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"Thanks, but it's not for me" and other myths about Mental Skills Training

The opening of this blog was written by Kate Lawrence:

As a current athlete, I found that understanding what mental skills are and how to use them can truly help in any aspect of athletics. Physically pushing myself beyond my limits has always been my practice style. I always thought that the harder I worked, the better I would become. In some ways, this can be true. However, over time, I have learned that there are many pieces that go into building the perfect player. One of those pieces is mental strength. Mental tools can prepare athletes for anything that their sport may throw at them.

Learning confidence, imagery, self-talk, concentration, goal setting, and so much more can add an extra layer of strength to any athlete.

We have all been there, playing our sport, and one wrong touch, hit, or shot leaves us destroyed. Oftentimes we can’t get out of our heads for the rest of the game. We have the physical skills but not the mental skills to get our heads out of the negativity. That's where learning mental skills, such as confidence, can come into play. However, like anything in athletics, you have to stay consistent and determined. They are tools that take time. I like to think of it as part of my training.

If I am capable of spending countless hours on the soccer field, then I can spend some of it focusing on improving my mental skills. Taking my time to focus on specific situations for each shot I take, spending time reframing my thoughts after negative self-talk, setting goals for my training sessions and games, and focusing on my self-management are all ways that I implement mental skills training into my life. Setting time to focus on enhancing your mental skills can really prepare you for the world of athletics.

We all use mental skills whether we know it or not.

Take the time to focus on improving and crafting them and your game will be strengthened because of it.

The following paragraphs are written by Matt Crawford:

Being an athlete or performer requires hours perfecting your craft through workouts, physical training sessions, film work, etc. But when was the last time you made mental skills a priority? Now I know there are a lot of ideas and concepts out there when it comes to what mental skills training actually is. The definition I like to use when defining "mental skills" itself is "tools and strategies that help improve athletic performance and overall well-being." However, to really understand was this means, I first want to take a deeper look into what mental skills training definitely is not and the myths that are commonly associated with sport psychology in general.

Myth #1 - Mental Skills training is only for the “problem” athletes

Truth: This is inherently false because every and all athletes can improve their performance and overall quality of life when introduced to mental skills training in a healthy manner. In my experience, I have had coaches call me about a “head case” or a “hot head” that is on their team. Of course, those terms are usually reserved for athletes who struggle to keep their emotions in check, and I am happy to help them. On the same phone call, I usually ask how the rest of the team is doing as well. The answers vary depending on how successful the team is currently doing, but I always make a point to offer to talk to anyone on the team, even if they are doing well on the field. Coaches are usually wary to have their best players talk to anyone when they are playing well. But I firmly believe that even the best athletes when they are going well can become even better with the proper amount of mental skills training.

Myth #2 - It works for some people but not for me

Truth: I think most athletes, especially successful players, have said this before working with a mental skills coach. The point I like to make with these athletes when they come to me is that they are already using mental skills and they don’t even realize it. The routine that you do before shooting a free throw? Mental skill. Whenever you think about all the good games in the past and replay all of your highlights? Mental skill. The confidence that you feed yourself when things get tough? Mental skill. My job is to help them see that they are already using valuable skills in their everyday life and that there is a way to take those self-taught skills to another level.

Myth #3 - Mental Skills Training will create a quick fix

Truth: I sometimes have new athletes come to me almost in a panic because they have a tryout or a big game coming up and they want me to give them a “tip” or a “trick” to help them get through whatever is next for them. My answer is always the same, “There are no quick fixes when it comes to mental skills training.” I want to point out that I do not hang up the phone when they say something like this, of course I still help them the best I can. But I am very open with them about how these are skills that require hard work and dedication to buying into new concepts. Just like how athletes were not born with the ability to do a technical physical skill, they cannot expect to learn a complex new mental skill overnight. The work we do with athletes go much deeper than just some motivational YouTube video full of loud music and quotes from a fictional athlete like Rocky.

Myth #4 - Mental Skills Training is only for elite athletes

Truth: It is hard to watch any professional sporting event without some mention of mental skills or sport psychology. I think this is a good thing. The more athletes, young athletes especially, and coaches that are exposed to sport psychology the better. But whenever people only see the best of the best doing something, it is sometimes hard to think that non-elite athletes can use the same skills. This could not be further from the truth. Every athlete from the middle school bowler to the Olympic swimmer can use mental skills to help them not only perform better in competition, but also in life beyond athletics. I tell my athletes all the time that they might not always need to be able to have a good self-talk routine when standing in the batter’s box or standing on a diving board, but they will need to be able to talk to themselves in a positive way when they are stressed at a new job, when they have bills to pay, or a baby due in a month. Mental skills training is for everyone, whether you are an athlete or not.

These are just a few of the myths surrounding Sport Psychology and Mental Skills Training. This type of mental exercise is for all athletes of all ages and all levels of the game. But not only for when you're an athlete - but all the years after. In our next post, we'll be diving into Positive Self-Talk and how it is essential to the performance and overall well-being of athletes.

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