by Kristen Hislop
Well, maybe that is a bit melodramatic. I’d like to think that everyone would give running a go, but that is likely unrealistic. But the future really is bright for the current young runners. I am lucky enough to be coaching cross country at Shenendehowa this fall. We have almost 90 athletes between the boys and the girls. For the first time in many years, we are working as one team. What other high school sport has boys and girls grades 7 through 12 “playing’” together?
Watching young athletes deal with tough workouts, disappointments, team dynamics and big PRs illustrate the true value of sports for our youth. Youth sports teach kids a lot of valuable life lessons. We know they learn teamwork, leadership, perseverance, discipline, respect, and sportsmanship. I am super excited to be bringing mindset training to the team. As I work on my positive mindset coaching certification, I’ve brought new tools to the team. They will hopefully take these tools and apply them to other areas of their lives both now and later.
Most of us can use some mindset training. Athletes tend to engage in negative self-talk. You’ve likely seen the video of the kid skiing - talking himself down the hill. Click here for another and you can’t help but smile and appreciate the optimism. So how do we move from positive self-talk as a toddler to questioning our ability to accomplish our goals? At Shen, we are working on mindset training on a weekly basis and so far, the kids are responding well.
Mindset training is important for high school athletes because it can help them to:
For these kids (and all of us), mindset training is a journey, not a destination. It takes time and effort to develop a positive mindset, but it is SO worth it in the end. It's likely you don’t even know that you are engaging in negative self-talk. According to the National Science Foundation the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are the same repetitive thoughts as the day before and about 80% negative.
People seem to have a hard time finding joy in their lives. “A report from Harvard found that 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults—feel "serious loneliness." It gets worse: “this included 61% of young people aged 18-25 and 51% of mothers with young children.” What does the lack of joy and abundant loneliness have to do with negative self-talk and running? Loneliness feeds negative self-talk. In the recent Joy Report, 91% of people (93% of teens) rate the effect of negative self-talk on their ability to experience joy to be impactful.
Back to our runners at Shen. A recent mindset session focused on a discussion of criticism versus critique. After our first invitational there were kids thrilled with a PR and others mad, sad, frustrated, and some in tears. Their first intuition is to criticize themselves. I didn’t X. I failed. I suck. You know the drill. They immediately blame themselves. What happened to the endorphin rush of just finishing a tough run? Our discussion revolved around critiquing their performance instead of criticizing. Critiquing seeks to help an athlete improve while criticism seeks to tear a person down. If athletes engage in self-criticism, they are likely to ruminate on fears of failing and anxieties about their performance. We are wired to be happy and want to avoid pain or painful experiences. To avoid these unpleasant inner experiences, athletes may avoid new challenges or decrease their effort. They can even use unrealistic expectations to make failure inevitable, creating certainty and avoiding the discomfort of giving their best and still failing. You may have seen this yourself - talking yourself out of a better race or workout and then being frustrated when you didn’t perform well!
When we can get athletes to focus on critiquing, they learn to embrace the challenge and become motivated to succeed and perform to the best of their ability.
After our discussion of critique replacing criticism, we did a visualization exercise focused on resilience and continuing to put one foot in front of another. The kids sit in a classroom with their teammates, shut their eyes and focus inward. Some are really getting into it. The room is silent as I talk them through. Our coaching staff is excited to see how this helps our student athletes.
Check out my Facebook page @hislopcoaching or website www.hislopcoaching.com to get information on Mindset Coaching as I roll out programs this fall and winter.
Kristen Hislop is the Director of the Freihofer's Run for Women and the Clifton Park Freedom Mile. She currently serves as Vice President of USATF Adirondack. In the triathlon world she serves as Secretary on the USAT Triathlon Women's Committee and as a Women for Tri Ambassador. Hislop Coaching offers run, swim, cycling and triathlon coaching to athletes of all abilities and ages. She can be found at
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