Today's blog was written by Bill Matthews. Bill is a family therapist and a Play Like a Champion trainer in the Detroit area.
Why High School Athletes Should Become Journalers
No, I’m not suggesting that all middle and high school athletes give up their sports to become the next Mitch Albom, John Feinstein, or Ken Rosenthal. This is about helping your athletes develop their brains in the same way you help them develop their bodies and their physical skills. Richard Kent, PhD, a professor at the University of Maine and the director emeritus of the Maine Writing Project, has done extensive research on the effectiveness of journaling as a learning tool for athletes. Kent is also the author of many books, including Writing on the Bus: Using Athletic Team Notebooks and Journals to Advance Learning and Performance in Sports and The Athlete’s Workbook: A Season of Sports and Reflection. He’s also creator of the website, www.writingathletes.com. Kent states:
“As learning tools, notebooks and journals serve as a place for athletes to analyze and reflect. They engage seniors and first-year students, all-stars and benchwarmers—in different ways. And that difference is the beauty of such a learning activity. In terms of learning, player development, and communication, writing has the potential to offer a powerful difference for teams and athletes.”
He is quick to point out that champion athletes such as Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, baseball’s Carlos Delgado, along with the Duke University Women’s Basketball Team and Gonzaga University Women’s Soccer Team all use journaling and team notebooks on a regular basis to help improve individual and team performance.
If you understand how the adolescent brain works, it’s easy to see how journaling can help young athletes’ brains grow. Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt, authors of The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults write:
“The brain of an adolescent is nothing short of a paradox. It has an over-abundance of gray matter (the neurons that form the basic building blocks of the brain) and an under-supply of white matter (the connective wiring that helps information flow efficiently from one part of the brain to another) – which is why the teenage brain is almost like a brand-new Ferrari. It’s primed and pumped, but it hasn’t been road tested yet. In other words, it’s all revved up but doesn’t know where to go.”
This explains why, when you ask a typical adolescent why he/she just did what they did, you’ll most likely get the response (drum roll please), “I don’t knowwwww.” The prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the mid-twenties. Journaling helps develop this part of the brain the same way weight room sessions help develop the body and practices help develop physical skills. In effect, you start teaching that Ferrari brain how to stay within the speed limit and follow the road signs. Kent’s writingathletes.com has numerous examples of pre-, post- and in-season journal activities and logs. If you want to “test drive” journaling yourself, here are 25 prompts you can try out with your athletes.And remember- it’s the thought process and the quality of the writing, not the quantity that counts!