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Overcoming Nerves - Thinking like winners

Posted: Fri, 19 May 2017 09:21 by mr John Skevington

Overcoming Nerves - Thinking like winners

As coaches we are involved in inspiring others and getting the best from them whatever their ability are bound to encounter those that are unable to get the best from themselves because they are unconfident or become nervous at events. So let's look here at how we can help turn this situation round and get our athletes to "think like winners" and get the best from their performances.

What we need to do as coaches is to help change what is a "static mentality", (one that may highlight the negatives) to one of a "growing mentality" where the athlete begins to believe in what they are capable of doing and are able to see the way to do it without worrying about the end result which will trigger nervousness. So what can we do to make this change happen? Finding ways to changing the way that we get our athletes to approach training and competition is the key to this.

Racing - Focus on the process

The key function here is to help your athletes focus on the "here and now" and the process that they are about to undertake, not thinking about what is going to happen. Remind them of the training that has been done and focus on those positives. This process can be begun in training for their event so getting them to work on "getting into the zone" where they concentrate on how they perform and not what they are trying to achieve. This way nerves can be helped to be settled by taking things one step and a time without worrying about the result of the process. This will take some time to practice however the "process not outcome" mentality can be gradually embedded so that the athlete is able to focus and create the right mindset without prompts from the coach –important especially at major events where contact with the coach is limited.

Create a protective positive mind-set

We all know that poor performances or struggling with a technical element can create a feeling of anxiety so if your athlete has had bad experiences either in training or in competition, get them to reflect back and find the positives in the situation. Encourage them to focus on the good memories from the event, for example if a runner "blew up" at a particular point in their last two races, ask them to reflect and concentrate on the good parts where they were feeling good – this connects in with the above where the process is thought about rather than the end result. If on the other hand training has gone well have your athlete focus on replicating what they have done in training rather than focusing on the event. I often repeat the advice from the Wales Rugby psychologist who I had the pleasure of hearing speak where a member of the audience asked how to prepare a player for a match at Twickenham in front of 90,000 fans. His answer was remarkably simple – "concentrate on what we practiced on Thursday in training and just replicate that"! A great example of focussing on process and not outcome.

Think about using nerves as a trigger to overcome nerves.

Excitement and heightened anticipation before an event is an important element of competition and can help bring great results however when this spills over to a nervous state it can become a negative experience.

Athletes must be taught to recognise and overcome the difference between the good heightened and excited state and the negative nervous state. If an athlete is troubled by excessive nerves they need to concentrate on recognising the symptoms, for example perhaps shallower breathing or sweating excessively. When this happens they must use this as a trigger to take themselves back to the stages above – concentrating on the "here and now" and looking at "process rather than outcome". A good idea in this case would be to have practiced prior to the day trigger words and phrases which will return the athlete back to the "here and now" and turn that nervous energy into a positive rather than a negative.

Change the way you/they speak about things

For some athletes just thinking about a situation will bring on a nervous state, how many times have we seen one of our athletes on the way to competition turn pale just thinking about competing? By changing the way that both coach and athlete talk about an event this can be , with some practice from both parties, alleviated. Following the pointers above, speak about HOW they will compete not about how the event will end or what the outcome will be, again concentrate on the process and not the outcome. Keep in the moment and concentrate on each element of preparation for the event and have the athlete mentally tick them off as they go, so for example registering, warm up, changing, etc. It might even help early on to have a written list to help focus on the process leading up to the race rather than the event itself.

Keep your athletes in the moment, concentrating on the positives and success will inevitably follow!

John Skevington is coordinator of Leicestershire Running and Athletics Network and is a UKA level 3 performance coach and part of the England Athletics National Coach Development Programme.

Tags: Athletics, Coaching, positive mindset, winning mentality

#CoachingCan - It's a great career

Posted: Wed, 29 Mar 2017 16:05 by Katie Jane Tebbet

#CoachingCan - It's a great career

Seeing people progress is absolutely fantastic. To see golfers lit up and gain confidence and enjoy their game is wonderful. It's nice to work with people in a positive way and I'm lucky that I can teach people who want to learn and to get better. It's great to watch them achieve their goals and enjoy their journey.

I started playing 40 years ago and played my first English Girls when I was 12. It got more fun the more I competed and played full-time amateur golf for a number of years. That led to some national championships and I turned pro at 28. That saw me play on the European tour and I started looking at getting into coaching through PGA training.

Coaching is very easy to get into. Through Sport England and CSP's, all sports are looking for volunteer coaches and to get involved with a club and do coaching courses - you don't need to be a professional at all. At ground level, it is not hard to get into.

It's nice to get people who wouldn't play otherwise to stay and play golf - it's a real privilege. What is really important is getting good basics and to get coaching to revisit those basics helps massively. Here at club level I can arrange a competition and days later they can tell me how they've got out of all the bunkers after lessons, which is a great thing.

Tags: Coaching, Golf

Do you encourage a “Fixed” or Growth mindset” in your athletes?

Posted: Wed, 29 Mar 2017 16:01 by mr John Skevington

Do you encourage a “Fixed” or Growth mindset” in your athletes?

We all understand that the way that you engage and communicate with people can have a major impact upon their progress whether this is in a working environment or within a sporting context. This applies to all age groups from the youngest to those who are not so young and although the following can be applied to everyone we specifically look on this occasion at those working with younger athletes.

The above terms are often used in coaching so what exactly are fixed or growth mindsets? Simply put, it is the difference between those who are prepared to "have a go" or those who sit within their comfort zone and are perhaps not prepared to fail at something.

We all, I am sure, have seen athletes that are naturally talented who don't for whatever reason not make it past teenage competition, this can often be the ones who have, for example, an age or size advantage over those of their peers. Now obviously there are many reasons for this beyond anyone's control however often we see the later developers
who have had to work hard to achieve what they have over take the "naturals" whilst the "natural" or the gangly one who is all over the place when they take part in ability because they have not yet developed the skills. Perhaps when looking at "talent" we should look further than what is on show and delve further to support both athletes but using different

According to Lee Ness in his book "Growth" the following applies:

  • The Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset Individual
  • People are born 'Gifted'
  • People have 'natural talents'
  • Traits are set in stone
  • Intelligence is a fixed trait
  • They have a need to look smart at all costs,
  • Tasks should come naturally
  • They avoid challenging learning tasks
  • They hide mistakes and difficulties
  • In the face of failure they would reduce their effort or give up, become defensive, act up,
  • act bored.
  • Characteristics of a Growth mindset
  • Success comes from effort
  • Success comes from hard work
  • Success comes from practice
  • Intelligence can be improved
  • Setbacks are a natural form of learning
  • Learn at all costs.

So what language should we be using to bring both our talented and our gangly athletes to their best? Here again I have extracted a section from Lee Ness's book who the following;

"Our young athlete is on her way to her first club athletics meet. She is lanky, flexible, and athletic, she loves athletics and everyone feels she is just right for it. Although a little nervous about competing everyone, herself included, felt confident she'd do well. She could already picture herself with her medals. She did well in the events she competed in but was beaten by stronger, more experienced athletes. This had never happened to her in school sports. In each event, she did well, but not enough to win. By the end of the competition, our young athlete was distraught."

If you were the athletes coach, what should you tell her? These are the typical responses and the analysis of them in fixed and growth mindset terms. Tell her you thought she was the best. She clearly was not the best, athletics is a brutally honest sport that has no subjectivity. The tape or the clocks don't lie – you know it, and she does too. This offers her no ideas for how to recover or how to improve.

Reassure her that athletics is not that important in the grand scheme of things. This teaches her to devalue something if she doesn't do well in it right away. This is not a message you want her to take away from this experience. Tell her how good she is and that she will win next time. This is a very dangerous message in mindset terms. Does ability automatically take you where you want to go? If she didn't win at this meet, why should she win at the next one? Tell her she didn't deserve to win. This seems hard hearted under the circumstances and of course you wouldn't say it exactly that way, but be careful how you dress it up. But, if you have a growth mindset and you want your athlete to adopt the same, then you need to
face the realities.

For all the work we put in as coaches in training and developing the athlete, if they are unable to perform when it counts or to grow and improve because they are holding themselves back mentally, we are merely spinning our wheels. Whether you completely agree with Dweck's Mindset model or not, ask yourself this question. It could
be correct, so if I implemented it anyway, what could be lost?"

By John Skevington, UKA Level 3 Performance Coach
Lee Ness – "Growth" ,Daniel Coyle - "The Talent Code" and Carol Dwerk – "Mindset" are all available from online book
distributers and are all highly recommended.

Tags: Athletics, Coaching


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  • Blaby District Council
  • Equality Standard
    Loughborough University
  • Leicestershire County Council
  • Rutland County Council
    Charnwood Borough Council
  • North West Leicestershire District Council
    Sport England
  • Age UK L&R
    Harborough District Council
  • County Sport Network
    Oadby & Wigston Borough Council
  • Melton Borough Council
    British Heart Foundation
  • East Midlands Platform
    Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council
  • Leicester City Council