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Youth Sport's True Trophy

The Transferability of Mental Skills Training from Sport to Life

By Katarina Miller - April 9, 2018

The opportunity to help an individual athlete or team of athletes find athletic triumph is certainly not one that I take for granted. In fact, I often find myself expressing gratitude for the unique experience it is to watch someone develop the skills and resilience it takes to reach whatever their athletic pinnacle may be. As much as I want every one of my clients to reach that pinnacle; the true trophy in what I do comes from watching the mental skills they've gained transcend from their athletic playing field into every aspect of their lives. The opportunity to play sports can certainly be one of life's greatest joys, but there are very few of us who can make sports our utmost priority for the entirety of our existence.
 At some point, life will demand that you pay more attention to your career, your relationships, your mental health, or the pursuit of another kind of goal. Being able to manage your stress to win a championship game is important, but so is being able to manage your stress so you can nail the interview and land the dream job. Being able to communicate and advocate for yourself as a member of an athletic team matters, but so does being able to communicate in a way that fosters loving and healthy relationships within your family. While I push and strive for athletic victory for every single one of my clients, it is the victory of having the mental skills to practice resilience in the face of any adversity that I truly celebrate.
 What are some of these mental skills? Are they really malleable enough to be transformative outside of sport? Fortunately for PERC's clients, the list of mental skills that could potentially be targeted toward increasing athletic performance is long; and the applications of these mental skills are best understood within the context of an individual.
 I want to paint the picture of a client that probably will not sound unfamiliar. This client struggled with nerves before an athletic performance from as early as she could remember. She never even attempted a full night's rest before competitions because she knew her attempts would be in vain. She also frequently became physically ill before competition, often vomiting and always experiencing complete appetite loss. As she got older, the nerves and anxiety took a turn from just manifesting physically and infiltrated her mind and her thought processes; preventing her from not only physically feeling prepared, but also from having the confidence to combat the nervousness.
 At the time, she started with mental skills training this stress was not just becoming a frustration but was preventing her from performing, and it was the collaboration between coach and athlete that led to her developing the skills she needed to reach her fullest potential. Gaining self-awareness helped her recognize the signs of nerves right away so she could take care of it before it was overwhelming. Learning functional breathing techniques helped her take control of the physical symptoms of stress and refocus her mind. Visualization tactics helped her rehearse mentally successfully overcoming her fears. Self-talk helped get her amped before the competition even in the face of anxiety. And the culmination of all of these skills helped her gain the confidence to walk into any game knowing she could face uncertainty with strength, courage, and the appropriate mental skills.
 While the gains in her athletic performance (and the smile of confidence that came with it) were inspiring, it was the way her educational experience was shaped that was truly impactful. The same stress that prevented her from sleeping before a big game, was preventing her from taking risks and applying for the student council spot she wanted. The same stress that caused left her malnourished before tournaments caused her to fake sick to avoid presentations in front her peers. Those same skills that helped her overcome stress in sport helped her overcome stress in her school. Gaining self-awareness helped her recognize the signs of nerves as she drove to school or walked through the hallways. Learning functional breathing helped her prevent her voice from shaking while she gave a speech. Visualization tactics helped her rehearse successfully leading student council. Self-talk helped her get herself amped to apply for colleges. And the culmination of all of these skills helped her gain the confidence every parent, coach, and teacher loves to see.
Sports psychology can transform the way an athlete plays their sport, and it can also transform the way they live their lives. To think of sports psychology as only having true applications on the playing field is to shorten not only the potential of the field but shortens the potential of your own mind as well. As I said before, I will always strive for athletic victory in my clients. But if the only trophy they can bring home is the trophy of a resilient, flexible mind than PERC's job has been done.