A major tenet of sport and performance psychology is that mental skills are important determinants of performance involving cognitive (thinking) abilities perfected through mental skills training. The intent of which is to provide a set of psychological strategies for dedicated improvement of  performance, successfully recovering from sport injury, and maintaining a positive life-balance between sport and other aspects of life, including family. Professional and most collegiate athletes are familiar with the term, but may not all have the same conceptual definition of mental skills. So what do I mean by mental skills? Mental skills are internal capabilities that help an athlete improve performance by learning to control their minds efficiently and consistently as they execute attainable goals. Mental skills training is the process that provides the methods and techniques to improve performance by developing self-confidence and creating a positive mind-set through goal setting, positive self-talk, visualization, imagery, and self-efficacy.

Goal-setting is the process of setting down three to five action oriented objectives that are to be attained by reaching specified milestones. In effect, goals are the cornerstones of achievement necessary to accomplish, achieve and attain an objective (Graham, 2011). Visualization is a single mental image of a goal where there is a clear picture; a single frame, of it in your mind (Michaels, 2012).  Imagery entails a set of mental visual images; a mental motion picture, of oneself proceeding through a series of actions to achieve a goal affecting and controlling performance,  improving cognitive skills, and regulating excitement and/or anxiety (Gammage, Hall & Rodgers ,2000;  Gregg, Hall, McGowan & Hall, 2011; Monsma & Feltz, 2006;  Williams & Cumming, 2011).

Positive self-talk is the use optimistic affirmations that begin with “I am” statements to reinforce a positive mindset in accomplishing a goal (Graham, 2011). These are those simple one line statements such as, “I am confident in my ability”, “I am positive”, “I am relaxed”, and “I am prepared”. The premise of which is to engage the subconscious to reinforce a positive attitude in directing the conscious mind to achieve the positive statement. Self efficacy is described as the ability to bring about a desired result and/or performance outcome. It is a self-enhancing process concerned with how well one self-motivates to overcome adversity, difficulty, and challenges to meet a goal, to win (Bandura, 1997).  It comes down to what has been referred to as the law of belief: what a person believes in their heart with conviction becomes realty.

Mental toughness is defined as that mental state of natural or developed psychological advantage; mental skills, which permits an individual to cope better than their opponents in competition and training, and/or in facing adversity and crisis through a determined, focused, confident and controlled attitude (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002).  Characteristics of mental toughness involve high levels of self-efficacy, commitment, conviction, and confidence. In one of their most poignant statements Jones, Hanton, and Connaughton (2002) asserted that mental toughness is one of the critical psychological attributes in attaining performance excellence, where for example an exceptional athlete possesses a kind of natural mental toughness that emerges during intense competition or when facing adversity, a crisis or a difficult, highly stressful situation.  Mental skills training for sport captures the five principal mental skills in a concerted effort to enhance and improve individual and team performance, concentrating on developing a higher level of mental toughness necessary to compete at a high level. And this is the amazing attribute of a dedicated mental skills training program for performance improvement.

*Editors Note: EXACT Sports has developed an exciting new online mental training program.  Available at www.prephero.com, your athletes can go through the 5 core mental skills over a 10 week training course.

References

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Gammage, K. L., Hall, C. R., & Rodgers, W. M. (2000). More about exercise imagery. Sport Psychologist, 14(4), 348-359.

Graham, G.S. (2011). Goal attainment. In See the Green$: Achieving Your Entrepreneurial Dream. Washington, D.C: Logos Press.

Gregg, M., Hall, C., McGowan, E., & Hall, N. (2011). The Relationship between Imagery Ability and Imagery Use among Athletes. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology, 23(2), 129-141.

Hall, C. R., Munroe-Chandler, K. J., Cumming, J., Law, B., Ramsey, R., & Murphy, L. (2009). Imagery and observational learning use and their relationship to sport confidence. Journal Of Sports Sciences, 27(4), 327-337.

Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness?  An investigation of elite sport performers, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14:3, 205-218.

Michaels, J. (2012). MIND-BODY fitness. American Fitness, 30(3), 24-31.

Monsma, E., V. & Feltz, D., L. (2006). A mental preparation guide for figure skaters; a developmental approach. In Joaquin Dosil, (Ed.) The sport psychologist’s handbook: A guide to sport-specific performance enhancement. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Williams, S. E., & Cumming, J. (2011). Measuring Athlete Imagery Ability: The Sport Imagery Ability Questionnaire. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33(3), 416-440.

Author:

Gerald S. “Sandy” Graham, Psy.D Student, Sport & Performance Psychology, MBA, MS, Author. Email: sandygraham@sandy1graham.com, LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/in/sgrahamspp/