Top Ten Ways to Support Your Athlete’s Mental Game

By Shannon Suffoletto, MA, CMPC, LCPC, BC-DMT July 8, 2023

We are with them through the good times – the great plays, the wins, the championship titles, and even having a great practice is worth celebrating! We are with them through the challenges – the bad plays, the losses, the times they freeze up and choke and can’t explain why.  The times they hang their head in defeat, throw something in frustration and break down in tears.

After a bad play, have you heard your athlete say things like, “I was in my head!” or “I was overthinking it!” 

The fact is the mental component of playing a sport is just as important as the physical.  There are simple ways parents can help support our athletes' mental performance skills. Consider this:  You can change an athlete’s mindset and the body will respond.  You can move the body to shift the mindset.  This is because the mind and body are connected.  

The list below puts a strong focus on ways to help your athlete get OUT of their head and INTO their body.  These techniques aid in the ability to calm their nervous system, connect the mind and body, and engage in the present moment.  All of which facilitate peak performance.

1. Reinforce positive self-talk

If you are hearing “My pitching was terrible today.”  Ask them to rephrase that to “I am continuing to improve my pitching.”  

2. The calmer you are – the calmer they will become

Co-regulation is an important concept.  As parents actively apply strategies to calm their own anxiety/frustration/anger etc., their athlete’s emotions will begin to calm in response.  As parents, we need to be aware that our emotions affect theirs.

3. Play Music

Play a song they enjoy singing too.  It can help interfere with the negative tape they may be playing in their head and start to regulate their emotions.

4. Dance

Any movement will work. A silly dance.  Sing and dance with them.  This will help discharge any unnecessary tensions held in the body, and help calm their nervous system (and yours!).

5. Make them laugh

Laughter can help shift their mood by releasing endorphins.

6. Bring the focus to the present moment

Use the five senses. For example, ask them what they see, hear, and feel. This allows the athlete to move out of their thoughts helps calm the mind and body, and often elicits taking a breath.  

7. Have them ground their body

Ask the athlete to push their feet into the floor, push their hands together and focus on the feeling of their hands pushing together and feet pushing down.

8. Tell them the areas you saw them grow (be specific)

Feedback like “I noticed you skating faster out there than ever before! Your hard work on those speed drills is paying off!”  “You had two very accurate throws from third to first base! That was awesome!”

9. Check your own frustration, anxiety, disappointment, and expectations

If you are feeling disappointed or frustrated with them, it only adds to their feelings about themselves. Take an intentional breath that exhales your current emotions and re-focuses you back on your athlete.    

10. Ask them if they would like a hug

If they say yes – HUG THEM!!

Every practice you drive to, every game or match you spectate, every encouraging word you utter, MATTERS. 

Thank you for all you are doing to support the newest generation of athletes.

About the Author

Shannon is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant and owner of BodyMindCombine, LLC based here in Chicago, IL

Shannon works with individual athletes, teams, coaches, and athletic organizations to improve mental performance and well-being. You can learn more about her practice and connect with her by visiting @official_bodymindcombine or