By Amy Gross, Peak Performance & Mental Coach, www.pillars4performance.com
“In the sports arena I would say there is nothing like training and preparation. You have to train your mind as much as your body.”
One of the main reasons why I started Pillars4Performance was to educate people on the benefits of training their minds like they train their bodies. It’s important that athletes understand and emphasize the mental game as much as the physical, technical and tactical aspects of a sport. If athletes learn to make mental skills training, self-care and recovery an integral part of their training program, they will be better equipped to build and sustain their performance.
- Change the way you perceive the mental game
We often take a reactive approach to mental training. A lot of athletes only work on these skills—such as focus, confidence and mental toughness—if they have difficulty performing under pressure. Imagine if athletes adopted the same mentality to their physical training (like only working on their speed if they struggle with their movement). Athletes need to recognize that continuously developing and refining their mental game will help them take their performance to the next level.
Another way in which we do athletes a disservice is by assuming that people who are mentally tough or win most of their close matches don’t need mental skills training. While those individuals may excel in certain areas, they may be highly critical, prone to burn-out or have trouble regulating their emotions. Viewing the mental game more holistically enables us to cater to the whole person, which includes addressing an athlete’s physical, mental and emotional fitness.
- Examine your performance from an objective lens
Athletes who learn to assess their mental game can develop a strong competitive advantage over their peers. The difficult part of self-reflection, however, is that athletes risk getting into the habit of being too critical. Telling yourself you need to improve on a skill or giving yourself a six out of ten on your overall performance is far different than saying, “I always lose my focus when it matters.” To prevent getting into a negative mindset, pay attention to your thoughts and practice self-acceptance and objectivity. Next, practice reframing your negative self-statements (“I want to maintain my focus when it matters”). Reframing your thoughts encourages growth and helps you identify solutions to the problem; for example, “here are three things I can do in the future to improve my focus.”
- Integrate mental training into your daily routine
Doing extra fitness or pressure sessions can help athletes make strides, but if that hard work neglects the mind-body-emotion connection, it can be detrimental to performance. You risk not peaking when needed or you can show up to big tournaments drained. For this reason, it’s important to check in with yourself regularly to examine whether you’re prioritizing your mental game. If you’re looking to build your confidence, are you regularly practicing confidence builders? Are you participating in mental imagery or breathing techniques? Are you taking time to reframe your negative thoughts? If you need to build your emotion regulation skills, are you practicing your emotional literacy? The same goes for rest and recovery. If you understand the value of deep recovery, you’ll improve your mental clarity, restore your energy levels, and feel fresh and ready for competition.