Athlete Mental Training Articles

Mental Training for Athletes

Eli Straw
Mental Training for Athletes

When thinking about mental training for athletes, it's easy to make the comparison to the physical side of your game.

What is the number one thing you must do to improve, no matter if you’re trying to get better at your sport, school, or your career? You must train! There’s simply no other way to go from novice to expert in anything.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, if your goal is to continue to improve, you must train and practice your skills. The same is true when it comes to your mind.

If your goal is to build confidence, increase focus, reduce anxiety, eliminate fear, or anything else, you must take the next step by beginning to make use of mental training.

What Is Mental Training

What does it mean to train your mind? Your brain can’t do push ups, take a jump shot, or field ground balls. So what is meant by the term mental training?

While your mind cannot act out physical tasks, there are physical actions you can take that work to cultivate certain skills within your mind. To better understand mental training for athletes, you must think of characteristics such as confidence and focus in a similar way to physical skills.

For example, if an athlete wanted to jump higher, what would they do? They would work on increasing their leg strength and explosiveness. Now how is that done? Through training on a daily/weekly basis.

Likewise, if you want to increase your confidence, how can that be accomplished? Well, taking the same approach, you would train yourself to feel more confident on a daily/weekly basis.

So, put very simply, mental training is a way of cultivating mental skills and characteristics through proactive action. You aren’t sitting around hoping to feel confident or to reduce anxiety. With mental training, you choose specific mental training tools and you make the change happen.

"While your mind cannot act out physical tasks, there are physical actions you can take that work to cultivate certain skills within your mind."

Athlete Mental Training Tools

When it comes to training your mind, there are a few different key tools you want to use. Interestingly, some may not appear to be tools at first glance. But the truth is, each one can be used to train your mind to think a certain way and to help you control your emotions.

There are many different drills and exercises you can do to strengthen your body and improve your physical skills. However, if you choose one that is not geared towards improving the skill you’re after, then your efforts will be wasted.

The same is true for mental training. You want to be sure you’re choosing the right mental training tools for you and your goals.

Here are the main mental training tools and the key characteristics and skills they help to develop:

Mental Imagery

This involves creating a scene in your mind and going over it in detail.

Within sports, this involves seeing yourself perform your skills. An example is a soccer player imagining herself shooting, a basketball player imagining free throws, or a swimmer going through a race. This form of mental imagery works to increase confidence, cope with pressure, and decrease anxiety.

Another type of mental imagery involves imagining a calm and relaxing scene. This helps to relax yourself before competition and train your ability to calm your mind.


There are two main ways mindfulness helps when training your mind. Mindfulness strengthens focus and increases emotional control.

Let’s begin with focus. There’s no doubting the positive impact of strong focus. Possessing the ability to center your attention and drown out the many distractions that pull at your mind. Yet, it’s not always easy to focus. Which is why you must train your ability to concentrate.

Mindfulness is the act of bringing your awareness into the present moment. You work to center your attention, and by doing so, you gain control over your attention. Through the practice of mindfulness, you strengthen your mind's ability to focus, no matter the distraction.

Another way mindfulness helps with training your mind is by granting you emotional control. Managing your emotions and reactions is a key piece to success. Through mindfulness, you gain more understanding over your thoughts and emotions, which therefore provides you with more control over them.

"Through the practice of mindfulness, you strengthen your mind's ability to focus, no matter the distraction."


That voice in your head, constantly speaking to you, can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Within mental training, self-talk is used to restructure the way you speak to yourself so that the voice in your head can be turned into an asset.

The basis behind self-talk is that thoughts drive feelings. Meaning, what you are thinking impacts your emotional state. To increase confidence, reduce anxiety, or increase motivation, you must speak to yourself differently.

Self-talk is the practice of identifying your current negative thoughts and replacing them with positive alternatives. Then, repeating those positive alternatives to yourself on a consistent basis.

Process Goals

A fourth mental training tool is setting process goals for yourself. One of the worst frames of thought, that will only distract you from what you need to do, is outcome-oriented thinking. To counteract this, you need to turn your attention onto the process.

How can you do that?

Well, in order to turn your attention onto the process, you need something to focus on. That’s where process goals come into play. Whether it’s before a training session, a game, or simply for a day, you set process goals for yourself and let them guide you.

Developing Your Own Mental Training Routine

Now that you know what mental training is and the different tools used, it’s time to create your own mental training routine. When it comes to mental training, just as with training any other skill, your goal should be consistency.

Which is why you need to create a plan you will follow.

Step 1: Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses

First, you want to make a list of your current strengths and weaknesses. Think in terms of your mindset and personality. On a piece of paper, make two separate categories: one labeled strengths and one labeled weaknesses.

Now, brainstorm what your strengths are in terms of your mindset and what are your weaknesses. Here is a list of traits to think about:

  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Ability to handle pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Negative/positive thoughts
  • Emotional control
  • Self-discipline

Step 2: Choose The Mental Training Tools To Use

Once you have your list compiled, you want to first pay attention to the weakness side. What characteristics stand out the most? These are the skills you want to give the most attention to right now.

What you want to do is choose the mental training tool that will work best for building that skill. For example, if you want to build confidence, visualization and self-talk are a great pair. If you struggle with sports anxiety, mindfulness, along with process goals are great to use.

Next, look at your strengths and ask yourself what mental training tool would help you to continually improve your strengths.

Step 3: Create Your Daily Schedule

Now that you have the mental training tools you wish to use decided upon, it’s time to put them into action.

When you want to improve a certain aspect of your game, or want to get stronger in the weight room, what do you do? Either you, or a coach will put a routine together. This routine will outline which days you’ll train and what you’ll do within each day.

The same approach is taken to mental training for athletes.

As with anything, consistency is what will make the difference between you really making a change happen, or simply spinning your wheels and staying the same. By setting yourself a schedule, you are creating the opportunity for consistency.

So, take the mental training tools you chose and decide when you will train them each day. A great time to perform mental training is right when you wake up or before going to bed.

Whenever you decide to schedule your mental training, be sure it’s a time where you can commit to sticking with it consistently.

"As with anything, consistency is what will make the difference between you really making a change happen, or simply spinning your wheels and staying the same. By setting yourself a schedule, you are creating the opportunity for consistency."

Final Thoughts

Strengthening your mind, no matter what you do, will lead to greater success. The act of doing so happens through mental training.

Whether it’s to build confidence, increase focus, or reduce anxiety, there is a mental training tool that will help. The important part is locating what you wish to improve, and then choosing the proper exercise to facilitate growth. From there, it’s all about consistency and putting a schedule into practice.

If you’re interested in discovering more about the different mental training tools you can use, along with being shown exactly how they can help you, click here to learn about Mental Training Advantage. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

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.

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