Top in je Kop: How young athletes in The Netherlands are improving their mental skills behind their computer

We are proud to have Mark Schuls as guest author for our blog. Enjoy his text about his work with online training for youth athletes.

The Internet provides alternative ways of delivering sport psychology services to athletes. It has some advantages compared to classical methods of mental training, like face-to-face consulting and workshops. Maybe the most important one, is that the threshold to start is much lower. Also, people differ in the way they learn. Where some people learn by interaction with others, others like to read and reflect on themselves.

I am working as a sport psychology consultant in The Netherlands and I have implemented online mental training in the way I work, by designing a module for young athletes to improve their mental skills. Young athletes are presented skills like goal setting and imagery stepwise, by using examples from elite athletes, animated videos and exercises. There are three parts of the training divided in three steps. The focus of the three parts is on exploring their mental skills, learning to train effectively and performing under pressure respectively.

One example comes from step five of the training, in which the athletes learn how to build self-confidence. This exercise starts with “building a wall” as a metaphor for improving self-confidence. If you want to build a wall, you will have to use bricks. More bricks make the wall more solid. When something hits a weak wall, it will burst and maybe even collapse. When something hits a strong wall, there will be no or little damage. The bricks of self-confidence are positive experiences. The more positive experiences an athlete will have, the stronger his or her self-confidence will be.

Next, the young athlete is asked to write down positive experiences in each brick of a wall. This way, they will create an overview of their positive experiences. One could also use a marker and Lego blocks. This idea stems from the principles of positive psychology, which stress the importance of focusing on one’s strengths. The wall can be a reminder of what young athletes already have achieved and it can stimulate them to also focus on positive aspects of performance.

About the author: Mark Schuls has been working for 10 years as a registered sport psychologist in The Netherlands for his own company, TipTop Sport. More information can be found at www.tiptop-sport.nl.

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