In sports it is widely accepted that successful performance is up to the synergy of physical and mental skills. As a popular quote of the American baseball player Yogi Berra goes:
Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.
Although it’s difficult to quantify the exact impact of mental preparation, very often it can make or break sports performance. Even the fittest and most physically skilled athletes choke under pressure, making mistakes otherwise not suited for elite level performers.
However, it’s not just that at high level of performance when physical skills are equal the one who is more mentally tough will win the contest. Mental aspects underpin each area of athlete’s life on the way to success – be it training, recovery, competition or personal life. Setting effective goals, maintaining focus and motivation, managing anxiety and emotions, building resilience, keeping confidence levels up, working well with people around you – these are all daily practices of successful athletes. Hence, the one who exhibits the supreme mental performance on game day probably has done it not by coincidence. It’s a reflection of long mental preparation and work put in developing mental skills.
Therefore, athletes at any level work with sport psychologists and mental trainers to train their brain regularly, just like they train their muscles. Moreover, coaches, referees and even sports parents educate themselves about mental aspects of sport in order to enhance own performance and better support others in achieving their goals.
Is life outside sports that much different that we should neglect mental skills training? Just like in sports, at work, at school and in our private lives we face challenges, adversities, new opportunities, we communicate with people, we work in teams, we try to excel and reach our potential, our performance is tracked and measured. But most importantly, we want to sustain enjoyment in what we are doing. Yet rarely do we take time to work on our mental skills.
Mental skills training is not just for athletes! It’s for anyone seeking to enhance the resources that enable them to deal more effectively with challenges of everyday life. Here are just a few pieces of evidence to showcase the diversity of applications of mental training and potential effects.
- Musicians use mental skills training to reach musical excellence (Williamon, 2004).
- Surgeons use mental practice as a training strategy to perfect their techniques (Arora et al, 2010).
- Mental skills used as part of life skills training programmes contribute to positive youth development with preventive effects on risky behaviour such as violence and delinquency, tobacco and drugs use (Holt, 2016).
- Mindset interventions can help failing school students succeed academically (Paunesku et al, 2015).
- Brain training improves cognitive abilities of the elderly, with positive effects lasting up to 10 years (Rebok et al, 2014).
- Mental training reduces occupational stress levels of employees (Richardson & Rothstein, 2008).
- Psychological capital (consisting of the positive psychological resources such as efficacy and resilience) is related to employee wellbeing overtime (Avey et al. 2010)
Mental skills training has potential to enhance both performance and wellbeing. Furthermore, the transferability of skills allows application in different life contexts, and the benefits reach beyond the individual, extending to teams, organisations and communities. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that these are skills after all and don’t appear of thin air. Mental skills need to be learnt, developed and practised regularly! Are you up for it? We are – get in touch.
Arora, S., Aggarwal, R., Sevdalis, N., Moran, A., Sirimanna, P., Kneebone, R., Darzi, A. (2010). Development and validation of mental practice as a training strategy for laparoscopic surgery. Surgical Endoscopy, 24(179).
Avey, J.B., Luthans, F., Smith, R.M., Palmer, N.F. (2010). Impact of positive psychological capital on employee well-being over time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 15(1), 17-28.
Holt, N.L. (2016). Positive Youth Development Through Sport, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge.
Paunesku, D., Walton, G.M., Romero, C., Smith, E.N., Yeager, D.S., Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mind-Set Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement. Psychological Science, 26(6), 784-793.
Rebok, G. W., Ball, K., Guey, L. T., Jones, R. N., Kim, H. Y., King, J. W., … & Willis, S. L. (2014). Ten‐year effects of the advanced cognitive training for independent and vital elderly cognitive training trial on cognition and everyday functioning in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62(1), 16-24.
Richardson, K.M. & Rothstein, H.R. (2008). Effects of occupational stress management intervention programs: A meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13(1), 69-93.
Williamon, A. (2004). Musical Excellence: Strategies and Techniques to Enhance Performance. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.