What Mental Skills Do Athletes Use?
Updated: Jul 21, 2018
There is undoubtedly a "mental side" to sports and performance. Regardless of how big a percentage, it makes good sense to maximise your potential in this area.
Sometimes, getting up and over that hill is as much a matter of mental strength as physical ability. What you think, feel, believe and tell yourself can make a huge difference!
It appears to me that perhaps many athletes are simply not familiar with the elements of their sport that could be classified as “mental skills”, or do not realise that the things they already do (well, or poorly) are in fact mental skills. I’m talking about things that do not require physical training or talent, but which can still have a huge impact on an athlete’s success.
How many times have you seen the outcome of a race, or a match, determined not by skill or talent, but by courage or determination?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the type of mental skills that athletes can (and should) use regularly in the performance of their sport. Each one of these can be taught, developed and enhanced by mental skills coaches and sports psychologists. If it seems like some items are presented twice, but with different names . . . it’s because they’re not exactly the same thing.
In no particular order:
- Focus - Concentration - Alertness - Awareness - Relaxation - Arousal - Commitment - Determination - Organisation - Composure - Self-talk - Mindfulness - Optimism - Planning - Goal-setting - Visualisation - Motivation - Confidence - Resilience - Self-control - Acceptance - Competitiveness - Pain tolerance - Adaptability - Consistency - Balance - Assertiveness - Intuition - Humility - Intensity - Relentlessness - Coping under pressure - Self-discipline - Decisiveness - Risk-taking - Insight - Mental toughness - Patience - Perspective - Presence
I could give any spectator, to any sport, the name of a single mental skill to consider . . . and say, "Tell me if you see this skill demonstrated during the event." The answer would always be "Yes!" Even in a 5-second weightlifting event.
You may even want to ask yourself: “Do I use all of these? If not, why not? Which is my strongest mental skill? Which one(s) could I use some help with? What can I do about that?” Awareness is certainly a good first step, and spending some time thinking about your own mental approach to your sport is a really good idea. Considering each of the skills listed above, and being honest about your capacity, might help you to get started on the path of improvement.
How Important IS it?
"Sport is 10% physical, and 90% mental." Now, I don't agree with those percentages at all. But even if it's only 10% mental . . . wouldn't you want to optimise that 10%?
I hope you would agree that ALL of the skills listed above could likely be beneficial to a sportsperson’s performance. It is often said that, at the elite level, EVERY athlete is talented and well trained . . . and that sometimes the only difference between the winners and the losers is “the mental edge”. So why not spend some time working on that aspect of YOUR game?