Football is a mentally and physically challenging sport. Developing toughness is one of the hardest things to do as both a coach and a parent. Is there a way to toughen up your child to build the mental strength necessary to be a good football player?
Mental toughness is built from experience and confidence. When a player is frequently exposed to high-pressure environments, they will be able to think critically in those moments as opposed to thinking negatively and crumbling under pressure.
Physical toughness comes from understanding what pain is and teaching your mind to deal with it. In football (and any contact sport), there’s a big difference between being sore and being injured.
In this article, we’re going to teach you different ways to help your players become mentally strong kids as well as increase their awareness of physical toughness.
How To Make My Child Mentally And Physically Tough
One of the biggest fears of any athlete’s parent is a player who can not handle the mental and physical demands of football.
At any point and time during a football game, there are 11 players on the opposite team instructed to tackle the player with the ball. Running away from 11 other players can be scary as a young player.
If your child cannot first build mental strength, then it will be nearly impossible for them to build physical toughness. Let’s start with how you should teach your player to build mental toughness.
Develop Mental Strength
Kids build mental muscle discipline through experiences. In our opinion, this is one of the most undertaught things in sport.
Social and emotional skills in sports are developed through the environments the athlete is placed in. For example, players who are used to tackling other players, have no fear of sticking their shoulders on the runner’s thighs and tackling them.
Here is a video from former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky on our podcast, about mental toughness.
Here are a few things to think about regarding contact:
Where did they learn this fear? Did they have brothers growing up that they were always wrestling with? Were they taught at a young age what contact feels like? Did they tackle bags, move to tackle rings, then to live bodies?
All of these situations and scenarios help to harden and build mentally tough football players, in regards to tackling.
How do you build confidence and mental strength?
- Put the player in a setting where they can thrive. In football terms, this means making them feel comfortable with the pads they are wearing
- Next, teach them proper technique on how to properly strike an opponent with the shoulder. Aim for the thighs, keep the head out of the tackle, squeeze the opponent’s legs, and run your feet.
- Once the player knows how to tackle, have them start tackling stationary objects. This could be tackling dummies, pads, or even the pillow at home. They need to be able to feel what it’s like to absorb and give contact.
- Next, use moving objects such as a tackling wheel or a pad that is on the move. This will help them with the combination of tracking and striking.
- Once your child has built up the mental courage to tackle an actual person, then put them in that environment.
This is the best way to teach football players how to build mental strength to physically tackle someone to the ground.
A lot of coaches and parents make the mistake of just throwing their kids in a live setting, and expecting them to magically know how to tackle. This will crush a kid’s confidence and it will be even harder to get them to tackle properly.
One of the worst things, as a coach or parent, that you can do is to crush a kid’s confidence. This is one of the major reasons why youth football is failing.
Coaches are too busy trying to be Nick Saban or other fiery coaches they see on TV, rather than trying to build the confidence of younger players.
Confidence minimizes self-doubt. We’re not talking about the confidence that can be confused with cockiness.
We’re talking about teaching your child to be comfortable in their own skin. If they are short, overweight, slow, or whatever the physical limitation may be, how can they thrive?
If your athletes feel scared, feel uncomfortable, or can’t handle their emotions, their confidence will waiver.
How do you help your child build confidence in their own skills?
- Positive Reinforcement – Many parents will complain that we live in an “everyone gets a trophy society”. Don’t mix that up with cheering on your child and making your child feel special. This doesn’t mean just social media posts either, but with direct confidence boosters. Tell them how great they played, and single out specific plays.
- Tough Love – If you are always telling your child how great they played, that’s when they start to develop an inflated ego. You need to be level with your player by asking them what they think they can improve on. Make sure they can identify their weaknesses so they are more apt to work on them. Don’t say “You stunk out there today”, but rather “What do you think you could work on to be better?”. If your athlete is aware of their deficiencies, they will take pride in working on them. Take those actions and practice them.
Most parents who raise successful kids teach them to control their self-esteem, self-doubt, and self-pity.
Developing Physical Toughness
Football is a contact sport, similar to hockey and lacrosse. If the game is taught in a safe manner, it can be extremely rewarding for players.
However, when it’s not taught properly, it can be extremely defeating for players.
Building toughness and discipline does not require you to hit someone as hard as you possibly can in every drill. It doesn’t require you to run 100 sprints while a coach screams at you. It’s actually the complete opposite to build up to that point.
Physical toughness comes from realizing how much pain and soreness the body can take before the mind decides it has had enough.
How do you train physical toughness?
- The first thing is for your child to realize what it’s like to get tackled, or to give a tackle. There is going to be a small amount of pain, regardless if there is a big or small hit.
- Once the player’s brain recognizes what it’s like to take contact, their body will naturally adapt to the pain.
- Pain will range from small jolts to broken bones. During the course of low-impact contact drills, it’s important for your child to realize what really hurts and what is just a small jolt. Players starting out will need a little bit more time adjusting to the different situations and levels of pain.
The biggest mistake a parent or coach can make is thinking that high-intensity, full-contact drills, will automatically make a player physically tough. They need to build up to that point, where they can feel comfortable with the pain tolerance, to be able to handle intense situations.
You can’t run full speed into physical toughness. It needs to be built from the ground floor.
Creating Mentally Strong Kids
Once you have built your player up mentally and have placed them in environments to increase their physical toughness, you can start to increase the intensity.
Too often kids are put in situations they are unprepared for, lack technical skills, or don’t have the confidence to thrive in those situations. This leads to their confidence being destroyed and they slowly start to develop into mentally weak players.
Every child is built differently. Every upbringing, home situation, and love they receive is different.
When trying to make your player mentally and physically tough, the biggest thing that we ask is that you have patience with them. They will not become mentally tough overnight. Focus on building confidence through unique scenarios and teach them how to handle themselves.