“Self-awareness is an integral part to positive athlete development.”
Coaching and successfully developing elite athletes requires dedicated attention to mental skills development – self-awareness, self-belief, identity and resiliency, skills which benefit athletes in competition and in life. Kyle McDonald, Mental Performance Coach, General Manager, and Performance Director of the Weyburn Gold Wings, shares the process of mental skills development he uses with this team. Including what it looks like on a day to day basis, how it’s fueled by self-awareness, and how it’s the route to a winning team culture.
In addition to his consultancy, Competitive Will Performance Consulting, Kyle works with the Weyburn Gold Wings AAA Female U18 Ice Hockey team, which competes for provincial, regional and Canadian national championships. Based in Saskatchewan, the Weyburn Gold Wings are previous national champions in the prestigious league U18 athletes. Located in central Canada, with the United States border to its South, the province is renowned for its beautiful landscapes – grasslands and fantastic sunsets – and producing phenomenal ice hockey players.
Let’s backtrack to 2013 when Kyle previously served as Mental Performance Coach for the Weyburn Gold Wings alongside Head Coach, Chad Kish. The two worked together with the team for three years which included hosting and winning the national championship. After a few years away and a new opportunity to establish a new culture, in 2018 he reunited with Coach Kish, and his work with the team grew into the multi-dimensional position he holds today.
Kyle knows that mental skills are a critical pillar of performance – they are as foundational as physical development, technique and tactics. Plus, his PhD research has shown him that having the ability to manage yourself in stressful situations is one of the key differentiators of elite athletes. Accordingly, Kyle discusses his approach with younger athletes, “I think conversations about stress and the fact that we are all going to have to work our way through adversity as individuals and as a team is part of the process. I think it is easy to disengage when stress arises and that’s because they (the athletes involved) probably have not created the preparation skills, self-awareness and identity in their mental development.”
Kyle explains the way the elements of mental skills development work together, “With younger athletes I think self-awareness is an integral part to positive youth development. It’s the foundation of identity and identity is crucial in resilience and working through stress as a team. I believe this is the route to confidence, something younger athletes struggle with in my experience. There is a huge process to these preparation and performance skills and it is great to integrate consistently.”
“From a process point of view, we want our athletes to understand performance is difficult and rewarding. We want them to be proud of their identity and what they bring to our team. I don’t think we spend enough time discussing the process of confidence; our program is integrating that communication. We want our program to attack the pillars of performance as individuals and be self-aware of their process to help the team. I believe this is the route to culture. “
Kyle is an accredited Athlete Assessments consultant and uses Athlete Assessments’ AthleteDISC and CoachDISC Profiles to raise self-awareness in both athletes and coaches.
The most valuable thing is the door AthleteDISC Profiles open with athletes. My philosophy revolves around building identity and the assessments open up the path to self-reflection and self-awareness. They show the ‘human’ side of individuals, both athlete and coach.
“Our players and coaching staff have all completed the DISC. We have used it to establish our Leadership PODS… Team presentations will be used to paint the picture of our team and how best our coaches and athletes can communicate to enhance performance. Language is vital in stress and the DISC opens the door to have those discussions. Also, it’s a great starting point to develop self-awareness; something that I think is a key to positive athlete development.”
As part of his role Kyle is involved in player recruitment, development and leadership. He says, “DISC Profiles provide a great connection for our athletes to reflect and gain insight into the makeup of their own identity as well as others on our team. Furthermore, it allows our staff to see the makeup of our team and areas we may need to discuss or fill as we plan our mental performance and environment pillars.”
Kyle details the way he assembles the unique information about each athlete that’s contained in every profile into an approach which differentiates his team from their competitors. He works on individual players and team strengths in preparation for major competitions. He says, “I think a lot of interventions are used in times of uncertainty or doubt but (its beneficial to us to have) awareness in our own strengths and conversations as a group about our strengths = identity. There is always time to better ourselves but when we compete we want our language to be strengths focused.”
In addition, he says,
We are really stressing the concept of accountability through communication, self-reflection and self-awareness. We hope that builds individual identity and ultimately culture.
Kyle emphasizes the need to make time for mental skill development as part of athletes’ regular schedule, “I think we make time for the things that are important. As an organization we have put a premium on this pillar of athlete development. I think by us investing time and resources it is an expectation our athletes do the same. One main area of importance is that I approach mental performance as a skill and like any other skill, we need to develop and refine it through our daily training environment.”
“I think establishing standards in technical/tactical aspects, mental, off ice conditioning and environment/leadership pillars and listening to our players on their perspectives of those standards is crucial. Their involvement leads to and creates some great actions and behaviors.”
What makes his team unique? Kyle says,
I think every team is special. We have 18 different perspectives and need to create performance strategies for each of those individuals to help our team. Every team’s route to success is different and it is great to be a part of theirs.
Kyle McDonald is the principal consultant and owner of Competitive Will Performance Consulting, and lead mental performance consultant with Hockey Canada’s National Para Team. Currently he is a PhD Candidate at University of Regina and his post-graduate studies focus on the advanced knowledge of sport psychology principles. He has an MSc Sport Psychology, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan where his studies focused on the thesis of coaching and hardiness. He conducted research and analysis into the hardiness of elite coaches and how hardiness is the foundation of competitive environments.
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Why would you leave a gap in your game preparation, asks Kyle McDonald, Mental Performance Consultant. He questions why some athletes and coaches have a plan for physical and technical development, but not for mental growth and mastery. Kyle prepares some of Canada’s best and most competitive ice hockey athletes and teams for their professional, Olympic and Paralympic campaigns. In this article he reveals the impact of stress and pressure resilience on performance and underscores it as the #1 differentiator between elite athletes. He details the essential precursor to mental skills acquisition, the link between hardiness and high performance and the ideal age to start mental skills training.
Every time an athlete, coach or team strives to better their performance, they analyze themselves in action, identify areas to improve upon and make plans for change...