The Impact of Training the Mind

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Coaching volleyball at the collegiate level can be a very stressful occupation. My mind constantly jumps from training ideas to recruiting to our strength and conditioning program, etc. It got to the point where my mind wouldn't shut off at night, which resulted in a lack of sleep. I began practicing mindfulness through guided meditation and my mind was able to turn off when it was time to sleep, putting me in a better frame of mind to coach our athletes. If mindfulness helped my mentality as a coach, I was eager to explore the impact it could have on our student athletes who also juggle a lot of responsibilities.

I'm very fortunate to have gained trust of the University of South Carolina Womens Beach Volleyball Head Coach, so as the assistant coach I can work very freely with our athletes. When I brought up the idea of mindfulness training he was on board.

Improving a player or team's performance under pressure is one of the most common goals of any coach. When I ask our players what part of their beach game they need to improve the most, a common concept is performing under pressure.

Coaches design game like drills to simulate pressure situations, and hope that the performance in practice translates into a match. However, when it comes game time, our athlete's heads can get cluttered with unnecessary thoughts that affect their ability to perform "under pressure."

For the last two years, our program has dedicated the first 10 minutes of practice to guided mindfulness training. We utilize the apps Calm and Headspace. The mental attitude shifts for our athletes have been tremendous.

Athletes often correlate losing or making mistakes with negative self-worth, which typically affects their future actions. With our mindfulness training and using drills requiring more mental effort than physical, our athletes improve their understanding of the game, as well as their day to day responsibilities. Our athletes are better prepared for handling mistakes and failure on the court, in the classroom and in life.

At the end of our fall semester we had individual player meetings to evaluate the fall semester. We have a freshman who experienced some hardships during the semester, and during her player meeting she shared the following with us:

"One time I was approached by a kid who identified me as the girl who speed walks past him every day, and he went on to say "I once tried to race you without you even knowing, and you still beat me." If I could describe being a student athlete in one sentence I would say being a student athlete is a constant hustle. You are always hustling whether it's on the court in the weight room, in the classroom, or simply making it on time to practice.

Whether you know it or not, just as I didn't know I was "racing that random kid, you are always competing. You are competing to be the best leader, student, teammate, division champion, or even the ultimate goal: A national champion. More often it seems a student athlete is competing with all odds against them such as class conflicts, car towing and wrecks, difficult professors, being too short or even too tall that you're uncoordinated, learning disabilities, or playing in wind that makes you play like you're in middle school again.

However, what defines a student athlete is not the failures and the times we lose our day to day "competitions" but the ways we overcome them and use these losses as an opportunity to improve. Throughout my experience, I've found that the term "hustle" is more of a skill rather than an action. It's a skill along with many others that being a Division I student athlete requires. My ultimate goal for this upcoming semester is to be the best hustler and competitor I can be."

It is still a work in progress, but developing our athletes to the best version of themselves, both physically and mentally, on the court and in life outside the court, is the main goal for our program.

We continue to experiment with what type of drills to use to reinforce the idea of being mindful. You can make the argument that you can practice mindfulness with any drill, but there are drills that require more thinking than physical effort. I plan to share my ideas during my presentation "Beach Court Brain Games - Mindful Beach Training: Drills and Tips to Teach Reading vs Reacting" at the 2016 AVCA Convention Friday, December 16th at 1:15PM on the Beach Court. I hope to inspire you to incorporate some drills that require more mindfulness than physical demands.

For more education on training volleyball athletes, click here. For more information on the educational sessions at the AVCA Convention click here.

About the Author

RJ Abella is the Assistant Beach Coach at University of South Carolina and Collegiate Beach Liaison for the JVA. Outside of coaching beach volleyball he also serves as a color commentator for indoor volleyball on the SEC+ Network and ESPNU.


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