Sink or Swim

Last month I wrote about “Why we train mentally”.  Some of the feedback I got has prompted me to expand these thoughts, as some people are under the impression that the way we develop mental toughness is to basically apply pressure and hope that the person will find some inner strength to build this kind of toughness. This is the “Sink or Swim Mentality, that of throwing someone into the deep end of the pool to teach them to be mentally tough.

Sink or Swim, not the way to develop mental toughness

Sink or Swim

Once upon a time we taught kids to swim by taking them to the end of a pier and throwing them in the water. Some of them figured out how to swim. Some sort of survived, but never really took to water ever, so avoided it (Fear of Failure). And some just sank to the bottom and drowned. Mental toughness was like this. It’s was sink or swim.

It seems that in sports today we do the same thing. We throw people into high pressure sports situations without teaching them mental toughness. We allow the same thing to happen. Those with grit make it to the top usually just based on athleticism. They gain experiences that allow them to learn how to deal with pressure. They learn how to focus and they continued feedback that builds their confidence. What of the late developers then? They don’t get the experiences and if they aren’t real motivated at the time to overcome the effects of riding the pine (sitting on the bench) so they fail to develop the mental skills that others are developing through these experiences. And it’s not just the late developers. Often times gifted athletes do not develop the right set of skills either, but because of their athleticism and success on the field they get to play. The problem hits them usually in transition to the next level. This can be JV to Varsity, high school to college and even college to the pro’s. I see it all of the time. It’s what keeps us busy as mental trainers®.

What if we change the model?

What if we start teaching people to be mentally tough through mental skills training? What if teachers were trained in elementary school to help kids with mental skills? What if we paid attention to how kids were developing their emotional intelligence? Let’s start programs for kids early on in middle school and high school teaching mental skills. Oh I know teachers do some things, but they are usually one shot experiences.

Today we no longer throw kids into the deep end of the pool or most of us don’t. We start them out in the shallows where they can develop their swimming skills without fear. Don’t we owe it to people today to teach them mental toughness skills before they need them to survive? I see athletes every day who come in with what they consider issues. They can’t handle pressure or they lack confidence. When I ask them have they ever learned to relax they say “sure I watch TV or listen to music”. Myself I don’t find hip hop all that relaxing, but then I listen to AC/DC. OK well maybe over time I’ve added relaxing jazz to the mix to relax.

Change the Model

It’s up to us to change the way we bring athletes up, those of us who are in the field of sport psychology, and those who are teachers and coaches. Let’s stop throwing people into the deep end to see if they can sink or swim. Start out in the shallow end and help more people become successful in sports and life. Belonging to a club is a great experience for people. Great programs can help people understand how to deal with pressure, become motivated to do more and to build confidence and focus when approached correctly. Sometimes however, we get competitive and believe that the strong survive and don’t offer a way for people to learn mental toughness. This is throwing them into the deep end. We can do better than this. We have the knowledge and the technology to reach most everyone. It’s not as difficult as some people think. Come join us in providing a way to develop mental toughness without having to rescue anyone from drowning.

Would you like to learn more about mental training?

We are going to be conducting free online webinars in June and July. Email Mike at [email protected] for a schedule. Also talk with your club and we will be happy to schedule either an online webinar just for your club. If you belong to a club in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we can schedule a seminar or presentation in person with your club. Just ask! We are doing some free seminars for a couple of Dallas Clubs this month because someone just asked their pros to call us. Just ask and we will be there.