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  • Writer's pictureFarran Mackay

Psychology 101 for coaches: Mental toughness and resilience

Welcome again to our blog series "Psychology 101 for Coaches". Today, we talk about two important ideas - mental toughness and resilience. These are important for both coaches and participants of CrossFit®. They help improve performance and make it easier to handle problems during training. We will also talk about two things that make up these qualities - adaptive coping and self-regulation.

Adaptive coping is how we deal with stress or problems. When you have a hard workout or movement to perform, you might feel stressed. But adaptive coping helps us manage this stress. You could talk to yourself in a positive way, like saying "I can do it", or divide the workout into smaller parts to make it seem easier. In short, adaptive coping is finding the best ways to deal with problems or stress. It helps us keep going even when things get hard.

Self-regulation is about controlling our own behaviour, feelings, and thoughts to reach our goals. For example, when training, members might feel tired or want to stop. But with self-regulation, they can control these feelings, stay focused, and continue to work towards their fitness goals. It's like being your own coach, telling yourself when to work hard and when to rest.

Before we talk about how coaches can help with adaptive coping and self-regulation, let's look at another psychology concept. The “Optimal Zone of Functioning” is a concept that talks about the best mental state for performance. For example, each member may perform their best under different conditions. Some might do better when they are calm and relaxed, while others might do better when they are excited and energised. This is their "optimal zone" - the mental state where they feel the most focused and ready to perform. As a coach, understanding each member's optimal zone can help guide their training and improve their performance.

Coaches can help members become mentally tough and resilient through well thought through and planned training sessions. By creating tasks that are hard but doable (including progressions and scaling), coaches can encourage members to push their limits and face problems. This coaching practice, supported by the 'Optimal Zone of Functioning' psychology principle, helps members adapt to stress and improves their focus and self-regulation under pressure.

To make members' resilience and mental toughness stronger, coaches can teach them certain coping strategies. These strategies come from cognitive behavioural therapy principles and are made to manage stress and overcome challenges. Two such strategies are positive self-talk and visualisation.

Positive self-talk is a method where individuals encourage themselves by saying positive things. This method is used a lot in sports psychology and can boost self-confidence and motivate individuals when faced with hard tasks.

Coaches can guide their members to use positive self-talk during their training. For example, when a member is getting ready to do a challenging movement or workout, the coach can encourage them to tell themselves things like "I am strong", "I can do this", or "I've trained for this". The key is for the member to focus on the positive, remind themselves of their strengths and abilities, and stay positive towards the task.

Positive self-talk is very powerful. It can change the way we think and see challenges. According to the psychological principle of 'Self-fulfilling Prophecy', what we believe about ourselves can greatly affect our behaviour and performance. By using positive self-talk all the time, members can start believing in their abilities and potential, which can then improve their performance in reality. Therefore, positive self-talk is not just about boosting confidence, but it also has the potential to make actual performance better.

Visualisation, also known as 'mental imagery', is a powerful method where individuals imagine themselves doing a task successfully. This strategy is used a lot in sports psychology as it has been shown to help members prepare mentally for competitions and enhance their confidence.

To use this method, a coach guides members through a detailed mental practice of a specific task. For instance, if the task is doing a ring muscle up, the coach would ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves doing each step of the move perfectly. This includes how they are going to get to the rings, the grip, the tension in their body, the breathing, all the way to the successful completion of the move. The key is to encourage them to use as many senses as possible during this mental practice - the feel of the equipment, the sound of their breath, the sight of the space around them. This makes the visualisation more clear and effective.

This act of visualisation does more than just prepare athletes mentally for the task at hand. The brain has difficulty telling the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real one. Therefore, visualising a successful task over and over can train the brain and muscles to perform the task more effectively in real life, a concept known as 'neuromuscular facilitation'. This can not only boost members' confidence but also improve their actual physical performance, helping them handle challenges with more skill and ease.

The power to foster mental toughness and resilience

The journey to improving an member's performance isn't only about physical strength but also about developing mental toughness and resilience. By understanding and applying psychological principles like adaptive coping, self-regulation, and the optimal zone of functioning, you as a coach can play an essential role in enhancing your athlete's performance. Teaching them techniques like positive self-talk and visualisation can empower them to overcome challenges and make progress. So, let's remember, it's not just the body that needs training, the mind does too.

Supporting all aspects of coaching

At Virtuous Coach Development, we're committed to addressing all facets of coach development, and understanding people is just as crucial as any other aspect of coaching. Whether it's at the affiliate, team, or individual level with our support, expertise, and experience, you'll develop the tailor-made knowledge and skills essential to elevate your coaching game (or that of your team).

Feel free to schedule a call to have a chat over coffee (or whatever you want!) about your affiliate, team, or your own coaching.


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