Post By: Brian Rutz | Monday, May 18, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS ANGER

With COVID-19 putting a pause to all spring sports, young athletes have taken advantage of this time for individual skill development. Social network news feeds are filled with young athletes, outside in their driveway dribbling basketballs, improving footwork, and doing whatever possible to stay active and improve their skillset. However, young athletes may be missing out on a chance to develop an important skill for success: optimism.

Yes, optimism is a trainable skill, and it is a valuable one at that. Research shows that optimism not only can improve an individual's performance, but also improves a person's overall health. This skill may be one of the most important skills your athlete needs to learn; yes, more valuable than the extra ball handling, the extra jump shots and the footwork.

Many states are debating about when will be the right time to reopen during the pandemic. When states do reopen, how soon can high school and youth sports begin activities? The Wisconsin Association of School Districts just informed its members that no sports activities can take place at any school through the end of June. That means no open gyms, weight room sessions, or summer contact days. With so much uncertainty surrounding the country, it's difficult to know when sports will begin again. This uncertainty will soon cause kids to stop caring about their Facebook posts, and to begin wondering if working on their skills is worth it.

As someone who has both coached youth and also worked with youth in a social service setting for over 10 years, I have seen individuals demonstrate resiliency in some of the most difficult times. I have also seen youth become impatient and frustrated during unsettling situations. Research shows that most young individuals are stuck in a fixed mindset, which means youth are often naturally pessimistic. Oftentimes, kids are not taught how to positively handle adversity or difficult situations. Youth sports can be a great way to teach optimistic skills in order to better overcome this adversity. Training and playing sports expose young athletes to difficult situations such as rebounding quickly from a mistake made during a game to make the next play. Because of this pandemic, youth do not currently have the opportunity to learn these skills because they cannot compete in sports. However, parents, caregivers, coaches or anyone that works with children, has now been given an opportunity to teach optimism in other ways and help athletes improve performance. This opportunity will prepare athletes for when they are able to play/participate/compete in sports again.

How do we teach optimism? One way is helping to help young individuals learn how to identify thinking traps and when they are currently stuck in one. Every individual has fallen and will again fall into a thinking trap. There is a long list of thinking traps that can affect a person's optimism. I would like to discuss five that are more commonly seen in younger athletes.

1. Mindreading Trap- This thinking trap is when an individual believes they know what another person is thinking about. Oftentimes, people who are stuck in the mindreading trap believe that an individual is having negative thoughts toward them or a current situation. How does this relate to young athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic? Athletes are looking for a sign of hope that sports will begin soon. If a young athlete does not see these signs of hope from social networks or other media outlets, they will look towards their parent or caregiver for encouraging words. If the words aren't being spoken, young athletes will attempt to read their caregiver's mind and try to figure out on their own what their caregiver is thinking. Often when an individual is in a thinking trap, their thoughts become rigid. Young athletes may develop the idea that the caregiver does not believe sports will ever resume. This will lead to the development of a pessimistic view, influencing the athlete's attitude and performance.

2. Me Trap- The ME thinking trap is defined as having the thought that you are the sole reason something happened or that you are the cause of something. No, I don't believe that youth will believe they are the sole cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you might see individuals developing the mindset that these things only happen to them or that they are being punished for whatever reason. This mindset pulls individuals from thinking that, “We are all in this together,” to, “This is only affecting me and causing me problems.”

3. Them Trap- The THEM thinking trap is defined as blaming everyone else for the problem and not feeling that you have any responsibility. In this thinking trap, you will see young athletes start to become angry with people for not allowing them to play sports. They will blame anyone from their parents, to the athletic director, even the state governor. Oftentimes, when individuals are stuck in this thinking trap, they fail to take the time and make the effort to understand another person's reasoning.

4. Catastrophizing- This thinking trap is an energy drainer. This is when an individual is constantly thinking of the worst outcome. This one is probably the most common thinking trap that many people are stuck in today. Young athletes might be thinking that they will never get play sports again. This thinking trap is often seen in the athlete that makes one mistake, and then feels that they will never be good at that sport.

5. Helplessness- This thinking trap is when young athletes feel that the negative event will affect all aspects of their life. Young athletes often feel that they have no control when they are in this trap. In this trap, you will hear individuals not only say that they will never get to play sports again, but that they will never be able to make new friends, go to college, or find a significant other. They believe that not only will COVID-19 ruin sports, but it will ruin everything in their lives and there is nothing they can do about it.

These five thinking traps are the more of the common traps seen in young athletes. As a parent, caregiver or coach, it is important to understand these traps and to help to redirect athletes from them when they fall into them. Most professional athletes have experienced with thinking traps. Athletes that perform at high levels can use their mental agility to quickly move away from thinking trap. However, this can be a difficult to do, and many athletes must be trained to have the ability to do it. A Mindurance sport psychology online coach.

So how can you teach your child to be more optimistic and avoid thinking traps? The first and easiest step is to talk to them! Connection for an athlete is one of the best ways to improve optimism. Ask your young athlete what their thoughts are on the pandemic, and how it is affecting not only their sports season but also their everyday life. When your young athlete asks you what your thoughts are on the pandemic, be honest with them. Tell them you acknowledge their fears, but this pandemic will pass and there will be a time you can play sports again. Be careful not to promise specific dates or timelines unless you're sure that is the official start date.

Mindfulness is another technique that young athletes can use to stay optimistic. A great saying is, “Know where your feet are.” This reminds individuals to not get ahead of themselves and to not start thinking too far into the future.Using the C.I.A. method reminds athletes to only worry about what they can Control, Influence and Accept. This helps athletes keep things in perspective, and encourages them to focus on daily tasks that can help them improve.

Lastly, make sure you know which thinking traps you are most susceptible to. As we all know, kids are sponges. They will absorb everything you say and do. It is very common for most children to be more susceptible to the same thinking traps as their parents. If you don't believe me, think of what your parents' thinking traps may be, and then think of what yours are. See any similarities?