Preps Lab podcast with TJ Cotterill: Can high schools improve mindset training? With guest Collin Henderson.

The best athletes spend countless hours on strength training and skills training. 

What former Washington State University two-sport standout Collin Henderson has been asking, though, is how much time are they spending on mindset training? 

Henderson is now the CEO of Master your Mindset after a stellar career at Puyallup High School and then WSU. He’s the author of five books and he regularly speaks to athletes, coaches and companies across the country talking about the importance of mindset training. 

He joins SBLive’s The Preps Lab with TJ Cotterill to talk about an important message he both lived and continues to see in programs today – that we tell kids to be tough mentally, but we’re not teaching it. 

He lays out in this latest episode loads of practical advice for focusing on mindset training within high school sports, something he believes was lacking in his own life when he was an athlete, struggling to cope with anxieties and the pressure to perform. 

Henderson played football and baseball at Washington State University. Before that he earned nine varsity letters across football, basketball and baseball at Puyallup High School, earning The News Tribune’s All-Area player of the year in baseball. 

Listen to the episode here, and subscribe below:

(Full archive of the Preps Lab podcast)

About Preps Lab

The Preps Lab with TJ Cotterill is a podcast where you will hear authentic conversations about how things get done in high school athletics. Whether it’s a coach, athlete, athletic director of other contributor in the world of improving high school athletes’ experiences, we’ll hear from them and their practical ideas and philosophies on what they do to create successful environments in the ever-evolving world of prep sports. Episodes publishes every other Tuesday.

About the host

Cotterill has been covering high school sports for more than a decade. He’s a former sportswriter at The Bellingham Herald and The Tacoma News Tribune, where he spent more than three years as their high school sports coordinator and a year covering the Seattle Mariners. He is a substitute teacher in the Puyallup School District and assistant coach with the Puyallup boys basketball program. Reach TJ on Twitter @TJCotterill.

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Episode Breakdown

2:25 minute mark: What motivated Collin Henderson to get into the field of mental mindset training? 

6:00: How are coaches, ADS, parents, athletes today being served in the area of mindset training? 

13:35: How Henderson handled his own fear of failure when he was playing

20:30: What is the No. 1 cause of kids in athletics being anxious and dealing with mental wellness issues? 

28:00: How coaches can destigmatize mindset training, treating it like strength and skill traning

31:40: How mindset training looks in a practice plan – practical applications 

35:40: Amid pandemic restrictions, how can programs focus on navigating this time with kids’ mental health 

Notable quotes

Collin Henderson: “We had some psychologists and Ph.Ds. on staff at Washington State, but we just didn’t connect. I didn’t ask for help. I was too macho, male athlete to get vulnerable and ask for help. I just got obsessed, though. I’m going to learn these tools. I’m going to commit my life to mastering mindset training … and then just give this stuff to everyone. Everyone needs access to these tools.” 

“In high schools (mindset training) is nonexistent If you were to survey every high school coach in the country, 1 percent maybe is doing something. Just because their budget or time or they don’t have the resources, or they don’t know who to ask. But we’re seeing with Covid the numbers are startling. Two out of three high school athletes were depressed or anxious because sports were canceled or delayed. So the wording I’m using during this period, even beyond Covid, if you’re not having some sort of program to talk about mental and emotional wellness, you are being negligent. You are literally being negligent if you are not providing something.” 

“Let’s have a game plan for inner dialogue, for self-talk. Have a game plan, write three affirmations you are going to say to yourself when there is time between each play.”

“If you master these four mental drills … I call this the four-minute mental workout, or the HAW method. The first step is just breathing. If we can just train our mind and body to notice when our breath and heart rate has spiked, it’s huge. That signals fight, flight, freeze, hide. You get anxiety and anxious. Fear is a physical response to a mental threat.” 

“Most kids when they have a free moment, they are grabbing their phone.  They’re seeking likes, comments, videos. We know that the most optimal state we can be in as athletes is a flow state. Flow means being in the zone.  We’re not judging good or bad, we’re completely present. Every Monday, coaches, we should have our teams just breath for one minute. We’re going to find our breath, put our hand on our belly, start low and wide and all the way to the top, focusing on four parts to a breath – inhale, hold, exhale, hold. So just find your breath.” 

“The next step is go through the HAW method. H is I have. So gratitude. What if on Tuesdays we did one minute to reflect on gratitude. There is so much science on what happens to your body and mind when you focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Focus on who you are and not what you aren’t.”

“The A is I am. What if we practiced feeding the good wolf? We all have two wolves. The bad wolf that says you aren’t good enough, you don’t have what it takes, and this good wolf that says you got this, why not me? So who wins? The one that you feed. What you say to yourself is 10 times more powerful than anything anyone can say to you.” 

“The W is I will. So visualize the performance that you want. Replay your practices and games when you were crushing it to get into that priming and you let your subconscious see and feel these movements. I’m going to dress rehearse greatness. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined event.”

“Just like you got to the gym and there are different muscle groups you train, your quads, core, delts, lats … These are four mental muscle groups you are going to train —  staying present with breath, having optimism and gratitude, productive self-talk, or language you say out loud, and then to visualize the things you want.”

“Fear and faith are almost the same exact thing. Fear is what if I fail. Faith is what if I have success.”

“I got my validation and my worth from how many catches, how many hits I had and my average. I didn’t have an ability to step away and say I am not defined by this result. I’m more than an athlete … I had what I would call a prove mindset. I was trying to prove my worth.” 

“How we want to train our mind is to have an improve mindset. Let’s just be present. Let’s get after it, be a great teammate, transition what we do in practice into games.” 

“Clutch is doing what you normally can do – when it matters most. Emphasize ‘normally do.’  So part of what I say is – ‘guys, let’s just be average today.’ Some coaches are like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Let’s just be who we are. We don’t have to play above our ability and training. You don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to your training. They play to beat us, we play to be us.” 

‘Is this performance a have to, or a get to? Let’s focus on an improve mindset, not a prove mindset.” 

‘The No. 1 thing that I think is not talked about enough is trauma. How our body is hard-wired and our brain is wired – I don’t think parents are getting enough training on this. Our makeup mentally and emotionally is shaped by three things – trauma, drama, daddy and momma … parents – I don’t think you realize how muich you are shaping your children on what they value, how they see themselves. How parents speaks to their kids becomes self-talk. What you praise becomes what they praise. Parents can be doing more.” 

“What is causing some of this anxiety is we emphasize so much worth on this sport or this game. So a mental drill I do is say, ‘Let’s outline your Me Wheel.’ Think of a wheel on a bike. You are the middle of that wheel, but there are different spokes. So our appearance and our culture with Instagram and these things where we are posting stuff, your image is tied to that one thing, being a performer. That’s one spoke. So if there’s a pothole or a curb or we hit that or our sports are canceled or delayed, our whole identity and worth is tied to that one thing. Let’s add some spokes to that wheel – like I’m a student, I’m a sister, a brother, I’m a person of faith, I volunteer, I love music. So it’s about having a more well-rounded vision of how they see themselves.”

“If you put scientists together and they say, ‘We are going to concoct a great life teacher. We are going to simulate life – adversity, hard work, challenge, change, a leader to take orders from. You could not concoct a better training vehicle than being an athlete. Imagine all your peers and kids who haven’t had sports to be able to deal with adversity, change, frustration. You’ve had all these years to train your mind to be resilient.” 

“To kind of teach coaches and get buy in, I’ll ask this simple question – if it’s late in the match or race or game and you have to pick one player to execute. Are you going to pick the player who is the quickest, the strongest, the fastest? Or are you going to pick the kid who is mentally tough, resilient, present and focused? Which of those two players would you pick. They always pick the one who’s most mentally tough and you can most trust and count on.  Usually your best player is not the most gifted physically, it’s the one who is most tough mentally. So I’m like, what are you doing to train those skills? Do you just hope they are tough mentally?” 

“Build up your mindset strategies. Just like in basketball you’re saying I’m going to learn this offense and this defense and how to train it. Learn how to talk about mindset. Learn how to spot signals when kids are depressed and anxious and how to direct them to the right people.”

“The word we say is prehab, not rehab. There are times we need rehab. But what if we proactively talked about these things and repped them every day. It’s like you have a game and you have four months to get prepared. The game is on a Friday night. But then you do no lifting and you wait until that Friday to lift and then you lift for four hours. You would never do that. But you bring in one speaker one time to talk about motivation. No, let’s do this all year.” 

 “We all know that culture beats talent. So this mindset work is actually training culture, too. It’s getting your kids to get vulnerable, it’s getting you to get vulnerable, it’s getting guys to share. Culture is common language. It’s not just words on a wall or a website, it’s this common language where we are connected. So talking the mental game – it gets you connected.” 

“I think one of the biggest mistakes if I’m working with a high school or college team and I’m watching practice, is the coaches just talk for like 20 minutes and they aren’t talking about anything … are you just talking just to hear yourself talk? Instead tell yourself to go for three minutes and be laser-focused on the message for the day.” 

“One thing I think we need to train kids on, is we want kids to be resilient. That’s probably the No. 1 trait of greatness is how you respond to change and adversity. During practice, have something bad happen on purpose. Do something to disrupt focus and do something that gives them a chance to practice being able to respond or use your word to reset or using your body to get back to the present moment or you have a visual cue on the field or court to get your mind back to the present moment – just practicing responding to this stuff. Do you hope your players respond well, or do you practice it?” 

“Better people perform better. Happy people perform better.” 

(Photos by Rockne Andrew Roll)

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