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10 Ways for Youth Athletes to Become Mentally Tough

Youth Sport Nutrition - Psychology and the youth athlete

We hear about it all the time, winning players or teams having the ‘mental’ edge over their opponent. Does this mean mental as in - they are crazy? Of course not. Having the mental edge here refers to mind control, having the superiority over your thoughts which control your actions and reactions and it is a critical component of performing within top level sports.
As sports science and medicine research progresses, there is an ever growing focus on aligning the mind to your sports performance. Having a strong mind in sports or events where ability and athleticism are evenly matched, has been shown to make 100% of the difference in competition performance. Why? And how can we improve this?
Let’s look at an example. Let’s take Andy Murray, British and Tennis No.1 Seed:
There are several psychological components to master for Andy. First, there is training and preparation (mental toughness to focus, plan and push himself). Then there is the build up to a match (anxiety control, visualisation). Then there is mind control to block out, or feed on the energy of the crowd (controlling adrenaline, staying focused on the job at hand).
Then, in longer drawn out games where his opponent either has the upper hand in the match, or game play goes on into the later sets – his body will start to tire, his reactions will level and his mind needs to operate at a higher frequency than his opponent to keep him motivated, sharp, resilient and guide him away from repaying mental replays of missed shots, or unforced errors.  
(Photo credit SkySports) 
This here can mean the difference between winning and losing, and normally, increased mental toughness comes with time, experience and age, but YSN® have hacked 10 ways to improve your mental toughness to support your performance and give you the upper hand in your competitive game play, training and match build up.
‘You have power over your mind, not out outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.’ Marcus Aurelius

1. Set goals around the things you are not good at

Try to make marginal gains around the techniques, phases of play, or physiological weaknesses each day and you will be sure to see improvements.

2. Visualise successful outcomes for difficult tasks

Always look for the positive in every situation, believe it is in your control to effect all outcomes to your favour. Even if you lose, really, you have learned valuable lessons and gained much from the experience, so really you only gain from losses. Keep your attitude in check, and see everything as a game of which you win every time. 

3. Control your environment by minimising distractions

Learn to stay focused and not allow distractions (crowd, team mates, friends etc.) to take your attention away from your most important task at the time. Remember, what you do is infinitely more important than everything else, and that doing something well does not make it important.

4. Do something each day that you have been postponing

Usually, the things we most fear doing is what we most need to do’ - Tim Ferriss, best selling author.

5. Stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself.

‘Create yourself, instead of discover yourself. Avoid looking through the rear view mirror. Looking into the windshield is how you get to where you want to go.’ Stop reliving past events or near misses, unfortunate events or poor decisions. Focus instead on your infinite potential to channel this potential negative energy into productive, effective and positive results and actions. 

6. Surround yourself with mentally tough role models

Sometimes this can mean getting out of your comfort zone and contacting more experiences athletes or coaches to assist you and learn from. Although daunting at first, always chose courage over comfort and learn from the best. Deep down, they love to help others and teaching you their hard learned lessons will be a pleasure for them.

7. Make a list of reasons why you are mentally tough

Seriously, do this. You are better than you give yourself credit for. Make this a daily practise.

8. Learn to ‘redirect’ or ‘re-channel’ your efforts instead of giving up or quitting

You have two choices. To control your mind, or let your mind control you’ -. Paulo Coelho, Bestselling book author. Learn to chose the former. 

9. Listen to, and ask for feedback but take action selectively

Utilise the support systems around you. Strength & conditioning coaches, nutritionists, parents, coaches, teachers and friends – they will all have observations that will allow you to develop yourself. But remember, observations are normally based on perceptions and open to interpretations, so take the good with the bad. The main way we learn is by making mistakes, so ask for these to be pointed out, but only you know which ones are in your control to effect.

10. Practise mindfulness and breathing techniques

Mind management is the essence of life management’ - Robin Sharma, bestselling book author.
Sound a bit freaky or like you have to become a Zen master? Lets not get carried away. But there is a very large and ever increasing awareness of the value of blocking your ever active mind, switching it off and focusing on sounds, your breath and setting 5-20 minutes per day to generally just relaxing. No phones, no TV, just you and yourself.
Think of it as ‘me’ time and try to reduce some of the mental static that is constantly churning in your head. All top athletes have a form of meditation to help them deal with match preparation for example, such as listening to music or going to a quiet place to soften and calm their overactive brains.
Photo: Neymar zoning out and preparing for a upcoming match 
We hope you enjoyed this small blog, please feel free to comment, share with your friends, parents and/or coaches.

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