Today, we’re going to look at what’s involved in becoming a great athlete, their common practices, and how they develop that Mental Strength: mental training for athletes.
One of the most pressing issues of late – especially after the events of the last Olympic Games, with the US Gymnastics team and other top athletes opening up about their mental health – is the importance of mental training for athletes.
How do you train the mind to compete?
Physical training alone is not enough; the mental, emotional and psychological aspects of training are gaining importance both on and off the courts and playing fields.
In fact, it’s these aspects that’ll make the difference for some athletes between success and failure.
Sports Psychology is an increasingly studied and developing field. Despite what many may think, and despite the fact that it’s generally only used in professional sport, training the mind should be a part of every athlete’s routine.
Having a sports psychologist can help grow our potential.
Mental factors that influence sports performance
Sports performance is determined not only by an athlete’s assimilation of their different training loads, but also by factors such as correct nutrition and rest, as well as – and perhaps most importantly – an athlete’s attitude towards and predisposition to everything to do with their sport.
There are different mental factors that directly and/or indirectly influence the performance of an athlete, such as the following:
Motivation, the “desire and intention”, can come from either external or internal factors and variables.
It’s an important psychological factor for the acquisition and execution of tasks and motor skills.
This refers to the power you have over your emotions at any given moment, which will play a decisive role when it comes to improved sporting performance.
What do I mean by that?
The ability to be in the moment and focused on what’s being done and how it’s being carried out directly and positively influence performance.
In reality, we should be talking about attention – focussing on the elements we can handle by eliminating anything that distracts our attention away from what’s necessary.
Belief in your performance and output, as well as internal motivation, must be worked on continuously through self-assessment and learning processes. This is essential for building confidence and trust in what you do.
Self-belief is the confidence that’ll you’ll successfully perform an action in a performance/test.
Mental training routine
There are a variety of different methods and routines for training the mind and developing mental strength.
Depending on what needs to be improved, there are techniques that can be used to improve an athlete’s confidence and manage both negative and positive situations, nerves and emotions…
Some of the most commonly used techniques to develop mental strength are:
Breathing pattern and awareness work
Deep diaphragmatic breaths to restore the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
You need to pay attention to your breathing, focusing on how you breathe, forgetting about anything that might have previously disturbed its balance.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This technique consists of self-regulated physical and psychological activations by controlling muscle tension.
In other words, alternating muscle contraction and relaxation, promoting the athlete’s awareness of tension and thus their ability to control it.
“Mindfulness” and meditation is increasingly practiced by athletes because it allows them to develop greater control over themselves, improving concentration and being present at the right time.
This is defined as a cognitive skill through which athletes create or recreate a situation or experience in the mind.
Either remembering it from the past or imagining a future situation, but seeing your performance in the first person and imagining the emotions you’ll feel if one thing or another happens.
On the day of the competition, you’ll feel more confident with the environment and yourself. Training the mind is essential for athletes.
What should you do after the competition?
Regardless of the competitive outcome, analysing everything that happened and the results is a necessary step in an athlete’s growth.
However, it’s best to leave a few days before analysing everything in detail. This way, it’ll be from a more objective perspective and you’ll be able to judge and analyse without the interference of the emotions typical of competition.
- Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Fundamentos de Psicología del Deporte y el Ejercicio Físico(4ª Edición) Editorial Panamericana.
- Gregory Haff, G., Travis Tripplet, N.( 2018) Principios del entrenamiento de la fuerza y del acondicionamiento físico. Editorial Paidotribo.
- We recommend this related article on Athlete Motivation.
- Do you really know what “Mental Strength” is? We tell you all about it in this Post.
- Everything you need to know about Fartlek Training: read now.