The mental game - the X-factor

The Mental Game – The most important X-factor in sports

By Carol Frey M.D.

A sound sports program will provide an environment where kids can develop physically and emotionally. And by emotionally, I mean the mental aspects of sport. It’s tricky.

After passion, the mental game is probably the most important X factor. The young athlete needs to not only develop self-confidence but also focus on mental toughness. This is hard to accomplish with an immature athlete. Especially after an injury, kids question their confidence in their athletic ability. If there has been a reinjury or multiple injuries, the player begins to think he or she is fragile.

Some kids have negative experiences and sustain real emotional trauma after a sports injury. Some physical injuries are caused by emotional responses from the immature players themselves. I have had more than one player tell me that he or she can see the coaches and teachers roll their eyes when the student appears in yet another cast or brace. One very athletic basketball player, at the high school level, told me he thought the coach hated him because he was injured so often (two ankle injuries, two jumper’s knees, and one concussion).

But it was apparent that the coach was just as frustrated as the injured player. Even when the ankle was fully healed, from the point of view of the team doctor, the player did not trust his ankle. From the point of view of the coach, he saw a great player with no confidence.

Some kids may be really sensitive to criticism and comments after an injury. There are plenty of stories about coaches who tell players that they had better be in the hospital or dead to miss a practice.

It has been noted that sport is like war, without the body bags. The athlete is sent out to beat the opponent through physical and mental force. Sometimes this is too much for the immature athlete.

In some cases, a sports psychologist is recommended. Keep in mind that they generally cover two areas—enhancement of performance and psychological well-being. But never lose sight that a sport is supposed to be fun (at least most of the time). And if your kid is not having fun, perhaps he or she needs to move on to another sport, team, coach or pursuit.

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