Let me elaborate in three ways. First, I speak to athletes, coaches and parents around world about the psychology of sport. Whenever I get the chance, I ask them how important the mental side of sports is compared to the physical and technical sides. Though there are always a few who say that the mind is less important than the body and technique, about 99 percent say that it is as or more important. Admittedly, I don't even think it's more important because all of the mental training in the world won't help if you're not physically or technically capable of performing in your sport. But, I think it's safe to say that, without a well-trained mind, there is little chance of success.
Next, I ask athletes how many hours a day they devote to their physical and technical development. For serious athletes, most say from 2-6 hours depending on the season.
Then, I ask, if the mind is so important, does that mean you're spending 2-6 hours a day on mental training? At this point, there are a lot of shaking heads and nods of recognition. Clearly, the answer is "no," but the question is mostly rhetorical and meant to open your eyes to the absurdity of not spending time on such an important contributor to our sport.
Second, I work with a number of athletes each year, from juniors with big dreams to pros and Olympians who are realizing their dreams. What has become abundantly clear to me is that, once the foundation of fitness, technique, tactics and equipment are established, it is the mind that separates athletes who achieve their goals from those who don't. This occurs at two levels. Having the right mentality and preparation enables you to get the most out of your training. And, on the day of a competition, being able to stay positive, calm, focused and withstand the pressure--self-imposed and external--will enable you to perform your best when it really counts.
Third, of the athletes who come to me, the number-one reason is because they can perform well in training, but they can't seem to translate that into competitive results. And they don't understand why they can't. So, what makes competitions different from training? It's obvious: results matter in competitions. And that difference occurs entirely in your mind. Your challenge is to either ignore the difference or embrace the difference.
Let me say that you actually do quite a bit of mental training without realizing it. I'm sure that you attempt to motivate yourself, think positively, fire yourself up and focus in training. Well, that is mental training. Here's the problem. Do you approach mental training in the same way as you approach physical and technical training? Do you have an organized and consistent mental training program? Probably not. Would you do your physical conditioning or technical work in a haphazard way? Of course not, because trial and error is neither an effective nor efficient way to improve. Rather, you have a systematic program that guides your physical and technical training, thus maximizing your efforts. You should approach mental training the same way.
Have I convinced you yet that you should make mental training a priority sports preparations? If so, here's what you can do:
- Do some self-analysis and understand your mental strengths and areas in need of improvement.
- Get feedback from your coaches on where you need to improve mentally.
- Learn more about the psychology of sport by reading my past articles or Prime Sport book (scroll down to Prime Sport book series).
- Find a qualified sport psychologist in your area (I may be able to help you find one).
Certainly, you should continue to work on your fitness and technique. But if you commit to an equally rigorous mental training program, I can say with confidence that you will be even more prepared to achieve your sports goals.