Research on the psychological characteristics of elite performers has primarily focused on Olympic and World champions; however, the mental attributes of young developing and talented athletes have received less attention. Addressing this, the current study had two aims: (a) to examine the perceptions held by youth athletes regarding the mental qualities they need to facilitate their development and (b) to investigate the mental techniques used by these athletes. Forty-three male youth rugby players participated in a series of focus groups. Inductive content analysis revealed 11 categories of psychological qualities, including enjoyment, responsibility, adaptability, squad spirit, self-aware learner, determination, confidence, optimal performance state, game sense, attentional focus, and mental toughness. Techniques employed included personal performance strategies, refection on action, taking advantage of a supportive climate, and team-based strategies. Findings are discussed in relation to their implications for mental skills training program development and evaluation in the case of youth elite team sport athletes.
The authors are with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK.