How do athletes train mentally?

By now, you’ve likely heard the phrase “mental” or “psychological” training. The clues in the name, this form of training is working the mind, testing it in multiple ways, and instilling confidence within an athlete.

Often, what separates the highest level sportsmen or women is not only their physical ability, but their mental ability too. To perform game after game to the best of your ability, you must be in the right frame of mind, focused on the task at hand, and able to tackle multiple situations in-game with unruly confidence.

This short article will discuss two basic methods of mental training for athletes; positive self-talk and visualization. 

Positive self-talk

There’s self-talk and there’s “positive self-talk” – it’s important to use the latter if you want to see an improvement in your game or individual sport.

You’ve likely used self-talk before, perhaps psyching yourself up before a game or telling yourself everything is going to be okay in an in-game or out of game situation. 

To practice this form of mental training, try writing a short but positive script. If you struggle with anxiety during a match, tailor your script to instill confidence in your ability to perform the skill you lack. Regular repetition of this script will calm your nerves and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

Visualization 

Visualization is also as it sounds, picturing in or out of game scenarios in your mind. The benefits of this are numerous, however, may include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Increased in-game performance

Similarly to self-talk, you can also create a visualization script. To get the most out of your visualization practice, incorporate a mix of sounds, whether this is listening to the soccer in the background, touch e.g. holding a football, and if possible environment (somewhere familiar, perhaps where you train). 

Furthermore, if you struggle with a particular skill, whether it’s passing, tackling, or serving, dependant on your sport, visualize yourself successfully performing this skill only. Visualizing yourself failing at a skill may cause further detriment to your performance.

To conclude

The fine line between amateur and elite athletes is often defined as their mental or psychological ability.

To improve your mental game, bringing a performance increase on the pitch, track, or in the gym, incorporate both self-talk and visualization practices into your training. Begin by performing these 1-2 times a week, increasing this if you feel it’s necessary.