Former Navy goalie Ryan Kern, a current Boston Cannons player and member of the United States Marine Corps, was one of the guests on Dr. T's eight-part "Athlete Mindset" webinar series for US Lacrosse.

When thinking about our Core Value, Inclusive and Age Appropriate, a key part of it is the development of athletes in environments that are welcoming for all and development that is appropriate for the stage of development the athlete is in. Often, development is thought of as mostly physical. However, it includes emotional and mental development, too.

Arman Taghizadeh, M.D. also known as “Dr. T”, is former NCAA Division I wrestler, current competitive athlete and Johns Hopkins-trained Board Certified Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist specializing in Sports Psychiatry. He is the founder of Mindset Training Institute (MTI) and host of the Podcast, “The Mindset Experience.” Dr. T recently partnered with US Lacrosse in creating the 8-week “Athlete Mindset” webinar series.

We took some time to learn from Dr. T to learn more about athlete mindset so that we can better develop our athletes holistically.

What is athlete mindset and how is it different than (or similar to) the bigger topic of mental health?

Mindset is an integral component of mental health and wellness. How an athlete thinks can directly impact how they feel and perform. It’s important to recognize that we have choices and can make decisions to influence the way we think or approach situations/stressors that actively impacts our mental health. Rather than feeling helpless or powerless to our emotions, behaviors, or setbacks, we can utilize mindset to build confidence, develop resilience and promote mental wellness. Our mindset can also impact our ability to access and engage in treatment when needed.

What are some common patterns in the mindset of athletes you’re noticing from athletes—especially lacrosse athletes—during this time when many are unsure if they will have seasons in 2021, but still need to be prepared just in case?

While many athletes are experiencing uncertainty, frustration anxiety, and even resentment, the most elite athletes are choosing to look at this as an opportunity to focus on fundamentals, creating a schedule to include improving technique, strength/conditioning, nutrition, balance, etc. They look to connect with and create bonds with teammates off the field, which will improve relationships on the field when they return. It’s also a great time to focus on other hobbies and interests that are otherwise hard to maintain with a rigorous training schedule.

What are some general mindset exercises that can be used for any athlete at any age?

Creating goals and a process/plan for each is incredibly important and can help maintain focus, motivation and accountability. It’s important to write these down, refer back to them, assess and revise them to make the process more intentional. Developing and writing down a schedule to include sleep, eating, training times, academic/work, social interaction, technology, etc. helps maintain balance, which also improves motivation, efficiency and enjoyment.

What are some mindset exercises or things to note at elementary age? Middle school age? High school age? College age and above?

At younger ages, it’s important to focus on having fun during process of playing and improving fundamental skills. Enjoyment is correlated with improvement of performance. As things get more competitive in middle/high school, visualization is an important skill to increase repetitions and sharpen skills without increasing practice time. Understanding the importance of language and how thoughts directly impact emotions and therefore performance becomes increasingly critical. Developing action oriented statements and reframing setbacks can help minimize anxiety, regain focus and improve confidence. At the collegiate level and beyond, these skills should be utilized to a higher degree. In addition, gratitude and appreciation of any opportunity to compete regardless of outcome allows athletes to more successfully navigate pressure and better focus on what is really important. Finally, creating an identity defined by more than just one sport helps navigate the transition out of athletics due to injury, retirement or extenuating circumstances like this pandemic.

In order to be successful and sustainable, these “mindset exercises” should be done with intent and integrated into an athletes’ training program. Working with a professional who understands physiology, psychology and the competitive athlete can make a major difference in taking these ideas from concepts to winning habits. Consider the difference of working with an experienced performance/strength and conditioning coach vs. independent strength training.

Why is mindset so important in regard to looking at the whole athlete?

The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is NOT just determined by skill, talent or even experience. What separates them is their mindset. Athletes and coaches largely agree that the mental aspect of sports is more critical than the physical aspect to become a winner. However, the large majority only trains physically NOT mentally. The most successful athletes and teams make time to train their minds, which directly impacts their physical performance.

Arman Taghizadeh, MD, DFAACAP
Board Certified Child, Adolescent, Adult Psychiatry
Sports Psychiatry
[email protected]
Podcast: “The Mindset Experience”