Have you ever watched a student athlete struggle to find confidence and composure while simultaneously trying to control for anxiety and nerves? These situations can be frustrating for everyone, including parents, coaches, and of course, the child. Rather than witnessing the same skills regularly seen in practice, the kid is visibly shaken, and as a result his skills fall well below what he is capable of doing. Fortunately, sport psychology mental training skills can help this type of dilemma kids commonly experience.
Cue (or “trigger”) words are words, acronyms, or short phrases that help with cognitive development and emotional management, and can be used by kids of all ages and skill levels. Based on the premise that our minds can’t think of two different thoughts at the same exact time, having a cue word ready (i.e. written on a hand or piece of equipment easily visible) provides the athlete a new, healthy mental target to think about opposed to simply having to react to negative stimuli (i.e. a hostile crowd, the athlete’s own nervous energy, etc).
An easy example to illustrate the power of cue words might be a football QB who often struggles with confidence. In this example, the QB might write the word “breathe” on his wrist, and before each snap simply look own at the word and take one deep breath before starting the play. The cue word “breathe” helped with two things in this example:
- It helped the athlete actually physiologically lower his anxiety by taking a deep breath.
- It prevented the athlete from thinking of other insignificant or troubling thoughts, including his own negative self-talk and insecurities.
Cue words aren’t “magic,” but they are proven to help redirect attention and better manage emotions — especially in emotionally-charged events like sports. Kids can come up with their own cue words based on words that are either instructional (i.e. “breathe” or “relax”), motivational (i.e. “D1” or “state”), or to help with skill proficiency (i.e. “head up” or hands back”).
Sport success, like life success, often relies on preparation. Developing a cue word to offset negative nervous energy can be a game changer for kids who struggle with playing their best in real-game situations.