Sitting next to the photographer, as I often do at competitions, it occurs to me how different people’s priorities are when it comes to their children in sports. Especially when they are budgeting for it.
Are they in it for the fun and the glamour (think sparkles and sequins, days off school and fun running round after competing as they wait for their friends)? Or are they in it for the long term? Parents often say to me that it doesn’t matter where they are placed in a competition “as long as he/she enjoys it and has fun”.
That’s great. It’s all fine and dandy. Up to a point.
When they do reasonably well, or even get on that podium, the fun and joy are there. But what happens on those off days when they come back to you in tears or deeply frustrated because they just weren’t able to perform at their best?
Would you think twice about getting them an extra lesson on ice?
Would you think twice about getting a ‘proper’ wheelie bag for their skates and accessories, just like their friends have?
Would you think twice about paying for the official photos or the DVD?
Of course you wouldn’t! These are all part and parcel of the sport and being enjoyment to your skater after all their hard work.
So would you think twice about investing in their mindset?
More lessons on ice can improve technique of course – but only if the mind is open and able to support the body in believing it can do what it is being taught to do.
And the bags and accessories and soakers and teddies and flowers and photos all add to the enjoyment. But they don’t help them to skate well. (And I’m definitely not an advocate of bribery – trust me, “if you do well, then we’ll buy x” can backfire on you spectacularly!).
Investing in your athlete’s mindset may sound expensive, and reserved for the echelons of the elite, but it’s important to create great mindset habits while they are young. And can you really afford not to? How long are you and your athlete willing to go on with the frustrations, meltdowns, nerves and tears? Repeat test fees; more competitions (fees, accommodation, travel, coach’s expenses) to chase after that elusive qualification score for the National Championships?
Unlike the on-ice lessons, working on mindset can be completed in a few months, leaving the athlete with a virtual mental toolbox for life. They can practice and create more tools for themselves once they understand the principles and know how to do so.
Of course it’s not a magic wand quick-fix solution. You don’t turn up at a gym once and expect to have lost three stone and be fit to run a marathon. But with regular sessions over a few months and then continuing to work on their mental fitness by themselves, athletes can truly improve their on-ice and physical abilities, progressing far more quickly than they would without mindset training.
And unlike the on-ice training, the mental toughness is a transferable skill. It will work for their SATs, GCSEs, A Levels and beyond. They will understand how to use setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow, to plan and set effective goals and to develop strategies to deal with negativity.
So next time you’re budgeting for the athlete in your midst – keep it holistic. Make sure to factor in the savings made by faster progress when the mental performance is at a level to ensure peak performance – not only in their athletic career, but for the rest of their lives!