Coaching

Influencing “Winning Attitude”

How To Influence A “Winning Attitude” In Your Team & Players Without Creating Undue Pressure

Author: Jim Caruso

NOTE: I wrote this a long time ago when I was coaching youth and adult soccer. It still applies.

Developing a “Winning Attitude” demands the inner strength to overcome the single most limiting factor of attaining your goals – yourself.  The limiting factor results from habits of your mind – how you perceive and react to a particular situation.  The challenge to the elite athlete and their coach is to develop the attitudes (mental toughness) that creates a competitive performance.  Attitudes are habits of the mind–and all top athletes must learn to develop a winning attitude.

Coaches empower players by giving them the knowledge, attitude, skills, and habits that players require for success.  Creating high, performance levels requires a cumulative process of setting and attaining goals.  This cycle of successes is motivating and feeds on itself, positively.  The coach guides players towards preparation to win.  Winning Attitude is a matter of personal maturity and reflects characteristics, such as goal orientation, self-direction, problem-solving, social learning (help from peers), creating a foundation of experience, making the “winning attitude” relevant, and creating the motivation (desire for change–dissatisfaction with the current state of play).

  • What Is Winning Attitude?  A desire to perform at the highest level.
  • Individual Winning Attitude: desire & daily commitment to do what it takes to win.
  • Team Winning Attitude: desire & the habits that prepare the team to achieve success.

According to a survey reported in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, Shari Young Kuchenbecker of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in a survey of 658 coaches of males and females ages 3 to 22 who participated in 43 sports, including soccer.  Kuchenbecker found that these coaches overwhelmingly selected psychological characteristics.  Among the top ten were: “loves to play” (43 percent), “positive attitude” (32.7 percent), “coachable” (29.8 percent), “self-motivated” (27.4 percent), “team player” (25.7 percent), “strives to improve” (21.1 percent), “dedicated” (20.8 percent), “gives best effort always” (18.5 percent), “good sportsmanship” (16.3 percent) and “encourages/praises others” (14.6 percent).

Effective motivation is a lifestyle. Motivated people live a lifestyle where they are motivated to achieve excellence in everything they do.  Coaching for a Winning Attitude requires helping players want the athleticism that powers elite performance and the psychological desire to win.

Fun – Playing With Joy

Youth sports must be fun and skill development is a critical component of fun – skill development is more important than winning – even among the best athletes.  The most rewarding challenges of sports are those that lead to self-knowledge.  Self-knowledge is the intrinsic reward that is the result of self-competition and that is more important in creating lifetime athletes than extrinsic rewards, such as victory or the attention of others.

Many sports psychology studies show that at peak athletic performance, athletes report being with the flow (or –in the zone) as a result of confidence and enthusiasm for the job at hand.

Pressure

If you play with the objective of performing at your personal best, rather than worry about winning or losing, you can be pleased with your result and less anxious about the game.  Nothing gives an athlete confidence like knowing they have done everything they possibly could have done to their best of their ability in training and preparation.  As you practice, so will you play.  So for the coach and athlete, we must create an environment within which players are motivated to put forth their best effort and acquire the skills they need to solve the problems of the game.

Undue Pressure?

Pressure comes from not doing what was should have been done.  Avoiding undue pressure involves focusing on the right factors–whether the quality of play was up to the realistically high goals of player and coach–as easily recognized and acknowledged by the player.

A focus on winning and losing, rather than playing as well as possible, leads to poor performance, muscle tightness, anxiety, and nervousness.  Undue pressure includes being intimidated by unrealistically high goals.

In her survey, Kuchenbecker also found that coaches cited the two top damaging forces to developing young athletes as criticism and pressure.  The question needs to be “How did you play?” rather than “Did you win?”.

References:

a) “Mental Toughness Training For Sports,” James E. Loer

b) “Sporting Body, Sporting Mind,” John Syer & Christopher Connolly

c) “Training Soccer Champions,” Anson Dorrance

d) Youth Sports Survey from the Journal of the American Psychological Association, by Shari Young Kuchenbecker of Loyola Marymount University

e) United States Soccer Federation (USSF) “Y” (Youth License) course materials

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