In order to be successful in the long run, youth athletes need to be both physically AND mentally strong. Obviously being a top athlete means being in top physical condition (which varies based on the sport), but being strong mentally is essential to a long and prosperous athletic career.
As sports psychology expert Dr. Jim Afremow said;
Mental toughness does not mean clenching your teeth, thinking more, straining your eyes to focus, or steeling yourself when someone screams ‘Be Tough!’ at you. Mental toughness is the ability to remain positive and proactive in the most challenging of circumstances. Legendary soccer player Mia Hamm has said that mental toughness is the primary mental attribute that any player must possess. Just like physical skills, mental skills can be practiced and developed. The idea is to seek out challenges and then get “comfortable being uncomfortable” to build mental and physical muscles.
Here are 3 reasons why mental strength is so important for youth athletes:
Mental strength helps youth athletes bounce back after a loss.
Let’s admit it, no one likes to lose. And while when players are very young we as coaches and parents should care more about teaching the fundamentals and focuses on the tangential life lessons that sports can teach our kids; things like teamwork, dedication and commitment, the value of hard work, and more. But as players get older and the game gets more competitive sooner or later they are going to lose. Whether it be by a little (and tight loses are always hard) or by a lot (a blowout is certainly no fun either), a youth athlete’s mental strength can help them bounce back after a loss. They can’t let a loss completely deflate their confidence; one bad game should not destroy a youth athlete!
The one who bounces back sees the “loss” as a learning, that it, there is something to be gained from this results, and he/she looks for that learning. Then they begin to put in place a plan for improvement. They don’t take the loss personally.
The athlete who allows the loss to affect him/her in a negative way usually takes the loss personally and sees it as a reflection of how they are as a player and person.
Mental strength helps athletes recover from a physical injury.
Dr. Afremow also pointed out;
Mental training is important to conquer any physical challenge, especially during the recovery process after sustaining a significant injury. Mental training for sport is easily transferrable to the training room. Training for sport is about overcoming challenges; rehabilitation creates similar hurdles and stresses. In fact, athletes would be doing their best if they viewed rehab as their new “sport” until they get their game back and return to the field.
Mental strength keeps a player focused even when they aren’t involved in the play.
How many times have you seen a young baseball player sitting on the ground in the outfield? To be honest, most outfielders in a t-ball league aren’t going to see all that much action, and kids are not known for their long attention spans. However, as youth athletes get older they need to be able to stay focused every moment they are on the field, even if they aren’t actively involved in the play. You never know when you’re going to have to spring into action and if your mind is somewhere else it’s hard to make the play. Mental strength helps a player stay focused and mentally sharp no matter how much action they actually see during a game.