skip navigation

How to Help Our Athletes Be Their Best

By Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 01/02/20, 1:45PM CST


6 Sport Psychology Principles that Maximize Performance

A few months ago, I provided the keynote address at a Minnesota Hockey coach training session in Farmington. I am especially passionate about serving coaches in this way because most of us rarely get training in the mental side of sports. As an athlete, I had to figure the mental side of sports on my own, mostly by trial and error.

As a mom of two sports-loving boys who are always on the go (I bet you can relate!), I have to remind myself of these psychological principles all the time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our American culture that is results-focused, comparison-filled, and me-centered. But, when we do, we aren’t able to be at our best, play at our highest potential, or help our kids stay intrinsically motivated.

Here are six psychological principles you can use to support your son or daughter and help them to consistently be at their best. These principles are based on research in the field of sport psychology, and also what I have seen the best of the best do.

Stay Process Focused – It’s easy for children (as well as parents and coaches) to focus on the outcome, such as their stats or if they won or lost. We often focus on the outcome because that’s what we see when we turn on ESPN and other sports channels - the big plays, the scores and highlights. When we spend too much time focused on the outcome, however, we experience anxiety, stress and pressure. We can’t perform to our potential. As parents, let’s help our kids stay focused on the process. Did they do the small things in the game or practice to be at their best? Did they focus on the shift they were in and the small things they could do to be successful? When we focus on the process, we are happier in the long run, and it seems the outcome takes care of itself.

Focus on Why They Play – Helping your son or daughter focus on why they play the game of hockey is important to sustain their long-term motivation. You could talk about the reasons they play the game as you drive to practice or games. The top reasons that kids report they play is to have fun and be with their friends. Keeping the focus on friends and fun over winning or the result will help them stick with the sport in the long run.

Help Them Let Go Quickly – The best athletes have a short-term memory of their mistakes and a long-term memory of their successes. Most of us can easily replay mistakes in our mind over and over again. But this doesn’t help us be our best. I have a phrase I call “Learn and Burn” which means that we need to learn from the mistake, but then quickly “burn” or let go of the mistake to protect our confidence and to stay motivated. Help your son or daughter learn quickly and then let go to keep their motivation high. You could tell them to “Learn and Burn.”

Expect Adversity – In a study we conducted last year at Minnesota State University, we found that all of the elite athletes we studied reported they overcame significant adversity to become among the best in the world. The best athletes can sustain high levels of performance because they realize that adversity helps them grow and learn. Help your son or daughter see that adversity helps them – it allows them to develop the characteristics and skills they need to succeed. You could help them see that adversity happens for them, not to them.

Dominate the Controllables – It is easy when we are watching the game to blame outside factors that we cannot control such as refs, coaches, or the other team. It is essential, however, to focus on what we can control to be at our best. We can control everything inside ourselves such as our attitude, attention, actions, passion, preparation, purpose, emotions, and effort. Focusing on the uncontrollables leads to frustration, blame and low performance. Dominating the controllables leads to our best consistently.

Let Go of Comparisons – When we are trying to find our spot on our team, we may find ourselves comparing our performance to that of a teammate. But, comparison does not lead to our best. In fact, comparison leads to lower performance, dropout, and fear of failure. As parents, we can remember to avoid comparing our son or daughter to another athlete, and instead, help them embrace their uniqueness. Ask them what their best looks like and feels like, and reinforce that in your conversations after the game.


Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., CMPC, is an award-winning keynote speaker and the owner of Mentally Strong Consulting who helps championship teams and businesses gain the high performance edge.  She is the author of a bestseller, Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High Performance Edge and the corresponding workbook. Cindra is also the host of the High Performance Mindset podcast which has over ½ million downloads and is available on Itunes. You can read more about Cindra at

Most Popular