From developing high school athletes to seasoned collegiate competitors, every day presents an opportunity for growth—not just physically but mentally and emotionally. As a coach with decades of experience and a father of collegiate athletes, I've seen (and missed!) the profound impact of mental health and toughness on an athlete's career. Your body is telling you something seven days a week. This continuous feedback loop between mind and body underscores the importance of self-awareness and ownership—fundamental principles every athlete can control and harness for improvement. 

This principle is at the heart of XA Score, an evolving platform developed to address mental health head-on and equip athletes with the foundational tools to manage their well-being effectively. Our evidence is that 100% of XA Score programs have identified and addressed mental health and wellness concerns. Your athletes need an outlet to let you know how they are doing. They want you to know!

The Contemporary Challenge

In our evolving athletic landscape, the pivotal role of a coach is not just in physical training but in guiding athletes through adversity—this is where true mental resilience is built. As a coach, I've come to see guiding athletes through adversity is still the most critical responsibility in our role. The surge in mental health awareness has brought much-needed attention to athletes' psychological well-being. However, this focus must be balanced with the cultivation of mental toughness, preparing athletes to tackle the pressures of competition and life.

Shared Opinion

Many of us are looking for ways to train resilience. Abigail Shrier's book Bad Therapy presents a thought-provoking exploration of mental health dynamics in the younger generation, touching upon the increased focus on feelings and emotions. While the book delves into broader societal implications, it raises pertinent points that resonate with the coaching ethos.

Others talk about it in terms of “doing hard things” and how that skill can be developed and strengthened in everyone. Athletes must take concrete steps to understand their readiness and what builds it. In this effort, mental toughness is looked at as resilience, which is a component of mental health.

The overarching factor is the role of sleep. A well-rested athlete is better poised to exercise willpower and tenacity, which are essential for fending off detrimental habits and making informed decisions. Dr. Huberman discusses this in his insightful podcast, explaining how quality sleep directly impacts our reservoirs of willpower.

Your Body's Message: Listen and Act

A pivotal element in an athlete's journey is cultivating an intimate awareness of their mind and body. While coaches, trainers, and medical professionals provide invaluable guidance, their insights have boundaries. Ultimately, the athlete must take full responsibility for their health and well-being. This imperative extends beyond mere vigilance of transient feelings or physical nuances. Instead, it calls for athletes to sharpen their self-awareness, recognizing and interpreting their body's signals related to training, recovery, and daily routines. This doesn't mean obsessing over every minor fluctuation in mood or physical sensation but rather developing a keen sense of what their bodies need and how they respond to training, rest, and daily habits:

  • Sleep: The cornerstone of recovery, where both quality and quantity matter. Developing a sleep culture within a team can significantly improve performance and well-being. 
  • Nutrition and Hydration: Fueling and refueling the body appropriately supports physical exertion and impacts mental clarity and emotional stability.
  • Recovery: Active and passive recovery strategies should be tailored to each athlete's specific needs, promoting resilience to both physical and mental stress.

XA Score uses a 10-second daily check-in to have program-wide conversations that facilitate the athlete’s awareness and the coach's ability to monitor. Simple metrics are delivered right to your hand. The four pillars of XA Score Readiness are connected: Sleep, Nutrition, Hydration, and Recovery. 

These daily habits, controlled mainly by the athlete, can be used by coaches to guide athletes toward greater self-awareness and ownership of their health. These pillars are fundamental to an athlete's performance and mental well-being. Through daily check-ins, XA Score encourages athletes to connect their daily habits with their feelings, soreness, and weight scores, motivating them to take proactive steps towards their wellness.

Taking Ownership and Building Resilience

The objective is clear: coaches must navigate the fine line between acknowledging mental health issues and encouraging mental toughness. By providing a structured framework for athletes to engage in self-awareness and self-care, programs can instill resilience while addressing the root causes of mental health challenges.

Ownership of one's health and performance begins with recognizing that you have the power to influence your outcomes through daily habits. This empowerment is crucial in transitioning from merely being aware of issues to actively addressing them.

  • Self-Awareness: Encourage athletes to become students of their own bodies and minds, understand what works best for them, recognize when they can push themselves and extend their capabilities, and sense signs of overtraining or mental fatigue.
  • Daily Check-Ins: A daily check-in is a simple yet effective tool for fostering this self-awareness and ownership. Acknowledging how one is doing while reflecting on sleep, nutrition, hydration, and overall feeling can help athletes connect the dots between their daily habits and their performance.

In navigating the delicate balance between acknowledging mental health concerns and fostering mental toughness, it's crucial for coaches to adopt a nuanced approach. When athletes share their struggles, our response can set the tone for their path forward. It's about striking the right balance—validating their experiences while also emphasizing the capacity for resilience and action.

Here's a framework for how coaches can constructively respond in such scenarios:

  • Acknowledgment and Support: "I hear you, and I understand what you're going through is challenging. It's important to me, and we will address this together to find the support you need."
  • Encouragement to Engage: "While we navigate this, let's also focus on the work ahead of us today. Engaging in our routine can be a step forward. It's about taking control where we can and contributing to our collective goals."

This approach doesn't minimize the athlete's concerns but rather integrates them into a broader context of empowerment and progress. It reflects a commitment to the athlete's immediate well-being and long-term growth and resilience. The action of moving forward with tasks at hand—whether practice, training, or preparation—serves as a tangible step toward overcoming adversity. It's a way to instill a sense of accomplishment and to reinforce the athlete's ability to face challenges head-on, bolstering their mental toughness and resilience.

Proactive Engagement Through XA Score

XA Score revolutionizes how coaches interact with and support their athletes. 64% of our programs identify mental wellness concerns within the first week of implementation, with 73% acknowledging they would only have recognized these issues with XA Score. This proactive engagement significantly impacts rapport, morale, and overall team culture. It's not just about performance metrics; it's about understanding and responding to the human element in sports. By identifying early signs of stress, fatigue, or disengagement through daily check-ins, coaches can address issues before they escalate. 

At the same time, you’ll know the days when they can lean in and expect more. Knowing when your athletes are coaching and teaching around sleep, nutrition, hydration, and recovery is a sign of a strengthening culture and that you can get more out of today’s opportunity. This real-time feedback fosters a culture of care where athletes' well-being is always front and center. This builds rapport, improves connection, and earns trust.

Furthermore, XA Score's comprehensive analysis goes beyond traditional metrics, offering insights into athletes' readiness, sleep patterns, and weight fluctuations. This depth of understanding allows coaches to anticipate challenges and intervene with tailored support, promoting a healthier, more resilient team dynamic.

Engagement – The Foundation of Retention (Based on Learning from Leading Companies)

Drawing parallels from leading companies' strategies on employee engagement, we recognize the power of direct, meaningful interactions in fostering loyalty and commitment. In athletics, this translates to a coach's ability to connect with athletes beyond practice, understanding their individual needs and aspirations. Just as companies like Tesla have demonstrated the value of engagement in reducing turnover, athletic programs can apply similar principles to nurture a sense of belonging and purpose among athletes.

Implementing a Holistic Coaching Approach

The journey to balancing mental health and toughness begins with emphasizing XA Score's four pillars—Sleep, Nutrition, Hydration, and Recovery. These areas represent controllable factors significantly impacting an athlete's performance and well-being. Encouraging athletes to self-monitor and reflect on these aspects fosters a proactive mindset, enabling them to take charge of their health and performance.

Practical Coaching Recommendations

As coaches, our role extends beyond training athletes for competition. We are mentors, guiding our athletes through challenges and helping them build the resilience necessary to face adversity. This responsibility, rooted in years of coaching and personal investment in young athletes, has played a significant role in developing XA Score:

  • Establish Clear Communication: We strive to cultivate an environment where open dialogue about physical and mental well-being is standard. XA Score amplifies this by ensuring athletes have a direct line to express their daily states, enhancing transparency and trust.
  • Educate and Empower: It's crucial to arm athletes with the knowledge and autonomy to manage their well-being proactively. XA Score supports this by providing actionable insights on sleep, nutrition, hydration, and recovery, empowering athletes to make informed decisions about their health.
  • Promote a Culture of Ownership: Encouraging athletes to take charge of their health is foundational. XA Score facilitates this by integrating daily check-ins into their routine, fostering a habit of self-assessment and reflection that’s critical for personal growth and development.
  • Model Resilience: We guide athletes to face challenges with determination, demonstrating resilience through our actions and attitudes. XA Score complements this by offering a structured framework for acknowledging difficulties while focusing on immediate responsibilities and collective goals.

XA Score isn't just a tool; it's a daily touchstone that transforms the athlete-coach dynamic, enabling early identification of potential challenges. This proactive engagement allows for timely intervention, ensuring athletes don't just feel heard but are actively supported in navigating their journey. By marrying the immediacy of XA Score's insights with a steadfast commitment to our athletes' growth, we create a resilient, informed, and cohesive team ready to tackle any challenge.

This method, grounded in action and supported by technology, aligns perfectly with the principles highlighted in "Bad Therapy." Instead of dwelling on problems, we empower athletes with the strategies and support necessary to build resilience and take control of their journey, affirming that facing adversity together is the hallmark of a championship team.


Developing mental toughness and resilience in athletics isn't about ignoring mental health concerns; it's about integrating practical, action-based solutions that address the root causes of stress and anxiety. XA Score, through its emphasis on self-awareness, ownership, and the actionable feedback of daily check-ins, provides a framework for athletes and coaches to transform talk into tangible results. In doing so, we're not only preparing athletes for competition but also equipping them with the life skills necessary for long-term success and well-being.

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