The Mental Game –
Your mind is what makes everything else work.
—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA legend
Sports psychology is the scientific study of mind, emotion, and behavior as it relates to athletic performance and physical activity. The mental demands of rigorous competition can be enormous, making the sports psychology principles a crucial part of any athlete’s training regimen. Hall of Famers and Olympic champions, backed by decades of empirical research, all agree that the proper use of mental skills and strategies can significantly improve any athlete’s performance.
Athletes who diligently train their minds play their best more consistently, experience greater enjoyment, and increase their odds of victory. As one progresses to the higher echelons of any sport, physical skills tend to balance out among competitors. How, then, does the athlete distinguish him/herself from the pack? It is here where we discover that having a superior mindset is the key to gaining the upper-hand.
Important mental skills for athletic excellence:
- Supreme, unwavering confidence in your abilities
- The ability to keep a laser-like focus when surrounded by distractions
- The capacity to sustain a high-level of motivation throughout a long season
- The strength of will to conquer all anxiety, frustration, and discouragement
- The power to bring your intensity to the next level when needed
Effective mental training tools:
- Clear and challenging short and long-term goals
- Visualization of making great plays and succeeding on the field
- Positive, energetic language used to motivate yourself into a winning frame of mind
- A consistent breath during all moments of action
- Confident, upbeat body language to get the feeling of success in your body and mind
An athlete looking to improve their game can benefit from mental training at any time. Junior athletes can get a significant head start on their peers by developing their mental strength early on, rather than waiting until college or beyond. Seasoned pros can ensure they stay on top of their game, never letting themselves get complacent, by training their minds appropriately.
Mental training and counseling services can be applied in all scenarios; specific examples include:
- When the athlete wants to reach their full potential. By fine-tuning their game mentally and emotionally, they can eventually exceed even their greatest expectations.
- When the athlete experiences any kind of setback, such as a mental block, performance plateau, prolonged slump, demotion, or injury.
- When off-field issues or concerns begin to interfere with the athletes’ performance.
Your mentality will either hold you down or bring you up. Strive to master your mind rather than being mastered by it. If you don’t, you risk losing every game before it even starts. Think about how you can improve your performance in the following areas:
- How you prepare mentally in practice and during training
- How you maintain a winning mindset on the day of competition
- How you manage your thoughts in the moment of action
- How you deal with distractions
- How you use the results of competition to build your character from event to event
- How you communicate with others as a leader and a teammate
- How you decompress after training and competition to stay fresh and avoid burnout
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