Are you great at training, but not so great when race day arrives? If you consistently underperform in competitions compared to training sessions, you might need to work on your mental training.
Just like physical training, your brain also needs training in the right way. Athletes don’t often consider training their mind, but it is an integral part to performing well in any aspect of sports.
Successful athletes actively train 7 key mental skills, starting with the basics and building up from there.
In other words, the skills are proven to work.
Start training the basic skills in Step 1 of the infographic below, then go to step 2 when preparing for a performance (race or competition), then execute the skills in Step 3 during performances.
Let’s get to it.
Maintain a positive attitude
Keep high motivation
Set high but realistic goals
Deal with people
Use positive self-talk and mental imagery
Manage anxiety and emotions
1. Maintain a Positive Attitude
Attitude is a choice.
Choose a mostly positive attitude. It will help you create a mental environment of success.
Sports are an opportunity to compete against yourself and learn from successes and failures.
Pursue excellence, not perfection, and realize that nobody is perfect.
Maintain balance and perspective between sports and the rest of your life.
Sports are a hobby that help train our mind, body, and spirit. They exist for life lessons, growth, and relationships.
Respect your sport, other competitors, coaches, and yourself.
2. Keep High Motivation
Know the rewards and benefits that you want in your participation.
Keep these benefits in mind during every training session.
Endure difficult workouts and times, even when the rewards and benefits are not immediately apparent.
Injury and illness are setbacks, but they are also opportunities to become a smarter and better athlete.
Realize that many benefits come from your participation, not outcome. You can have a poor performance but still get massive benefit.
3. Set High But Realistic Goals
Set long-term and short-term goals that are SMART and write them down. Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-based.
Look at your goals every day to remind yourself of where you want to focus.
Know your abilities and make detailed plans that specifically work toward your goals.
Commit fully to your goals and complete the daily demands of your training plan.
4. Deal With People
Keep perspective and realize there are other people involved in your training- family, training buddies, teammates, coaches, and fellow athletes.
Communicate your thoughts, feelings, and needs to the right people and listen to them as well.
Develop your ability to deal with conflicts, difficult athletes in races, and other people when they are negative or oppositional.
5. Use Positive Self-Talk and Mental Imagery
Stay confident during difficult times with realistic but positive self-talk.
Talk to yourself like your best friend: natural, respectful, honest, and easy.
Control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during competition.
Imagine yourself performing well in each detailed part of a race.
Create and use mental images that are detailed, specific, and realistic.
Use those mental images during races to prepare for action and recover from mistakes or bad performances.
6. Manage Anxiety and Emotions
Accept anxiety as part of sports. It is there, but it does not define your outcome.
Understand that some anxiety can help your performance.
Reduce anxiety when it becomes too strong, but don’t lose your intensity. Take a deep breath and be grateful you are in the moment.
Accept strong emotions such as excitement, anger, and disappointment as part of the race experience.
Use emotions to get better instead of hindering your high level performance.
7. Stay Focused
Know what you must pay attention to during each situation.
Learn how to maintain focus and resist distractions, either from the environment or from inside yourself.
Practice meditation or a deep focus on a single task for a few minutes at a time, and extend that time as you get better.
Return to focus when you lose concentration during competition.
Learn how to be fully engaged in the present, setting aside past and expected future events.
Final Thoughts on Mental Training for Athletes
Our sports are important to us, and we want to be the best we can be given our personal limitations such as time constraints, other commitments, money, and natural talents.
It can be really insightful to look at successful athletes’ mental skills and learn how to apply that to our own life circumstances.
Whether you are training to finish your first triathlon, tackling your tenth marathon, or want to hone that extra edge to help you qualify for a world championship, these mental skills are crucial to your success.
One of the top reasons I do endurance sports is that it helps me perform well in other aspects of life because of the mental skills I acquire and regularly train.
The mental skills acquired through athletic success are the same ones that are used in any life situation where you want to achieve high performance.