Competitive sports are frequently associated with intense physical effort, performing under extreme conditions and putting the body under such physical strain that risk of injury and fatigue are but a heartbeat away. Clearly many factors influence not only the physical but also the mental states of an athlete.

In turn these mental states, for instance, how athletes deal with success or ‘failure’, can impact physical and physiological factors such as rate of recovery, proneness to injury, susceptibility to illness, etc. Moreover, the extent to which athletes interpret tension, listen to their bodies, respect their boundaries and make realistic goals influences their resilience to the physical demands of their sport. Consequently, levels of performance can be affected.

Numerous sports involve such a finely tuned ability to focus one’s attention that the main effort is typified by mental processes instead of physical ability. In such cases trained mental processes are the factors that distinguish a top athlete from a developing one. Mental routines, concentration exercises and visualization form the major part of training for these types of sports.

Regardless, however, of the sport or field of performance in which individuals aim to excel, mental processes including internal distractions such as doubts, fear, negative thoughts, as well as external distractions such as spectators, press, conflict within clubs, organizations, and private matters may interfere with performance. By using mental skills athletes and performers can build upon their strengths, improve upon their weaknesses, and learn to cope with both internal and external distractions.

Mental Training

So what is it all about? Mental training helps optimize the conditions that predispose us to excel. Think back to a moment in time when you were totally immersed in an activity. What were the conditions in which you were completely engaged in and focused on that activity? Did these conditions include losing track of time, a keen sense of alertness and attention, a perfect balance of tension and energy, a feeling of control and effortlessness? Chances are that you experienced the optimal state of performance also called ‘flow’ or ‘in the zone’. It is the ideal state that enables you to perform at your best…

It is impossible to experience this optimal state twenty four hours a day. By creating conditions which enable you to be in this state at will, however, you stimulate confidence and a sense of ease with which skills can be acquired. Thus, mental training not only enhances singular moments of performance, it also boosts your overall ability to improve training techniques and to cope with distractions that may lead you away from your goal.

This brings us back to the original concept of Performance Psychology. Mental training improves your ability to stay focused toward a purpose or goal. It clarifies and can even help rediscover your purpose when circumstances such as temporary decreased levels of performance or motivation cloud your outlook. It strengthens your level of dedication when the work load seems to be greater than the desire to perform, or when distractions muddle priorities. Moreover, mental training helps you identify patterns of thought that are responsible for reducing passion and motivation. Increased awareness helps neutralize destructive thoughts and encourages initial passion to flourish once again.

Mental Skills

By training mentally you train how you perceive, how you think, how you act, and ultimately how you feel so as to enable these processes to contribute to your performance constructively. Setbacks become periods of self-reflection and insight; problems turn into challenges; changes facilitate growth; conflicts encourage communication etc. In practice, there are a few basic skills that can be considered to be prerequisites.

Mental training focuses on developing the following skills.

  1. setting clear goals to motivate and help build upon your level
       of confidence

  2. dealing with tension, stress and expectations

  3. visualization

  4. imagery

  5. self-talk

  6. applying mental routines (prior to competitions or specific  

  7. coping with disappointments and setbacks

By learning, practicing, utilizing and evaluating these skills on a regular basis, performance can be enhanced more thoroughly, more permanently (also when external conditions are less then perfect) and you may even find the process more rewarding.

Dewitt Performance Psychology | Barcelona | All rights reserved ®