Youth sports is about making mistakes and learning from them. Challenges and setbacks in practice and games are part of the growth process. Here are some great tools to help build your players' mental conditioning, which often gets overlooked while we focus on phsycial conditioning.
Guest Post: Anthony Lanzillo is a mental health professional with over 20 years experience. Lanzillo began writing about the mental game of sports in 2014 for such websites as FirstDown Playbook, Coaches Training Room, Lacrosse All-Stars, and Coaches Clipboard. He now reaches out and works with athletes as a mental skills coach. In 2012, Lanzillo served as the coordinator for the KBD LAX training program, and in 2013, he was a co-founder of the Haddon Township Lacrosse Club in Southern New Jersey which now sponsors a youth program, and boys' and girls' lacrosse at the high school level.
- Related: You can ready more about Anthony's work at www.thementalpeak.com
Mental Prep Playbook
As high school and college lacrosse coaches from around the country start planning for the 2017 season, I would encourage them to work with their teams in designing a mental skills training program for the players. Mental conditioning needs to be introduced and incorporated into every team meeting and practice. And a great hands-on tool for helping your players get mentally prepared to perform and play their best game is the Mental Prep Playbook.
The Mental Prep Playbook presents a series of mental skills and strategies that the players can practice and develop during the season. It will serve as a valuable resource that they can use to mentally refocus and refresh themselves before each game. The Playbook helps the lacrosse player play with greater concentration, composure and confidence. It shows the lacrosse player how to be mentally strong and sharp, and thereby make smart split-second decisions on the field.
At the first meeting with your team, you will give each of your players a three-ring binder notebook and inform them that they will be putting together their own personalized Mental Prep Playbook. You should talk to the players about the importance of mental skills training for athletes, and that you want to give them a tool that can help them build their mental game. You want to encourage them to make a commitment to mental conditioning so they can play with the right perspective, poise and perseverance come game time.
There are two main components to the playbook – playsheets and playlists. The playsheets will be used to develop the visualization and mental imagery skills of your players. They are one-page forms that will show your players how to visualize and mentally rehearse the designated plays that they will face on the field during a game. These playsheets guide your players through a simple process that highlights the five main points or thoughts they should focus at the moment they find themselves in any particular play on the field. You want to remind the players that the playsheets are essential to their mental conditioning; that they show them what to think about and how to think when they are making split-second decisions during a game.
The outline for this one-page playsheet is as follows:
- Identify the specific play;
- Identify your position on the field for that play;
- Identify your primary role and responsibility;
- Identify one of your personal strengths;
- Identify the performance objectives for the play;
- Identify positive feelings from a successful performance;
Whether your player is on attack, playing middie or in goal, you will ask each of your players to identify the key plays that they will find themselves facing on the field for a game. Then you want the players to take one playsheet, identify one play, and write down their answers. Encourage them to keep their responses short and simple.
Here is an example of how one player may fill out the playsheet:
- Man down defense;
- Playing middie on the crease;
- Keep offense away from crease; Disarm any attempt;
- Focused, Intense;
- Crouch down, feet apart, stick up, push offense away, stop any shot, talk;
- Joy, Gratitude;
After the player writes down his answers on the playsheet, he can then go back and quickly review the specific visual and verbal cues that he has identified for that play. So, when he is on the field for practice or a game, he can simply focus on those visual and verbal cues that he has selected. This exercise helps the player learn how to stay in the present moment, focus on his performance objectives and tune out any distractions. Basically, the player is learning how to “streamline” his thinking to only think about a short list of things which are instrumental to his performance, and at the same time, block out what is not “relevant” to him carrying out his role and responsibility for that play.
So, when your lacrosse player is in the actual game and finds himself facing a certain play or game-time situation, he can quickly tap into the visual and verbal cues for that moment. And, if need be, he could simply focus on his personal strength, first performance objective and positive feeling – in a split-second. By doing this, the player becomes task-oriented, and makes a strong emotional connection to his personal strength and positive feeling.
If any of your players question the need to work on the playsheets, you should remind them that many lacrosse players will step on the field and make the wrong or bad decisions during a game. The reason for this is that players underestimate the need for mental conditioning, and therefore, aren’t mentally prepared to handle the challenging and difficult situations they will face in a game. They end up reacting to various negative thoughts and feelings that disrupt and destroy their mental game. These players can’t stop thinking about a mistake they made five minutes ago. They keep looking at the scoreboard and wondering how the game will end. They start arguing with the refs or players from the other team. They become angry and frustrated with themselves. They need to make a commitment to these playsheets so they won’t commit any of these mental mistakes in the game and lose control of themselves.
After the playbooks have been handed out at the first team meeting, I would encourage the coaches to talk about the visualization and mental imagery at the practices and training sessions. In fact, right after the team walks or runs through one of its plays at practice, the coaches could tell the players to get in their original positions for that play, close their eyes, take a deep breath and run through their visualization or mental rehearsal for that play. Then ask several players to share their visualizations, along with the visual and verbal cues that they have identified for that play. Encourage your players to visualize and mental rehearse these plays the night before or the morning of an upcoming game.
While the players are working on their playsheets, you can take about 5 minutes at each team practice to talk about the Mental Prep Playbook. Also, you can introduce the second component of the playbook – the playlist. The playlist presents an overview of specific mental skills that they can develop to reinforce their mental preparation for the season. The playlist should be reviewed on a weekly basis with your players. It will include such skills as focusing on what you control, knowing what you want to do, building strong beliefs, learning from mistakes, playing for the greater good, and being grateful.
If there any coaches who would like more information on how to put together the Mental Prep Playbook, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.