4 Mental Skills to Develop in Young Athletes

mental skills for athletesCoaches need to help athletes, particularly younger children, learn mental toughness.

This is not a skill that athletes are born with, but must be developed over time by viewing competitive situations in a productive way. There will be struggles and challenges just like with physical skills, but if athletes work hard they will improve over time.

Overall mental toughness is necessary for peak performance.

Once the following mental skills are developed, they will positively impact the athlete on and off the field. The younger athletes learn theses skills, the more success they will have throughout their careers.

Highlighted below are four mental skills coaches need to help their athletes develop.


Athletes need to adopt a positive attitude that will help them remain humble after victories and learn from their failures. Athletes need to also realize that a good attitude is a conscious choice they have to make.

Part of this attitude should be that sports are fun and that their participation is for enjoyment not just winning games.

Kids model their behavior from what they see around them. With this in mind, coaches can teach this skill by being a model of good sportsmanship behaviors.

This can include cheering on teammates and shaking hands with the other team –– even if when their team loses.


As athletes push through their training, they will need to learn motivation to get the most out of their sports participation.

Motivation and persistence go hand in hand as coaches work with young athletes. Athletes need to learn that their effort is what is most important and to not focus solely on the outcome of the game. Through constant communication and praise, coaches can help athletes give their all during each training session and match.

To really grasp the importance of this skill, coaches need to help athletes understand the benefits of their training, especially when pushing athletes to work at a higher intensity during a drill.

In today’s world of instant gratification, it can be challenging for children to understand that the benefits and rewards of their hard work are not always immediate. Relay the message that even during difficult times, athletes need to persist to see any kind of pay off.


Practices and competitions offer athletes a chance to learn how to handle a variety of emotions while still being able to perform at their best level. Emotions can heighten or hinder other mental skills so it is important for athletes to understand them and know how to control them.

The first step is for athletes to recognize and acknowledge their emotions.

Coaches can then help athletes channel their emotions into their performance and not let their emotions control them. One way to help athletes control their emotions is to teach self-talk.

Self-talk is the practice of talking to and encouraging oneself like you would your best friend. With positive self-talk, athletes can stay confident during trying times and help them regulate negative thoughts, behaviors and feelings during competition.


With all of the noise and excitement that surrounds a game, athletes can have trouble paying attention and remaining present. It is important for them to block out the excess noise from fans and resist other distractions in order to perform at their bests. If they do lose concentration then they need to be able to regain their focus without losing their intensity.

Concentration is one of the most transferable skills athletes can obtain.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

Concentration will lead to better quality of work and less errors as well as provide athletes with more satisfaction out of an event than if they are unfocused.

Coaches can help athletes learn about concentration through mental imagery. To do so, have athletes create positive mental images about the competition that are detailed, specific and realistic. They can do this before a match by imagining a strong performance or they can use it during a game to recover from an error.

Athletes that rely solely on their physical attributes and talent will only be able to go so far, but someone who has mastered these mental skills will have a higher success rate. It is important for coaches to work on mental toughness on top of physical conditioning to help young athletes grow and improve throughout their life, not just on the field.
By Audrey Willis | August 28, 2017
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