We love sports for so many reasons, including how much fun they are to play. While we want our kids to have fun playing, we are also interested in using sports for their other benefits such as exercise, building generational connections and family bonds as well as developing skills for socialization and other key life skills. Sports are a wonderful teaching device because it is easier for kids to learn when they don’t even recognize the transference; they practice and learn through sports because they love sports. They want to get better and all the while we’re teaching them about sports we’re also espousing how to succeed in life. Imagine if we could figure out how to make math and science this much fun! Since a goal as parents is to prepare our kids to go it alone one of the best tools through sports that we can give them for their life journey is “Mental Conditioning”.
I was recently lucky enough to meet Roger Kirtz, an expert in mental conditioning. I was having coffee with a friend whose son plays travel basketball with my oldest boy, talking kids sports, motivation, and work ethic. Roger overheard and we got into a great conversation about these topics that are so dear to all of us “Sports Dads”. Roger has a master’s degree in sports psychology, with a clinical background, and a lot of experience working with top athletes. Before moving to Beverly Hills this year to set up a private practice he worked at International Management Group helping young athletes. In case you’re not familiar with IMG, they’re a very elite sports, entertainment and promotional agency boasting top clients from every sport. Furthermore, IMG has developed unique mutli-sport training academies with students from over 80 countries. These devoted junior athletes focus on their complete intellectual and athletic development, 24 hours a day, 7 day a week, including academics, physical training, skill development, and yes, mental conditioning. Therefore, my friend and I were very interested to hear what Roger had to say.
Roger defines mental conditioning as a proactive mental approach towards performance; it includes goal setting, preparation, how to deal with pressure, relaxation, establishing routines and developing awareness. Roger says: “mental conditioning can make a huge difference all the way through for young athletes. If a kid is in control and can establish mental awareness by setting short-term goals and then being responsible for accomplishing those goals they can really gain confidence and help make up for any physical differences.” Essentially, mental conditioning provides tools that are used off the field that will contribute to enhanced focus and better on field performance.
Nobody has better mental conditioning or on field performance that Tiger Woods. Anybody that has watched Tiger over the years knows how tough he is in the clutch and how he makes impossible shots seem more routine than death or taxes. In interviews, despite being the best golfer in the world, Woods has discussed his endless passion to improve. When answering questions about how well he’s playing he states that he’s “never there” because there is always room for improvement. It is this drive that compels him to greatness. Tiger understands how the mental side of what he does, including daily goals, is the main advantage he has over his completion. Proper mental conditioning is just as important as physical conditioning, if not more so and is often what separates people at all levels of competition. The same approach Tiger takes everyday can help your kids.
There are a few basic steps that kids can take. Beginning mental conditioning would include setting goals to have an understanding of what it is that you want long term, medium term, short term and to accomplish daily.
It is the daily goals that are the key to success in everything and provide superb mental conditioning. How we define success is a part of the goal setting. For example, if a kid wants to play in the NBA that is simply too large a goal and so far in the distance that they can’t measure their progress. Instead, they also need small, attainable goals. An example would be trying to be the best on a local club team and setting daily and other understandable short-term goals to help accomplish that first step. Setting short-term goals is crucial because they are attainable and it’s easier to see real progress. Reaching the short-term and midterm-goals creates a sense of accomplishment that leads to real confidence and a solid mindset for success.
Roger has seen kids begin to flourish when they begin to work on their own mental conditioning. He feels that all athletes and individuals, as well as parents and families, can benefit. There is really no ideal age to begin and Roger has worked with kids as young as 8, as soon as they’re cognoscente enough to understand the concepts and get solid results. Awareness, preparation, goal setting, all fall into place regardless of skill level or what area you’re focusing on. Roger consistently sees changes with his clients based on small, incremental growth. It is the small changes that lead to big changes; it works every time. Goal setting is empowering at any age, from 10 to pro, once you learn how to properly do it and how to achieve the steps.
Even better, from my personal perspective, is that anybody can benefit and the concepts of mental conditioning as they cross over from the athletic field to everything else in life. Mental conditioning and sports is another tool to teach skills for life. Because kids love their sports they’re much more willing to try new things to get better. As they develop the skills of goal setting, focus and awareness, they can use these same tools for improved results for schoolwork, jobs, relationships, and other aspects of life. The tools developed through mental conditioning transcend sports and the specific skills are easily taught because kids feel it is in their self-interest to get better at the sports they love.
Using mental conditioning is a great way to improve in sports and in life. Even better, because kids will focus on improving their sports skills, parents have an opportunity to provide tools that will be hugely beneficial for a lifetime. IMG has a slogan: “You don’t have to be sick to get better”. There are always ways to enhance your preparation because you can always do better dealing with obstacles in life and in sports.
If you’re interested in learning more about mental conditioning, or setting up an appointment to meet with Roger in the greater Los Angeles area, he can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (310) 270-3183.