Is Your Mental Game Up to the Challenge?

Published by Susan Zaro on

Is your athletic training program out of balance? Many coaches and athletes devote a large percentage of their time to physical training for competition. Yet, coaches, players and parents often attribute non-performance mental factors as the culprit of why a player didn’t perform up to his/her capabilities. This is illustrated by comments such as; “He didn’t want it badly enough,” “She doesn’t handle pressure well,” “He had a great warm up but couldn’t execute when it counted,” “She becomes so anxious she can’t think clearly,” “He was playing well until the opponent called that unnecessary time out,” “I don’t understand why I play so well in practice and don’t in the game.” 

These comments are frequently heard in post-game analysis by coaches, players, parents, but rarely do you hear a coach, player or parent who says that the player has not been taught the proper psychological skills and strategies for emotional management and focus in competition. After a loss a large percentage of post-competition recap is generally attributed to mental and emotional pieces of the game but almost no time is spent incorporating these tools into a regular mental training routine. More frequently a player returns to the coach and they continue to work on a new physical strategy or increase practice time. This isn’t without benefits but doesn’t address the bigger picture. 

Why is Sport Psychology neglected as part of a training routine? The answer is that most coaches are not trained in essential psychological skills, so may not pause to explore if mental training skills can be taught to players to strengthen their physical/mental connection of com- petition. A one hour or one day seminar will not develop these skills. A coach saying to a player, “breathe” or “focus,” is not mental skills training. Some coaching philosophies are that athletes either have innate psychological capabilities or will develop them as their physical skills improve. 

At the elite professional and collegiate level of performance there is significant movement to incorporate psychological training for competition. The elite athlete knows that having highly developed physical skills is not enough as most opponents at that level are equally physically prepared. The elite athlete is aware that the winner will most likely be the player who is most mentally prepared. 

Do you perform up to your potential in competition? When things don’t go your way are you able to remain focused and adjust to the challenge? Is your mental game up to the demands of your physical game? Sport Psychology is a process of training players to develop an effective mind set well before they enter the competitive arena. Improving competitive performance is achieved through connecting mind/body awareness and providing techniques and strategies to help a player address all the elements that allow him/her to have a successful athletic performance when it matters. 

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Photo credit: Joel DeLeon
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