My coach is in my head!


coaches corner

I gave a clinic about self-talk to a room full of Division I college athletes. I told them that if they really pay attention to it, they might realize that the (critical) voice in their head might not be theirs. I mentioned that often it’s the voice of a parent. As it usually happens, one of the players, said:

“OMG… it’s my mooommmmm!”

I happen to know her mom, so I could totally seeing it being the case. In fact, a large part of my own inner dialog is my mom too! No offense to moms, but for whatever reason that seems to be the most common critical self-talk voice and perspective.

Then, one athlete said,

“Wow, I never noticed it, but the critical voice is my high school coach!”

Another, and then another, quickly came to the same conclusion. The conversation turned to high school coaches, and of the room full of athletes, only one said, “I loved my high school coach.”

Some coaches might read this and think, those coaches must be doing something right, If they are still the voice in their athlete’s head. Maybe, but they are identifying it as the voice of their negative self-talk.

Is that the desired coaching legacy?

A top performer’s self-talk needs to be neutral to positive. It should tell the athlete, “You got this…” not “Don’t mess up.” The messages an athlete receives from outside are part of what creates their inner dialog. They should hear mostly neutral to postive and constructive feedback from coaches.

A lot of athletes tell me they perform despite their coach, rather than because of their coach. These are great athletes, from great high school and college programs. Something works about the way their coaches coach, but many athletes are left with ill feelings about their experience. Coaches don’t have to be loved, or even liked to be effective, but should realize the influence they have, through the words the choose.

Every so often, I drag the following info out of the attic for the coaches. In light of my convo with the college team, I thought this might be a good time to revisit it. If you are a coach, and you are hitting most of the things listed, you are probably doing well. If you aren’t hitting on a lot of them, it’s a great template to build from.

The info is pulled from the article: Coaching Behaviors That Enhance Confidence in Athletes and Teams (Forlenza, Pierce, Vealey, Mackersie)

What an athlete prefers in a coach

Coaches need to:

  1. Be effective teachers by telling athletes where and how to improve (not assuming players know what they did wrong).
  2. Communicate why they are doing what they are doing and how it will help. In teams, coaches can do this by explaining strategy, showing team progress compared to other teams, and focusing on building team strengths.
  3. Demonstrate confidence in themselves and their coaching.
  4. Carry themselves with poise.
  5. Show the ability to assess and adjust in game situations.
  6. Manage emotions by staying calm during competitions, not overreacting.

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 out my website, for more info, or email me at

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