Head in the game?

Learn how mindfulness and a growth mindset help us cope with challenge and failure on the sports field and beyond.

Denise talks to John Quinn about teaching mental skills to athletes and students to build the resilience needed for success.



Over the last 20 years, John Quinn has been working with individuals and teams in government, education, and business. John currently works with high performance sports teams, both nationally and internationally, to help them achieve peak potential. He is the Director of Wellbeing & Positive Education at Christ’s College.


The lowdown

In this interview John discusses how he draws on leadership skills, Positive Psychology, Mental Skills Coaching and wellbeing research to improve the work he does with schools and in high performance sport.

Mental Skills training involves equipping athletes and teams with the tools they need to be able to manage themselves on and off the field. This includes the ability to manage failure, expectations, pressure leading up to events, and event performance on the day. Mental skills help manage distractions that negatively impact performance. These tools are transferable from the high-performance arena to daily life.

Mental skills enable great performance in challenging circumstance but developing this resilience takes time and effort. Just as we don’t get fit by going to the gym once, mental skills also need a lot of repetition to become competent. Learning a variety of mental tools to keep ‘sharpened’ means we can use the skills when needed.

The language of teaching mental skills is important. Terminology must be relevant and relatable. Examples of this for athletes includes replacing mindfulness with the phrase ‘combat focus’ and altering growth mindset to ‘performance mindset’. Athletes need to learn that failure is a good thing when it leads to learning.

Creating a safe and supportive environment is vital for learning and progress, whether it be on the field, in the classroom or in the workplace. Positive working relationships reduce the fear of being vulnerable and risking failure, which in turn fosters the development of a growth mindset and perseverance.

School age athletes and teams may not see the value in these mental skills if they haven’t yet experienced a lot of failure. Using the analogy of mental skills being an insurance policy for when things go wrong, can be an effective approach to help young people understand the value of mental skills.


Additional resources

Grab a copy of Dr. Carol Dweck’s book to learn more about growth mindset: https://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Updated-Changing-Fulfil-Potential-ebook/dp/B01M036N60

Watch Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk on Grit