Mental Skills For Younger Performers

“Mental Skills For Younger Performers” is the transcription of a 2024 Radio Interview that Darren Godwin did with Radio New Zealand.

Our very own Darren Godwin recently interviewed with Radio New Zealand, and his advice was so beneficial we decided to transcribe it and convert it into this brand-new feature article entitled Mental Skills For Younger Performers. Please add any and all questions and comments at the bottom, and Darren will endeavour to reply to each and every one. Note some edits have been made to the original to make it easy to read.

Catherine [The Interviewer]:

In parenting, we’re talking about how to help sporty kids deal with the psychological impact of winning, losing, and the pressures of competition.

Melbourne-based provisional psychologist Darren Godwin works with Australia’s largest sport and performance psychology practice, Condor Performance. Professional sports teams have the services of psychologists to help players navigate the ups and downs of competition and their own doubts and motivation. Darren says tween and teen athletes and their parents can benefit from the same assistance. Thanks for being with us.

Darren Godwin [The Interviewee]:

Hi, Catherine. Thanks for having me. How are you doing?


Really good. I want to make an observation at the outset, and that is what we’ve seen, and it’s become a source of some angst and debate about what seems like a growing kind of professionalisation of high school sports in particular. We’ve got schools with academies and kids in training programs. I have spoken to some physiologists worried about the level of training that some are going through while their bodies are still growing. What’s your starting point, and what’s happening in Australia concerning the sorts of quasi-professional sports that kids are coming up against quite young?


I think there are probably a couple of factors that can contribute to that, and one might be just that our world is more connected than ever before, so we can access and see people who do incredible things more easily. There are a lot of people who do incredible things around the world. So perhaps that pushes or incentivises us to start introducing that earlier and earlier into some of these education systems.


Some schools compete on this basis, and it’s not like, in our case, rugby and rowing and whatever haven’t always been sports where schools have prided themselves or built their reputation. Still, this idea of academies and quasi-professional training does seem to have spread. It’s just an observation. Is this what is on your mind, or is it more just in general for any young person playing competitive sport they’re going to come up against those highs and lows?


I think it’s more just a general sense of it. Sport offers some unique experiences that I think can provide a lot of areas to grow and develop as a person, and I think there are a lot of parallels between just some of the nature of things that happen within sports. How can we develop skills that support and enhance people to learn, grow, and handle those challenges life will throw our way, too?


Another general observation. You’ve gone there already in some ways. We seem to be having a generation that, for various reasons, is dealing with rising anxiety or has to manage anxiety. Your reference to how interlinked everything is and the overload that can be put on young brains and nervous systems is one factor. A pandemic interrupting their schooling and regular routine is another. But in general, is that on your mind also that resilience is something we need to work on with a generation of young people?


Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge a mental skills component that we culturally don’t introduce to our younger audiences. We look at the systems and the education systems, facilities, things we’ve got set up there, there’s more of an emphasis on the knowledge, the learning and the connectivity, but not so much on the mental skills development. So, we are trying to build the capacity to learn how to handle those challenges and build resilience.


So, where do you begin? Let’s get some parameters around the kind of ages that we’re talking about, what’s appropriate, and what’s helpful at different ages and/or stages of development.


Sure. In my experience, at least, we work with anyone between the ages of ten, and maybe the oldest I’ve worked with is sixty-eight. So it can be for a variety of things. It could just be someone who is looking to be highly competitive. It could be someone just looking to enjoy their weekend competition more. A lot of what we do to support them is to help them with things like confidence in their skills and abilities, the confidence to execute what they’ve practised in any given conditions, the composure to manage their emotions under stressful situations and the commitment to trade-off, I guess, what might seem like something hard in the short term, but it’s going to provide a long-term benefit.

So when we look at those age brackets, the developmental brackets we’re talking about, young kids, we try to accentuate the fun and keep them involved.


We want them to have fun, right?




We don’t want to stress them out.


Social development, it is a highly social period for youngsters. They’re trying to connect with themselves in the world, so at a young age, we’re saying, “Hey, let’s look at the fun side of things a little bit more.”

Teenage years, it’s becoming a lot more social, but they’re becoming a lot more independent. They’re trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be in this world. So that is typically when we start to see more competitive things show up and still the same thing. It’s trying to help them understand what they want to do that’s going to help benefit them in the long run.


Let’s come back to those three points you’ve already touched on that are all interrelated. Let’s break them down. Let’s start with confidence. It’s about doing what you’re trained to do, but many things can get in the way, right?

But I wonder if we should start with number two, managing emotions and stressful situations. You’ll often see this in young kids, you’ll spot probably the champion at a very young age because they seem to manage to be calm. They seem to focus on fixing a mistake or concentrating on what they will do next. Then there’s someone else who’s angry, frustrated and throwing the tennis racket. So how do we begin to introduce and help kids with the skill to manage their emotions and the stress of competition? What sorts of things would you do?


When we’re talking about emotions, I always try to explain there are two components. One is the internal experience that’s happening with that emotion, what do we feel and the other is the expression of that emotion, what do we do?

So we try to separate the two so we can acknowledge and accept that you’re a human being and it’s okay to have all these emotions. They show up because it’s helpful for our survival and/or something matters to us in that moment. We don’t get emotional about things we don’t care about, so something matters to us at that moment.

So it’s building those mental skills to acknowledge, understand, and accept what emotion is showing up for me now, as well as how I express what I want to express. If we want to go one step further (what you said is I’m here with a task in front of me), how do I shift my focus to the task in front of me if that’s what’s most important?


So first of all, it’s that old thing as always with young people – validate what they’re feeling.




There’s also the … it’s dubbed red to blue, right? Athletes learn this at all levels. There’s your immediate rage reaction, stress reaction, or worry reaction, and you want to get to the calm blue ocean part of the brain to deal with the issue. In what ways would you deal with, say, an early teen or a mid-teen on the emotion in the moment? Is it a simple breathing skill or a calming skill? Is it self-talk? What kinds of skills can they add to their repertoire quite young?


Oh, I think maybe a mindfulness practice is probably something that they can start to do. Mindfulness is defined by two main points. One is contact with the present moment. And two is a reduced judgment of what’s happening in their current experience.

Like with all things, preparation is going to benefit this the most. So it’s trying to help and guide athletes to practice these things in advance so they’re not left in a situation where they must scramble and work out something on the fly. I guess a mindfulness practice is something that can be helpful. It can just start with a minute or two minutes of just observing and watching different experiences that are happening, tuning into one or some of our senses, what we see, smell, taste, touch or hear, and that can often be a good way to recenter us back into this moment right now.


Let’s work through perhaps the anticipation of a big event and the nerves and anxiety that can build over the days ahead. Is mental rehearsal still a big thing? Does it help to visualise where you’ll be, what you’ll be feeling, what you’ll be doing, where your locker will be, and where your gear will go? Is that something you can help develop as a skill as well?


Absolutely. Yes. Mental imagery, visualisation, and mental rehearsal are fantastic skills to help with our preparation. These mental skills have many benefits. First, you’re repeatedly putting yourself in that situation and becoming more familiar with it. Trying to recall with detail the things that you want to focus on, where you want to be, what you want to do and how it’s going to go, and that it’d be deeply connected to what you’ve trained and what you’ve practised.

Visualisation is also very accessible. If you can’t make training that day for whatever reason, it can be done in your home. It can be done alongside your training. Some good research shows the benefits of doing it alongside training, and it can be done when you’re injured. So it keeps you connected with the task and what you need to do.


It could also be very basic. I mean, it’s not necessarily just about the skills that you want to rehearse mentally. It can be like, “Okay, I’ve got a stressful day tomorrow. I’ve got to be ready to go at this time. What time am I getting up? I’m going to shower. I’m going to have my breakfast. I’m going to pack my bag, or I’ve got my bag packed.” Walking through all the steps that can cause stress and pressure. Right? It’s the anticipation of practising what you will go through.


Yes, absolutely. Another point to what you said is that it’s an acceptance or a connection. We’re not trying to avoid the stress that’s happening the next day.


We’re walking into it.


We’re walking into it.


So, with nerves and anxiety, what ways do you talk this through with young people? They are here to help us, that they can feel unpleasant, but that they serve a purpose? How do you help them harness them rather than be overrun by them?


I think just a little bit of education comes along with that. For example, just trying to understand the physiology, the biology that we have and how our body works, and these things are ultimately here to help us.

Then, if you break down the actual things that are happening physiologically for us, things like our heart rate going up, meaning we’ve got more blood going to our muscles, which means we’re going to be more ready to use those muscles with strength, power, and flexibility. Our pupils are dilating, and we can see things more clearly and easily identify moving objects. Usually, that alertness, that energy in our body, means that our reaction time is consistently sharp. So when you go through all of these things, and you ask an athlete this kind of things that benefit your sport, almost all the time, they’re going to benefit their performance or their sport in some way.


It will also benefit school work, exams, and other things that cause stress. How do you approach negative self-talk? Some people seem to have a natural talent for turning things around, and others, it’s always, “I won’t win this. I’ll get this far. I’m ahead, but I’m going to muck it up.” How do you talk through that self-talk intervention with people at this age?


I think it’s interesting at a young age because they haven’t necessarily had as much time to go further down that self-talk route and develop a habit or relationship with that self-talk.

So I might say something like if we’re going to cross a busy intersection and there are four lanes of traffic with cars and there are no lights and they’re all going very quickly, we’re going to think about … probably what we would say is negative things. “Oh, I might get hit by a car.” It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but it’s a very helpful thing to think about.

So it’s just trying to build this relationship that sometimes, as these negative things arise, can we practice identifying the context? What’s this situation? What’s happening right now? What’s important to me right now? Then, if it is important, let’s pay some attention to it. And if it’s not, we can practice letting go, and it’s that letting go part that I think is important in some sporting contexts because the sporting context triggers some of those things quite a lot.


Here’s a really good point actually to this point. “Like many kids his age, my 14-year-old dreams of a career in professional football. The chance of that working out is minuscule, but it’s all he wants to do. He detests the idea of doing anything else. He puts so much pressure on himself to perform and is crushed if he doesn’t shine on the park. Should I encourage him to chase his dream or be realistic? I’m torn.”


That’s a great question. It’s tough, and I think for parents out there, it’s just trying to guide them and go along with your child and help them discover it for themselves. It’s not to say that they can’t go down that path and then later find out that it’s not something meaningful for them. But it’s worth also just continually having conversations with them. “What’s important to you? What are you willing to try to do to see how this goes?” And try to be a supportive and open person who walks them along that journey with them. There will be moments where it’s hard, and I think we’re trying to be there for them in all moments, not just moments of success.


What happens over time, of course, and a lot of athletes (most athletes) find this out is they want to be this or that, but they’re not going to make the professional league. Still, they may have a very rewarding emitter or quasi-professional role. They may become sports psychologists or trainers or whatever.

It’s about focusing on the joy of participating in the sport. Hard, I know, when they’ve got very specific dreams, but ultimately, that’s what you want to be doing. Also, what do you learn in chasing a goal, whether or not it’s achieved?

I guess that’s another point to discuss. Setting goals can come to ones that you know you will tick off: “I’ve done my training this week, I’ve done this, I’ve done that. I’ve done the next thing, ” and those beyond your control. It is really important to teach kids about effort in any area. You focus on what you can do and reach for what’s beyond your control, but you accept it’s ultimately beyond your control. Yeah?


Yes, absolutely. That’s another great mental skill to start learning early, and they work well through the life cycle. It is the ability to identify what we can and can’t control. The tricky part happens when we think we have more control over something than we do. It’s often the case in sports, but yes, it can be as simple as writing things down on paper and trying to gauge yourself, maybe out of ten. Ten is for anything that I think I can guarantee. One, it’s a complete fluke that it happens. How much influence do I think I have over these things?


So, you can have a goal of winning the tennis tournament, but what you need is the mental attitude that what you can do is all your preparation, all your training, all your readiness, your best performance. The goal of winning is what you are reaching for, but you can’t control that. That is a skill that great performers will learn somewhere along the line. And this is arguably one of the most invaluable mental skills for younger performers, correct?




Darren, thanks very, very much. Darren Godwin is with Condor Performance. He’s a performance psychologist with Condor Performance in Australia.

Sport Psychology for Motorsports

‘Sport Psychology for Motorsports’ is a 2023 feature article by Condor Performance’s Darren Godwin. Don’t stop reading if you are not involved in motorsport. It is generally not that hard to work out ways in which these suggestions below might also apply to your sport or performance area.

Sport Psychology for Motorsports: A perspective on the mental aspects of motorsports where fractions of a second make the difference.

Motorsports Are Expensive!

One of the most challenging aspects of motorsports compared to traditional sports is their sheer cost. To give some perspective, an article from Red Bull in 2022 estimated the cost of a single Formula One car to be approximately Fifteen Million Euros. Yep, that’s a lot of cheddar! And we have yet to consider transporting the vehicle, a team of mechanics, tyres, fuel, etc. Of course, this is at the top tier of motorsports, where each piece of the car is custom-made. The components are toiled over by the best engineers. The expense is less drastic for other motorsports, but the principle is still the same.

So, what does this mean for drivers? 

It can create some psychologically challenging dynamics often missing from other sports. For example, concerns about damaging the car, potential severe injury from crashing, not having a spot on a team or even your season coming to an early end. This can lead to mental pressures where drivers go slower than they want in a sport where they must do the opposite.

In this article, we will review some suggestions for how to get ahead of this and be as prepared as possible. As always with our Sport Specific Sport Psychology (SSSP) articles, don’t stop reading if you are not involved in motorsport. It is generally not that hard to work out ways in which these suggestions might also apply, at least in part, to your sport or performance area.

Stress Is Normal, Very Normal

If you are a regular reader of our articles, you should be familiar with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). One of the underpinnings of ACT is the research around the function of our biology. Humans have a stress response to potential threats, and our physiological response prepares us for this. Examples include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, sweating, and higher alertness. All of this prepares and helps us to stay alive in the face of danger and might also give you an edge in competition.

The internal combustion engine was invented in 1872, so our biology has existed for much longer than motorsport. This means that even though we might be accustomed to being in a car or on a bike, there is a high likelihood that racers will still have a stress response. This is entirely normal. Stressors can be more extreme in motorsports as the vehicle is designed for speed more than comfort. Loud engine noises, chattering chassis, vibrations, tyre squealing, and a super results-focused industry combine to make motorsports a highly stressful pursuit.

Part of the challenge drivers face is the discomfort of this stress before a race. This is a normal human response, so we are looking to drop the struggle with our own experience and shift our focus towards what is essential to do in this moment. If you’d like to read more about this concept, often called Psychological Flexibility, then a great place to start is with these two articles. This one is by the founder of Condor Performance, Gareth, and/or this one from my colleague Madalyn Incognito.

Limited Seat Time

Another implication of the financial challenges drivers face is that they can not practice on a track as often as they would like. Part of sport psychology for motorsports is helping drivers become as prepared and skilled as possible for the demands of their tasks. Physical practice is the most common process for developing skills and confidence. In traditional sports such as soccer, taking a ball to the park to practice dribbling is easy. This is where we look to enhance practice on and off the track with a heavy dose of creativity.

In this instance, try to see the concept of practice as a combination of quality and quantity. One of these is more important than the other. There is not a lot of benefit to increasing the quantity of practice if the quality is poor.

Lots of track time is limited in motorsport, so evaluating the quality of the time you get is essential. The rule of thumb is to be as specific and intentional as possible. Try to predetermine what the highest quality practice might look like for you. Here are some examples. A concerted effort towards hitting break markers, the timing of getting on the throttle after the corner and progressive throttle shaping. Feel free to share your ideas below in the comments👇.

Simulator (‘Sim’) Practice

Add it to the list of expenses 😬, but getting access to a simulator is one of the best ways to increase practice and does not come with as many ongoing costs such as petrol, tyres and travel. Depending on your simulation software and rig, you can get access to many cars and multiple tracks, which would be incredibly difficult to do physically on a regular basis.

The principles above still apply. Ideally, plan and organise your sim practice to ensure high quality. The sim’s convenience can lead to many factors that decrease practice quality. Simply booting it up and trying to put up fast lap times is not intentional or specific.

Going further into enhancing your practice, you may also want to consider doing a full race rehearsal, in other words, treating a part of your day like you would the actual race. Go through your pre-race routine the way you usually would. Warm up the same way, do qualifying laps and then the race. Rehearsal is a great way to familiarise ourselves with the entire event process and is often overlooked. 

Time in the sim is not identical to the real thing. There are limitations to what you can practice. For example, we can feel the G-Force with other senses when physically driving. If you want to practice handling the car when it breaks traction, the simulator might not be the best tool for that particular practice.


There is a form of practice that is entirely free and beneficial for all motorsports competitors.  Visualisation or mental imagery is recreating the performance or experience as closely as possible in our mind.

Visualisation is an incredibly accessible and scientifically valid form of practice. It can be easily added to a practice schedule, and even better, it can be helpful as backup practice if an uncontrollable circumstance interrupts your initial plans.

At a high level, the idea is to mentally drive a lap as you would in practice or a race. The focus is on your driving from your perspective, such as the steering, brake, and throttle inputs. One way to enhance the quality of your visualisation practice is to try to include some tactile or audio elements. You could try putting on your helmet or gloves while you do this and sit in a spare/backup seat if you have one. Lastly, try to time your visualised lap. With practice, experienced drivers can visualise their lap within a second or three of their actual lap times!


Motorsports competitors have some challenging mental aspects of their performance, so sport psychology for motorsports can offer some very beneficial enhancements. If this article piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about our range of Sport Psychology Services, please fill out the contact form here, and one of us (it might even be me 😁) will be in touch.

Esports Psychology

Esports Psychology is a 2023 article by Condor Performance’s Darren Godwin on the mental side of electronic sports.

The Mental Side of Electronic Sports

eSports is short for electronic sports.

Not an esports fan or competitor? Fear not as this article contains psychologically oriented tips and suggestions applicable across many performance domains. You may be surprised at just how much you can learn despite a lack of familiarity with esports.

What Are Esports?

Esports stands for electronic sports. They are essentially competitions between people playing video games. The most common electronic mediums are the personal computer (PC), a game console (Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo), as well as mobile devices. There are a wide variety of communities across each of these platforms that passionately dedicate themselves to their preferred game or games. Just like in actual sports, most competitors have one video game that they focus their attention on mastering.

Most esports competitions follow traditional sporting tournament formats. A lot of the most popular tournaments have open qualifications. This is very appealing to aspiring players as it means very low barriers to entry. On top of this are some massive money prize pools. The PC game, Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), had a total prize pool of just over $40 million US dollars in 2021. It is one of the largest prize pools in eSports and was achieved through the fans and community funding it. For additional context, the next closest in terms of the prize pool was the 2019 Fortnite World Cup which was $30.4 million USD. Other globally competitive video games have ranged between $2-$7 million USD. With these prize pools, competitors are trying to find more ways to improve their abilities. Hence a greater interest in eSports psychology over the last few years.

Both eSports and eSports Psychology are growing at an exponential rate.

Why Are Esports So Appealing?

For starters, video games are inherently enjoyable. They are designed with elements that combine challenge and reward which create positive reinforcement and provoke emotions. Video games are intelligently designed to give players feedback for achieving success. Such as animated celebrations for completing a task and uplifting sound clips paired with each successful event. You work your way through a problem and stumble a few times but then work out your own solution which results in a feeling of triumph. This is an experience that our brains enjoy a lot and so we tend to want to sensation that again.

From a competitive point of view, the two main elements these games provide are skill and a score. One of the earliest video game tournaments was held in 1980 by video game company Atari for the game Space Invaders. This was an individual-based competition where the winner was the person with the highest score.

Since the implementation of the internet, video games have been designed to be played only with other real people in the game. Now that creates an enjoyable experience that we are able to engage in socially with our friends. Esports are designed purely with competitive elements in mind and are very rarely played on your own. Think of it like trying to play tennis with just one person. Hence the new classification of esports for competitive video game titles. It is a seemingly simple recipe, put forward a challenge between two or more people and offer a prize.

Esports Psychology

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Esports do not require any athletic or cardiovascular demands. The physical requirements are more related to fine motor skills with competitors needing to move a device (mouse or joystick) with millimeter precision by the hand and fingertips. This is an extremely similar set of skills to what we have across musicians, snooker, golf putting, and archery to name a few. There’s a lot to be learned from the training methods that have been developed in these sports and performance areas.

Processing Speed

Most of the mental challenges in esports come from higher demands on planning and decision-making. Top competitors tend to develop their visual-spatial and information-processing skills well. This is because they are required to scan through an image on a screen that contains a lot of information which then needs to be translated quickly into a decision. These processing skills are similar to ones required for soccer players, for example, to scan the field for a pass while an opponent is running at them.

There are a lot of similarities between chess and esports with regard to decision-making. Esports can differ by having a much larger amount of data as well as the decision-making taking place at the same time as opposed to turn-taking. To try to illustrate, in DotA 2, there are 5 players on each team. Each player can choose from 123 unique characters to control in one match. These characters then have 4 skills each and can purchase up to 6 items out of a total of 208. The players then actively control their character for an average game length of 40 minutes. You don’t need to make a decision for every combination at any given moment. However, I think it paints a picture of just how much data and situational combinations there are to process.


Given the amount of processing, it makes sense that esports competitors require a lot of focus and attention. Of all the information that’s presented which is the most important to focus on and respond to? Just like for physical sports, competitors can have difficulty on either side of the scale. Some may find it hard to maintain focus and others over-focus. It can be helpful to think of focus as being like the fuel of a vehicle. Step on the accelerator more (higher focus), the more fuel (focus) that’s used.

Tip: for your given title try to understand where the downtime or breaks are between moments that require high focus. Check-in with yourself and see if you have your foot down on the accelerator, you might be using up your focus when you don’t need to.


Just like any other competitor most esports players want to win. And when we care about something along comes our emotions for the ride. Low confidence in our performance, and nervousness playing in front of a crowd for the first time. And maybe most commonly the worry of making a mistake. For esports psychology, the fundamentals are the same but the application might look different. Players will need to develop the capacity to accept those emotions while not having them impact their actions. A great place to start is to develop a reset routine. It can be as small as readjusting a piece of equipment. No matter how nervous or frustrated you might be you will always have the ability to adjust or move the equipment. You can read more about the concept of accepting emotions rather than fighting them here.

Team Unity

The average age of an esports professional in 2023 is between 20 and 26 years of age. More than half of the current titles are team-based and for a lot of competitors, this would be their first experience having to perform within a team. Unlike traditional sports, which have had the better part of the last century to organise themselves into communities and pass along their learnings, esports has yet to establish this structure.

If you are a younger competitor trying to plan your way to professionalism, or you are a parent trying to figure it out, there really aren’t any obvious clubs, teams, communities, or clinics that have an established system to guide these young competitors on what teamwork can look like. If you have any team sport experience, try to imagine what it would be like to only have your own play experience as a form of guidance.

Tip: Due to the demands of esports in terms of focus and decision making these games can make for ideal “cross-training” for competitors of traditional sports looking to target these crucial areas of mental toughness.

Esports and Health

Some of the best esports competitors in the world might be more relatable than you think. Many have enjoyed traditional sports from a young age and due to injury have repurposed their competitive drive into esports. Many of the top competitors understand the importance of taking care of their health and have wonderful physical routines at the foundation of their training. The top esports players look after their mental and physical health by lifting weights at the gym, running, and cycling. They are highly motivated individuals willing to invest their time to improve their performance.

The lack of physical exertion in esports makes it more complicated to have a clearer endpoint for practice. Taking care of your physical health plays a big role in mental performance and if you are looking to improve your mental game, this is a great place to start. Keep in mind that esports titles provide a lot of fun and when we combine that with motivated individuals it can be easy to over-practice. It’s important, therefore, from an esports psychology point of view to take these factors into consideration. From a neuroscience perspective, playing competitive video games with your friends is a very fun and rewarding experience. For a young mind, why wouldn’t you want to keep having fun?

Moderation Is Important

Moderation is important, too much of anything can be harmful. This is definitely a situation where we want to consider quality over quantity. If you are aspiring to improve your ability, start by looking at your health routines and try to understand what 1 – 2 hours of extremely high-quality practice might look like.

At Condor Performance we are really fortunate to have two psychologists who specialise in working with esports competitors and teams. Darren Godwin (author) is a Melbourne-based provisional psychologist whilst fellow Victorian Dr. Michelle Pain is hugely experienced in this domain as well. If you would like further information about working with either of these exceptional mental coaches please get in touch via our contact us page.

Sport Psychology for Kids

Sport Psychology for Kids, by provisional psychologist Darren Godwin based in Melbourne, looks at how traditional sport psychology methods are adapted for younger performers and athletes.

Sport Psychology for Kids
Let’s Talk About Sport Psychology for Kids and Teenagers.


As one of the provisional psychologists at Condor Performance, I have found myself working with a number of younger athletes and competitors. Basically, a healthy chunk of nine to fourteen-year-olds. It has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the concept of Sport Psychology for Kids. In other words, the way in which traditional sport psychology methodology is adapted for much younger clients. I hope, in sharing some of these reflections that I can provide some general tips to parents/carers/coaches of younger athletes and performers. This is not to imply that the suggestions are not applicable to all athletes. It’s just that they are particularly pertinent to those yet to hit puberty.

Why Do Kids Play Sport?

There are many reasons why children play sports. But to keep it simple the biggest motivations are exercise, social, mastery, and fun. Or in other words, they want to be liked, be good at stuff and have fun and get fit at the same. Sport, especially competitive sport, is unique in providing this irresistible cocktail.

They have begun school and are starting to absorb a lot of information. They want to show others that they are capable. In many ways, sports contests are the first time they will have the ability to show their skills whilst being directly observed by their friends and family. It’s hard to get a standing ovation when you ace a maths test. But scoring the winning try/runs/goal and the cheer from the sidelines can be a huge incentive to try and do it again.

The Fun Factor

The Fun Factor is also a major part of sport psychology for kids. Fun is a subjective term and it can be difficult to understand this from the child’s perspective at times. In simple behavioural terms, if something is fun we’re more likely to want to do it again.

What I try to encourage caretakers to consider is the main driver of the child’s experience of fun and development from their point of view. As adults, it is very easy for us to impart what we want and miss what the child is telling us they’re trying to accomplish. This is important because we can easily crumple the child’s sense of fun by over-imposing our values on their training. I’m sure it feels strange to sit down with an eight-year-old and let them help you design some of their training sessions. But you’d be amazed at what happens when you try this.

When the fun goes it is hard to get it back. This typically leads to kids deciding they are not really ‘sporty’ and quitting competitive sports altogether. For those interested, here’s an article and study on why kids play and quit sports (Visek et al., 2015).

What Can We Control?

When you go over a list of things that your attention goes towards during competition, it does not take long before you realise that you can’t control most of them. Burning effort and energy on factors outside of our control is something that kids are especially susceptible to. I do this exercise with young competitors where we write this list out. Most of the time they can accurately identify what is within their control (or influence) and what is not. The hardest part, as is the case with most sport psychology techniques, is applying it in a beneficial way.

So crucial is this mental skill that the younger it can be developed the better. All too often the consequence of this exercise is that the young athlete will have a short list of half a dozen aspects that they have a huge amount of influence on. In our experience as psychologists, it’s rare that these items are the same ones their parents and coaches are telling them to focus on. Hence why one of the cornerstones of great sport psychology for kids is making sure that caregivers and coaches are mentally upskilled as well. This is one of the main reasons why at Condor Performance we allow and often encourage the families of our younger clients to sit in on sessions. You can hear more about this via the answer to this FAQ.

Processes Over Outcomes

A process is a series of actions that can be repeated or have a sequence. Outcomes, on the other hand, are results or the byproduct of some actions. In the context of sport and performance, both training and competitions can have processes and outcomes. Let’s take basketball for example. Training processes could be all the practice shots attempted at the end of squad training. But the number of balls that go through the hoop and any credit you get (or did not get) from the coaches are outcomes. These two are almost the same in an actual competitive basketball match but not exactly. Suddenly in a match, you have a defender who will be trying to actually reduce the number of shots you attempt. So for this process, you might need to be trying to make shots by running hard. Suddenly, the number of shots you get joins the number of points you score in the outcome column.

When I ask young competitors what they enjoy about their sport one common answer is “winning”. It is wonderful to hear this accompanied by a big grin however for kids this is usually the extent of the concept.

Shifting their focus toward the process and away from the outcome is not easy but can pay huge dividends throughout the rest of their sporting career. Imagine how much better placed a 10-year-old is when they learn to become more process orientated and use that for the next 25 years of their career. A ‘win at all cost’ mentality is potentially understandable for highly paid professional athletes. But not for youngsters.

Thinking About Winning

Thinking about winning, or any outcome for that matter does not actually help us achieve that outcome. I know it feels like it does and I know many well-intended adults will tell you as such but it just is not the case. Our attention is better placed on the actions that we need to perform in order to give us a higher probability of that outcome occurring.

Which of these two hypothetical children do you think will fair better in their upcoming soccer/football match? The child who is saying to themselves “I must win, I must play well, I must impress my friends”. Or the child who is reminding themself before kick-off “dribble when in space, spread out and use the whole pitch and run hard, I can rest after the match is over”? A Process Oriented Mindset (POM) will also help children manage their own expectations. They do not need to produce something each week, they just need to aim to give their best effort and let the processes take care of the outcomes. Hmm, that would be a great title for a book (see right)!

Delayed Gratification

In today’s world, it’s very easy to access things that bring us immediate pleasure. Largely thanks to advancements in technology we can buy most things online and have them the next day. We can watch almost any TV show or movie at the press of a button.

Communicating with groups of friends only takes a few seconds in 2022. However, there are still a number of very important human experiences that don’t have short-term solutions. These include the development of meaningful relationships and the mastery of skills.

Delayed gratification is putting off short-term enjoyment for long-term benefits. It is important for young competitors to build an understanding that their improvement will not happen overnight. If they have big goals, they might have to skip watching TV for some practice in the backyard. A much more in-depth article on this subject can be seen here.

The Relationship Between Action And Emotions

Sport provides a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about their emotions. It is very important that we start to teach them that it is okay to experience these emotions. We are all human so our lives will be filled with a full array of feelings. What we are looking to do is model for the child how we act whilst we experience those emotions.

Where we get into trouble is when we view certain emotions as undesirable. We then get into a position where we want to remove ‘the nerves’ for example because they make us uncomfortable. This results in an endless struggle because ultimately we don’t have much influence over our emotions.

We are really looking to create a habit where our actions are not conditioned by our emotions. There are a number of examples of this happening in daily living such as getting up early in the morning to catch a flight or going to school. In those moments our feelings aren’t necessarily positive but our actions are more aligned with what we want to accomplish. What we want to do is help kids increase their capacity to respond to these emotions instead of reacting. Basically, we want to reduce impulsivity as per this recent article by my colleague and supervisor Gareth J. Mole.


Resilience is a very alluring quality. When asked, most people respond by saying they want it or that they want to help their child develop it. We know a lot more about its benefits rather than how to develop it. The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. This implies that the person has to experience something difficult first.

This puts a completely different twist on training. When practice situations are littered with difficulties this is a golden opportunity to develop resilience. The child is essentially practicing accepting the challenges, accepting their emotions, and developing helpful actions that basically equate to recovering quickly.

A wonderful post-match process is reflecting on the performance and writing down what you want to make the focus of your next practice. This reinforces the process over the outcomes, as mentioned above, and gives them a tool to continue developing their skills so that they are better equipped for the next time they meet the challenge.

Do You Want To Get In Touch?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.