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Athletes Overthinking? Questioning? What do we do coaches?

Coaches would love their players to be great thinkers in the game. However, we are discovering so many players overthinking their decisions and paralyzed in thought. What’s the end product? This type of paralysis by analysis leads to a variety of uncoordinated movements usually too slow to make the play or to trust their skillset in the moment it's needed.

When this happens without the right guidance and mentorship in place, we can see the emotional roller coaster coming leading to a decrease in confidence we might have seen before. The negative downward spiral of emotional play takes them right out of the game mentally and then coaches pull the player out on the bench physically losing trust in them to perform. This makes the mental recovery process more difficult.

Recently an athlete shared with me: “my coach and I are getting along in our one on ones and they seem to support me but in front of the team all they do is call me names or call me out when I mess up.” It takes the focus away from the game and what they are working on when the coach calls them out in that way. They went onto say, ”I haven’t had unconscious and free play in a really long time. All I want to do is get away when I’m at practice.” Now there is a lack of quality motivation.

We may also see a player too deep in comparison mode with teammates hoping for playing time but not able to find enough opportunity to fail and learn. Sometimes they think it’s not fair or I’m not a favorite. With a lack of psychological safety in the team environment, athletes lose their confidence and motivation to persevere and trust the skills they have developed. It sure can be a difficult process to develop enough challenge and constructive feedback in the team to push players at the right level. How do we meet them where they are at? How do we provide the right balance of support and direction so that the inner critic is met with enough compassion?

We have heard of great examples of player coaches and how relationships are developed through the working alliance coaches and athletes have. Both parties have the responsibility to meet in the middle and develop an understanding through trust, respect, and rapport. The challenge, I have seen, is to maintain consistency throughout the season. Emotional regulation for the coach as real-time results come up has become very important to maintain a role-model of a teacher coach. Culture and goal-setting conversations occur in the pre-season but they disappear throughout the season. Athletes need to also understand coaches are human with challenges outside of practice but the professionalism of a coach needs to be brought forward. While there aren’t easy solutions there are clear processes to work as both sides, coach and player, are performers in their roles. A performer who builds quality motivation and confidence as skills while regulating their emotional and nervous energy finds consistency in growth of their skills over time.


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