Along with physical conditioning, Trent University’s robust Return to Train protocols are providing student-athletes the opportunity to hone transferable skills including focus, engagement and performing under pressure.
Open, Aware and Engaged (OAE), a new program that aims to optimize student-athletes’ training and game performance, was co-developed by Excalibur women’s rugby team captain Lauryn Bons and Psychology associate professor Dr. Fergal O’Hagan.
Registered varsity-athletes participate via four 90-minute Zoom sessions to build their attention and poise with discussion around topics such as performance anxiety, goal setting, and athletic identity.
“We want to take a whole person approach with student-athletes,” says Professor O’Hagan, the mental skills coach for the Excalibur men’s rugby team.
Teaching student-athletes to perform effectively under pressure
“Attention and poise are two key qualities that athletes need when they’re in competition. Coaches encourage focus in a pretty loud way but they don’t teach athletes how to focus. This program gives student-athletes the skills to build their focus, to build their attention. It helps them bring themselves to a centered place where they can focus on the task in front of them and perform effectively when under pressure.”
According to Ms. Bons, the benefits of the program extend well beyond the realm of athletics.
“Student-athletes are learning skills that are applicable in many different ways…skills that can be applied to not only athletics but also their academics, their well-being and their relationships,” says Ms. Bons, a fourth-year Psychology student. “It’s engaging athletes in a different way. It foster relationships and builds the community. That’s what the Excalibur program aims to do and has been successful at. This is adding to that.”
The first session saw student-athletes “super engaged,” adds Ms. Bons. “They’re excited for the impact this could have on their athletic performance, and happy to be interacting with each other and have this mental component added to their program.”
Both Ms. Bons and Prof. O’Hagan are hopeful OAE will be a regular offering moving forward, with Prof. O’Hagan noting there’s an opportunity “to work on more advanced mental skills.”
“If you’re not building mental performance skills you’re going to fall behind those athletes who are,” says Ms. Bons, adding “I hope this can be maintained…it has a ton of value.”