Mental Training Exercises for Sports

Mental training will help you increase your performance and overcome mental game challenges. Learn the mental training exercises you can use as an athlete.

Mental training is the process of using specific exercises to build mental skills. As an athlete, the stronger your mental skills, the better you will perform. The reason for this lies in the many benefits mental training has within sports.

In this article, you will learn why mental training is important for athletes, and the different mental training exercises you can use for sports.

Benefits of Mental Training for Sports

Whenever you train, it is the skills you are after. There are certain qualities and characteristics you want that only come through training. This is true for physical training and remains true in terms of mental training.

Those skills are what truly highlight the benefit of using mental training as an athlete. By developing them, they have a positive impact on your play.

There are many mental skills that can be developed by using mental training, with some of the main ones including:
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Self-Talk
  • Staying Calm Under Pressure
  • Resilience
  • Staying Composed After a Mistake

As these skills are developed with mental training exercises, they will work to improve your play on the field or court.

Going even deeper, there are two ways this is done: reducing mental game challenges and enhancing your physical skills.

Reducing Mental Game Challenges

Mental game challenges involve things such as sports performance anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism, and high expectations that work against your ability to perform your best.

These are often the true causes of athletes not being able to translate practice play into games.

The way mental training exercises help to reduce these mental game challenges is by building the skills listed above.

For example, if you are dealing with fear of failure, there are two specific areas we would work on: building your confidence and managing your focus.

So, we see that to overcome these challenges, we must focus on developing positive mental skills. And that is done through the use of mental training.

Enhancing Your Physical Skills

If right now you wouldn’t necessarily say sports performance anxiety, fear of failure, or any other mental game challenges are keeping you from playing well, then is mental training any use to you?

The answer is yes! Another way mental training increases your performance is by helping to enhance your physical skills.

A good example is of a basketball player who excels at shooting. The way mental training can help him shoot even better is by strengthening his focus and improving his ability to stay calm under pressure.

Combined with his physical skills, strong focus and staying calm in stressful situations, will help him execute better in games on a more consistent basis.

Main Mental Training Exercises

Now that we’ve identified the benefits of using mental training for sports, let’s dive into the main mental training exercises you can use as an athlete.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is also known as visualization and is a way for you to train your skills in your mind.

What you do when you visualize is imagine a scene, for example serving in tennis. You go into detail, making the scene as real as you can in your mind. A key aspect of visualization is bringing emotion into it.

You want to feel the emotions you’d like to feel while you’re performing.

Here are the mental skills mental rehearsal can help you build:
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Staying Calm Under Pressure
  • Keeping Your Composure After a Mistake
Here’s a guide to follow to perform visualization for yourself:
  • Find a quiet location where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Sit down and close your eyes.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down and bring your attention into the present moment.
  • Create your scene, going into as much detail as possible.
  • Feel calm and confident while you perform and any other emotion you want.
  • Feel successful after you see yourself perform your skills well.


Self-talk is a mental skill you can develop but is also an exercise you can use. Self-talk involves the way you speak to yourself and how you think.

The reason it’s a powerful mental training exercise to use is because of the impact what you think has on your emotions.

In addition, if you can control what you’re saying to yourself, you can help stay calm under pressure, keep yourself focused, and let go of a mistake when it happens during a practice or game.

Here are the main mental skills self-talk can help you build:
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Resilience
  • Staying Calm Under Pressure
  • Keeping Your Composure After a Mistake

Self-talk is an incredibly powerful exercise because we are all constantly thinking. By controlling what you think, you can influence many parts of yourself and how you play.

To make the most of self-talk as an exercise, here’s a strategy you can use:
  • Make a list of all the negative and unhelpful thoughts you have (you can take a few days to do this).
  • Create a list of positive/productive alternatives for each of the negative statements you identified.
  • Repeat the new statements to yourself each day.

This exercise helps get you comfortable with speaking to yourself in a new way and begins to retrain your natural thought patterns.

What you also want to begin doing is simply paying attention to what you’re thinking. As you practice and compete, pay attention to your thoughts and work to speak to yourself in a way that increases your play rather than holds you back.


At first glance, writing may not seem like a mental training exercise, but it can be very beneficial when it comes to understanding yourself better. And understanding yourself better is the foundation of improvement.

To use writing to train your mind, you want to perform self-reflective writing. This is where you aim to write a page a day, where you examine your thoughts, how you’re feeling, and evaluate yourself.

Here are the main mental skills writing helps you build:
  • Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management

I recommend doing this either in the morning or at night, depending on your schedule and preference.

There is very little structure to this exercise, other than being sure you stick with it each day.

The feedback I’ve gotten from the athletes I’ve worked with is that this has really helped them understand themselves better and work through some of the challenges they were facing.

Mindfulness Meditation

Being able to center your attention on what you’re doing is a valuable skill for anyone to learn. For athletes, keeping your mind in the present moment is crucial.

There are many distractions you face during practices and games, and if you can’t control your attention, it will quickly get the better of you. So, you need to be training your ability to focus.

And there are very few better ways to do that than mindfulness meditation.

Here are the main mental skills mindfulness meditation will help you build:
  • Focus
  • Self-Awareness
  • The Ability to Stay Calm Under Pressure
  • Keeping Your Composure After a Mistake
Here is a guide you can use to practice mindfulness meditation:
  • Choose a specific amount of time (I recommend five minutes to start).
  • Get into a quiet location and sit in a chair with your back straight.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  • Now you want to focus your attention onto your breath.
  • As you get distracted or attached to a thought, pull your attention back onto your breath.

The point of mindfulness meditation is to train your ability to recognize when your attention drifts and bring it back onto your breath. I say that to emphasize that if you have a ton of thoughts during your meditation, that’s okay. That’s kind of the point.

That means you are training!

The more you perform this meditation, the easier it will be for you to play in a mindful state and to recognize when your attention drifts during a game.

Daily Objectives

Daily objectives are specific targets you set for yourself going into training sessions, practices, and games.

As an athlete, you want to be sure you are training with intent. Likewise, you want to be sure you are focusing on something during a game that puts you in the best position to succeed. Objectives help you do both.

Here are the main mental skills daily objectives will help you build:
  • Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Staying Calm Under Pressure
  • Keeping Your Composure After a Mistake

The objectives you set need to be completely in your control. They must be things that you have the power to determine whether or not you do.

I know the objectives and targets that are natural to set in sports involve the outcome. You want to score a certain number of points and get a specific number of hits.

That’s great, and these objectives will help you get there.

Here are some keys to keep in mind when using daily objectives:
  • Make them 100% in your control.
  • Use them for both practices and games.
  • Evaluate yourself based on whether you stuck to your objectives NOT the outcome.
  • Set objectives based on what you want to work on improving.

Final Thoughts

As an athlete, the development of specific mental skills will help you overcome mental game challenges and enhance the physical skills you already have.

To build these mental skills, there are certain mental training exercises you can use.

I encourage you to take the exercises outlined in this article and apply them to your training routine. And remember, just as with physical training, consistency is key.

If you have any questions about mental training or mental performance coaching, please fill out the email form at the bottom of this page and I will be happy to get back to you.

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 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.

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.

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