The untapped competitive advantage: 3 Ways you can use mental performance training to level up your coaching—immediately

by Brian Cain, MPM

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Imagine the Google search by a coach who wants to help his or her athletes perform better… 

For the sake of this example, let’s say we’re talking about a baseball coach. 

So they might look for terms like:

Baseball fundamental drills. 

Weight training for baseball.

Conditioning for baseball. 

The result? Well…

“Baseball fundamental drills” gave me 761,000 results.

“Weight training for baseball” gave me 137,000,000 results. 

“Conditioning for baseball” gave me 58,400,000 results. 

When I check out some of these search engine results, I notice something. 

Most of these websites seem to have quality information to share. And the fundamental drills, workout plans, and conditioning programs provided are certainly an important part of building a high-performing team of athletes. 

But there’s also something all those things are lacking: How to improve the mental side of performance. 

And as a result, an incredibly powerful aspect of performance… is left completely untapped. So, despite many coaches’ best efforts, they’ll continue to struggle to help their athletes reach their TRUE potential. 

You don’t have to suffer the same fate. 

In today’s article, I’m going to share 3 mental performance training strategies you can use to level up your coaching—immediately. 

Strategy #1: Train an elite mindset with Start, stop, continue

The foundation of mental performance mastery rests on an understanding that mindset is dynamic. It can change, and it can grow. 

One of our biggest challenges in coaching is overcoming aspects of performance and goal achievement that are seemingly out of our control. 

Without the right mindset, athletes will doubt themselves, doubt your coaching, and your team will begin to fall apart. 

They’ll blame lack of talent, saying “I guess I’m just not good enough”—or they’ll blame you and go play for another team.  It doesn’t really matter where the blame falls, because either way, they lose and you lose. 

But that all changes if you can learn how to help those you coach develop an elite mindset by coaching the mental side of performance. 

Enter: Start, Stop, Continue. 

One of the simplest and most effective ways you can train an elite mindset is by developing a process to bring more awareness to actions and mindsets that may be holding athletes back, while guiding them to continue (or begin) doing and thinking things that will help them succeed. 

That’s exactly what the start, stop, continue strategy does. And while it’s extremely effective, it’s incredibly simple to implement. 

To utilize this strategy, simply ask your athletes:

“Based on your goals, what must you start, stop, and continue between this training session/practice/competition and our next one to help you get closer to your goals and be the best version of yourself?”

When/how to use this strategy

This strategy works best when used on a predetermined, consistent interval. 

Weekly is best, but in the end, what matters most is that you have athletes do it—and then follow up consistently with them. 

There’s no need to overcomplicate this. Ask your athlete’s to spend a few minutes reflecting on the past week, and then write down one thing they should start doing, one thing they should stop doing, and one thing they should continue doing to reach their goals. 

If you coach a team or consult with a team, you can also use this process with a group and look for trends that the group identifies in each area of the start, stop, continue and use that data to help you formulate your coaching plan with their feedback in mind. Remember, athletes don’t typically get down on what they are in on and you can get your athletes in on the training plan development process by simply asking the team for a collective start, stop continue. I use this strategy all the time when in season with teams.

Strategy #2: Train self-Control and discipline by knowing (and teaching) the difference between actions and feelings

Here’s a very simple (yet extremely powerful) concept to continually reinforce in your coaching: It’s normal to not feel like doing the necessary things for success all the time. 

Social media “highlight reels” can make it look like the athletes and “influencers” we look up to are on the grind, all the time. That they never have a bad day. That they’re always overflowing with motivation and zeal for putting in work. 

Fact is, no matter how someone portrays themself, no one FEELS like it all the time. 

We all have bad days. We all experience the ebb and flow of motivational highs and lows. 

The thing that really separates the successful from the wannabes? People who are successful—long term—step up and do what needs to be done even when they don’t feel like it.  Michael Phelps, who won 28… yes 28 Olympic medals wrote about this exact mindset in his book No Limits. He suggests that to build mental toughness, you do two things, (#1) Do what needs to be done, no matter how you feel and (#2) when you get knocked off course, get back on as quickly as possible.

And so we must teach this incredibly important concept to every single athlete we coach: “Feeling like it” isn’t a prerequisite for action. You CAN do hard things even when the feeling of motivation isn’t there. 

In fact, to be successful, you MUST. 

When/how to use this strategy

In short: Every. Damn. Day. 

This should be part of your everyday vocabulary with your team. Make it a mantra that you talk about before, during, and after practice. Make this an intentional point of emphasis during any downtime (stretching before practice, before you break for the showers at the end of practice, etc.)

Remind your athletes: Actions over feelings. You don’t need to feel motivated to step up and do the things necessary to be a champion. 

Tell them to be aware of what their feelings are, but to always recognize that THEY still have the power to choose how they respond, and they determine what ACTIONS they take in relation to their feelings. 

Slip this teaching into your pregame speeches. Plaster it on the wall with posters that read “Self-Discipline is a choice, not a feeling or one of my favorite from Yale Football Head Coach Tony Reno, Nobody Cares, Get Better.”

When you cultivate this mindset—and the skillset of choosing self-discipline as a skillset—how you feel is irrelevant when you’ve made a commitment to do something. 

If you can weave this into every area of your coaching and successfully impart this concept to your athletes. You’ll be well on your way to building Champions—on and off the court/field/etc. 

Strategy #3: Train a process over outcome mentality to control what you can can control

The people we coach are under an all out assault from distraction. And I don’t have to tell you how negatively things outside of the sport we coach can impact our athletes.

Grades, relationships, parent expectations—the list goes on and on. 

And in the face of all this, it can be hard for our athletes to direct their focus where it will have the biggest positive impact on their performance—on what they can actually control. 

That’s where the Process Over Outcome skillset comes into play. Helping our athletes to be relentless in focusing on what they CAN control, and letting go of what they can’t, is one of the “prerequisites” for competitive greatness. 

In fact, in our world today, if there was just ONE mental performance mastery skillset I could teach, this would be it: Get clarity on controlling what you can control. 

Here are a few ways you can help your athletes develop this skill. 

First, have them make a list of everything non-controllable they face that may impact their performance. 

You’ll probably hear things like:

  • Officials
  • Fans
  • Media
  • The other team
  • Playing time
  • Field or course conditions
  • Coaches, 
  • Statistics
  • Parents
  • The opinions and decisions of other people

Now ask them: “What should you do with all those things?”

If they don’t make the connection themselves, help them out by saying “Forget about them! Instead, focus your time and energy only on what you CAN control!”

The teach them this:

The only thing you can control is your APE:

  • Attitude
  • Appearance (body language)
  • Positive self-talk
  • Present moment focus
  • Process and preparation
  • Performance (how you compete)
  • Perspective (how you see your situation)
  • Effort
  • Energy
  • Emotions

Success is determined by how well an individual controls ^^those things… while letting go off the other stuff they can’t control. 

When/how to use this strategy

Like all the strategies we’ve covered so far, this can’t be a one time thing. You will have to continue to reinforce this in your coaching on a daily basis. 

Once you’ve done the initial exercise of helping them list out all of the things they CAN’T control, and have taught them the “APE” framework for what they can control, make this a regular part of your verbal coaching cues. 

This can be as simple as reminding athlete’s before, during, and after practices and competitions to focus on their APE. Advise them to make running through a checklist of what they can and can’t control—and directly all of their focus and energy to what they CAN control—as part of their pregame routine. 

You can even have fun with it and make this part of your daily routine (during stretching before practice, for example). 

You can start by yelling out, “What can we control?”

And your athletes/team can respond with “APE” and then run down the list of what specific items are in their control. 

At the end of the day, consistently incorporating this into your coaching—and finding ways for athletes to incorporate it into their routines is what’s most important. 

What to do next

1. Pick one of the strategies outlined above and practice it for the next month. 

Simply reading this article isn’t going to do anything to help your athletes perform at a higher level. To do that, you need to apply what you’ve learned. And what better time to start than right now?

Each of the strategies above can be implemented quickly and effectively–starting this week. 

But for now, I’d encourage you to just pick one. Which one stood out the most to you? Which one do you feel 100% confident you can implement?

Go with that one.

2. Be consistent—and patient. 

As with any kind of physical training, mental performance training is only effective when it’s consistently integrated. It’s important to know that the benefits you’ll experience from mental performance training often follow the “compound effect.” 

That is, the things you’re doing can often feel small or insignificant while you’re doing them, but practiced consistently will lead to a skillset that makes a BIG difference in performance. 

Consistency and patience are the building blocks for mental performance mastery. 

3. Once you’re in the groove with one mental performance training strategy, look for opportunities to level up your coaching with more. 

Mental training isn’t ONE strategy, or something you do for a little while and then are done with. The pursuit of mental performance mastery is a lifelong journey. 

Once you’ve implemented one of the strategies in this article consistently for a while, come back and continue to level up your coaching by integrating the other strategies.

Want to learn more coaching strategies to master the mental side of performance? Take this FREE 3-day course for coaches…

If you found today’s article helpful, and you’re interested in more cutting-edge mental performance coaching strategies, I’ve put together a free 3-day course for you. 

In this course, you will learn how to:

  • Get your athletes to perform their best when it means the most by using a SYSTEM to create an elite mindset. 
  • Compete at a higher level, more consistently—while managing distractions and adversity—by establishing the right routines. 
  • Create the championship culture you need in your program to develop elite athletic leaders and cultivate a clear vision that keeps everyone motivated and juiced up. 

Drop your info below to learn the systems and secrets I use to help the top coaches in the world compete at an elite level—year after year.