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Mental and Emotional Training 01/12/04
By Masaaki Tajima, U.S. National Junior Girls Coach

Virtually every coach and players I know places emphasis on technical and physical aspects of the sport and little if any time to mental training. But all will tell you how mental this sport is. The fact is, most coaches don’t have the education or experience in this area to teach it and players place low priority on it and do not think about paying for mental aspects of coaching even though they admit it is so important. Moreover, players resist mental skills training believing achieving technical skills will cure whatever ills them and attach unwarranted stigma in seeking mental training.

We all have, to a certain degree, mental problems or weaknesses that require a person of knowledge and experience if not a professional in this field to resolve it. We immediately seek a doctor for physical illness but reluctant for mental health problems. Do you think twice about physical therapy when recommended by a doctor? But place the word mental in front of therapy and you start to cringe. People resist seeking any form of psychiatric help because they associate it with decades of negative image created primarily by the media. Many athletes never realize their potential because of this lack of awareness or denial of its existence.

Some experts say the problem with sports psychology is that it is invisible. My experience tells me they are all visible, it’s a matter of degree and who is looking. Some negative (And positive) behaviors are obvious even to a layman. A player may deny a negative behavior but a video recording and its delineation will prove it beyond dispute. And some are more subtle and harder to diagnose but it is detectable and need to be addressed. Often, not addressing this aspect is the primary reason for an athlete’s slow or lack of progress.

Furthermore, there is a collation of a player’s negative competitive behavior on the court that can have adverse consequence off the court if it goes uncorrected. As an example, an overly aggressive player is also often aggressive in relationships, whether in family, work place or personal. The problem can be simple as losing focus and concentration on task at hand or destructive as getting into an uncontrollable rage. The remedy can be simple as having a knowledgeable coach discern your fluctuations of concentration and devise a workable solution or complex as dysfunctional self-worth issue or diagnosing a suspect chemical imbalance that will require a professional in the field of neurology. As an example, I have had cases of players unaware they were suffering from Bipolar Disorder, a condition that I found out to be not so uncommon (A medical condition caused by chemical imbalance inside the brain. It affects a person’s ability to comprehend and reason).

Sport psychology is a science like any other so if you are serious about realizing your potential, if your friends, peers or relatives gave you feedback about your negative behavior, or know you have problems concentrating or focusing, get help as you would in technical aspects and make mental training or emotional rehabilitation part of your training. The more you are self aware, the easier and faster your learning curve.

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