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When to Teach Children Mental Skills

When to Teach Children Mental Skills

A common question I get asked, is at what level of competition should a player begin  working on their mental game?

Any age! I work athletes as young as 9 years old, and we have them go through the signature R.A.C.E Formula 2.0 Program. The real way to get an athlete to truly learn is to make it “age appropriate.”

I don’t teach to a young athlete, the same as I do to a division one athlete but the lessons are based on the same concepts: Focus, Confidence, Determination & Resilience, especially under pressure. These are not merely words, but these are specific states of mind that propel the athlete towards success. That’s my personal definition of Mental Toughness.

Younger athletes absorb the lesson faster when your approach is “story based.” It also helps the message penetrate deeper into their inner mind, and become part of their operating system when you use this approach. In other words, don’t teach at them directly. You especially don’t want to do this to an athlete in grade school, give a story to illustrate the point.

Here’s a great strategy to use with younger athletes:

When the time is appropriate, ask your young athlete for his/her “opinion” on a difficult issue that “your friend” is having with their child.

For example:


Mom talking to youth athlete…Samantha, I need your help. My friend Ann has a son close to your age who is struggling. He doesn’t want to go to practice anymore because he feels like he isn’t good enough, and thinks his teammates don’t like him. Ann has know clue what to say to help him. What do you think she should do?

The key here is to creating a scenario that is SIMILAR to the issue that your child has, but not exactly. The child will often come up with solution to their own situation by offering a suggestion for another child’s problem. These mental situations will help your child to problem solve and build mental skills. This takes some delicacy and you will have to operate “under the radar” but it can be magic.

Another strategy is to tell stories about famous people who had the athlete’s problem and how they overcame it.

I have told the story many times about how Michael Jordan was cut from the High School team and how he went home and cried. This disappointment created such determination for him, that he used the situation as fuel for the rest of his life! Finally, he went on to become the best basketball player of all time.

Parents and coaches: often make the mistake that young athletes are small adults, and think like adults. The best coaches and mentors are creative and find different ways to relate the same information.

If you really want to take it to the next level of teaching mental skills to your kids, find stories about celebrities that the kids have heard of and how they overcame their adversities. The key is in the details. Don’t just tell your child that Beyonce has stage fright and still goes out there and sings. Tell the child about how Beyonce’s body completely freezes up as she gets close to a concert and how she goes into her dressing room and has a conversation with herself and actually becomes another person who is courageous…etc. and go find the actual story and tell even more specifics than that.

Of course stories work for everyone, but the key here is to make them RELATE-ABLE. Universal stories like Dragons and Princesses have that element since those characters have been used in books forever.

If nothing else, your child will benefit greatly if you give them one empowering theme that they will remember their childhood by because you repeat it often.

Parents and Coaches: You are a mental toughness (or mental weakness) trainer too!

Look for opportunities to teach without teaching. Don’t just tell your kid to go out there and have fun. Show them. Don’t just tell them to “believe in themselves,” tell them a story about an athlete who went through a process to get that. Be creative! Join the kids in their world. You can do this…

Let us know if you have any questions about the timing or the kind of questions and stories that you can tell; share your views in comments…

Lets do this,

Rich Gunn

September 17, 2016

Visualize Your Way to Success

Is it possible to visualize your way to success and improve performance? Well here is a story that might convince you.

Champions Visualize

As told by TIME magazine a couple days prior before the (1984) finals in women’s gymnastics. Mary Lou Retton, was lying in bed mentally rehearsing. She had a great deal of faith in mental preparation, and the use of affirmations. She had performed the same mental exercise thousands of times.
 Day after day, she  pictured herself performing in the most perfect way. What happened soon after that? A performance of grace, charisma, and confidence. Sealing the sixteen year old’s legacy as an Olympic gold medalist. Basketball players especially should practice the skill of visualization before competition.

It allows you to get in reps without physically having to do them. Why? Because your inner mind can’t tell whether something is real or imagined.
 Think about the times you had dreams.  The  picture that you were imagining, sometimes seemed as real as if you were actually awake?

Olympic Experiment

I am sure many of you have seen a dog kick or even growl while asleep. We do the same activity when we visualize. In fact at the U.S. Olympic training center, many athletes participated in the experiment. The scientists monitored their brain activity. Quickly following they actually performed the same activities they visualized.
  It turns out they were demonstrating the same brain activity, whether they imagined it or they were physically playing. The same neurons fired! Isn’t that amazing?!The biggest road block to us doing this activity is believing that we’re not visual. This activity is a skill that comes through practice. Everyone can improve. Lets practice…

Practice Makes Permanent

Try closing your eyes, can you visualize your car? What color is it? Where is it located? How many windows are in your room? I want to show that EVERYONE can visualize. Give yourself freedom to explore. Now sense, feel, and imagine the perfect jump shot…
This is a simple yet powerful technique, to learn more in depth techniques. Email or Contact me I would love to hear from you.

“For me, winning isn’t something that just happens on the field when the whistle blows and the crowds roar. Winning is something that builds physically and mentally every day that you train and every night that you dream.” Emmit smith

“Imagination has a great deal to do with winning.” Mike Krzyzewski

‘’I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” — Michael Jordan

June 26, 2016

Formula to Experience More Mental Toughness During Competition

The goal of mental toughness training is to be able to generate feelings of confidence on command. This confident state should be experienced during practice and competition.

I have come down to a simple definition of what mental toughness is. Focused,confident, determined, and resilient ESPECIALLY under pressure. A big road block to being relentless is working extremely hard to improve your skills. But after you have worked hard, you fail because of  anxiety related to sports. As an athlete, I have experienced this myself. Working night and day to improve my skills, but at times not being able to demonstrate my full potential.

I have found something after 23 years of playing at a high level in sports, and studying endlessly. Its that mental training is the culmination of all the hard work an individual puts in. Having mental readiness primes an individual to play great, so that they win even before they begin. It is a shame to have an athlete play their entire careers without having these fundamental tools. This can lead them to success in life, and in sports!

Let me take your son or daughter through a proven systematic process that will empower them to take control of their circumstances.