Mental Skills Training: A Marathon not a Sprint

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Often times parents bring there children in for what they hope will be a “quick fix”. Somehow the idea has been promoted that a brief talk or smart technique will instantly help their child no longer be anxious or act out when feeling angry or frustrated. 

I have noticed over the years that my best successes occur when I am considered part of the coaching team and regularly meet with a youngster and involve parents and coaches in the process. Following an evaluation over a couple of meetings, I generally work with the individual weekly for a number of sessions. As we better understand what the issues are and develop effective coping strategies, they are seen less frequently: twice a month, once a month etc. In short, there is an evaluation phase, a treatment phase and a maintenance phase to the work we do. The time period may range from 6 months to 2 years with sessions varying from monthly to quarterly depending on what’s going on. 

Those who stay the course and do the work I suggest between our visits reap the greatest rewards. It is rewarding to me to know I have helped individual athletes win matches and tournaments they used to lose because of their mental and emotional attitudes and behaviors.

Managing Pressure from Parents

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Tennis is such an individual sport. Parents spend lots of time with their kids driving them to practices and tournaments, watching their matches and even coaching them. This close and sometimes, intense relationship has its pluses and minus’s. I believe tennis kids are more susceptible to the approval and disapproval of their parents. It is quite common during a match to watch a child look towards their parent after almost every point. They are often seeking approval or support. Unfortunately, this dependency makes them more vulnerable to the pressure of disapproval and criticism. Sometimes parents verbalize their displeasure, disappointment and frustrations during a match. Othertimes, it happens right after the match as they are heading towards the parking lot. Even without saying anything, the body language and facial expressions of the parent can trigger a feeling in the youngster that they have failed or let down the parent.

Kids need to learn to compete for themselves and not for the approval of others. Parents need to learn to better recognize and control their verbal and non-verbal behaviors.

Mental skills training, when administered by a competent sports psychologist can lead to a healthier relationship between parents and children, a growing independence in the child and often, improved performance.

Kids and Stress

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

As a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and tennis teaching professional, I have had the opportunity to work with many young athletes. Most of the time they are brought  in by parents and sometimes referred by coaches to “improve their performance”.  In many cases, I have found that the reason for poor and/or inconsistent performance is tied to anxiety levels and stress.

The younger the child, the less awareness they have of the sources of their stress and the less capable they are of verbalizing it. Even adolescents who know and can express what is bothering them may not for fear of embarrassing themselves or their parents or coaches.

More often then not, they will have physical symptoms- stomach aches, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, headaches, problems around eating and sleeping. A trip to the doctor and basic tests seldom reveal a physical cause. The culprit is often stress.

My goal as a sports psychologist is to help both the youngster and the parents figure out the source of the stress and help make changes in the attitudes and behaviors along with teaching relevant cognitive and behavioral stress management methods.

Through mental and emotional skills training, young athletes can learn how to manage stress and pressure more effectively both on and off the playing field.

Managing Performance Anxiety

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Performance Anxiety is common to all competition. It’s especially prevalent among individual sports such as golf and tennis where the individual is the center of attention and doesn’t have anyone else that can be focused on. It’s as if they are on stage and almost everything they say and do is seen, heard and evaluated by others. The fear of making mistakes, not performing well enough and being negatively judged by others creates high levels of anxiety which often results in less than optimal performance.

Training in overcoming performance anxiety involves helping the athlete maintain positive self-esteem regardless of their performance or the match outcome. Learning to relax the body and quiet the mind can help keep focus and concentration at high levels.

Like other skills, mental skills require training by a professional (sports psychologist) and much practice to incorporate into competitive play. Mental skills are independent of physical, tactical and technical skills and should be taught and cultivated at the earliest stages for long term success.

Sports Psychology Training for Young Athletes

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I was recently asked by the parent of a 7 year old at one of the Tennis Academies I consult with at what age could his daughter benefit from mental skills training. My general feeling is that parents often wait until a problem arises and then seek help. To my way of thinking, teaching mental skills that are age appropriate and geared to the level of understanding of the child, may in fact prevent or reduce the risk of problem behaviors developing, while enhancing performance. Sometimes, emotional problems show themselves not as obvious problem behaviors but as symptoms. For example, several youngsters have recently been referred to me for anxiety associated with performance manifested by getting nauseous and throwing up in the car on the way to a match and later, on the court. Extensive medical testing did not find a physical reason for the problem.

Even when emotional or behavioral problems are not in evidence, teaching young athletes how to concentrate, manage distractions and cope with adversity are life long skills of great value both on and off the playing field. Parents can also be a part of the process. Typically, the younger the child, the more I involve parents and coaches in my work. Young children may not be able to verbalize their feels and adults can sometimes better share what is going on. Also, parents are sometimes part of the problem and some brief education can often help them become part of the solution. Since “psychology” sometimes has a stigma associated with it, I will often introduce myself as a “mental coach” or “mental trainer”. Most of the time, kids like and enjoy mental skills training and find controlling their thoughts and emotions often improves their performance as well.

Positive Parents

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I disagree with some recent articles and blogs I have seen that are overly critical of TENNIS PARENTS. While there are a few “whacko” parents out there, most parents try to do the best they can in being supportive and helpful to their kids. Almost all of us can use objective and professional help from time to time to help keep us on track, provide specialized help when needed and/or a second opinion when we might be thinking a making a major change (changing a coach, school, etc.) As a parent, tennis player and sports psychology consultant I have also struggled at times in knowing/finding the balance about when and how to act and react in different circumstances.  I have written on this in a number of tennis publications, some of which can be found on my website,

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