Benefits of a Mental Performance Coach
Mental performance coaching is a valuable resource for all athletes and performers.
It involves working on your mindset; overcoming mental game challenges and building the mental skills necessary to succeed.
And while a greater emphasis is being placed on developing a strong mindset, it can still not be as straightforward as working on physical skills.
So, in this article you will learn exactly what a mental performance coach is, the benefits the work has on your game, and what the mental performance coaching program here at Success Starts Within looks like.
What is a Mental Performance Coach?
There are many terms used to describe a mental performance coach, and therefore, it can seem confusing at times. Though, while there are different names used, the work remains the same.
Some of the most common terms you will hear other than mental performance coach include, mental game coach, sport psychology consultant, performance psychology consultant, mental coach, and mental toughness coach.
The only term that is truly different is a sport psychologist. Not because the work performed varies greatly, but rather due to education.
A sport psychologist must have a PhD in sport psychology, while a mental game coach must hold a master’s degree in sport psychology, or something closely related.
However, someone with a PhD in the field may also be referred to as a mental game coach, or any of the other terms. The only way someone may call themselves a sport psychologist is if they have a PhD AND are licensed to actively practice psychology.
But to keep things simple, just know all of these terms refer to someone who is working to help you as an athlete or performer reach your ultimate potential.
As we move throughout the article, to not add to the confusion, I will use the term mental performance coach (MPC).
An MPC has one goal in mind when working with you: facilitate your skills and abilities to help you achieve all that you are capable of. This is done by building mental skills, enhancing talents you already possess, and ultimately maximizing your potential.
The concept of an MPC is often associated with athletics. Since athletes are faced with all kinds of pressures to succeed, increasing their mental strengths and performance is a way to gain an edge over the competition. However, pressure and the desire to succeed is by no means limited to athletes.
Anyone from any walk of life can benefit from an MPC. Whether someone has the desire to be the best teacher, doctor, husband, wife, student, executive, or etc.
There is just always a commonality between people who work with an MPC...they have the desire to achieve a level of performance that equates greatness.
Sport psychology is centered around the concept of self-optimization. An individual has the desire to be successful, and so there is a need for someone to help them in achieving that.
So, a mental performance coach steps in and teaches psychological skills that will help the client improve their performance.
Whether it’s online or in-person, a mental coach will work one-on-one with a client to first identify the barriers that are keeping them from reaching peak performance. Then, the MPC will devise a strategy to build skills and overcome the obstacles presented.
As you can see, employing the help of an MPC can be of great benefit to anyone trying to reach a little higher in life and become a better version of themselves. The next question that often arises in people’s minds is, “Should I only work with a mental coach if I am struggling?”
“An MPC has one goal in mind when working with you: facilitate your skills and abilities to help you achieve all that you are capable of.”
Do I Need to Be Struggling?
One of the reasons we don’t seek the help of an MPC is because of the notion that something must be wrong with us if we need mental coaching. I experienced this firsthand when I began working with one.
It was embarrassing and something I regrettably kept from my coaches and teammates. I feared they would view me as weak or mentally unstable. The reality is, if I was open about the work I was doing with an MPC, maybe other guys on the team could have benefited too.
Before we experience struggle, it is difficult to understand the benefits of working on our mental performance. However, you do not need to be struggling just to work with an MPC.
This type of training is incredibly beneficial, and so I encourage you not to wait until you begin to experience struggle.
I was unaware that this type of service even existed until I was desperate for it. Sadly, that is the case for many athletes and individuals from all walks of life.
Mental training and psychology are viewed as a reactionary response, however, I argue that mental training, especially mental performance coaching, can and should be utilized in a proactive manner.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in response to struggle. And so, there are two approaches you can take that are equally valuable and important for you to know.
Implementing mental performance coaching in a proactive manner can prove to be valuable to anyone. We are so quick to work on our physical skills, yet we often neglect the mental aspect. This is incredibly true in athletics.
While I was growing up training for baseball, all of my focus was on my mechanics and building my body to become stronger and faster. However, little to no effort went into building up my mental skills.
Ironically, we all knew how important the mental side was to the game, with everyone saying, “Baseball is such a mental sport.” Not only baseball, but all sports rely heavily on mental skills, along with every aspect of life.
The only problem with all this was, while we knew the importance of it, no one understood how to develop it (or at least no one I was talking to). Mental toughness and mental strength always seemed like something people either had or didn’t have.
It was not until I was introduced to the field of sport and performance psychology that I realized mental toughness and strength can and must be trained.
Taking a proactive approach to mental performance coaching means implementing the tools and techniques into your training plans.
Training and practicing the required skills are necessary for success, no matter what you do. I am proposing we just add another element to this practice, and that element is mental skills training.
“Taking a proactive approach to mental performance coaching means implementing the tools and techniques into your training plans.”
Opposite of a proactive approach is a reactive approach.
Now, just because I highly advocate to view mental training in a proactive way does not mean I undervalue the importance of it being a remedy to athletes who are currently struggling.
The large majority of athletes I currently work with seek my aid as a result of seeing themselves struggle. They have noticed that their confidence is down, they are overly anxious while performing, or they simply have lost the love for the game.
Through one-on-one coaching sessions and the tools and techniques taught, these athletes, along with any who take a reactive approach, learn how to overcome their mental game challenges and build positive mental skills moving forward.
Their mindset strengthens and their play increases.
And so, I would say this is still the most widely used approach to mental performance coaching. It is effective and as my personal experience seeking help can advocate, it can be what you need to save your career.
The only reason I like to break it down into these two different approaches is to show how valuable mental skills training is to every athlete and performer, no matter if you’re currently struggling or not.
Either way, there is an approach you can take that will elevate your game.
“Through 1-1 coaching sessions and the tools and techniques taught, these athletes, along with any who take a reactive approach, learn how to overcome their mental game challenges and build positive mental skills moving forward.”
Main Benefits of Mental Performance Coaching
There are numerous benefits you can expect from working on your mindset as an athlete.
One of the important things to remember, though, is that none of these benefits come from a one off experience. Just like with physical training, working on your mindset requires effort, repetition, and consistency.
But if you’re willing to put forth such deliberate practice, here are the countless benefits it will have on not only your game, but your life.
No matter if you take a proactive approach or a reactive approach to working with a mental coach, your aim is likely to increase your performance.
Yes, I’ve had athletes who work with me in order to regain their love for their sport. Though, this usually stems from a motivation within to continue to perform at a high level.
They realize that their game has taken a hit due to a loss of love.
Likewise, if you are struggling with performance anxiety, the fear and worries this drives make peak performance quite difficult.
Through the use of mental training tools learned from an MPC, your mindset will strengthen and your performances will be enhanced.
Coping with Competition Pressure
Another way working with an MPC benefits you is by helping to cope with the pressure that accompanies competition. Avoiding pressure is almost impossible...it’s everywhere within sports.
Yet, a lot of times we put the most pressure on ourselves, especially if there are high goals we are after. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more pressure we put on ourselves, the more likely we are to succeed.
Pressure can also come from parents, coaches, employers, friends, and other family members.
Having the ability to cope with pressure and use it to your advantage is incredibly beneficial to your odds of success. An interesting concept that has been proposed in relation to pressure is the stress mindset.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but basically it says that an individual can have either a positive or negative stress mindset. A positive one means pressure increases focus and builds motivation, and a negative mindset means pressure causes unpleasant and stressful thoughts.
For an MPC, their priority is to identify which type of stress mindset a person has, and then work with that to help them deal with pressure better. But no matter how you already handle pressure, developing a toolbox of tactics can be helpful to have whenever pressure arises.
“Having the ability to cope with pressure and use it to your advantage is incredibly beneficial to your odds of success.”
Recovery from Injury
Injuries are very common in sports, and for those of us who have dealt with them, they can be quite difficult on the psyche. Having to sit out and watch the game from the sideline causes anxiety and makes us susceptible to depressive thoughts.
This can be especially true if the injury is severe enough to miss a whole season.
Luckily, during my college career, I only had one injury that sidelined me for a few games. It was a concussion I received after getting hit in the head with a ball from the catcher.
Being forced to sit on the bench and watch my team play for the 3 games I missed made me feel terrible. I cannot imagine having to sit out a whole season like some guys I know.
Not only are injuries difficult to deal with when they sideline us, but also nagging injuries that are severe enough to cause discomfort, but not severe enough to be sidelined can really take a toll on the mind.
I suffered a partially torn patella tendon during my senior year. It was one of those injuries that hurt and made me alter my play, but it wasn’t bad enough to have surgery or need to sit out. One of the toughest parts I found was learning to deal with the pain and play my hardest anyway.
An MPC works with you to help recover and deal with injuries. The main way this is accomplished is by helping to keep a positive mindset throughout the recovery process.
Being optimistic can dramatically speed up healing and will make dealing with an injury much easier. An MPC will help with sticking to a rehab program as well.
Also, during this time, if you are sidelined, an MPC can introduce a mental imagery program to make sure you are still training your mind.
No matter what we are hoping to achieve, motivation is key to our success. When we are motivated about a goal, all the work that is necessary for achieving it comes naturally.
An MPC can help you develop better motivation in a variety of ways. Since we all have different desires, aspirations, and things that inspire us, what motivates us can vary.
However, there are a few general areas that an MPC will focus on to help build motivation.
First, the MPC will work with you on understanding your “why.” Having a clear idea as to why we want to accomplish something dramatically increases our motivation.
Next, they will help develop an actionable goal. That means, creating a goal with a clear plan in mind as to how it will be achieved.
After these two steps, an MPC will then determine whether you are more internally motivated or externally motivated. The type of motivation determines what approach will be taken next as to how you can be the most motivated moving forward towards the goal.
"No matter what we are hoping to achieve, motivation is key to our success. When we are motivated about a goal, all the work that is necessary for achieving it comes naturally."
To be your best, there must be an underlying level of self-belief present. You have to know that you have the skills and abilities necessary for success.
While some athletes seem to naturally be gifted with an incredible level of self-confidence…others are not so fortunate.
But what’s important to realize is that confidence, just like any other mental trait, can and must be developed.
A mental coach will work with you to first understand what is keeping you from being confident. Typically this involves identifying where you currently get your confidence.
Once this is realized, you will then be taught different tools and techniques you can use to strengthen and build your confidence.
The higher your confidence, the greater your resilience will be, the more focused you will play, and overall, the greater your chances are of succeeding.
Another benefit of working with a mental performance coach is that they will help you find enjoyment in whatever it is you do. Joy is often an overlooked part of the success equation, but it’s oh so valuable.
One of the best ways an MPC instills joy is by teaching the value of loving the process.
The path to success in any aspect of life is never as smooth as we’d like. There are many speed bumps along the way that can cause us to doubt ourselves and our abilities.
An MPC uses strategies to instill the idea of enjoying all the successes and failures that are experienced along the way.
I can’t say that I’ve always found it easy to enjoy the failures in my life. But I have definitely learned to appreciate them. Once I started to view my so-called “failures” as opportunities to grow, a real shift happened in my mind.
Now, when things don’t necessarily go my way, instead of getting down on myself, I try to take an objective view of the situation and see how I can learn and grow from the experience.
Equally as important of a lesson for me has been learning to enjoy the successes along the way to my goal. One topic I point out in an article on perfectionism is stopping and appreciating accomplishments as they come.
I have always been the type of person who pushes towards the next goal, and it has left me looking back and realizing all the successes I have had but never quite stopped and appreciated.
By learning to enjoy the success we experience in life, no matter how big or small, our self-confidence is boosted, and it delivers us a sense of accomplishment and pride in what has been done.
Working with an MPC will help you learn to love the process, appreciate all your successes and failures, and find enjoyment within your sport.
Mental Techniques Used
Incorporating mental techniques is one of the most fundamental and practical ways mental performance coaches help athletes.
These tools are put into practice to help elevate performance and help overcome mental blocks.
Below are some of the main mental training techniques used:
One of the most common techniques I use as a mental game coach is imagery. Also known as visualization, imagery work involves seeing success happen in your mind before it happens in real life.
The brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.
Proof of this lies in an experiment performed by Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio.
He discovered that brain patterns were similarly activated when one group visualized lifting weights and another group actually performed the lift.
For you as an athlete, visualization is very useful in developing confidence and proficiency in your sport.
This visualization can be used to cope with pressure, calm your mind before or during a game, and increase proficiency and confidence in your skills.
"Also known as visualization, imagery work involves seeing success happen in your mind before it happens in real life. The brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined."
Another mental technique used by mental performance coaches is self-talk. Often our internal dialogue is inclined towards negativity. It’s confusing really since negative self-talk can cause so much harm.
However, for some reason, it feels safe and good in a weird way to do it.
But success does not come through speaking negatively to ourselves. I struggled with this first-hand. My internal dialogue used to be full of phrases like, “I suck,” “I can’t,”, and “I’m a failure.” If you speak similarly to yourself then you understand how draining this can be.
Luckily, mental coaches are skilled in developing positive self-talk routines for their clients. When I started to shift my internal dialogue from negative to positive, I just felt happier all the time. I've seen the same happen for many of the athletes I've worked with.
It’s like magic really. Slowly, my initial response turned from a negative phrase to one of support for myself.
By using a self-talk routine, you can increase your confidence and focus, and work to let go of mistakes during a game.
A third technique implemented by mental coaches is mindfulness training.
Usually performed through meditation, mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve attention and memory, and build empathy.
It’s really a great tool that doesn’t take much time at all to practice. All you need is about 10 minutes a day.
The process looks like this: first sit in a comfortable position. It can be in a chair, on the floor, on your knees, the important thing is to be comfortable and keep the back straight. Next, begin to breathe. Do this in and out slowly, with deep inhalations and exhalations.
The third aspect is to stay focused. Our minds will naturally try to pull our thoughts in all sorts of directions. When this happens, notice the thoughts without judging them, and return the attention to the breath.
Making mindfulness meditation a daily practice is the most effective and beneficial way to experience all the wonders of training.
A fourth mental technique MPC’s use is breathwork. This is similar to mindfulness, except it can be done at any time, especially during a performance.
With breathwork, the purpose is to bring relaxation and focus to an individual. Having a tool in your back pocket to counteract performance nerves can be very useful.
By doing breathing exercises, not only do we relax the body, but we also bring our attention inward which helps against external distractions.
One of my favorite breathing exercises for athletes to do is a 1:2 breathing ratio. This exercise is done by selecting a certain count to inhale for and then doubling it upon the exhale. For me, I typically recommend a 5:10 count most often.
Take a deep breath in for a count of 5. Then, without retaining the breath, exhale for a count of 10. For the inhale, take in the air much faster to get a full breath on only a 5 count. Upon exhaling, control the breath and let the air out much more slowly.
Not only is this calming, but by controlling the exhale we can learn to control our breath. And by controlling our breath, we can begin to control our anxiety.
A fifth mental training tool used are performance objectives.
These provide a way to center your attention during practices and games. Ensuring that you are practicing with intent, and during a performance, your mind is focused in a way that will increase your chances of success.
An MPC will teach you how to set objectives both on the physical and mental side of your game.
The most important thing to remember with these objectives is to be sure they are completely within your control.
Not only do they increase focus, but they also work against the grip of perfectionism, and help to increase confidence by providing you with clear objectives each day and opportunities for success.
These five mental techniques are only a small example of what an MPC will use when working with you. Countless variations of these techniques and other tools are used to enhance performance.
The important aspect is that the techniques utilized are tailored specifically to you in order to get the most potential out of that skill which will be of the most help to you and your game.
How Mental Performance Coaching Works
Up until this point in the article, you have learned what an MPC is, and what the benefits of working with one are. In addition, you have been introduced to a number of different tools and techniques they employ.
Now it’s time to get into how exactly the coaching works.
Mental coaching will vary based on the coach and the company you work with. But in general, it will consist of weekly coaching calls either in person or virtually.
Here’s what the Mental Performance Coaching Program here at Success Starts Within looks like:
Introductory Call: here we will go over what your goals are, discuss the program, and see if we are a good fit working together.
Assessment: once we decide to move forward, the first step is for you to take a mental game assessment. This will help to gain a good understanding of where your mindset currently is, including your strengths and challenges.
Mental Game Summary: from the answers provided in your assessment, and the questions discussed in the first couple of sessions, I will create a custom mental game plan tailored to you.
Weekly Coaching Calls: each week will include a 50 minute coaching call performed virtually. This also includes unlimited text and email correspondence throughout the week.
Weekly Action Steps: each week following your call, you will be given actions steps to begin implementing what you learn during the calls.
Our Mental Performance Coaching Program focuses on our Six Pillars of Mental Toughness System. Within this system, we focus on the six main areas that make up mental toughness for athletes.
Mental performance coaches are valuable assets to any athlete wanting to improve their mindsets and reach a higher level of performance.
Historically, the use of a mental coach has only been linked to athletes who are struggling. However, with the benefits gained from their instruction, a proactive approach in using MPC’s in training is also very helpful.
Performance enhancement comes through different areas and is always tailored specifically to you.
Through the use of different mental training tools and techniques, along with consistent effort put forth on your part, you can experience all the benefits mental performance coaching has to offer.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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