How Student Athletes Can Stay Up When Sports Seasons are in Lock Down

athletes coaches gratitude mentalskills mindfulness mindset parents positivephyschology sports sportscoaches studentathlete Apr 26, 2020

With almost all school buildings remaining closed for the rest of the school year as a result of the Corona virus, one of the unintended consequences is effectively cancelling all spring school and club sports seasons. For millions of student athletes across the world, this has been an especially difficult adjustment. Many kids get so much of their passion, energy, drive, meaning, and personal power from their team and playing organized sports. It’s one thing not to be able to watch live sports, but a completely different experience for the athlete not be able to practice or play their sport in competition or with the team. 


It's easy to feel frustrated, angry, sad, worried, and bored at this time. Here are a few tips to help student athletes, and the parents and sports coaches too, to remain up even when the team is in lockdown.


Use the acronym T.E.A.M. to help keep student athletes on the right track during this challenging time.



T: Tackle negative thoughts –while Tossing in some positive thoughts too.


"My negative mindset cost me a chance to play college golf. Is your teen dealing with the same thing?"

Negative thoughts are like weeds, quickly taking over your garden if left unattended. A frustrated or angry thought like “This situation stinks” can be one of the approximately 60,000 thoughts we have every day. Our brains are wired to help keep us safe and because of this, give a stronger emphasis to potentially negative events. Understanding that many of our thoughts are repetitive, the challenge isn’t the sheer number of thoughts, but how many of those are negative, zapping our energy and focus. As Harvard psychologist Matt Killingsworth says, “The human mind is a wondering mind and a wondering mind is an unhappy mind.”

Knowing that thoughts are things, but NOT facts is key. Thoughts are like opinions, not necessarily true or false, but instead either helpful or harmful. The goal is to neutralize as many of the negative thoughts as possible (pulling weeds) while at the same time tossing in some new positive thoughts (planting seeds).  Thinking a certain way causes us to feel a particular way which will lead us to act and behave in a certain way. It's important then to start this thought/feel/act cycle in a positive direction.


So what can we do to neutralize negative thoughts?


We need to NIP those negative thoughts in the bud removing those harmful thoughts before they can take root in the athlete’s mind.


N-Notice the thoughts…. pay attention to your thoughts, noticing them for what they are… things. Perhaps imagine you are seated in a theatre (by yourself, of course!) watching your thoughts show up one by one on the movie screen of your mind. 


I-Identify the thoughts…. label your thoughts as to whether they are negative(harmful)), neutral, or positive(helpful).  Once you start identifying your thoughts, your mind will start slowing things down creating space for some new empowering thoughts.


P-Place Positive Thoughts back into your mind… come up with some positive words or phrases that can take the place of some of those harmful negative thoughts. Perhaps add a confident thought like, “I can do this", "I got this", "I am strong", “How can I use this?” or “Let’s make the best of this.”



E:  Engage Emotions –before they enrage you.


Replacing some of your negative thoughts with positive ones will help you start shifting your mood away from anger, anxiety, fear, and sadness.  However, it is still easy to get stuck in negative emotions.  They are like stepping on gum, difficult to remove, and as we walk around, we attract additional unwanted debris.


Nobody likes to feel mad or sad, but it’s vitally important to actually feel the emotions, instead of pushing them away or distracting ourselves from feeling them.  In this way, they are allowed to flow through us rather than getting stuck to us. 

So what can we do to help lessen the impact of those unpleasant emotions so they just slide off?

  1. Take a breath(or a few deep breaths) making sure you actually finish each breath fully. 
  2. Try to find where in your body that emotion is strongest and imagine moving your breath in and through that area as you breathe.
  3. Like we did with our negative thoughts, labeling our feelings can help lessen the negative impact they have in our bodies. So label what you are feeling.
  4. Take another breath through it.



A:  Amplify Appreciation –for all that you’ve gained from playing your sport(s).


Gratitude is the attitude that changes everything.  Stanford University studied an appreciative mindset and found that being grateful can increase happiness and kindness, decrease anxiety and depression, and even improve our relationships and social intelligence.


Write down 5-7 things you are grateful for that you’ve gotten from playing your sport.  For each of the items you listed, really feel in your body what that specific thing has given you. For instance, maybe you jot down all of the friendships you have gotten from playing on your team or in your sport. Make sure you allow yourself to feel each of those friendships in your body, not just think about them in your mind.  Make a gratitude list a few times each week and refer to it often.



M:  Make Mental Reps –use mental visualization


Our brains don’t know the different between that which we vividly imagine and that which is real.  Think of a scary or intense movie or show you’ve watched.  Did that cause you to feel something in your body whether it was nervous, anxious, tense, excited?  And that was just from watching something on a screen!


From Lebron James, Alex Morgan, and Mike Trout, to Serena Williams, Russell Wilson and Tiger Woods, top athletes make a lot of mental reps to support their actual game experience. In fact, many talk about how this being their secret weapon.  You may not be able to play your sport on your team or even practice by yourself right now, but you can get in many mental reps between now and when play resumes.  Remembering what we’ve covered about thoughts and emotions, what if you spent 5-10 minutes or more a day doing some positive mental reps? Many studies have shown mental reps will improve your performance on the field/court…. just ask LeBron James.


Here’s how we can make best use of those mental reps:


  1. If you are able, start in a calmer setting in the beginning to get comfortable.
  2. Take a few deep relaxing breaths focusing on your exhale.
  3. Picture all the details as vividly as possible (involving all your senses) of what you desire to have happen, while also controlling the images in your mind to do what you want. If available, feel free to wear the clothing/shoes or hold the equipment you would normally have for your sport.
  4. Imagine specific situations you might actually experience during a game or competition.
  5. Focus on positive outcomes where you are successfully doing what you want to do.
  6. Act as though your goal of what you have visualized has already happened.


Remember to support your TEAM even while play is suspended.


T:  Tackle negative thoughts

E:  Engage Emotions

A:  Amplify Appreciation

M:  Make Mental Reps

"My negative mindset cost me a chance to play college golf. Is your teen dealing with the same thing?"  Or are they struggling with a can cancelled sports season?  Reach out to me for a free discovery call to find out how I can help.  [email protected] 

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