With the match complete, members of the Mountain Valley High School boys soccer team gathered in a circle at midfield to do some light stretching.

When finished, each player pulled out a notebook to answer a series of questions about his performance, how the team played and to provide his take on the game. Within five minutes, they were headed home.

The scenario elicits fond memories for former Mountain Valley coach and Rumford native Richard Kent, at whose direction the athletes participated in the exercise.

“That’s a picture I have in my mind of watching student-athletes at work, unpacking what had just happened in a match,” said Kent, a Ph.D. who is an associate professor of literacy at the University of Maine. “That 3-5 minutes was extraordinarily valuable.”

Studying the writing of athletes became the focus of Kent’s work. He has spent 10 years analyzing how writing about their experiences can enhance athletes’ understanding of the sport and improve their performance and self-confidence.

“What it does is it makes the athlete stop, think, reflect,” Kent said, “and really helps him move toward being a student of the game.

“Using team notebooks or journals or team training logs helps them become more engaged as athletes. It helps them become more self-aware and mentally sharp,” he added.

The writing also provides coaches with valuable feedback that they can use to more effectively teach and implement systems.

“I think the biggest thing that’s helped me with my coaching is understanding when they don’t understand something,” said University of Southern Maine men’s soccer coach Mike Keller.

“Some of them are just better at writing down their thoughts than talking,” added Keller, who tries to have his players record preseason goals and do post-match analyses in notebooks developed by Kent.

Kent, the director emeritus of the Maine Writing Project, is the author of several books including “Writing on the Bus” and “The Athlete’s Workbook.” His website, WritingAthletes.com, promotes his work and explains how coaches and athletes can utilize writing to boost comprehension and success, both team and individual.

U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, the gold medalist in the slalom at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has done extensive journal writing. Other well-known athletes who have reaped benefits from writing include tennis star Serena Williams, champion swimmer Michael Phelps and baseball slugger Carlos Delgado.

In a 2014 story in “U.S. News and World Report,” Schiffrin explained that although the Olympics were her first, she had imagined herself competing in them 1,000 times through preparing mentally for the event by writing about it.

“It can help athletes set goals, helps them visualize results,” said Kent, who conceded that sports psychologists for many years have worked with athletes through writing.

“They get their athletes to do a lot of introspection, so we know that this kind of writing helps athletes become less stressed and better able to cope both on and off the playing field,” he said.

Kent’s path to the study of writing included earning a bachelor’s degree (pre-law) from the University of Southern Maine, master’s degrees from UMaine and Middlebury College, and a doctorate from Clermont Graduate University that focused on writing and education.

Long before it became his professional focus, Kent was a coach. Over the course of 30 years, he took more than 500 Maine teenage soccer players to compete against teams in England in the spring.

It was there he began asking players to keep notebooks in which they critiqued their own play, provided feedback on pro matches they witnessed and reflected on training they had undertaken.

He later used the notebooks with his soccer teams at Mountain Valley, where he also coached skiing, lacrosse and track and field. Kent said 3-5 minutes per day or session is sufficient to complete the exercises.

Elements of Kent’s work are being utilized at universities across the country including Florida State, Stanford, Gonzaga and California Berkeley.

“At Florida State, their football team uses one of my journals with their first-year players. They have a writing center for athletes,” Kent said.

Amy Edwards, the head women’s soccer coach at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, read one of Kent’s articles when she was coaching at the University of Missouri and was intrigued. Her student-athletes have written journals ever since.

“It’s changed my coaching,” said Edwards, who with Kent co-authored “Soccer Team Notebook,” a workbook designed specifically to promote writing for that sport.

Edwards said writing is part of the women’s soccer culture at Gonzaga, where this spring athletes are doing weekly reflections, journaling and match analyses.

“By the time they leave here senior year, they will point back to the journaling and point to where things started to click,” she said.

The writing exercises are designed to be brief and are done through a series of prompts or questions. Edwards said Gonzaga relies heavily on feedback from the match analyses.

“We can problem-solve with them,” she said. “It allows us to get to the position where we talk about the positive as well as the negative. I think that’s helped us gain some confidence within our program.”

Kristin Hayman is a sophomore midfielder at Gonzaga. She has embraced journal writing because of the benefits she derives from it.

“I really like it because it’s a way to kind of assess what you’re doing and be able to take conscious steps forward,” said Hayman, who missed last season with a knee injury.

Writing helped her work through the frustration of being sidelined and now enables her to be more focused on short-term progress. She jots down a brief entry before and after every workout.

“It only takes maybe two minutes. I just set a couple goals for myself,” said Hayman, who explained that the Zags now use Evernote, a service that allows all writing to be posted and shared on an internet site, rather than writing longhand.

“It’s helped me celebrate the small accomplishments and small achievements.”

Kent said athlete writing has been used in some form for many years. During the 1970s and ’80s, his high-level skiers at the former Rumford High School often kept training logs and journals.

Through his work, he has developed specific, more formal methodologies to assist athletes and coaches to gain insight from the players’ writing.

Kent said he conducted his primary research elsewhere in an effort to maintain objectivity among subjects. He has not had the opportunity to work with UMaine student-athletes and coaches, but hopes to do so in the near future.

“Looks like interesting stuff,” said UMaine men’s basketball coach Bob Walsh after a quick glance at the concept.

“This kind of writing helps with planning and reflection and organizing and grappling with issues both personal and athletic, so it can run a full gamut,” Kent said.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...