Mental Toughness vs. Mental Health
During the 202o Olympics, Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in the world, pulled out of some Olympic events after experiencing the “twisties.” She said her head was not in the right place…
However, she returned to the Olympics, winning a Bronze medal on the balance beam.
What can sports parents learn from Biles’ story?
In a podcast interview, Lisa Cohn, host of The Ultimate Sports Parent podcast, and her brother, Dr. Patrick Cohn, mental game expert, discussed the incident. Dr. Cohn argued that Biles’ decision last week to pull out of some events was likely due to a mental toughness lapse, prompted by too much pressure.
“When gymnasts have the twisties, the mind and body are not in sync. They feel out of control, lost and tense, the body isn’t doing what they asked the body to do,” Dr. Cohn explained. She wasn’t mentally in the right place, and was afraid she’d get hurt, he added. He noted that unlike golfers who are trying to sink a putt, gymnasts can land on their head and break their neck–so she had reason to worry.
“Sometimes you have to go out and wing it and do the best you can when you don’t feel great,” said Dr. Cohn. “I don’t see this as a mental health issue. This is more of a mental toughness, mental game issue, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment,” he said.
Biles, of course, was under a lot of pressure. She had done well during previous Olympics–the last one was five years ago–and was expected to win gold medals. But the team didn’t do well in qualifying, which increased the pressure on her.
Biles was likely dealing with worries about what others would think of her, said Dr. Cohn. Sports parents should understand this challenge and be on the lookout for this issue in their athletes.
Getting Older Means More Fears
“As kids get older, they get more fears, and a lot of those fears become irrational. ‘Am I going to pay back my parents for all this time and money?’ Parents have to be very careful about expectations that their kids will turn pro, get scholarships or be stellar,” he said.
Young athletes need to stop worrying about what others think of their performance. They need to perform for themselves, he added. Their motivation needs to come from within.
When Biles pulled out of some of the events, she told the media that she wasn’t performing for herself, but for others.
Parents need to tune into such concerns from their sports kids. The best way to do that is to keep the lines of communication open. Sports kids need to feel comfortable telling their parents that they’re not enjoying their sport.
Dr. Cohn pointed out that the video that attracted the most comments from us was about kids quitting sports. Dozens of sports kids commented. Some said they’re afraid to tell their parents they want to quit.
“Kids are often afraid to tell their parents they want to quit because their parents are so invested emotionally and financially,” Dr. Cohn said.
Listen to the Entire Youth Sports Interview Below:
Help Your Athletes Build Mental Toughness
One-on-one sports psychology coaching is the fastest and most effective method to improve your athletes’ mental game, boost their performance and make lasting changes. And as a bonus, parents learn what to say to help young athletes feel confident and thrive in sports. Please call us at 888-742-7225 with your questions.
Our Coaching Programs Include:
- Young Athlete’s Mental Aptitude Assessment (YAMAP)
Our assessment specifically for young athletes will help identify what mental game barriers are hurting their performance.
- Parent Assessment
Our parent assessment is used to determine how you can best support your young athlete.
- Pre-game and Post-game Checklists
These checklists help parents know what to say and do before, after and during a competition.
- Personalized Mental Game Plan
Your athlete will be given a custom game plan based on their specific challenges. The mental game plan will act as a road-map for their mental training sessions. The mental game plan will outline exactly what mental strategies will help their performance.
- Weekly Coaching Sessions
Four, 45-minute coaching sessions conducted via Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, in person or over the phone. Each session is designed to teach your athlete how to apply mental strategies for practice and games. They will work directly with one of our coaches and learn how to improve their mindset and performance.
- Unlimited email correspondence with our staff
You are welcome to email our staff with any and all questions you have during the course of your athlete’s mental training program.
- Our Exclusive Mental Edge Workbooks
You and your athlete will receive our exclusive workbooks that will allow you to review and apply mental game strategies between sessions.
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