Sport builds character. Sport prepares you for life. These are things you have probably heard before, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. I also believe that we should be intentional about making those connections for kids and adults alike and that sport can become a beautiful avenue to teach the very skills we can use in everyday life.
If I asked high school and college athletes, “What percent of your game is mental?” most, if not all, will come in somewhere between 60-90%. If that much of their performance takes place between their ears, how can we spend intentional time practicing those skills? What are those skills?
If asking parents, “What do they want most for their kids in sport?” many will comment on things like “learning to work hard and persevere,” “learning to bounce back from failure or obstacles,” “learning to set goals and compete hard,” along with the typical things like physical activity and social connections or teamwork (I am going to park the “for a scholarship” parents for this blog post). So where in the practice plans do we teach how to bounce back from failure? Or how to set goals? These are the questions I have spent the last 7 years exploring.
I grew up in Maine and sports have always been a part of my life. I was a four-year tri-varsity in high school, a basketball player at the University of Vermont, and have been teaching and coaching at the high school level since 2005. When taking a sport psychology course and a mindfulness and performance course at Boston University about 10 years into my coaching career, my mind was blown. These were all the skills and tools I wished I had as a college athlete. Mindfulness, gratitude, growth mindset, failure, goal setting, visualization, values, vulnerability, perseverance, etc. How and why are we not teaching them to everyone?
I immersed myself in this work, wrote two books during a sabbatical year: Unstoppable: A Mental Training Guide for Fueling Performance, and A Strong Girls’ Guide to Being: Exercises and Inspiration for Becoming a Braver, Kinder, Healthier You, and then in 2018 I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. This is where all of my studying of the mental skills and my experiences on a team and in sport came into “real life” practice. Like the muscles of our body, the mental skills muscles I had developed and continued to train were strong. My attitude was one of gratitude (for access to treatment, proximity to Boston, the awareness to go to the doctor’s when I felt something was off, and so much more). My mindset became “I get to go to chemotherapy” not “I have to go to chemotherapy.” I broke up my treatments into quarters, like a basketball game. And, I am now in my personal “overtime.”
After that year of treatment and so clearly seeing the direct effects of the work for myself and those around me, I founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to girls, SG United Foundation (“Strong Girls United”) with a mission to empower girls to be strong, confident, and resilient through sport and physical activity combined with mental health and wellbeing activities.
Girls need more access, opportunity, and female leaders in sport (more on this in a future post). Sport is the ultimate place to have social connections, be physically active, and practice all of these other skills that one day, frankly, everyone will need.
Sport can be the pathway that provides a girl with what she needs in the present moment and creates opportunities to develop skills and tools for their future. That is what it gave to me and what I hope to give to the next generation. Our organization and our teams are different. It is not just another sports team. College female athletes around the country serve as the volunteer coaches and the mentors for girls using our curriculum. We blend physical activity with gratitude exercises; we teach sports psychology while mentoring kindness. We invest in our girls to empower them for life.
You are invited to check out the nonprofit organization at www.sgunitedfoundation.org
Individuals or teams (designed for high school age and older and for all genders) can enroll in Lani’s Mindful Performance Training Center
And finally, for information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit: www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month
Thank you for your reading. Join the conversation by posting a comment.