How often have athletes heard this comment from coaches, “the game is 90% mental and 10% physical”. There is more wisdom in those words than is often realized. However, when I’ve asked coaches, “What are you teaching or coaching about the mental or inner side of the game?” The answer is typically, “You know, I tell them, have a positive attitude, concentrate, focus, stay in the moment, be competitive, hustle.” Then I ask, do you teach them how to have a positive attitude, concentrate, focus, stay in the moment, be competitive, hustle? “Well, not really” is the typical reply.
I then point out you spend virtually all your coaching time teaching the external dimensions of your sport, focusing on physical training, everything from technique, game strategy, strength training, fitness and teamwork, yet you say the game is 90% mental. There seems to be a contradiction here.
I’ve had a number of these interchanges and have come to learn coaches recognize the importance of the “mental” or “inner game” side of athletic performance; yet they have little or no idea what mental or inner training for sport performance really is, how it can be taught or how to teach it.
Inner game athletic training is where weight training was 40 years ago. When I was playing in the NFL for the St. Louis Cardinals we did not have a weight room. Two of my teammates, Dan Goich who played at Cal-Berkeley and Bob Reynolds at Bowling Green lifted weights during college. I remember they begged the Cardinal management to “get some weights”. Eventually in 1966 the Cardinal management broke down and bought a Universal Gym, the ‘five stations on the cross’ weight machine, put it in the store room where the jocks and footballs were kept, under a dangling light bulb and said, “there’s your weights”. The prevailing view at the time was weight lifting would make you tight and less athletic.
Over the past 45 years, flowing from the Human Potential movement has been the development of a number of what I call consciousness technologies, perspectives and practices, that can be applied to developing athletic performance
Over the past 20 years, recognition of inner game training and its value has entered the sports performance world. However, it is still misunderstood and somewhat ‘underground’. coaches incorporating the mental side and inner game practices are still a small minority.
The lingering old world view is that inner game training will make you think too much, will be a distraction and is not really that important. However, what we are seeing is elite sport coaches incorporating inner game training in their overall coaching programs — Master sculling coach Jim Joy, Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson, Alabama’s football coach Nick Sabin, to name a few.
In addition, inner game gurus are emerging, Mindfullness teacher George Mumford who has worked with Phil Jackson for the NBA Bulls, Lakers and Nicks is on the cover of the February 2016 issue of Mindful magazine and has been written about in numerous publications.
There are a wide range of Inner game practices rooted in the fields of Sport and Energy Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and consciousness practices that are available to coaches. Visualization, affirmations, voice dialog, tapping, being present, event rehearsal, kinesthetic body and yoga to name a few.
The key in applying inner game training is coaches must learn and do these practices themselves and practice what they preach. Most importantly coaches can learn and teach these techniques and practices themselves. Hiring a sports psychologist is not necessary. A 10-minute inner game practice period before physical practice begins is a great start. An essential part of coaching is knowing what works best for you and your team or individuals you are coaching. Start with a few inner game practices and do them with your athletes.
These inner game practices, whichever practices are used, must be done every day and seen by the athletes as important enough to do every day. Just as a coach would not allow his or her athletes to miss strength training or conditioning the inner game practices become an integral and expected part of training by the athletes.
Please see the Sports, Energy, and Consciousness Group upcoming SEC Sports Festival which will be held on June 10-12, 2016 at Dominican College, San Rafael, CA. Go to www.sportsenergygroup.com We will be presenting ‘hands on’ teachable techniques and practices enabling coaches to teach the inner game.