Sport & performance psychology is widely misunderstood. Fixing problems and lapses in mental performance are only a small part of the benefits it provides. The main benefit is that it provides a systematic approach to controlling the mental aspects of performance.
By training mental skills, repeatable performance happens at the upper limits of an athlete's physical abilities. An athlete who trains their mental game gains a holistic understanding of the mechanisms of high performance. This aids in consistent performance and rapid corrections when facing adversity. There are foundational elements to mental skills training that make this happen. Training in these areas creates an edge that makes an athlete elite.
Mental toughness is the ability to persevere when things become difficult. Being mentally tough is about the next step, the next rep, and quieting the self-talk, which is trying to convince the athlete it’s okay to quit. It is about keeping one’s mind focused on the controllable and not surrendering to emotion. Mental toughness is trained through experience and sharpened through the interaction between the athlete and their sporting experience. This includes winning, losing, training, competing and any number of other things that are faced and overcome.
Champions don’t leave mental toughness to chance, they train it. At Mind Right, we help athletes build a mental skills plan and a a systematic approach to competition. They begin to perform consistently, no matter the circumstances.
The benefits of a mental plan include:
1. Creating and maintaining a flow mindset
2. Enhancing performance quality
3. Increasing performance consistency
4. Dealing more effectively with failure and adversity.
Anxiety is a negative emotional state which happens in the mind and body. It is driven by thought and is managed through learned techniques in our mental skill training program .
High levels of anxiety leads to:
1. Over-arousal and an athlete being too keyed up
2. Under-aroused and avoidant behavior
Mental skills training takes control of the brain's default mode network (DMN). The DMN is a series of structures and processes that monitor the environment and make sure we are ok. We have a natural bias toward negativity, because at one point in human history it was important to quickly recognize and adapt to danger. Pressure to perform triggers the brain's threat sensors and tells the DMN we are NOT ok. This creates psychological and physiological reactions that limit peak performance. Using sport psychology fundamentals and traditional cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, anxiety be managed and the brain can be conditioned for peak performance. Mental skills training not only equips an individual with coping skills for anxiety, it teaches how to use it to fuel performance.
Self-talk is an automatic inner voice which provides a running commentary on our experiences. It is a collection of statements, phrases, and cue words used to instruct and motivate ourselves. Mind and body react in the direction of one's dominant thoughts. Negative self-talk guides one's experience into the gravitational pull of their negative beliefs about sport and life and destroys peak performance.
Positive, performance oriented self-talk is a trainable skill. When trained, controlled, and used intentionally peak performance follows. Self-talk blocks, or deemphasizes distractions and fortifies the attention required for high performance. Self-talk is used to manage focus, funnel thoughts, actions and behaviors to the task at hand, and manage mental and physical activation levels.
The most important narrative of excellence is hard work, in the right direction pays off, the most important mechanism of performance is motivation. Motivation happens on a continuum from external to internal.
Internal motivation is where peak performance thrives. Internally motivated people approach an activity because of the love of the activity alone. Internal motivation creates good feelings about one’s self and primes the see and dwell on solutions, versus problems.
In sports and life there are also requirements, rules, and expectations that come from external sources. A peak performer understands how to operate under external control, as well. The ability to find value in grind is a key to becoming elite. Mental skills training equips an athlete to be motivated in all aspects of development.
Activation occurs in the mind and body. It is important to understand and manage activation level, as an athlete’s ability to pay attention to the right things, both mentally and physically affect performance. Mental skills training leads an athlete to understand their optimal states of arousal and how to recognize when they are too low, or too high. They will recognize the right thoughts and physical sensations for peak performance and be about to draw them up at will. Performance will become more consistent and predictable.
The ability to focus is a skill. The ability to focus and refocus on the right things over and over is an art. Peak performance is initiated by ability to perform the task at hand when the situation requires it. Mental skills training teaches how to be present in the moment and sustain and release focus.
Perlus (2016) describes imagery as:
A form of simulation training that can be used to learn new skills, plan performance strategies, improve technique, recover from injury, and develop mental toughness for optimal success in sport and fitness.
Imagery experiences can be internal, as if seeing through one’s own eyes, or external, as if watching from outside the body. Imagery can draw on all relevant senses including what the athlete sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels emotionally and physically. Other details can be brought into imagery which will make it richer, and therefore more effective. Imagery is like a mental blueprint which can be projected onto future performance, making it useful across a wide range of situations.
Goal setting is a powerful and necessary technique for enhancing and facilitating performance. Goals help an athlete stick to it, remain persistent and confident, focused, and create momentum in the right direction. Goal setting is important to every facet of performance, but is not maximized or fully understood. Mental skills training teaches how to set and conquer outcome, process and performance goals.
1. Goals direct attention to important elements of the skill being performed
2. Goals mobilize performer efforts
3. Goals prolong performer persistence
4. Goals foster the development of new learning strategies.