Are you a “Head Case”?

I hear so many labels, phrases and terms thrown about by coaches and parents regarding their athletes. They say they are “losers”, “quitters”,  “chokers” or runners who “can’t kick”, “aren’t tough”, “cop out on workouts” or are simply “head cases”.

I have heard these terms applied to athletes so many times. I’m sure you have too. Maybe you have used some of them – on others or even yourself. One of the most detrimental things any coach, parent or athlete can do is to label themselves. It sinks into our psyche and we start to believe the things that are said about us. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Contrary to some old-time coaching philosophies, telling athletes that they “aren’t” something or “can’t” do something does NOT motivate. In fact the predominant reaction is one of dejection, despair, and feelings of inadequacy and doubt. All the things we do not want if we are going to be competitive.

Some solutions for parents and coaches:

  1. Start by listening closely to the athlete. As Stephen Covey says – “seek first to understand”.
  2. Put more focus on what has been done versus what has not been done. Build up athletes by acknowledging what was accomplished – or even learned by a bad experience.
  3. View shortcomings as areas to develop. If you don’t progressively practice aspects of mental toughness training it won’t magically appear on race day.
  4. Never make comparisons of athletes. All athletes are different. No two athletes are created the same. The goal is to be the best one can be. In the process you may or may not perform better than someone else.
  5. Stop telling your athlete (or yourself) that you shouldn’t be upset at a loss or bad performance. It is normal to “feel”. I give my athletes 24 hours to “feel” and then get over it. After that – they are dwelling.
  6. Experiment with backing off of “being tough”, “psyching up”, “being intense” and just enjoy the racing. Letting go and lightening up can be the trick to running free… and fast.

In any event, the fact that someone is having performance problems does not mean it is a “head” thing. Some other considerations before jumping to the head:

  1. Have they been suffering from illness or injury lately?
  2. Have they been sleeping well?
  3. Is there stress outside of running (home, work, school, family)?
  4. Have they been traveling a lot?
  5. Is their nutrition appropriate?
  6. Are they hydrating well?
  7. Are they over-trained (physically)?
  8. Are they under-trained (physically)?
  9. Have they had time off or breaks/inconsistent in training?
  10. Are there team, coaching or environment issues?
  11. Have team dynamics changed?

These are all things which can contribute to someone not performing. And there may be patterns from these which contribute to something that the untrained eye may want to simply label – it’s a “head case”.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Are you a “Head Case”?

  1. mizunogirl says:

    Love this post!

    You might recall my entry to your blog on the ever popular Pool running post. I’m still in Rehab for the hip labrum repair, and no running (but maybe this afternoon!!!!! maybe.) I had to switch PT’s because my Doc was not so pleased with my initial results. My first PT would constantly tell me that I was distractable and unfocused, and very difficult to work with. And I became all of those things. New guy, listened to me a bit, started to see where I was coming from, and voila, no longer distractable, very focused and fairly easy to work with (Apparently I am still a smart-ass?). Sometimes I really think we are so focused on working with people not as people but “in theory” that we forget that the fun of coaching and being coached is actually in the very personal aspects of it, not the numbers and predictions……

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Of course my MizunoGirl!!!
      Great comments… you are right on about being to focused on science and theory and coaching numbers and NOT listening and interacting as people!

      PS – see if an Alter-G treadmill is available for your reentry to running…. I’m sold on them.

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