How To Create A Mental Skills Training Program
High-level athletes face challenges that others in society often do not encounter. Because of high-intensity training situations, consequences for below-average performances (e.g., less playing time), and constant evaluations made by others (e.g., sport judges, fans), an athlete’s mental well-being may become compromised.
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, and All-Star basketball player DeMar DeRozan have all been open about challenges to their mental well-being leading up to and after a competition. The importance of sport psychology/mental skills training and support for athlete mental well-being have never been as important as it is today because of the challenges athletes currently face.
ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall (who also sought help for his mental health during his NFL career) recently commented.
“Now look, we keep saying that sport is 80% mental, so when are we going to double down on training our mind and making sure we are there mentally? We don’t do it enough as players.”
Sport Psychologist Greg Dale agreed with Marshall (i.e., most athletes admit that anywhere from 50-90% of their success in sport is attributed to psychological factors), but also added that athletes/teams only commit 5-10% of their total training time to the development of key psychological skills. Research completed at HeadSet shows that approximately 40% of competitive athletes do no mental skills training and approximately 75% do less than 3 days of mental skills training per week.
If athletic performance is predominately mental and most athletes are doing little to no mental training there is a great opportunity to create systematic, purposeful, and sustainable growth in this area. With that said, athletes cannot do it alone. It is up to their organizations, associations, teams, coaches, and parents to help put formal mental training systems in place. However, most of the supports mentioned above either do not know how to create such a training program for their athletes or because of a lack of knowledge or time/initiative they create programs that are unsystematic and inconsistent.
At HeadSet, we believe that there are 3 core components when building a successful mental training program for athletes. They are the 3Cs:
Let us take a look at these 3 components separately.
First, successful mental training programs need to touch on areas that impact athletic performance (in each respective sport). Each sport is different with regards to which mental skill are necessary to perform effectively. For example, mixed martial artists may need to focus on regulating pressure the week before an upcoming fight, whereas a baseball player may need to focus on a specific routine before each at-bat. Once again, each sport has its own mental skill needs. A mental skills training program must be tailored to address these different needs. At HeadSet, we generally focus on 5 key mental skills when building a training program for athletes and teams. They are Awareness, Regulation, Confidence, Resilience, and Motivation. However, there are times when we focus on only 1 or 2 out of the 5, and in other cases, we focus on areas outside of the 5 (such as decision-making or team cohesion). It just depends on the athlete’s/team’s current need. Please take some time to think about the mental skills necessary to be successful in your sport.
Also, mental skills training needs to be tracked in order to understand athlete progression and development. Currently, athletes have access to many physical/fitness apps and with the advancement of video technology and software analytics, athletes (and their coaches) can study body movement and exertion to the finest detail. However, the tracking of mental skills is almost non-existent. This is one of the most important aims in the creation and development of Headset. HeadSet was created to assess and track an athlete’s mental skill and to show which skills are progressing and which skills still need development. This analysis is completed on a weekly and monthly basis.
Next, a successful mental training program needs to be consistent. Physically and technically, athletes and sports teams train and perform on specific days and times during the week. These may change slightly over the course of a season; however, they do not significantly change week to week. What would you think if an athlete or team trained physically/technically 5 days a week for an hour during the 1st week of the season and then the following week they trained 3 days a week for 20 minutes each session and during the third week they only trained 1 day for 45 minutes? Then each subsequent week of the season the amount of training also varied. What enables an athlete to learn and to get stronger is to make training consistent. The same system needs to be undertaken mentally.
Often, sports teams bring in a Mental Performance Consultant for 1 session to talk about the importance of mental skills training and to discuss/describe specific interventions that may help an athlete while they train and perform. This would be the equivalent of a coach showing an athlete a new technique or drill and then doing nothing afterward. Mental training must be given a regular time each week for it to work. As mentioned earlier, at HeadSet each month an athlete is assessed regarding his/her mental skill competency. After the assessment, a weekly plan is given to each athlete (based on the assessment) and a pre and post-competition event planner is given based on the athlete’s schedule. Thus far, research at HeadSet has found that athletes who complete their mental training on a regular basis significantly outperform those athletes who do not.
Research data in training and development shows that skills are best learned in concert with other people. Collaborative activities have been shown to greatly increase a sense of responsibility and belonging in individual participants. The same approach should be taken with a mental skills training program. When athletes and coaches work together on their mental skills, it helps individuals to learn more about themselves, as well as becoming more aware of others. For example, through group participation, team members can share with each other how to overcome specific challenges or how to come back from making a mistake, or how to remain calm under pressure. Coaches and sports administrators should encourage these benefits by giving team members the opportunity to teach and learn from one another by creating their own voices through experiences.
As you develop your mental skills training program, please keep in mind the 3 core areas mentioned above. If you would like to speak with a HeadSet consultant about creating a mental skills training program for your athletes or team, please feel free to email us at email@example.com
Dale, G. and Robbins, J. (2010). It’s a Mental Thing! Five Keys to Improving Performance and Enjoying Sport. Excellence In Performance; 1st edition.
Tags: Sports Mental Training, Sports Mental Toughness, Sports Science, Sport and Exercise Science, Psychological Skills Training, Coaching Science.