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Coaches Corner: Helping Athletes Become Mentally Tough & Lessons Learned

By Christine Keating, 11/20/19, 7:30PM EST

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We are going to start posting articles as part of our Coaches Corner ongoing project. There will be several at first as we catch up with our ideas we have been saving... but then they will only be periodically. In addition to accessing these articles in your app, you can always access them on our coaches corner link by clicking here.

Without further adieu.... the Coaches Corner....

Suzy was a physically talented diver—extremely talented.  However, she could be her own worst enemy.  When things seemed to be going in the right direction, she could self-implode and turn things in the wrong directions.  Do you have a diver like this?

There is a strong connection between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Following are nine cognitive distortions for athletes (and coaches) to AVOID for becoming mentally tough.  They come from the book Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders (Leahy, Holland & McGinn, 2011) and a Tim Elmore blog.

1. Emotional Reasoning: Letting our feelings guide our interpretation of reality. (I feel down about my diving today, therefore I should quit the sport.)

2. Catastrophizing: Focusing on the worst possible outcome as the most likely. (If I don’t win this meet, I will never get a college scholarship.)

3. Overgeneralizing: Perceiving an overall pattern of negatives based on a single example. (I knew this would happen. I seem to fail at almost everything I do.)

4. Dichotomous Thinking: Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms. (That person is demonic! This situation was a complete waste of time.)

5. Mind Reading: Assuming that you know what people think without having enough evidence. (He thinks I’m a loser.)

6. Labeling: Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others. (She’s a rotten person. I am undesirable. They’re all stupid over there.)

7. Negative Filtering: You focus almost exclusively on negatives and rarely notice the positives. (Look at all the people who don’t like me. Look at all the dives I miss.)


8. Discounting Positives: Claiming the positive acts you or others do are trivial, so you can maintain negative judgments. (Those wins were easy, so they don’t count.)

9. Blaming: Seeing other people as the source of your negative feelings, so you refuse to take responsibility for yourself. (She makes me angry! My coach did this to me.)

As World Champion diver Dr. Megan Neyer points out, “No one makes you feel anything.  You may feel something based on something they said or did – but own your feelings and thoughts; don’t blame someone else.  Getting into the blame game is not identifying current and future goals.”

We’ll only build tough minds by preparing athletes for the path—not the path for athletes. Hold team meetings and discuss how to avoid these cognitive distortions.  Also, please find attached an interesting article on Leadership Lessons From Serial Winning Coaches (SWC).

Jeff Huber, PhD
Director of Education
USA Diving