developed and honed through consistent training, evaluation, and practice, exhibit what is called a ‘Growth Mindset’. Conversely, athletes that prescribe to the idea that talent is the chief determinant of success and see their skill-set as a fixed-asset, exhibit what is called a ‘Fixed Mindset’.
That is not to say that a fixed mindset is inherently bad, rather it is that the ‘real world’ is such a dynamic and changing place, that long-term success, in life, and in sport, requires the use of a Growth Mindset. It’s entirely up to you to develop a growth mindset with your athletes, both at the very beginning of their athletic career and in the middle. The key word here is the preposition “with”. Develop a mindset with your athletes, not in your athletes. “With” implies that you are a team and that this mindset is something that binds you together, united towards the same goal.
There are many ways to establish and develop that mindset to make sure your athletes never plateau or regress, and even if they do, they know that it’s a time to work harder rather than a time to give up.
1. Learn About Your Athletes’ Background
Establishing the right mindset begins at the beginning of the coach-athlete relationship. Finding out where your athletes come from, what motivates and drives them and how they grew up will assist you in finding ways to get them to train harder and focus more.
2. Set Goals Together
As mentioned before, you might be their coach but you need to show your athletes that you are still teammates, working towards the same goal…them winning. Ensuring that regular goal setting is a part of the deal is an easy way to keep athletes focused on learning, as well as keeping egos in check. After all, we set goals in order to address our weaknesses. Make it abundantly clear that their win is your win, their goals are your goals and their success is your success.
3. Eliminate Distractions
Take 5 minutes before each training session and just talk to your athletes. Make sure nothing is troubling them, remove any distractions and help them focus on getting work done. Their mind should be clear before they even start warming up. You are there to make that happen.
The training area should be a place where athletes go and relive the stress of everyday life. A safe zone where they can let it out and improve their mind and body. Chris Gronkowski comments: "When I go to the gym I forget about everything that’s going on in life. It’s like a second home where I can let off a little steam."
4. Use Proper Training Cues
During the training sessions, you need to help your athletes let everything out and push themselves to be the best by using proper cues at appropriate times. The old trick of telling them ONE MORE over and over again when they are at their limit is a smart way to turn six reps into seven, and seven reps into eight, constantly surpassing their own limits. Every single set on every single exercise should be a new cycle of EXPLODE-GRIND-LOCK IT IN.
By yelling “explode” at the beginning of the set, the athlete knows it’s time to start strong and adopts the proper attitude for the entire set. Midway through the set, you want your athletes to keep grinding in order to maintain performance and motivation. Finally, when the set is drawing to an end it’s not the time to lose focus and intensity but rather a time to lock it in and finish strong. Properly utilizing these cues will maximize the athlete’s efficiency throughout the entire session.
Scott Herman, trainer and coach of numerous athletes, when asked about his favorite quote to infuse into his athletes’ mind, had this one to offer:
“The only thing keeping me going, is not stopping" – Scott Herman
5. Use Praise Effectively
Praise will make or break your coaching. When you praise athletes, they listen carefully, and unknowingly, they are acting on cues you give them. Praise that reflects values like effort, focus, and determination, that is very specific and concise, will help you to foster a growth mindset. Praise that is vague (like “good job”) and that reflects values like intelligence and talent will create a fixed mindset in your athletes. In other words, use praise to reward actions, not traits.
6. Always Be Early To Training
Set the right example and NEVER be late for a single training session. If you don’t bother to be punctual, why should they? Being late should always result in some form of punishment like laps, push-ups or pull-ups, generally something that your athlete hates. This will create the mental cue that being late is inexcusable.
Establishing the right mindset with your athletes always comes down to developing the right relationship with them which should be one of teamwork, unity and trust. When an athlete trusts their coach, they are more likely to reach their goals and develop a growth mindset along the way. As a coach you should be able to carry across the message that it is not about winning or losing, succeeding or failing. It’s all about realizing that every training session, performance, or experience, represents an opportunity for growth and development. Winning is just a secondary benefit of the growth process.
The question before every session, event or experience, for coach and athlete alike, has now become: “What can I learn from today?”
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