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Mental Health Tips for Coaches During a Training Hiatus

BY Jim Afremow

In these turbulent times, it's essential to care for yourself and your athletes. Take advantage of the regular training interruption and realign your focus.

There has rarely been a more challenging or confusing time to be a coach. Having worked with some of the best in the business at the San Francisco Giants and during my decade with Arizona State University, my heart goes out to you.

Even though you might not be around your athletes to develop their physicality, you can still help them (and yourself) become mentally tougher and more resilient. That way, when your sport gets back underway, they’ll be more capable of achieving their true potential than ever before. 

You Still Get to Lead

While so much of our society is shut down, your responsibility to guide and direct your athletes should still be a top priority. Sure, you’re figuring out this whole remote coaching thing in terms of physical programming, but you can also help those in your charge develop what I like to call The Champion’s Mind. Even in challenging times, how good can we be?

To begin, I’d like to ask you two simple questions. First, how much of your sport would you say is mental? Second, what percentage of your athletes’ time do they spend on mental skills training? I might be off base here, but I’ll bet there’s a pretty large discrepancy between these two numbers. I’m not judging or criticizing your approach by any means, but rather drawing your attention to the vital need for daily mental skills training. 

Fortunately, you no longer need to be in the field of sports psychology to know where to start developing a gold medal mindset among your training group. Powerful programs in the Champion’s Mind App like Mindsetter, Competitor, and Regenerator reinforce rather than replace your training plan to help athletes sustain peak performance.

I suggest you also model an attitude of gratitude by showing your athletes some appreciation. Sure, you probably heap praise on them when they hit a new PR or finish a grueling race, but when was the last time you told them how much you appreciated them for being a great teammate, a willing learner, or a kind person? 

You don’t need to blow too much sunshine here – a simple text or Facebook message will do. From now on, try to reach out to one athlete per day in this way. Also let them know that you’re here for them – not only to design and oversee the implementation of their program, but also to share all the doubts, fears, and worries that we’re facing right now. This simple gesture will go a long way. 

Steady the Ship

Distance racer and author Travis Macy wrote, “Endurance races are a microcosm of life; you’re high, you’re low, in the race, out of the race, crushing it, getting crushed, managing fears, rewriting stories.” I can’t think of a more fitting quote for these turbulent times. While your athletes are trying to cope with all the ups and downs that the past few mutable weeks have presented, it’s up to you as their coach to take what Leif Babin and Jocko Willink call “extreme ownership.” Sure, everybody has been dealt a less than ideal hand by fate and circumstance. It sucks, but the game of life must go on, and every single one of your runners, cyclists, etc. has to play the cards they have to the best of their ability. 

To help them do so, you need to stay calm and optimistic. I’m not asking you to act like everything’s hunky-dory because we all know it isn’t. Neither do you need to pretend to be perfect. But whether you realize it or not, your athletes are looking to you to help them navigate these increasingly choppy waters. You are their Captain Phillips, their Bob Bowman, their Stacy Sims (or pick a leader or coach you admire and strive to emulate their ability to lead people through tough times). As such, if you project panic, that’s going to be contagious and simply make things worse. Whereas if you’re able to gather yourself and demonstrate grace under pressure, your athletes are more likely to do the same. 

Put Your Mask on First

I’m not trying to make an insensitive pun with this subhead for its own sake. But if you’ve ever been on a plane, try to recall the part of the pre-flight safety briefing in which the flight attendant talks about how to use the oxygen masks if they deploy. They invariably tell you to put on your mask before you help someone else secure theirs. Simply put, you have to take care of yourself so that you can then take care of those around you. 

This analogy isn’t just applicable to air travel but also applies to everyday life. So as we all muddle through the current adversity, I urge you to be good to yourself. Whether it’s reading a new book in a warm bath for as long as you like, taking a walk with your kids and/or partner, or dusting off that treadmill that hasn’t been used since your athletes’ competitive season started, do something to invest in your health and happiness every day.

Also, spend five to 10 minutes daily developing a mental skill like mindfulness or visualization. If you need some guidance to do so, fire up a quick audio in the Champion’s Mind app. This way, you’ll be in a better place physically, mentally, and emotionally to meet the needs of yourself, your family, and your athletes. You’re more than just a coach – you’re a champion!

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About Jim Afremow

Dr. Jim Afremow is a much sought-after mental skills coach, licensed professional counselor, co-founder of the Champion’s Mind app, and the author of the bestselling books The Champion’s MindThe Champion’s Comeback, and The Young Champion’s Mind. For over 20 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes. Major sports represented include MLB, NBA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, NHL, NFL, and the UFC. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. He has been the staff mental coach for two international Olympic teams – the Greek Olympic softball team and India’s Olympic field hockey team. Jim also served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University and as a Mental Skills Coach and the Peak Performance Coordinator with the San Francisco Giants.