What is mental training? Mental performance training is a combination of techniques elite athletes use to improve performance. It’s a way of training mental toughness so they can better cope with various mental and emotional factors, which can include anything from anxiety to trauma and burnout. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, mental energy is directly related to athletic performance. For example, a long-distance swimmer about to tackle Alcatraz can be at their peak physical performance but still need mental strength to combat the stress of unpredictable weather conditions and currents.
Cambridge University reports that between 20% and 60% of elite athletes are affected by burnout, mental health issues and eating disorders. To avoid this, athletes can work with mental performance coaches who can help with focus, motivation, setting achievable and realistic goals and managing anxiety.
Continue reading to learn how different types of mental training can help you in sports and what elite athletes do to prepare mentally when competing.
The Different Types of Mental Performance Training
According to the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, there are nine skills that can help athletes reach their sporting potential, which fall into three categories: visualization, mindset and goal setting.
To optimize performance, athletes should focus on goal setting by creating short- and long-term goals. Having a sense of control and “small wins” while working toward a long-term goal can instill a sense of confidence and direction. Mental coaching for athletes typically involves a goal-achievement strategy and progress monitoring. Goals should always be high but attainable. Athletes should consider setting different goals during practice and competitions.
Controlling images and visualizing outcomes is a necessary part of competing. The general idea behind this is that the brain expects what it’s been told. So, if you think about how hard the game is going to be or that you’re not likely to win, your brain and body aren’t primed to perform at their best. Instead, athletes focus intently on what it would look and feel like to make the perfect shot or win the game.
There are a multitude of environmental factors that can affect your mindset. Learning how to control your mind so emotions and stress don’t affect performance requires practice. Anxiety, trauma, life events, nutrition, public scrutiny, proper recovery after injury and attitude are all aspects affecting your mindset.
Mental strength training needs to be practiced in addition to physical training. Continuously working on the mental aspect of sports can condition athletes to reach their full athletic potential.
How Mental Training Improves Athletic Performance
Training for mental strength can accelerate performance. Mental toughness exercises for athletes can minimize the risk of injury. When your mind is tough, you become highly focused and understand the importance of developing calming routines before matches. Mental training can help prevent young athletes from burning out before they reach their peak by helping them condition the mind and develop coping mechanisms. Mental exercise for athletes can help alleviate stage fright and help with developing big match temperament.
Mental training can:
- Reduce the risk of injury
- Encourage stronger and more consistent performance during matches/competitions
- Improve your ability to think through game strategy
- Teach you how to stay calm and level-headed when the pressure is on
- Provide the emotional maturity to listen to your body
- Help you keep a positive frame of mind
Famous Athletes Who Use Mental Coaching
Numerous top-performing athletes use mental coaching and cognitive behavioral techniques to improve performance. To boost their athletic performance, these famous athletes religiously practice their mental toughness exercises.
- Kobe Bryant: Kobe Bryant is a professional American basketball player who works closely with a mindfulness meditation coach.
- Tom Brady: This football player is a long-time user of mental health coaching.
- Nick Faldo: Professional golfer Nick Faldo works with a sports psychologist named Richard Coop to ensure he maintains his composure during tournaments. Golfers such as Greg Norman and Ben Crenshaw use the same psychologist.
- Mikaela Shiffrin: This famous skier focuses on mental toughness exercises to maintain an aggressive mindset for tackling challenges on the slopes.
Tips for Individuals Looking to Improve Their Mental Performance in Sports
Each person is different, which means mental performance training techniques need to be tailored specifically to the individual. Sports psychologists can provide mental coaching for athletes who need to up their game or are struggling with mental health. Try these tips if you’re looking to improve your mental performance in sports.
- Establish a pre-tournament routine: Whether it’s meditation, repeating a mantra, phoning a friend or finding a quiet space, you need a routine to keep you calm and centered. Over time, this also creates a pattern that lets your brain and body know what’s coming next.
- Practice positive affirmations: Spend at least 5 minutes a day repeating positive affirmations. Make it part of your daily routine. Affirmations can build optimism and confidence, which is a powerful mindset for sports.
- Reflection: After each event, reflect on what went well. Come up with a strategy and game plan to improve on the areas where you underperformed. Make reflection a time for growth and improvement — don’t dwell on the negative.
- Establish relaxation methods: Have hobbies that are completely unrelated to your professional sport. Find a relaxation technique that aids your mental well-being.
- Learn to ignore distractions: Work with a sports psychologist to learn how to focus internally on the process and how to control only what’s controllable.
- Focus: Learn how to concentrate effectively and focus on what must happen to achieve success, as opposed to what can go wrong.
If you’re in need of mental health coaching to improve your sports performance or struggle with preexisting mental health conditions, getting support can help. Contact our team of experts to help you restore your mental health and put measures in place to ensure a sense of well-being.