Youth sports, high performance & building good people


coaches corner

There are two kinds of motivational climate in sports training. A system, organization, team, etc. will either create an ego involving climate or a task involving climate.

An ego involving climate focuses on winning, being the best, and natural ability.

A task involving climate serves an athlete best. Task involvement is a sport psychology term for a motivational state in which mastery of the activity is the focus. The focus of training is on progressive skills development over natural ability, comparison to others, or outcomes.

For coaches and parents working to get athletes to the next level, creating a task centered training environment is a great method.

The benefits of a focus on task over outcomes is evident in sports and in life! This is because there is a link between young athletes’ who learn to master physical and psychological skills and development as mature and healthy human beings. They develop greater empathy, emotional regulation, psychological well-being, greater hope and happiness, and less sadness and depression. They also bully less and care more about their friends, and believe that sport should make athletes better citizens.

I am a sport and performance psychology coach, so I can assure you,

this isn’t an everyone gets a trophy mentality.

Winning matters. I teach people to kick ass and win consistently.

The best path for this comes from a focus on skill mastery, learning the processes of peak performance, and physical and psychological development from as early as possible in an athlete’s experience. An athlete who learns to focus on the task at hand (vs. outcomes) as their main motivation in practice and in play will have a distinct performance advantage. When an athlete’s motivation is to approach challenges, the outcome takes care of itself.

They are 90% of sports but, mental skills are seldom taught (they should be… give me holler if you’re interested). Kids who aren’t naturally mentally and physically gifted are overlooked through the lens of you either have it or you don’t. A lot of these kids shrink and don’t continue to the higher levels of sport. This is a disservice to those kids, and to sports.

A climate where task mastery is key presents progressively harder physical skills, and as they are mastered, mental processes get stronger too. To get better and become mentally strong, an athlete has to face and overcome hard things. All athletes need this development.

Kids that have an early physical size or skill advantage, and/or understanding of the sport, get a lot more attention. They develop faster and perform better. They make the A teams, win a lot, and enjoy smooth sailing. Because they are so good, there isn’t an emphasis on task, process, and skill mastery.

Without a focus on task involvement during development, many hit a wall when things get difficult. At the higher levels of club and high school sports, many other athletes have the same size, speed, and ability. If natural ability was relied on not mastery of skills and the processes of high performance, many athletes fold to adversity.

The benefits of a task-involving climate include:

  1. Consistently have more fun
  2. Give greater effort
  3. Want to continue their participation in sport
  4. Greater mental skills
  5. Ability to be mindfully engaged in their sport
  6. Use better practice strategies
  7. Experience lower stress levels
  8. Are more likely to tell their coaches if they were experiencing symptoms of a concussion
  9. Report greater pride and less shame in their sport performance
  10. Develop skills more quickly

Ultimately, sports come down to winning and losing. The higher the level, the more this is true. An athlete who experiences the things on this list will perform at the top of their ability. A team full of athletes experiencing the things on this list will be hard to beat. An organization whose culture creates athletes who experience the things on this list will be consistently dominant. If you would like some help setting up an environment that puts task over outcome and then sees outcomes soar, reach out!

A note from Dr J.

In the first part of the post, I talked about the connection between task focus and healthy human beings. It’s interesting that in over a decade of working as a traditional therapist, I seldom see committed youth and teen athletes in my therapy office. Of the hundreds of young people I worked with over the years that were in some sort of crisis (getting caught with drugs or alcohol on campus, getting in minor legal scrapes, at major odds with parents, etc.), the majority were not involved in sports.

There are a couple reasons for this. Kids that are involved in sports are busy doing something productive with their time. They put in a hard day’s work, so to speak. They are tired, fulfilled, and part of something bigger than themselves. They also have some level of discipline, a sense or responsibility to their sport and team, and spend their free time with other kids who have the same. Their parents are also more involved in their lives. They shuttle them to and from practice, attend games and team dinners, and show interest in the kids. Obviously, athletes do indulge in drugs and alcohol and the “normal” impulsive teenaged behaviors too, but they seem to be better able to manage it, make better decisions, and stay out of trouble.

Check out Dr. J’s book for parents of athletes!

I am Dr J., I work with athletes, parents, coaches, and teams of all levels to get their “Mind Right” through the art & science of sport & performance psychology. In my practice, I work with individuals, teams, and organizations face-to-face or through Zoom. I also offer comprehensive online sport psychology programs, one for athletes, and one for parents of athletes.
Check our my website, for more info, or email me at

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