A question that I often receive from athletes who have either never heard of mental training or are skeptical of its benefits is, “how can mental training make me a better athlete?” While I’m normally tempted to launch into a long explanation of all the great research findings out there, I simply say, “there are no shortage of ways that mental training can help you” and “you’re probably well on your way towards achieving that goal already.”
As an athlete, or even in your daily life, you’ve likely encountered many challenging situations. Maybe it’s getting through that last kilometre of your 10k run, maintaining your cool while your 5-year-old takes five minutes to not only find her shoes but think about putting them on, or staying focused during a staff meeting at 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon. Whether you realize it or not, there is something that you are doing instinctively to help you get through these tough moments. That “thing” I am talking about is harnessing your mental toughness, which you develop and refine through mental training.
While mental training (and the field of sport psychology) has been around for decades (Williams, 2009), it is only recently that its use by elite athletes has been widely publicized. To illustrate my point, I did a Google search combining “mental training” and “1998 Olympics” and got about 400 results. I then did a similar search combining “mental training” and “2016 Olympics” and got about 45,000 results. That’s more than a 100-fold increase in less than 20 years! Even the scientific literature has seen a similar jump in the number of articles detailing researchers’ experiences of working with high level athletes. This topic has become so popular in fact, that the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology dedicated an entire issue to mental training programs for Olympic athletes (Terry & Si, 2015). Clearly, more researchers, national sport organizations, and most importantly, athletes are recognizing the benefits of mental training and its importance as part of their regular training regimens.
When it comes to mental toughness, some people are naturally born with “it” while others have to work a little bit harder to achieve “it.” Regardless of where you’re at, mental training can teach you tangible skills and strategies to help improve your performance at the times when you need it the most. Whether it’s setting goals to improve your skills, shaking off a setback using positive self-talk, or managing anxiety surrounding an upcoming race, mental training can help you identify areas of mental weaknesses and help you maximize your potential as an athlete.
The ever-growing body of applied sport psychology research is constantly discussing new and effective ways that mental training can help you improve your performance across all areas of your life. Stay tuned for future blog posts, where myself and my colleagues, Charles and Wade, will dispel some of the myths of mental training, as well as provide tips on how to incorporate mental training strategies into your fitness routines and daily lives.
The Wrap-up – what you need to know.
- While mental training (and sports psychology) has been around for decades, it’s only recently that it’s use by elite athletes has been widely publicized. And it’s only going to continue to grow at the same rapid pace it’s currently at.
- Mental training can teach you tangible skills and strategies to help improve your performance at the times when you need it the most.
- The ever-growing body of applied sport psychology research is constantly discussing new and effective ways that mental training can help you improve your performance across all areas of your life – STAY TUNED as our BTP Sports Psych team be dispelling some of the myths associated with mental training, and providing you with tips that you can utilize to improve it!
By: Nicole Westlund Stewart, PhD Sports Psychology
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Terry, P. C., & Si, G. (2015). Providing sport psychology support for Olympic athletes: International perspectives [Special issue]. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 13(1).
Williams, J. (Ed.). (2009). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.