Stefan Mauk's 'The Inner Game' app allows for collaborative and proactive reflection
Almost three years after launching 'The Inner Game' journals, Stefan Mauk has taken another step to ensure young footballers can access tools to improve the mental side of their game. The Fagiano Okayama midfielder has transformed his resources into a phone application that can take reflection and collaboration to the next level for young footballers and their support systems; he spoke to Front Page Football about the exciting new development.
By creating an app that works on all Android and Apple devices, Stefan Mauk has made 'The Inner Game' resources more accessible for young footballers and their clubs. (Instagram: @stefanmauk)
Stefan Mauk took the Australian football community by storm in 2020 when he released 'The Inner Game' journal while playing for Adelaide United. The midfielder was often pictured filling out his journal before matches, and over the next few years, he has been extending the resource to athletes, both professionally and at a grassroots level.
After getting his physical resources into junior clubs and schools, the participants saw the value in the journals. But the majority came back with similar concerns regarding providing feedback to their players. Mauk understood where the concerns came from, and knowing how important receiving timely and high-quality feedback is for a player, he sought to create a digital solution that addressed the issue.
"I felt that if I made the app, I could have it set up so that the coach could actually see how the players are rating themselves. But also giving the coach the ability to rate the players on their individual performance, and that almost eliminates that missing piece of not being able to get feedback," Mauk told FPF.
"As a player, I’ve had very few coaches that give consistent feedback, but the ones that do, it is massive for the player. You know what you need to do and can improve on it. I feel like for junior sport, that is an even bigger concern because coaches are part-time."
Mauk reflected on his experience as a young footballer and how a lack of feedback affected him as a junior and a young professional at Melbourne City trying to break into the first team.
"I didn’t make the Under 12, 13, 14, and 15 state teams, and I never got any feedback from that. There was never, 'You didn’t do this well', it was just, 'You didn’t make the squad', and as a player, that is very disappointing because you want to know what you can do better, what you are doing well, and what you can improve on," Mauk said.
"Then when I got to the professional setup, probably in my first 4-5 years at Melbourne City, it was quite similar as well; sometimes you’d play, sometimes you wouldn’t, but you’d never get an explanation as to what you needed to work on and why you weren’t playing."
Mauk feels his application will help all parties get on the same page, with players able to rate themselves and how a training session went, whilst coaches can provide their reflections with the click of a few buttons on their phones. The midfielder feels it could be a crucial way of eliminating misunderstandings and clarifying to players what they need to work on to achieve their goals.
"For me (as a professional), if I get dropped from a team, I am obviously disappointed, but you build that resilience to be able to handle that. But for kids, if they get cut from the team or told they are not good enough at the end of the year, a lot of them don’t see it coming, and those were some comments I actually had from different parents. I feel this is now something that can be done weekly; the coaches can give feedback to the players, and the players know where they sit," Mauk added.
"I think it will really help junior clubs to give that consistent feedback, and then in the mid-season reviews, when going over the individual player's plans, there is some data to back up and to say, 'We’ve been asking your son or daughter to work on this, they haven’t been doing that so let’s really focus in on that.' I think it will benefit everyone in that aspect."
'The Inner Game' application is available for anyone to download for free on their devices to focus on the mental side of their game. The paid version includes the same features as the original. But it allows clubs to give direct feedback to their players from their devices.
Mauk stressed that he created the application in this way to ensure the costs do not burden young footballers and their families. Instead, they are collected through the clubs, who can then roll out the resource as they see fit.
"Where the cost comes in is when you want your coach, or the club, to be able to give feedback directly to you. If you want to sit down and see a schedule with when games, sessions, and trainings are, if you want to get feedback directly from the club after events like that, that is where there is a cost. But that cost is going to be all on the clubs, so the parents should really never have to pay for it," Mauk explained.
"I hope that is a way where it makes it easier for all players to access it because [when] a club signs up for it, they would hopefully show a commitment and roll it out to everyone. But if they wanted to download the app and track their progress, they are more than welcome to do that."
While the resources are incredibly worthwhile, Mauk has identified the needs of the next generation of young footballers and is adjusting his content accordingly to reach them. The release of the application has seen exercises surrounding mindfulness and visualisation transferred to a platform the next generation is familiar with, making them more accessible and less intrusive.
"I am probably part of one of the last generations that grew up with pen and paper. We did it at school, but for the younger ones, everything is on a laptop and iPad. They are on their phones all the time, so I guess you have to move with the times," Mauk reflected on the changing trends of how children consume content in 2023.
"The benefits of being able to use your phone are massive because you can set notifications on there to set goals before training so it is not forgotten. You can have reflections and notifications to complete them after a session, so overall, I think it is a better product.
"I still like to use the journal, but I think for the younger generation, the kids and even the coaches, for them to sit down and give players ratings and comments, it should take 10-15 minutes max. But the benefit it gives them is massive, and if you had to do that with pen and paper and look over their journals, you are talking hours.
"It is going to be a product that is much better, plus any adjustments and anything I want to change with the app, it is much easier to do than with a hard copy journal where I’d need to print new ones; this can be changed as we go along and as I see fit."
Mauk has agreed with Football South Australia and Football West on a 'pilot' program where the former will use the application for the players and coaches in their new regional SAP program for teams U9 upwards, while the latter utilises the resource for their women's program. These programs will allow for a real-time app trial, which Mauk can use to collect feedback before making alterations and rolling it out to other clubs and federations around Australia.
"It is a good starting block to see the federations buying into it and seeing it as important," he shared.
"Building on that, I think there is no club, I believe, that would be worse off for using the app; I think they would all benefit massively from it because every parent that I have spoken to when I’ve asked them about feedback that the players get, it is often zero, to be honest, and that is the harsh reality of it. If this can do just that (be a tool for feedback), that is great. But I feel there will be other elements where the players will become more in tune with what goals they want to achieve, how they think they are performing, and what they actually need to do to play at their best."
Mauk highlighted the importance of the mental side of the game by contrasting his move to the Netherlands earlier in his career with his move to Japan. The Fagiano Okayama player shared that even though he has faced the same, if not more, obstacles in Japan, he was more mentally equipped to handle them because he has learned the skills to remain mentally strong.
"If I look at myself as a young 20-year-old on top of the world after winning the A-League championship with Adelaide, [I] moved to Holland, spent 12 months there, and it was the worst 12 months of my career, and I couldn’t handle it mentally, which probably led to physically and tactically as well, lost all confidence, [and] was a shell of myself as a player and a person. But if I look at the challenges I have faced in my 16-17 months here in Japan, they’ve been the exact same, if not harder," Mauk explained.
"This time, I have the tools to deal with it, and that comes with experience. But it would have been great to be given those coping mechanisms before I went to Holland so I could have handled it, rather than going a full two to three years not feeling great about football and having to figure it out myself. If I had these tools as a 15, 16-year-old, things would have probably turned out very differently."
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Stefan Mauk delivering a talk about 'The Inner Game' and the importance of the mental side of football at Football South Australia club Adelaide Cobras. (Instagram: @stefanmauk)
When weighing up the application's benefit for their children, Mauk asks the parents of young footballers to consider the feedback loops currently in place for the kids and warns about the impact of the absence of careful and considered reflection can cause.
"If you don’t, then you are missing out on something to improve, and it is not just about holistic wellness but about improving the player because, for junior clubs, that should be the focus, improving every single player, be it the best player or the worst player. When you sign up as a parent, I am sure you want your kid to be better by the end of the season, and I think this tool will definitely help with that," he said.
Regarding the next generation of players, Mauk has called on them to be proactive and consider why a game or session did or did not go well while also seeking feedback from their coaches about what they can improve on. Facing rejection while not receiving feedback can be very frustrating. Mauk believes 'The Inner Game' can break down that communication barrier to create more proactive footballers.
"That can be very frustrating, and this product, for a junior athlete, can be massive to understand what they can improve on and also to take initiative and set goals for training; not to just rock up and go through the motions but be specific on what you want to improve on. Go to your coaches and be proactive, and that was something Football West really liked about it," Mauk added.
"Hopefully, it is going to create players that are more proactive and take their careers into their own hands. It is something I would have liked to have had, and I’d love to be using it at my club right now, so it can go from the bottom up, hopefully."
Mauk hopes the trend of athletes speaking out about the mental struggles they have faced in their carer continues, and Australian football, often struggling for finances and thus neglecting fields like the mind, sees the importance of the game's mental side and begins investing from the top down to the grassroots level to create more complete footballers and people.
While 'The Inner Game' application can be found on the App Stores of digital devices, Stefan Mauk can be contacted about his products and programs through his website or via email at email@example.com.
Click here to read more about Mauk's time in Japan with Fagiano Okayama!