Several years ago, I was at a high-level lacrosse practice, watching a team go through some shooting drills. One of the attackers kept missing the cage and hanging her head or bouncing her stick off the ground. Soon, every player that missed reacted in a similarly negative way.

The coach jumped right into the drill and stopped it. She huddled up her team and shared with them that going forward, there would be no more negative reactions or negative body language allowed in practice.

She said, “Look at each miss as a challenge, an opportunity to get better. Focus on what you want to adjust, instead of reacting to the mistake.”

Several weeks later, I observed the same team practice again and quickly noticed a difference. They were all encouraging each other when a player didn’t perform a skill correctly with “Come on, we got this,” or “Let’s focus on __________ and we’ll get it next time.”

It was contagious!

The same encouraging words had since started being used in games, and I saw how much more confident the team was and how much they had improved from only weeks before. I mentioned this to the coach, and she referred back to that one practice when, as a team, they moved away from negative reactions and moved forward using a more positive approach.

Emphasize the significance of mental toughness, and not just when your team needs it.

Your players will be better at handling tough situations if mental toughness isn’t a one-time talk, but instead a season-long focus.

This post was adapted from “Building the Modern Attacker,” a comprehensive US Lacrosse coaching resource authored by Scott Biron, head coach at Acton-Boxborough (Mass.) High School, and Janine Tucker, head coach at Johns Hopkins University.

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