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Mental Skills - Article 1

If you're like most sport enthusiasts, you're convinced that a commitment to the psychological dimension of your game will not only enhance your performance but also bring you closer to reaching your potential no matter what your current level of competition.

If you are also like most people, you may begin a mental skills program highly enthused and motivated for the first couple of weeks but if you don't see dramatic results "immediately" you may be tempted to revert back to practice that only includes three of the four pillars of peak performance. In some ways, mental skills training is like the familiar New Years Resolution to "get in shape." Unfortunately, data indicates that 50% of the people who start an exercise and fitness program drop out within the first six months. Our culture has sold us on the idea of quick fixes and immediate change. Instead of thinking of mental preparation as a "magic pill" think of it as a "steady diet." You will see results only if you commit to it in the same way you do the technical, tactical and physiological aspects, namely consistent and prolonged effort over time.

If so many top level athletes and coaches extol the benefits of mental training for peak performance, then why do a relatively small percentage of teams and individuals commit to practicing and refining this critical part of performance? Listed are the top four reasons for discontinuation. Check to see if any of your reasons are included:

  1. I don't have enough time
  2. I'd like to do psychological skills training (PST) but I don't know how
  3. You're either mentally tough and motivated or you're not. It can't be taught or acquired, so why try
  4. People need to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" and not look for improvements from this new fad. We never did any of that stuff when I was an athlete.
Let's look at each reason, beginning with "lack of time." To be most effective, PST should be part of your regular daily practice and/or game routine, not necessarily separate from or in addition to your normal sport activities. Start applying goal setting to your daily training schedule, or practice positive self-talk as you play. In this way, rather than an adding another team meeting into an already hectic day, you can incorporate mental practice into the arena where you will need to use it most...on the court, field, pool, arena, etc. As you become more proficient in practice, gradually you will begin to apply and utilize these same performance enhancement techniques into games, matches and actual competition. Just as physical skills are first practiced in a controlled environment in order to sharpen and automate performance, the same principle should be followed for PST: simple to complex, less demanding to more demanding.

The second concern people have is acquiring the proper knowledge base. Well, if you're reading this article then you are already on your way in developing the requisite knowledge and skill. There are excellent books and journal articles available concerning mental training for sport. Whether you compete in golf, soccer, baseball, basketball or any other, much has been written on how to get the competitive edge and how to use it to your best advantage. Attend clinics, listen to respected athletes and coaches discuss their techniques at conferences or workshops and by all means, keep reading the eteamz site!

The final two excuses could best be explained by reminding yourself that mental skills are just like physical skills, they respond best to practice and repetition. All of us are born with varying levels of a host of qualities from mental toughness, to competitive drive to perseverance after failure. No matter how much or little you possess of any one characteristic, almost all psychological skills respond positively to sustained and appropriately focused efforts at improvement. Years ago, few athletes sought professional advice on personal training and fitness and yet today, that practice is commonplace. Years ago, few people understood the role that diet played in enhancing peak performance in sport. Science, research and technology have made incredible advances in our understanding of what psychological skills are best targeted to enhance performance and what principles to utilize to see those positive results.

© Dr. Colleen Hacker

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