How Does Mental Training Help Athletes?
Whenever you're thinking of adding anything to your training program, you want to be sure it'll have a positive impact on your game.
You need to be deliberate with your planning.
When it comes to reaching your full potential as an athlete, you want to leave no stone unturned. And likewise, you don't want to be wasting unneeded effort on unimpactful activities.
And so, if you've come across the term mental training, you may be wondering if this is something you should start taking seriously.
To help answer your question, in this article I'm going to discuss how mental training helps athletes, and some easy ways you can begin making use of mental training for yourself.
Mental Training Defined
Mental training involves using sports psychology tools and techniques to train your mind. On the surface, this may seem strange or even intimidating. But I want you to think of it just like any other form of training.
We start with skills that you want to build, choose which tools and exercises will help you build them, and then you create a plan/routine to put the tools into action.
This system is the same whether you're wanting to improve your confidence, increase throwing velocity, or improve your shot.
I think that's why it's natural for athletes to take to mental training, once they understand it and get past the initial mysteriousness of their mind. To train the mind, all you do is apply the same approach you've used to training as an athlete all your life.
What are Mental Skills?
When you add mental training to your routine, you want to be strategic with the tools and techniques you choose. This is where it becomes important to know what mental skills you're wanting to build.
A common term used in relation to mental training and sports psychology is mental toughness. That term may be the very reason you're interested in getting started with training your mind.
Now there's a good reason for this association...when you train your mind, you build mental toughness. But mental toughness can also seem like a vague idea.
So for now, I want you to not worry about building mental toughness. The reason being, mental toughness is the end result. What you want to focus on are all the mental skills that make an athlete mentally tough.
Mental skills are the parts to the whole, with the whole being you becoming a mentally tough athlete.
So, what are these mental skills that make you a mentally strong player?
They include self-confidence, focus, resilience (bouncing back from mistakes), a strong self-image, calming your nerves, and self-management (managing your thoughts and feelings).
By focusing on building these mental skills, you can trust that as a result, mental toughness will be developed.
How Mental Training Helps Athletes
The main goal of this article is to uncover why using mental training to develop mental skills will help you as an athlete.
Well, it all comes down to the mind-body connection.
The truth is, the mind and body are intricately connected when it comes to you performing at your highest level. It will be very difficult for you to play well if you constantly doubt yourself, for example, no matter how talented you are.
With mental training, you turn your mind into an asset rather than a liability.
Most of the athletes I work with are their own worst enemy. They are the ones getting in the way of their success. Not because they're willfully choosing to, but simply due to mental blocks that are holding them back.
By developing mental skills through mental training, mental blocks are reduced and the athlete gets out of their own way. Allowing the skills they've worked hard for to shine during games.
What I want to do, to illustrate just how mental training can help you as an athlete, is tell the stories of three athletes I've worked with and how mental training helped them.
The first story is of a college basketball player. When he first came to me he was struggling with high levels of sports performance anxiety. Basketball had become a drag and he dreaded going to practices and was fearful during games.
Now how much fun do you think he was having? Not very much at all. The anxiety had taken the fun out of the game for him.
Examining why he was anxious, I realized it involved a combination of what he was focused on going into the game, and also what he thought about during the game.
This is a very common factor among athletes with performance anxiety...they worry about the future.
With mental training, all of that changed.
We pieced together a daily routine for him to use, along with a pregame routine that narrowed his focus, calmed his nerves, and increased his confidence going into games.
As a result, not only did his anxiety decrease, but his performance level increased as did his enjoyment.
The next story I want to share involves a young baseball player weighed down by self-doubt.
The boy had a lot of talent, but he couldn't shake the fears he had about messing up in order to focus on the reasons he had to feel confident. And the more he doubted himself, the less fun he had while playing.
With him, I used a combination of daily exercises for him to do, such as repeating self-talk statements, along with a pre at bat routine, since most of his doubt centered around hitting.
Within his pre at bat routine, he used visualization to get himself thinking more about playing well and succeeding, rather than being afraid of striking out.
As our work continued, his confidence grew, and most importantly, he was enjoying the game more.
This last story involves mistakes. Specifically how a soccer player was able to reframe how she looked at mistakes, allowing her to actually change the way that she played.
This high school soccer player was dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety while playing, but the main challenge she dealt with (and where the others really came from) was getting too frustrated at herself following a mistake.
Now, it's no surprise that mistakes are not fun. But the most important thing after you make a mistake is putting yourself in a good position to make the next play.
You can't do anything about the mistake, but you can either help your hurt your chances of playing well moving forward.
For her, she was hurting her chances, with one mistake typically turning into many more.
With mental training, she was able to change that. We used a technique to let go of the mistake in the moment and help her refocus. In addition, using a post game evaluation system, she reframed the way she looked at mistakes.
These tools led to her reacting to mistakes differently, which meant she played with less fear and anxiety since she wasn't as worried anymore about making mistakes.
They had turned from something to fear, into something she could use to learn and improve.
How You Can Get Started With Mental Training
The three stories I just outlined highlight how mental training can help you as an athlete. Your mental skills will improve, your physical play will increase, and you will enjoy your sport more like you're supposed to.
Now, if you're ready to take the next steps and begin making use of mental training for yourself, what can you do?
Well, there are a few ways you can get started. One is on your own. You can figure out for yourself what mental skills you want to work on and the best mental training tools to use.
Another option is a course. I offer two mental training courses that are broken up by age group. The first is The Mentally Tough Kid for athletes ages 9-13. The second is Mental Training Advantage for athletes ages 14 and over.
The third option is one-on-one mental coaching. This is where I will work with you directly to identify your mental blocks and create a custom mental game plan to build mental skills and develop mental toughness.
To learn more about one-on-one coaching, please fill out the form below.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
Contact Success Starts Within Today
Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.
Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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