An Overview of Athlete Psychological Development

Articles | Online Master of Athletic Administration

Helping an athlete develop psychologically is just as important as helping them grow and develop physically. While their bodies do the physical work, it is their mind and emotion that builds their spirit and nurtures their psychological growth. A healthy athlete has a strong physical body and an equally strong belief in themselves to succeed. To develop this positive outlook and maintain a healthy state of mind, a coach must learn to nurture the mind as well as the body.

The Importance of Being Positive

Athletes, especially young ones, thrive on encouragement and praise. The more you encourage them with positive words and instruction, the more they try to do their best. A negative comment can destroy any self confidence they may have, especially if they are doing an exercise or technique that is unfamiliar to them. If they make a mistake, stop them immediately and help them learn the right way of doing things. Avoid talking down to them or making them feel inferior. Creating a positive attitude from the very beginning is important if you expect the athlete to continue to excel. Without it, they can become easily discouraged with themselves.

Creating an athlete with a positive attitude starts in the weight room or practice field. When a child or teen is beginning to learn a new sport, it is important to offer advice whenever it is needed. If a coach treats each athlete with respect and encourages them to continue learning and growing, the positive outlook they started out with will be maintained. Always remember that a loss is not a bad thing, if the team and athletes learned something in the process. Look at it as a way of exploring their mistakes and finding ways to learn how to avoid repeating them.

Setting Realistic Goals

The biggest way to sabotage an athlete’s success is to set unrealistic goals. If the goal is unattainable, all the hard work in the world will not get them there. Setting realistic goals allows the athlete to see the end result and continue to work towards. Using small milestones to gauge their progress helps them to work through the difficult periods they may experience. As each milestone is achieved, their confidence continues to build. Even if they make a mistake or have a problem, remembering where the next milestone is will help them to get passed it without causing undue stress or anxiety.

Maintain Positive Motivation

As an athlete, staying motivated can be extremely difficult. Being stuck at a particular level or not being able to move forward as expected can be very discouraging. It’s a coach’s job to make sure an athlete stays motivated during difficult times. Developing an athlete’s outlook toward exercise, skill and performance will be the difference between a committed athlete and one who just seeks to win at any cost.

An athlete who is only out for the win will often overlook proper protocols and strategies if they feel it will give them an advantage. An athlete who is committed to their sport, will take the time to do things the right way. They will respect themselves as well as their opponents’ efforts. Above all, they will embrace their mistakes. A mistake is only an error if the athlete does not learn from the experience. If they learn why they made the mistake and take the proper steps to correct it, they will have gained important knowledge about themselves and what they did wrong. Constructive criticism is beneficial in this aspect because it helps the athlete to improve without putting a negative spin on the incident.

Constructive Criticism

A coach who continually criticizes an athlete can destroy their motivation and take the fun out of the sport. Criticizing constructively allows the athlete to learn from the experience without feeling bad or upset about the mistake. Yelling and screaming at an athlete who has made an error or missed a play only damages their psychological outlook. If they are made to feel as if they are a screw up, they will make more mistakes and not try as hard to improve.

Taking a moment to talk to the athlete and find out if they understand what they did wrong will help them grasp a concept they may have misunderstood. Explain the correct way of doing things and allow them to practice the technique before forcing them to perform it in a competitive match. For a natural athlete, a task may be mastered rather quickly. For others, it may take hours of practice to achieve the desired result. Either way, offering criticism in a constructive manner builds the athlete’s self esteem and confidence and gives lets them know they are on the right track.

The psychological development of an athlete begins the second they pick up a ball or any other piece of equipment. A coach can help nurture that development with encouragement, praise and positive, constructive comments or they can hinder it by being negative and overbearing. Providing constant support and offering the chance to continually learn new things and improve their existing abilities helps an athlete to grow both mentally and physically. It shows them that they will always have more to learn but to never stop being proud of what they have accomplished.

Resources:
https://www.sportpsych.org/nine-mental-skills-overview
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/coaching-and-parenting-young-athletes