Sports

Using Sport Psychology to Your Advantage

Introduction

Most athletes have developed core mental skills to a sufficient degree that they can function well in day-today situations or even in low-level competitive events. But when confronted with more demanding, pressure packed situations, they may falter. This can be most frustrating to athletes—and their coaches—because they know they have the potential to perform well. Not recognizing that the performance problems are due to a lack of mental skills, coaches may encourage athletes to work even harder on their physical skills. A gymnast may spend extra time on an apparatus. A basketball player may spend extra time shooting free throws after practice.

Inadequate mental skills

Distance runners may pound their bodies even harder, sometimes to the point of overtraining. Indeed, some performance problems might stem from physical issues, such as inadequate training or poor biomechanics. However, in many cases inadequate mental skills could be the cause. A coach who does not know how to help athletes develop the necessary mental skills usually does one of three things: tries to support the athlete with empathy and encouragement; selects another athlete who may be less talented physically but can perform better under pressure; or aggravates the problem by placing more pressure on the athlete to begin performing up to his or her capability.

Conclusion

The alternative, of course, is to capitalize on advances in sport psychology. Coaches from all sports are increasingly recognizing that athletes can learn and improve the mental skills needed to achieve excellence in sport. Rather than leaving mental skills development to chance, top coaches are increasingly taking responsibility for helping their athletes develop these essential skills by incorporating MST into their athletes’ training programs.

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