How Does Mental Training in Sports Work?

Eli Straw
How Does Mental Training in Sports Work?

Mental training in sports involves using sports psychology tools and techniques to build mental skills.

As a mental performance coach, mental training is what I use when working with athletes. Because I know that by using certain tools and techniques, I can help you build confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, and more.

But mental training can sometimes seem strange, especially since a lot of the exercises done within mental training don't exactly seem like the training you're used to.

So, what I'm going to do in this article is dive into how mental training in sports works, along with some tips at the end you can begin applying today to train your mind.

How Mental Training Works

Now, I want you to think about how you go about training your physical skills. Are there a few words that come to mind?

What about repetition, consistency, commitment, or hard work, just to name a few.

As an athlete, to train your physical skills or even to train your strength or speed, you know that you need a plan and then you need to execute the plan.

For example, let's say you're a sprinter and you want to improve your speed. What you would likely do is first think about your current weaknesses that could be turned into strengths that would have the most immediate impact on speed improvement.

Then, you'd break down those weaknesses and create a training plan. Now that you have your training plan created, day by day and week by week you'd act out your plan; training hard towards the ultimate goal of improving your sprinting speed.

That is exactly how mental training works as well. We begin with a goal (improving confidence, for example), identify your current strengths and weaknesses, create an action plan, and then get to work on applying the plan.

See how similar this is to physical training? All the same principles apply, like hard work, consistency, and repetition. The only thing that's changed is you're now focusing on building mental skills instead of physical skills.

What are Mental Skills?

But what exactly are physical skills? While the concept of training your mind may seem easy enough, where a lot of athletes get confused is when it comes to the actual skills being developed.

I felt this a lot when I was younger, especially when coaches talked to me about mental toughness.

Mental skills, like being mentally tough, increasing confidence, and improving focus, can seem vague. They're not as tangible (or easily measurable) as sprinting speed.

When it comes to mental skills, though, to keep things simple they are all about ways of thinking.

The reason I say ways of thinking and not also emotions and actions, is because when we're thinking about the foundational skills, they all have to do with how you're thinking.

Let's take a look at a few of the main mental skills developed within mental training...

  • Self-Confidence: this involves having trust and belief in yourself. And how much trust you have in yourself and your skills will be directly tied to what you're thinking about during a game.
  • Focus: being able to control your attention during practices and games is crucial to your success. And what you're focused on is going to involve what you're thinking about.
  • Calming Nerves: this is the ability you have to quiet your mind and relax yourself going into a game or during a game. If you have racing thoughts, it will be more difficult to feel less nervous and anxious.
  • Managing Mistakes: when you make a mistake, you want to let it go and move on as quickly as possible. If you're still going over the mistake in your head (so, thinking about it), it will be very hard to move on.
  • Self-Management: this is the skill of controlling your mindset going into a game. If you learn how to manage your thoughts, how you feel going into a game will follow.

Now, you may notice I didn't mention mental toughness. That's because I see mental toughness as the culmination of mental skills. It's an end result that happens by you focusing on developing other mental skills.

Tips to Begin Training Your Mind

Knowing now how mental training works, there are a few tips you can use to begin training your mind.

Tip #1: Identify Your Mental Challenges

Just like when you're thinking of what you want to improve physically, to improve mental skills you first must identify what specific skills you want to improve.

To do so, what you can do is take a personal inventory.

Would you say you get too anxious before games? Do you doubt yourself a lot? Or do you struggle with letting go of mistakes and one mistake usually leads to more?

Tip #2: Create a Plan

Once you've decided on what you want to work on mentally, it's time to create a plan for yourself.

Now this plan may feel tough to create, since you don't know how to build confidence or improve focus, for example.

Luckily, within mental training, there are certain tools that are effective at building specific skills.

Here's an article that discusses all the mental training tools you can choose from, and the skills they work to develop.

Tip #3: Set Yourself a Routine

After you've decided on the skills you're going to work on and the specific tools you're going to use, the last step is repetition.

Just as with physical training, if you want to build a mental skill, you must apply tools consistently.

Performing an exercise once won't do much good. But doing it consistently over weeks and months will have an incredible impact on your mental game.

With mental training, I recommend creating a routine either in the morning or at night. That way, you know you are putting in the necessary effort each day to train your mind.

Additional Mental Training Resources

Another way of getting started with mental training is making use of a mental training course or one-on-one coaching.

Here at Success Starts Within we offer a mental training course for kids, along with a mental training course for older athletes.

In addition to our mental training courses, we also offer one-on-one mental coaching. This is where I will work directly with you on creating your plan, choosing the tools to use, and building your mental skills in the most effective and efficient way.

To learn more about one-on-one mental coaching, please fill out the form below.

Whether you begin using mental training on your own, with the help of a course, or with mental coaching, it's crucial you start taking steps to train your mindset as an athlete.

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)-317-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

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Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

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In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It's time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you're meant to be!