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Chelsea: Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. Welcome back to the Passion for Dance podcast where we discuss mindset, motivation, and resilience strategies you need to be a successful dancer. Everything I talk about falls within the larger category of mental toughness, but how do you know if you’re mentally tough? Well, if you’ve ever set goals for yourself at the beginning of the season and followed through or calmed yourself down right before a high-pressure performance, then you may be a mentally tough person.
If you've ever talked to your dancers about taking the floor with confidence or using visualization before a competition, you probably understand the importance of mental skills training, but do you have any beliefs about mental toughness that are holding you back from your personal best? There is some bad information out there, so today, I’m gonna address four myths about mental toughness that I have heard around the internet, on social media, when I talk to dance educators, and that I’ve seen in workshops. I don’t want anything holding you back, so let’s make sure these four false beliefs aren't getting in the way.
[Motivational Intro Music]
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
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If you've ever felt helpless watching a dancer consistently miss a skill you know she’s capable of, then you understand how important mental toughness is for dancers. If you've ever spent all year training your routine only to have one big mistake ruin your chance at a championship, you know what it feels like to wish you had done more to prepare your dancers mentally. Believe me, I’ve been there with both of those. In my experience, there are four major myths that keep coaches from implementing mental toughness training with their team, even when they know it will be the difference in the team’s success.
I’ve been talking about mental toughness for years now and teaching this with dancers, and I used to have to convince them that it was worth your time to focus on mental skills during your season. To be honest, I don't really have that roadblock anymore. I don't have to convince people it’s worth it. Many people are buying in. They understand that training mental skills is important. But yet, they still don't do it. Why not? Well, I think there are four common false beliefs, misinformation, myths out there that hold teachers back from training their dancers in mental skills.
So listen in. See if any of these fit you because you are capable of helping your dancers reach their peak performance, you're capable of mental toughness training.
First Myth: You Either Have Mental Toughness or You Don't – 3:00
Myth one is that mental toughness is something you either have or you don't. Many coaches notice that some athletes are naturally more resilient to failure or naturally more calm under pressure, and that leads them to believe that their dancers are either mentally tough or not. Well, there are some personality traits that make resilience easier and anxiety less likely. Mental toughness is not an inherited trait that you either have or you don't. It may take more time for some to learn mental skills compared to others, but it is absolutely trainable.
The human brain can adapt and change. It’s a phenomenon psychologists call neuroplasticity. It means your brain can learn and revise its strategies, even in adulthood. So how do you train your brain for mental toughness? Well, it’s a little complicated. But basically, you learn specific strategies to help you work through unhelpful thoughts, control your emotions, understand yourself better, and regulate your physical arousal. That control allows you to be focused and dialed in during competition so that you're able to reach your personal peak performance.
Second Myth: Mental Toughness is About the Mind – 4:10
Myth number two is that mental toughness is about the mind. “But I’m a dance teacher. I am trained to teach athletes their physical skills. I can't do the mental.” Well, mental toughness is, yes, a mental skill, but it’s not just about the mind. A lot of the power of mental toughness training is in that mind/body connection that it creates.
So let’s take anxiety control, for example. When your mind is relaxed, your muscles are relaxed. But similarly, if your body is tense, your mind is also probably full of unhelpful thoughts. Your mind and your work in tandem and they influence each other. Even if you're only comfortable coaching physical skills, you can teach dancers to use their body to train their mind to relax. Then when you get better at controlling the body to mind connection, you may feel more comfortable and can learn how to start with your thoughts and control your mind in order to calm your body.
It goes both directions, but start with the physical, something like your breath. Something as simple as deep breaths is in your control and you're using your body to then control your mind, and then you kind of work your way up until you can go both directions. Remember the neuroplasticity I was talking about before, as a coach, your brain is also capable of learning and growing. Just as you once learned how to do a pirouette or how to improve your flexibility, you can learn how to improve your own mental toughness and how to teach it to your dancers.
Third Myth: Mentally Tough People are Also Super Competitive – 5:43
Myth number three is that mentally tough people are focused on the winning and the outcome. The myth that people who are mentally tough are also really competitive. It’s just not always true. Mentally tough dancers are definitely focused on a clear goal in the future, but they're often more optimistic, future-focused, and driven, but that doesn't mean it’s about winning or getting that championship ring. In fact, mentally tough athletes are actually exceptionally good at staying focused in the moment and not getting caught up in the future and the pressure to win.
Coaches who teach mental toughness help dancers focus on mastery, learning a new skill, taking a challenge head on as an exciting adventure. Mentally tough dancers have a goal in mind and might visualize a future with their name announced as a champion, but they learn to find the fun in the journey. When you're having fun, the win is more likely to happen. So mentally tough dancers actually train to not think about the outcome and focus on the process instead.
Fourth Myth: Mental Toughness Training is a Sign of a Weak Athlete – 6:48
Myth number four is that mental toughness training is a sign of a weak athlete. “If you have to focus on mental toughness, you are weak.” I’ve still heard this over and over again from athletes and coaches out there that mental toughness training is only if dancers have high anxiety or they find themselves frozen with fear or only for those dancers who can't break through to the top and they’ve reached a plateau. In reality, mental toughness training is for everyone regardless of skill level, competitive experience, and future goal. Mental toughness training is a chance to improve your skill set. It’s simply a way to advance and showcase the physical skills you've spent so many years training.
Think of mental toughness training as an essential piece of the puzzle. No matter what level you're at, you always want to perform your best, and mental toughness makes that possible. If you train those mental skills, your technique will also be enhanced, and you'll be able to showcase it when it matters.
All right, so think about these myths. Did any of them click for you? The belief that you either have it or you don't, “Nope, everybody can train for it.” Or the belief that you as a coach don't know how to do it, you can have your own growth mindset and learn how to teach it. Or the myth that it means you're only focused on winning, and that’s actually the opposite. It’s about the process. Or the myth that the need for mental toughness training is a sign of weakness. If you've ever had that fleeting thought or maybe even one of those where you're like, “Yep, I definitely still do that,” or, “I know I used to do that.” Take this time as your own little nudge to look at this differently. Take this maybe as your own motivation to implement some mental skills, to take some baby steps. Some of the easiest ones to start with, as I said, are just learning deep breaths or even goal setting.
If you want to take that first step, goal setting is an easy way to do that. So if you want to try, I have created a little cheat sheet. There are five goal-setting rookie mistakes and how to avoid them. It can help you design your best goal-setting strategy for your team. You can grab a copy at www.chelseapierotti.com/goals. I’ll have the link in the show notes as well. If you're nervous about getting started with mental skills or don't know where to start, good goal setting is an easy baby step to get familiar with it and see how it feels.
So cheers to reaching all your goals this year, and as always, thank you for listening. Keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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