Mindset training a key component in youth program

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Tera Mathis works with Jacob Schellhorn, one of the kids she coaches through her 365 Strong Youth Program. Through the program, Mathis helps kids become stronger and better conditioned for sports, learn proper movement mechanics and create foundational movement patterns, develop a dynamic growth mindset and practice better nutritional habits. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Here, Abby Schellhorn works on some conditioning exercises. The program is offered three days each week, with Mondays focusing on strength, Wednesdays on conditioning and Fridays on speed, agility and hand-eye coordination. At the start of each class, participants also devote 10 minutes to mindset training and nutrition work.

Jacob Schellhorn said his time training with Tera Mathis has improved his mindset, especially in baseball, where he is a pitcher.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Everyone has encountered a Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer in their life—someone whose pessimism hinders positive thinking. But what do you do when that negativity, anger or even frustration resides inside yourself, threatening to impact sports, school or other aspects of your daily life?

For the past year, Tera Mathis, a personal trainer who leads mindset, movement and nutrition coaching sessions each week in a space at the school, in Monona, has helped area kids try to figure that out.

Mathis, who predominantly coaches adults, said she’s worked with kids on and off over the years, but never formed a specific youth coaching program until last summer. The idea had always been at the back of her mind, however.

“It’s really been on my heart since 2013,” she explained, when one of her younger cousins committed suicide. “I saw the need for mindset training in the area. I wanted [kids] to learn how not to be sucked into negativity, to know they have the power to control their mindset, that it doesn’t have to end in a bad way.”

After the initial session last summer, Mathis began to offer others, with one each quarter during the school year.

“All winter, I had eight to 10 kids,” she said. Half a dozen will participate in the program beginning this week. The program is geared toward middle school-age youth in grades four through eight.

Through the 365 Strong Youth Program, Mathis helps kids become stronger and better conditioned for sports, learn proper movement mechanics and create foundational movement patterns, develop a dynamic growth mindset and practice better nutritional habits.

The program is offered three days each week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

On Mondays, said Mathis, participants work on strength, performing exercises like squats, pushups and pull-ups. 

Wednesdays are devoted to conditioning, as youth work with ropes, tires, sandbags and body weights. 

Fridays include speed and agility, as well as hand-eye coordination. One focus on these days, Mathis noted, is instructing youth on how to jump.

“You’d think it would be automatic,” she said, “but they don’t really know the mechanics.”

Mathis said learning how to properly land is especially important, as that’s when many injuries occur.

The first 10 minutes of each class are devoted to mindset training and nutrition work. The kids bring a notebook and have homework to complete, Mathis said.

On the nutrition side, food is viewed like a stoplight, she explained. Green, representing whole, nutritiously-dense foods, means “go.” Yellow indicates more processed foods, like dairy, peanut butter and applesauce, that should be eaten cautiously. Red foods don’t fuel the body, but are rather a special treat.

Mathis said youth are encouraged to select green and yellow foods to create meal plans with their families.

The goal, she shared, “is for families to eat balanced, nutritiously-dense foods.”

Through this, she added, kids learn how these foods fuel their participation in sports and other activities.

When focusing on mindset, Mathis said kids build out comic book villains: Procrastinator Pete, Angry Allen, Sassy Sally, Comparative Carl, Frustrated Frank and I Can’t Charlie.

“You pick a name and a personality for a villain that’s holding you back in sports, school or life in general,” she said. 

The kids, in turn, build out themselves as superheroes.

“They know they have the power,” Mathis said. “They learn not to let the [villain] take over, to be strong and calm and confident.”

Brother and sister Jacob and Abby Schellhorn have worked with Mathis over the past year. Their mom, Megan, said she’s seen the biggest change in their mindset.

“They’re better able to work through complicated situations,” she said, whether it’s sports or school.

“It’s helped me with my basketball mentality,” Abby noted. “I’m very competitive, so it’s helped me be competitive in a positive way.”

Jacob said the mindset training has been helpful in baseball, particularly when he’s pitching.

“If I walk a guy, I don’t get mad,” he explained. “I say ‘It’s just a game.’”

Making meal plans has also been helpful, Jacob added.

“Once you get in a routine, it’s not that hard,” he said.

Although many kids come to Mathis looking for strength and conditioning help in sports, she said what participants learn goes beyond sports.

“It’s about getting them empowered with the tools that will take them into high school and life,” she shared. “You learn to deal with a crappy day and not let it turn into a crappy week, month or year.”

“Your mind is the most powerful tool,” she quipped. “Everything else follows it.” 

For more information, find “Tera Mathis Coaching” on Facebook.

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