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Importance of Mental Skills Training: Maximizing Athletic Performance:

Mental Skills Training Article by Dr JoAnna Bullard

If you’ve ever registered for a race or decided to train for an event, you most likely have experienced a rush of emotions; excitement, hesitation, pride, and worry.  Regardless, you most likely recognized the importance of correctly training to reduce potential injury, develop a training base, and peak at the appropriate time.  This is true for just about any athlete!  Physical training usually takes priority as athletes train to achieve their performance goals.  They plan their training sessions, purchase the necessary equipment, add supplemental rehabilitative exercises, join a training group, or hire a coach.  The dedication to the physical component of training is apparent- spending time proactively developing a training program is necessary to accomplish their performance goals! But what about the importance of mental skills training?

Why Mental Skills Training is Critical for Athletes

 The mental side of training is just as important as the physical side but needs to be addressed by some athletes.  This neglect can occur for numerous reasons. Some of those include preconceived notions/myths regarding sport psychology or the belief that training the mind is only necessary after a problem arises. Beyond those, there is also the idea that they are already mentally strong enough, or that training the mind takes too much time.  Another reason is that athletes might need to learn how to train their minds!  

Challenges of Performance

Consider some of the challenges an athlete might experience during performance.  These could include pre-competition performance anxiety, confidence concerns, self-doubt, loss of control, self-esteem struggles, etc.  No matter how physically trained the athlete might be, they can still encounter these concerns during a race or training session. That encounter can significantly impact their performance.  Every athlete is genuinely unique in this process!

Developing Resilience through Psychological Skills Training

Each athlete possesses a certain amount of mental strength, which many might describe as resilience.  Resilience is the athlete’s ability to enhance their confidence and overcome setbacks and challenges that they experience.  And, let’s face it, athletes experience numerous challenges and obstacles when training for an event!  It’s considered a normal part of the process!  Through psychological skills training, an athlete can work on developing their mental skill set to enhance their mental skill set.  Psychology skills training assists athletes in improving performance anxiety, self-confidence, relaxation skills, and self-talk patterns. It can also assist the athlete in visualizing and mentally rehearsing their performance.  The ultimate goal of mental skills training is to help athletes become more self-aware. In addition to that, it is about implementing self-regulation skills during their performance.

Proactive vs. Reactive Training of Mental Strength

So, why do some athletes spend time training their minds proactively while others respond reactively?  This comes down to the individual athlete. What they feel is essential for them to include in their training program is paramount.  Mental strength training can be developed and enhanced over time like physical training.  The more proactive an athlete is with their training, the better!  Athletes will implement prehabilitation exercises during their training cycle to strengthen their body and offset the likelihood of injury. An athlete can do the same with psychological skills training!  

So, where to begin?  Some athletes feel comfortable working on the mental side of their performance independently. Others will look for assistance from a professional.  Locating a sport psychologist or Certified Mental Performance Consultant is important if looking for a professional.  These professionals are trained to assess and assist athletes in implementing mental skills training alongside their physical training. Athletes’ previous experience with mental skills training and their desire to enhance their mental strength can result in differences in how quickly they adapt to modalities and implementation with their physical training. An athlete’s mind is just as adaptable as their body!  Overall, athletes need to recognize the importance of training their minds just as deliberately as they train their bodies. They can do this through incorporating modalities proactively.


Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.