January 26, 2023

Training must be mindful, not mindless

Give this quote from Vern Gambetta a read.

Throwing a bunch of exercises together in a circuit and calling it mental toughness training is just an excuse for doing stupid stuff. Getting tired is not training. Those kinds of workouts teach the athlete to go through the motions, to click their brain off, actually the opposite of what you want mentally. Because you see it all the time does not make it right. Training must be mindful not mindless. A good training session demands mental concentration, intensity and focus. Anyone can make someone tired. That is not training. Focus on what the athletes need to do to get better to perform at their optimum in competition.

The bit about clicking their brain off is the key. Once an athlete hits that point they’ve shifted into survival mode. They aren’t training anymore. And since you simply are not mentally tough when extremely fatigued, you’re not developing that aspect of things either.

Now, this relates to physical fatigue. Another side of the equation is mental fatigue. We expect players to feel physically tired after practice – not exhausted, most likely, but at least aware they put in some work. It should be the same for the mental side. In fact, there may be some value in specifically inducing mental fatigue before doing stuff on-court.

In other words, players need to learn how to retain the focus, emotional regulation, etc. that makes up mental toughness when they are mentally drained. This links in with player engagement – both in a training context as well as in competition.

As an aside, players’ brains can switch off because of a lack of challenge as well. If something is too simple they just go on autopilot, which means they aren’t really training. You have to find the level of challenge that keeps them engaged without crossing into frustration.

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