Monday, 22 Jul 2024

Get Back in the Game: Building a Stronger Team Mindset

All teams face challenges and disappointments, and as coaches, it is our responsibility to teach young athletes how to deal with setbacks and come back even stronger. According to Dr. Jim Afremow, PhD, a renowned sports psychologist and author of “The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite,” a successful comeback begins with the team’s mindset.

In his book, Dr. Afremow highlights what he calls the “Seven L’s” for creating a successful comeback: Let go, Look for support, Love the Game, Learn, Labor, Learn optimism, and Lean on your mental game. While all seven are important, let’s focus on three that are particularly valuable for coaches: Let Go, Learn Optimism, and Lean on Mental Game.

Let Go

Dr. Afremow uses a powerful analogy to explain the importance of letting go: “Ruminating about our mistakes and failures is like holding on to a brick.” To help young athletes understand this concept, he suggests bringing an actual brick to practice and discussing the significance of “releasing the brick” to free themselves from the weight of past mistakes. Some teams even adopt “release the brick” as a mantra and use it as a physical cue to let go after making an error.

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As coaches, it is crucial for us to set a consistent example of the “let go” attitude by not dwelling on setbacks. “Getting over a tough loss or a poor performance is about moving forward,” says Dr. Afremow. Encourage athletes to shake off their mistakes and focus on the next play. After a loss, acknowledge the areas that need improvement, but also highlight the things that went well.

Learn Optimism

Optimism plays a vital role in sustaining success and bouncing back from setbacks. According to Dr. Afremow, optimists see success as personal, permanent, and pervasive, while failure is seen as situational, short-lived, and specific. However, learning to be consistently optimistic can require positive reinforcement.

Dr. Afremow recommends adhering to a 5 to 1 praise-to-criticism ratio when providing feedback to individuals and teams. While it may not always be easy to express five positives for each negative, the impact on young minds is worth the effort. To ensure a balanced approach, coaches can track their comments or have an assistant coach do so.

Lean on Mental Game

Developing effective mental skills during childhood can prepare athletes for success in all aspects of life. Dr. Afremow suggests three techniques that coaches can teach young athletes:

  • Mindfulness: Encourage athletes to pay attention to the present moment by being fully engaged and experiencing what’s happening now, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Find moments during stretching, breaks, or practices for athletes to practice mindfulness.

  • Visualization: Visualization is a powerful tool that involves mentally rehearsing physical activities. Guide athletes through exercises where they “see” and “feel” themselves executing particular skills and achieving success.

  • Body Language: Body language is a form of nonverbal communication that includes postures, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Teach athletes the importance of maintaining positive body language, even after making mistakes, as it invites positivity both within themselves and from others.

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In conclusion, teaching young athletes to bounce back from setbacks and come back stronger is just as valuable as teaching them to win. By focusing on the mindset and incorporating techniques like letting go, learning optimism, and leaning on their mental game, coaches can help their teams build resilience and achieve long-term success.


Q: How can coaches help athletes let go of past mistakes?
A: Coaches can use visualizations and physical cues, like dropping a symbolic brick, to help athletes understand the concept of letting go and moving forward.

Q: Can optimism be taught?
A: Yes, optimism can be learned through positive reinforcement. Coaches can provide a 5 to 1 praise-to-criticism ratio to help athletes develop an optimistic mindset.

Q: How can mindfulness benefit athletes?
A: Mindfulness helps athletes stay focused on the present moment, enhancing their performance and reducing distractions.

Q: Why is body language important for athletes?
A: Positive body language invites positivity and can contribute to an athlete’s overall performance and mindset.


Building a stronger team mindset is crucial for athletes to overcome setbacks and achieve success. By incorporating the principles of letting go, learning optimism, and leaning on their mental game, coaches can equip young athletes with the tools they need to face challenges head-on and come back even stronger. Remember, it’s not just about winning, but also about the valuable life lessons that can be learned through the journey. To learn more about Dr. Afremow’s strategies, visit Alpinetgheep.