Jul
06

Developing Young Minds to be Mentally Tough

Developing a strong mental game in basketball begins from the first moment the athlete steps onto the court, no matter what their age.

Congratulations to Coach Joe Coffey, Coach Ron Geehring and the Xtreme 9th grade basketball team for winning 2nd place in the USBA – (United State Basketball Association) tournament Saturday, June 30th. Earning a position in the championship game of a national tournament requires hard work, dedication and mental toughness. Playing on the AAU basketball team of Coach Joe and Coach Ron these girls are on their way to being #1.

To be #1 now is the time to fine tune three basic skills that will set you apart from the competition and win championships.

Dedication in the Gym
No matter the age or level of the ball player, fundamentals must be practiced and improved constantly. While it is critical to practice individually on improving skills, nothing can replace actual time spent practicing as a team on a regular bases. Pushing yourself and your teammates builds a stronger, confident and a mentally tough team. The hard work you put into practice pays off during the pressures of the actual game. The more you practice together as a team you become comfortable with your teammates and can anticipate their moves on the court. This will eliminate self doubt, hesitation, worry, fear of messing up, anxiety and other self defeating thoughts. Which is the difference between winning a game or losing by 1 shot. Kevin Durant says it best, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”

Listening to the Coach
Many athletes fail to meet their full athletic potential on the basketball court and develop their mental game in basketball simply because they lack a basketball mind capable of being coached. In order to play on any team and make it to the next level or to stay on the top you must be coachable. Coaches like players that listen and follow directions immediately without talking back or displaying negative verbal or non verbal communications. Learning to not only listen, but actually put full effort into the execution of the coach’s instructions is one aspect that raises a player to the next level. A hesitation or lack of following through with the coach’s instructions is the difference between winning and losing. The player’s mental focus should always be on completing any and all tasks asked by their coach without reservations or hesitation. Simply put, they are the coach and your job is to listen and execute. Even the NBA’s MVP believes in being coachable, “Ask me to play. I’ll play. Ask me to shoot. I’ll shoot. Ask me to pass. I’ll pass. Ask me to steal, block out, sacrifice, lead, and dominate. Anything. But it’s not what you ask of me. It’s what I ask of myself.” LeBron James

Mental Toughness
Sports psychology for basketball allows the athlete to improve despite setbacks, barriers or injuries. In high school, the athlete is not only honing their basketball skills, but also dealing with significant body changes which can alter their dribbling, shooting style, balance, and overall physical play. It is important that as their body develops, the athlete and coach maintain a program to allow for a positive mindset. Sustaining a positive focus keeps the athlete’s thinking on constructive aspects that they control and possess the ability to improve their fundamentals. It also removes negative thinking from areas that are outside their control, such as a growth spurt. This permits their basketball mental toughness to strengthen over time, rather than weaken with frustrations. Practice every single second with a positive outlook, and this also empowers the team to maintain a more positive focus as well. Building substantial confidence in basketball allows the athlete to visualize themselves as a champion, before they ever make it to the championship playoff.

As a young athlete, it is critical to set both short term and long term goals. This allows the mind to concentrate on the path that best attains their peak potential which will lead to peak performance. The ability to listen to your coach is also important in determining your goals. Your coaches want you to succeed, so they know areas that need your attention most. Short term goals are critical to sustaining a positive mental focus in basketball because the game has many momentum changes throughout the quarters. The player lacking confidence in their mental game quickly loses focus and limits their abilities simply by their negative thoughts. Find short, quick goals that can keep you “in the moment”. There should be at least one mental game goal and physical goal to achieve at every single practice.

It is also important for young athletes to practice visualization exercises. Sports psychology for basketball stress the significance of “seeing the ball go through the hoop, and hearing the swish of the net” in your mind before your hand ever touches the ball. If an athlete is constantly worried about missing the shot, then their mental focus remains negative, and ultimately they will miss shots. Visualization techniques can also be short term as to how a player wants to practice. The ability to strengthen your basketball mental toughness increases your confidence exponentially resulting in far superior play on the court. It is also important for the team to visualize “team” success, and not simply individual performance. The player that shows up to every practice, demands the best of themselves as well as that of their teammates, will be a mentally and physically strong player. More important is they motivate others to build a mentally and physically strong team. The ability to come together unselfishly as a team is what wins team championships. “They talked about teamwork. That’s all it is. It’s about team effort. No particular player trying to outshine each other. Playing unselfishly and believe. Good things will come. Rajon Rondo

The mental game of basketball is just as critical as fundamental skills such as dribbling, passing, and free throws. The physically superior athlete with a weak basketball mind is overpowered by a player with a strong basketball mind. The moment a young player begins to learn the game it is necessary for their coaches to also incorporate exercises to build their mental game, but more importantly for the entire team. Learning to improve both as an individual and as a team is imperative for future success.

Teams that win Championships are teams that show dedication in the gym both individually and in team practice , listen and respond to the coach consistently and is mentally tough.

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