Mental Performance Coaching Articles

Mental Performance Coaching

Eli Straw
Mental Performance Coaching

As an athlete, you need to be skilled physically as well as mentally. While a lot of work is put into developing physical skills, it’s easy to overlook the mental side of the game. That’s where mental performance coaching comes into play.

In this comprehensive article, we’re going to explore what mental performance coaching is, the benefits it will have on your game, and exactly how the process works.

Mental Performance Coaching Defined

Mental performance coaching involves working one-on-one with a mental performance coach to overcome mental game challenges and build the mental skills you need to succeed.

The mental skills are built through the use of sports psychology tools and techniques. Some of the main tools and techniques used within mental performance coaching include…

  • Self-Talk
  • Visualization
  • Mindfulness
  • Process Goals
  • Reframing
  • Performance Evaluation
  • Breath Work
  • Goal Setting
  • Journal Writing

In sports, a tremendous amount of effort is put into developing physical skills. Time is spent fine tuning mechanics and being sure all the fundamentals have been ingrained in muscle memory.

But what about the ability to bounce back from failure?

What about having the strength to manage high expectations, perform well under pressure, and cope with fear and anxiety?

Often these areas are overlooked…at least until challenges begin to present themselves.

The aim of a mental performance coach is to help you understand and manage yourself better. This includes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Through being able to control yourself and your mind, you will then allow the physical talents you’ve worked hard to develop shine through during competition.

Benefits of Mental Performance Coaching for Athletes

Working with a mental performance coach will provide you with many benefits. All of which will directly impact your production on the field or court.

Once you begin to consistently work on your mental game, here are some of the main benefits of mental performance coaching:

  • Greater Confidence: a mental performance coach will teach you tools and techniques to increase your confidence as an athlete. They will also help you truly understand where your confidence comes from. Making how confident you feel something you can control.
  • Increased Focus: through different sports psychology techniques, you will improve your ability to recognize distractions during games and refocus in the present moment.
  • More Resilience (the ability to bounce back from failure): mistakes happen. But that doesn’t mean they’re always easy to manage. A mental performance coach will teach you strategies to move on from mistakes quickly and use them as ways to learn and grow as a player.
  • Decreased Anxiety: when you’re anxious, you play tense and timidly. Through mental performance coaching you will gain the skill of calming your nerves before games - reducing the amount of anxiety you feel while competing.
  • Increased Motivation: a mental coach will work with you to identify what motivates you as a player. When you understand how to motivate yourself, it makes it easier to stay focused, and push through setbacks and adversities.
  • Positive Self-Talk: a core mental skill for all athletes is managing their thoughts. Mental performance coaching will help you not only understand your own thoughts, but develop more control over the thoughts you have while competing.
  • Stronger Mental Toughness: through the development of mental skills, mental toughness is gained. Just like physical training strengthens the body, mental training will strengthen your mind.

Imagine gaining all of these skills. How much better would your performances be?

But we don’t have to even start with all of them…what about gaining just one of these benefits?

Let’s say confidence, for example.

How much would your game change if you truly believed in yourself and your skills? Would you play more freely? Would you enjoy the game a little bit more?

What about fears and anxieties? Do you think you’d be as worried if you had the confidence in yourself that you were capable of success?

That is what can happen once you begin working with a mental performance coach.

What Does a Mental Performance Coach Do?

A mental performance coach helps you build mental skills. When you work with a mental coach, the process is very structured but also personalized, as we'll talk about in the next section.

But the main idea, no matter what mental game challenge or mental block you're dealing with, is the same...a mental performance coach will help you develop positive mental skills that will strengthen your mindset and increase your performance.

A mental coach mainly works one-on-one with athletes, but can also work in a group setting. Group settings involve team workshops and trainings.

Team workshops are a fantastic way to teach fundamental mental skills and discuss concepts such as process vs outcome focus, visualization, and self-talk.

One-on-one, a mental coach will teach many of the same tools and techniques as in a group setting, but it will be done in a much more personalized manner.

For example, self-talk is a foundational mental training tool that I use as a mental coach when working with athletes. However, the way I use self-talk and the type of self-talk used will vary depending upon the athlete and their personality.

This is an important idea for mental coaches to understand: mental performance coaching is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The tools and techniques are universal, but how you use them must be tailored to the specific athlete.

Going back to the self-talk example, I've worked with athletes who need to speak to themselves in a calmer and kinder way. Following mistakes they tend to belittle themselves and beat themselves up over the mistake. This does nothing but lower their confidence.

In that case, we work on building more positive self-talk instead of being overly self-critical.

However, there are some athletes who use more aggressive language with themselves and it works. In these instances, as the mental coach I need to be very careful to make sure it's actually the best way for them to speak to themselves.

Another example of using the same core principle, but in different ways for different athletes is getting into a game-time mindset. This is also known as a peak performance mindset.

There is definitely not a universal peak mindset all athletes need in order to play their best. This one depends largely on the athlete and their personality type.

It's the job of the mental coach to help the athlete understand what that mindset looks like for them.

For example, I've worked with athletes who play their best when focused on being relaxed and enjoying themselves. While I've also worked with athletes who play their best when trying to prove the other team wrong.

One player even went out of his way leading up to games to find a reason to be mad at the other team.

The core principle is the same: finding a peak mindset the athlete can consistently have going into games. The actual mindset is what will vary.

A mental performance coach must work with athletes to build mental skills. This is done by taking a personalized approach and finding what skills work best at getting the athlete to compete at their highest level.

To help identify what skills will work best, a mental performance coach needs a plan. That's where the structure of the program comes into play.

How Mental Performance Coaching Works

Mental performance coaching is a process. A process that can be easily compared to building physical skills.

Physical skills are not built overnight. They take time to fine tune and get to the point where you are highly skilled within your sport.

The same is true for mental skills. You aren't going to develop incredible levels of self-confidence overnight. Just as you're not going to overcome all your fears as a player overnight.

But with consistent work, you can build high levels of confidence, reduce your fears, and build many other positive mental skills that will increase your performance.

Here at Success Starts Within, we offer a 12-week mental performance coaching program. What I've done is outlined the coaching program below to help you gain a better idea of how mental coaching for athletes works.

  • Mental Game Assessment: you will begin mental coaching by taking an assessment. This assessment helps to gain a better idea of your main mental game challenges, along with the key mental skills we need to focus on building.
  • Deep Dive Session: following the completion of the assessment, our first session together will be a deep dive session, where we get a clear idea of what's holding you back within your game and what mental skills will help.
  • Custom Mental Game Plan: once you've completed the assessment and we've had our first session, I will create your custom mental game plan. This will include the top mental skills we will focus on during the coaching.
  • Weekly Coaching Sessions: each week we will have a 50-minute mental performance coaching session. During these sessions we will review recent practices and games, and you will learn different mental training tools and techniques.
  • Action Steps: following each session you will receive action steps to complete during the week. These are a vital part of the program, as it is the effort you put in between the sessions where serious growth will take place.

Structuring mental performance coaching in this way has proven to be the optimal setup for success.

While the structure itself remains the same, the personalization comes into play when creating your mental game plan. This is where a tailored approach is taken to ensure the work will align with you, your personality, and your goals.

Should You Work With a Mental Performance Coach?

How to know when it's time to work with a mental coach as an athlete can be difficult. Even if you are noticing mental blocks holding you back within your game, you may feel like it's something you can work through on your own.

So, how can you be sure the time is right for you to work with a mental coach?

Well, there are two main approaches athletes can take to mental coaching: a reactive approach and a proactive approach.

A reactive approach is when you are reacting to current challenges in your game. A major reason athletes take this approach is because they are playing better in practices than in games.

Something is keeping them from translating their skills in practice into games. And that something is a mental block.

With mental performance coaching, the athlete can work through the mental blocks that are holding them back.

Another approach is a proactive approach. Now with this approach you may still be noticing mental blocks present, but poor performance isn't the main reason for working with a mental performance coach.

When an athlete takes a proactive approach to mental coaching they are doing so because they understand the benefits it will have on their mindset and their game.

I work with both approaches: athletes who are underperforming currently and need to quickly overcome a mental block, along with athletes who are currently performing well, but know a stronger mental game will lead to increased performance.

I like outlining both approaches, because it shows you that no matter if you're currently underperforming or performing well, you can benefit from working with a mental performance coach.

How to Get Started With Mental Performance Coaching

Knowing now what mental performance coaching is, the benefits it will have on your game, along with how the process works, how can you get started with mental performance coaching?

Well, if you’re interested in getting started with mental coaching, the next step is for you to schedule a free introductory coaching call with me.

During the call, we’ll go over your main goals for the coaching to see if the program will be a good fit. I will also answer any questions you may have about the coaching and the process as well.

If you’re ready to take your game to the next level, schedule a free introductory coaching call to learn more about mental performance coaching.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mental performance coaching, and how does it differ from physical training?

  • Mental performance coaching involves working one-on-one with a mental performance coach to develop mental skills such as confidence, focus, and resilience. It complements physical training by enhancing an athlete's mindset and mental strength.

What are some of the benefits of mental performance coaching for athletes?

  • Mental performance coaching offers several benefits, including increased confidence, improved focus, enhanced resilience, reduced anxiety, heightened motivation, positive self-talk, and stronger mental toughness. These benefits can significantly impact an athlete's performance on the field or court.

How does a mental performance coach personalize their approach to each athlete?

  • A mental performance coach tailors their approach to each athlete by identifying the athlete's unique mental game challenges and personality. They create a custom mental game plan and adapt their coaching techniques to suit the athlete's individual needs and goals.

How does the process of mental performance coaching work, and what is the typical structure?

  • Mental performance coaching is a structured process that takes time to develop. It typically involves a mental game assessment, a deep dive session, a custom mental game plan, weekly coaching sessions, and action steps for athletes to work on between sessions. The structure remains consistent, but the personalization comes into play when creating the mental game plan.

When should athletes consider working with a mental performance coach?

  • Athletes can benefit from mental performance coaching whether they are currently underperforming or performing well. A reactive approach involves seeking coaching when facing mental blocks that hinder performance, while a proactive approach involves recognizing the potential benefits of a stronger mental game. In both cases, mental performance coaching can be beneficial for athletes looking to enhance their performance and mindset.

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.

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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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