A New 26: The ABCs of High School Mental Performance Coaching

        Four years ago, which in some ways feels like only yesterday and in others like an eternity ago, I did a blog series called The ABCs of Sport Psychology  The series was twenty-six straight days of blogs on topics starting with letters A through Z.  The passing of four years has come with many new experiences and lessons learned.  Four years ago I was just wrapping up my first "real mental coaching" with a college baseball pitching staff.  Now I find myself approaching the end of year three as a high school mental performance coach.  It's a role, like any, that comes with great rewards and great challenges, and it's one I'd love to see spread to more high schools.  With that, I'm going to try for "A New 26."  The New 26 will be a mixture of concepts and lessons learned central to what I do at our school.  While they'll focus on the high school level, my hope is you'll be able to think about how they apply to you no matter what you do or what level you do it.

         A is for Ask questions.  When I started as a mental coach, I found myself constantly seeking to prove.  I wanted to prove I knew what I was talking about.  Prove I could help.  Prove there was a better way of thinking about performance.  My intentions were there, but my methods were misguided.  With that "wanting to prove" attitude came a lot of talking and a lot of telling.  "You should do this."  "This is what elite performers do."  This was especially present in one-on-ones with athletes.  At the end of throwing so much at them, I'd no doubt overwhelmed instead of helping to find clarity.  As I've grown more as a mental performance coach, my methods have shifted.  I tell less and ask more.  Listen to listen instead of listening to respond.  Pick my spots only if an opportunity presents itself instead of forcing one that isn't there.  While there are many reasons for the shift, the main one is I want the athletes to feel responsible for their path to performance.  If they give me credit for their performance, I view that as a failure.  My hope is for performers to get to where they either have the answers they're looking for or have the ability to find them.  One of my favorite experiences to see is an athlete, at the end of a conversation, realizing they'd been the one who came up with the answers.  The last thing we want is an athlete feeling like they need us to perform.  We want to help them empower themselves to perform and understand their performance.
         How does this relate to you?  If you're a coach, challenge yourself to do less telling and more asking.  You want athletes to be able to react and adapt on the fly to new situations competition and life may throw at them.  They need to be empowered to do so.  That won't happen if we constantly spoon feed answers.  Beyond the playing field, the same concepts apply.  We want them to realize they have the skills to adapt and persist through whatever life throws as well.  At the high school level, sports are educational.  Asking questions is a great help in that process.

- Coach Ehrlich

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