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Mailbag of Champions: October Edition


Welcome to the first edition of Play Like a Champion's "Mailbag of Champions"! As you might imagine, we get a lot of questions from our youth and high school partners across the continent, with most of these questions we know many others have as well. So we thought we'd put a few of these questions to our experts each month and share their answers with everyone (note: we'll protect your identity and won't share any confidential information). Have a question for a future mailbag? Scroll to the bottom for info on how to drop us a line via email or social media!


Now let's dig into the first mailbag. As always, these are real questions asked by administrators, coaches, parents and student-athletes...


Q: I'm having a hard time getting my high school athletes to believe in themselves so that when they reach a challenging moment in competition they don't shy away or fold. What can I do to promote confidence or belief in themselves? ~ High School Volleyball Coach in the Midwest


Answer from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of Play Like a Champion

Hello Coach! This is a very common challenge with high school athletes. Remember that high school age kids’ brains are still developing and they often struggle to understand future orientation and the value of delaying gratification. It is common for a high school athlete to want to experience success immediately in their sport and perhaps become discouraged when results are not tangible (such as a victory on the scoreboard). The key point to helping athletes with this present focus is to talk about the value of working hard over time and measuring results not just in days or even weeks, but in months and over the full school year. Here are some tangible ways to build athletes confidence when facing a challenging moment in competition:

  • Repeatedly set up difficult situations in practice that put some stress on the athletes and coach them to respond with poise and confidence, so that when they face these situations in a real competition they will automatically respond to the challenge.

  • Praise athletes courage in sticking with a tough moment, rather than focusing on the result.

  • Have athletes track their progress over the course of the whole season by writing how they respond to difficult situations in practice and in games, so they can see progress over weeks and months, not just focusing on the current day’s challenge.

  • Engage in positive mental imaging sessions with your team to build their confidence and belief that they can perform well, even in difficult circumstances. Following practice, gather your team, dim the lights, ask your team to sit comfortably or even lie on the floor. Instruct them to close their eyes and then verbally talk your team through a play or a series of plays in which you account perfect execution. Ask your team members to see themselves performing the play and the skills correctly and successfully. When your imaging session is complete, encourage your athletes to imagine on their own what you just took them through before they fall asleep each night. The continued imaging will build their confidence and belief that they can execute well under pressure.

  • Encourage teammates to support one another with reassuring comments in tough moments and positive, uplifting cheers.

  • Celebrate displays of confidence and fortitude when your team displays them.

Good Luck, Coach!


Q: We’ve been offering yoga in our PE units and with our sports teams. Recently, some parents expressed concern about the religious/spiritual component of yoga as antithetical to Catholic teaching. Is this true? What should I do here? ~ Youth Athletic Director & Coach in Illinois


Answer from Joanna Cote Thurman, Play Like a Champion Conference Speaker

Understanding the benefits of yoga is essential in order to integrate it into our coaching programs. Often times yoga is mistaken as a religious practice. Yoga is an ancient science developed more than 2,000 years ago in India, and while it is not a religion, it is a philosophy with tenets based on kindness, compassion, respect and non-harm. These qualities of moral and character development are reflected in the foundation of the Play Like a Champion sports education and coaching programs. Yoga, like our coaching approach, has a spiritual component when we seek the mind-body-spirit connection.


More than 36 million Americans practice yoga but more specifically what they are actually practicing are the physical postures of yoga, known as asana. In addition, the second most common element of yoga is practicing breathing techniques, called prana. These are two of the eight limbs of yoga, and these are the areas that we focus on when coaching our athletes; poses and breathing.


As a coach at a Christian high school for many years, I have encountered resistance, even admonition at the thought of students doing yoga. This push-back usually came from either the administration or from concerned parents and was often grounded in fear, preconceptions, or lack of information about yoga. The student-athletes are enthusiastic and request yoga frequently at practice, conveying their innate sense of knowing that this is something good for them and that it makes them feel better, less stressed, more connected to themselves and each other, and more relaxed. To address these concerns, I approach yoga as I do all aspect of our training program, starting first with conversation with the student-athletes and then with the parents at the season kick-off meeting. This conversation includes reviewing my coaching philosophy and approach, and engages them in a dialogue that offers an opportunity for people to voice their thoughts or concerns. If the word “yoga” is off-putting I suggest calling it the “stretching and breathing” part of practice, further removing any potential confusion or controversy. The rest or quiet time after yoga also allows an ideal opportunity for practicing visualization techniques with your student-athletes as their minds are receptive and their bodies relaxed. I find that once people experience the benefits from this practice, any resistance is replaced with acceptance and appreciation. Maintaining an open forum for discussion and ongoing communication removes any mystery in the process.


Q: We started working in partnership with Play Like a Champion Today two years ago by bringing a Master Trainer to our school community who presented your “Coaching for Character” high school coach clinic. How can I keep the energy of the philosophy alive within my school community? ~ High School Administrator on the East Coast


Answer from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of Play Like a Champion

We love our partners! It was a privilege to join you at your school to begin Play Like a Champion partnership with our full core coach curriculum. To keep our philosophy fresh with a constant flow of ideas, make sure all your coaches are receiving the weekly Tuesday notes that provide a variety of tangible ways to implement our “Champion” philosophy with coaches, parents and student-athletes. The nature of Play Like a Champion partnership is that we offer a fully comprehensive approach with educational content for all entities of a school athletic community. So, we encourage you to consider bringing us back to your community to present the Parent Like a Champion workshop to your sport parents and perhaps engage your athletes in some programming, such as our Athlete Leadership Session, an Athlete Retreat or beginning a “CHAMPS” student-athlete club. While we are with you, we can also present an advanced coach clinic. This is a one hour session that takes a deeper dive into some of our core content, such as Spirituality of Sport, Moral Development in Sport, or Mental Toughness for Student-Athletes. New this year, we are offering our advanced high school workshops through webinar format to make it even simpler to “bring us back” to your community for additional professional development. You also might consider ordering Play Like a Champion items co-branded with your school logo in your school colors, such as signs for your locker room, polo shirts and clipboards for your coaches, hoodies for your athletes. Give us a call today to schedule your next event with Play Like a Champion or talk through different opportunities in your school community!



Have a question for a future mailbag? Send us an email at information@playlikeachampion.org or send us a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.


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