Why focus on mental skills training? Typical reason's athletes seek help.
For those that are not familiar with mental skills training, it may seem abstract, or even 'touchy-feely.' The touchy-feely opinion always makes me roll my eyes internally. I've worked with some of the toughest people in sport & military and frequently they are the biggest fans of mental skills training because they understand the need to make sure the mind is the strongest asset they have available.
For some, mental skills training is kind of abstract. That leads to a lot of underestimating of the importance of this training. The typical skills I coach involve managing thoughts, focusing attention on demand & under pressure, managing energy activation (maintaining calmness under pressure), and using imagery to improve skill & prepare for a performance.
The athletes that seek my services tend to seek out mental skills training for the same reason. They have experienced some sort of adversity (i.e. series of mistakes, injury, etc.) and they struggle to get their performance back on track. Sometimes the parent or coach is the one to reach out because they have tried unsuccessfully to help the athlete and recognize the need for someone with sport psychology expertise.
The approach I take is to first understand the impact the adversity has had on the athlete. Injury in particular can really create a disruption in the identity of the athlete. Once we determine the specific adversity, I work to help the athlete understand how he/she is thinking about the adversity. The cognitive appraisal of the adversity determines how the athlete responds, so we work to shift the athlete's thinking of the adversity in order to focus on moving forward. The moving forward piece is what typically will get the athlete excited again. I work with athletes about staying motivated, focusing on the performance moment on demand, imagining successful skill execution, and being deliberate with thoughts. The initial goal of mental skills training may be to deal with the immediate adversity. My goal is to provide adequate training on mental skills to equip my clients with the skills to excel when they encounter any adversity.
When Coaches reach out to seek mental skills training for their athletes, typically they are recognizing there is an aspect of the process that I can help with quickly. Similar to sending an athlete to a strength & conditioning coach, mental skills training is designed to provide systematic, direct training for the athlete's brain. Coaches sometimes want their athletes to understand how to continue to push past their perceived limitations. I hear often from coaches that many athletes want the results to happen without hard work. Explaining to athletes about the growth mindset, motivation and the process of setting appropriate goals and being deliberate with actions are a few of the mental skills directed at helping improve work ethic.
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