Yogi Berra had it right in his quote, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” This mindset also applies to endurance athletes. Sure, the physical training for race days can be grueling and intense. Without implementing a solid mental skills training plan, endurance athletes are doing themselves a disservice. Start by reflecting on how much time per day you spend on your physical training and your psychological training. If you’re like many, there is likely room for improvement to enhance your psychological skill set. Developing mental skills techniques to enhance your performance will be your next step.
What Are Mental Skills?
Before identifying specific techniques to include, it’s important to understand mental skills. Mental skills are components athletes should be including in their training programs. The can be focusing on enhancing elements such as confidence, focus, and resilience. Most importantly, these skills assist athletes in becoming more self-aware of their cognitions, emotions, and physiological responses. By becoming more self-aware of these responses, an athlete will be able to implement specific mental skills as coping mechanisms during performance.
So, where to begin? It’s important to understand that every athlete will have a unique response to each mental skill. For example, what might work for one athlete might now work for another. That’s okay! The same you test out nutrition until you find what works best for you, test different techniques. This will provide you with a variety of options as you encounter different setbacks during training and racing.
3 Mental Skills Techniques to Enhance Performance
Many might not realize that goal setting is actually considered a mental skill! Establishing goals might be a concept that endurance athletes understand regarding sticking to a specific training schedule, but there’s so much more involved! Strong goal setting involves establishing outcome, performance, and process goals while utilizing the SMART principle. The secret sauce is setting action steps to complete each day. These action steps can include any element of the athlete’s life that takes them one step closer to achieving their goals. Without a solid goal-setting plan, athletes might struggle to connect to their goals and be motivated.
The dialogue between your two ears is more potent than your dialogue with another person. Your thoughts connect to your emotions. When you hear negative self-talk patterns, the following emotions are usually those of feeling down, lacking confidence, feeling anxious, etc. Also, negative self-talk usually comes in waves. Once it begins, there will usually be additional self-talk following. The goal is to become aware of your self-talk patterns. When you notice negative self-talk, implement a strategy to shift the talk into the positive.
Imagery is a mental skill that requires athletes to incorporate all of their senses in creating a vivid mental rehearsal. There are numerous benefits for endurance athletes in implementing imagery practices. One advantage is that imagery assists athletes in focusing on their strengths and not giving much attention to their weaknesses. Imagery can help regulate emotions, especially anxiety. Visualization can help an athlete by helping rewire their vision in seeing themselves performing strong and confident. Another benefit is that imagery can enhance motivation throughout training seasons.
When incorporating mental skills into your training program, it is important to be patient with the process and approach it with a non-judgemental mindset. For example, it might take a few times practicing a skill before it clicks! Also, if you try a skill and find that it might not be the best fit for you, that is okay! An essential element with mental skills is to practice, practice, practice!! Consider when you first started your sport. You most likely were not in the same place you are now. It took practice and willingness to trust in the process to get you to where you are today. This is the same for mental skills training. Most importantly, have fun as you learn more about yourself and work toward reaching your true athletic potential!