By Madisen Carter
Orlando Magic's Mental Performance Coach, Mike Franco, has been in the sports psychology field since 2014 and has been a part of three different professional sports organizations helping athletes become more confident and comfortable within their game. He has the main goal of “help[ing] others create a thriving mindset that can benefit them in the game and also in the transitions of life.”
Franco believes mental training is important because it is a skill set that an athlete can add to their game that will only make them better. When an athlete mentally trains, it helps them trust and feel confident in their basketball skills, such as ball handling or shooting, when they are in competition or a game. Mental training can help with the pressure on an athlete as well as all the distractions that may come their way.
“A lot of these big victories you have with your mindset, you know, being in the moment being focused, moving on to the next play, people aren't always going to notice that, but you will. You'll feel it and you'll feel the shift come,” Franco said. “So that's where I think the subtleties of the mental game is why it's important to try, but on the way, a lot of people that don't do it don't fully grasp the power of it unless [they] actually do it. It's a very personalized thing.”
Prior to becoming the Mental Performance Coach for the Magic, Franco was a Mental Skills Coach for the Dallas Mavericks and a Major League Mental Skills Coach for the Texas Rangers. Franco said building relationships with the players and getting to know them as people first before athletes helps build trust and helps him do his work as the mental training is highly personalized.
Once Franco knows the ins and outs of an athlete, he will then be able to go through the mental training successfully. The mental training can vary and include meditation, self talk, visualization, and breathing. With these tools, athletes can remind themselves how they want to show up in a game as well as use them during a game when they find moments to refocus.
“It could be at halftime, or if you get subbed out [and] you're on the bench for a little bit and just kind of taking a second to use those tools that you practice in the morning and go again and use them in competition,” Franco said. “You know it sounds easy to do, but when [athletes are] in the moment it's hard. But showing up fully as how you want to be that day, [say] if you're an aggressive player, always reminding yourself that [you are] aggressive, assertive, [and] confident, that helps you know how to show up every single day. “
Back in July, Franco visited the Unlimited Potential Basketball Training Facility, and spoke to a group of 5th-8th graders about mental training and the importance of it. He emphasized how great players in the NBA such as Stephen Curry, Luka Dončić, and Klay Thompson are really good at going on to the next play because of their mental game and the time they put into their mental training.
“I think the earlier you start, the better because you just get more reps in with it… So since you started this training, as a kid, you're just gonna be more and more well versed in knowing when to take a good deep breath, or how to look at failure, how to look at having success and what that means, and overcoming adversity,” Franco said. “These are all things that you can practice and have experiences with and you know, it's not gonna always be easy, but the sooner you begin, the better you get [at it.”]
With mental training, it takes constant practice. Some days it can come easy, some days it may be more difficult, but that is okay because with any type of skill, it takes time to master. As a Mental Training Coach guiding athletes in their practices, Franco takes a lot of pride and joy in what he does and he enjoys being able to give people the tools to help their day to day lives and help them grow as a person.
“What really satisfies me is just seeing people happier in their life and being able to overcome certain challenges that they have, whether it's on a court or being able to use these tools in life. I think everything is somewhat connected. If you are much happier as a person, if you are much more fulfilled in your life, I think you are going to play better,” Franco said.