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AGC #019 - Psychology 101 for sports coaches

How I helped a teenage athlete who struggled with confidence

A coach's secret weapon: repurposing psychology 💭

The ABC framework, widely used in cognitive behavioral therapy, can help athletes struggling with the mental side of their game.

Today, I will share a real-life example of how I used it to transform an athlete’s mindset.

Our brains play tricks on all of us.

We are prone to “thinking errors” that cause undesirable outcomes, as a result of controllable responses to life’s challenging moments.

Like when your spouse, who is normally home at 6:00 pm, is an hour late and you haven’t heard from them.

You’re sick with worry, on the verge of calling the cops, assuming they’ve been in a car accident and already texted their mother…

…but it turns out they just went for dinner with a co-worker and their phone died 🫣

For sportspeople, thinking errors under pressure lead to all sorts of negative consequences.

Golfers call it the yips. They can strike top players at the worst possible times, such Jean Van de Velde’s infamous collapse at the British Open in 1999:

“Choking” means something different in sports than everywhere else.

Many prodigious talents tipped for greatness never make it, due to self-sabotage by their own brain.

But one simple framework can help unlock an athlete’s potential, and help them keep those negative thoughts at bay.

The ABC framework can be used as a prompt to help players work through performance-related anxieties.

It has a couple of iterations, but here’s the one I’ve settled on:

1️⃣ What ADVERSITY did you face?
2️⃣ What were your BELIEFS about it?
3️⃣ What were the CONSEQUENCES?

Getting scrambled thoughts out of your brain and onto paper can help us better understand what happens under pressure.

The "B" is key.

The beliefs that drive our actions are often misguided - and can lead to undesirable consequences.

So disrupting those thoughts is crucial.

A few years ago, I asked a teenage athlete - a forward - who was struggling for confidence at the time to answer those three questions.

Here’s what she wrote:

After she finished the exercise, I didn't offer any advice. Yet.

Instead, I asked her to read it back when she got at home that night and write a "reflection on the reflection" the next day, after she'd slept on it.

This time, her tune had changed:

This player hadn't even considered how out of step her thoughts were with what was happening in reality.

The result of years of being limited by her own negative self-talk.

This led to some impactful conversations - and gave me a roadmap of how to coach her when she was having a bad day.

As I was putting together this post, I texted her - she’s now starting her “real job” after a successful NCAA D1 career - and asked what advice she would give her younger self:

Pretty powerful stuff.

And we can trace her journey back to the ABC framework.

We could all learn how to talk to ourselves, instead of listening to ourselves.

Share the ABC framework with your players today.

Workshop an example so they see how powerful it can be.

You won't regret it.

Whenever you’re ready, here are a few ways I can help you:

1. Efficient Practice Design: My multi-step system for creating practice plans that will flow smoothly, stretch your players appropriately, and save coaches of all team sports dozens of hours a year, on and off the field.

2. Premium Practice Planner:  A Notion template to help sports coaches plan, deliver and review their sessions with maximum efficiency - then smartly archive everything.

3. Coach’s Dozen: An ebook of 12 small-sided games with diagrams and animations to help you train goalscoring in field hockey, co-authored with Mark Egner.