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Are you looking to get an edge over your opponents? This is an introduction to sports psychology for beginners and anyone who wants to know more. This guide will cover all you need to know about sports psychology and what you need to achieve peak performance. If you want to benefit from sports psychology and achieve your potential, read this guide. You will learn how you can get an advantage using sports psychology and develop a winning mental game.

What is Sports Psychology?

Sports Psychology focuses on helping athletes maximize their performances by developing effective mental skills. Athletes learn proven techniques and strategies to unlock the power of the mind.

The goal of sport psychology is performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset. You will address mental barriers and build on strengths to obtain peak performance. Mental toughness is the ability to overcome challenges and perform well under pressure. Mental toughness means you have a variety of mental skills to perform your best in any situation.

Why do you need Sports Psychology?

Have you ever known an athlete who was incredibly talented during practice but is never able to show that level of performance during competition? Maybe this is you or your athlete? The point is, it's no good having physical skills if you can’t perform and show your potential in competition.

What does it look like if you don’t have mental toughness?

There are common mental mistakes athletes make when they lack the mental skills to overcome the challenges of their sport. Read below and see if any of these seem familiar. If they do, you can definitely benefit from sports psychology!

  1. Dwelling on Mistakes: Not being able to let go of mistakes can lead to a negative cycle of focusing on what you did wrong, frustration and making more mistakes.

  2. Focusing too much on the outcome or winning: This can negatively affect your performance as it puts your focus on the future and things out of your control. It leads to you not focusing on what you need to do in the present which often means more mistakes or not performing at your best.

  3. Worrying about what others are thinking: It is easy to get distracted by what your coach, teammates or spectators are thinking. You can’t control what others are thinking so you waste mental energy. You will be unable to completely focus on what you need to do and you may under-perform or have unwanted emotions such as anxiety or sadness.

  4. Putting pressure on yourself to perform: Unrealistic expectations set you up for failure before you start. They can create anxiety or frustration when you are unable to meet them and limit your success.

  5. Worrying about making mistakes: You are worried about the negatives that could happen rather than the positives you could achieve. You play not to lose rather than to win. You may hold back and forget your game plan. Usually this leads to more mistakes and you act like you have failed before you even start.

  6. Doubting your skills: You focus on mistakes you have already made and worry about failing in future situations. If you are unsure of how you are going to play it is more likely that you will under-perform.

  7. Comparing yourself to others: This is usually done in a negative way where you focus on what the opponent is doing right and what you are doing wrong. This decreases your confidence and is a distraction.

  8. Overthinking right before you compete: You start to worry about what will happen and second guess your game plan. This can make you feel unprepared and nervous. You then start competing without the confidence you need for peak performance and are distracted by trying to “fix” what doesn’t feel right.

  9. Bringing life problems into the competition: When you are competing it can be hard to separate regular life from your sport life. We all know that if you focus is not on the field and you are distracted this is likely to harm your performance.

  10. Getting distracted by the importance of the competition: Before big competitions athletes often psych themselves out, feeling overwhelmed by how well they feel they have to perform. You feel like you have to do something special or different to what you normally do. You put extra pressure on yourself causing extra nerves and you will find it difficult to focus on relevant information.

If you want to get more information about common mental mistakes with tips, exercises, and examples, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

What are Mental Skills?

There are many mental skills that can be learnt to benefit performance including:

Self-Awareness: This is the first mental skill you must have. You can recognize your mental strengths and weaknesses, like you do with your physical skills. You understand and can recognize how your thoughts and emotions affect your performance. You can identify unhelpful beliefs that prevent you from achieving your maximum potential.

How does self-awareness improve performance?

The more you are aware of, the more you are able to make changes. If you can recognize during a performance unhelpful thoughts or emotions, you can then make quick changes and achieve peak performance. You will not hold yourself back with your mind.

Overcoming Fear of Failure: You stay focused on the present and do not worry about the future. You can stay relaxed and calm and keep a winning mindset. You overcome the fear and do not allow it to change how you play.

How does overcoming fear of failure improve performance?

You can stay aggressive and execute your game plan. Many athletes make more mistakes when they are fearful, if you can overcome the fear you will make less mistakes and achieve peak performance.

Focus: You can recognize quickly when you have lost concentration and refocus. You know how to stay focused on your game plan and ignore distractions. You can stay focused on the present and play one point or skill at a time.

How does staying focused improve performance?

You can stay focused for long periods of time and avoid making mistakes. You do not let opponents, the crowd or tough situations distract you. You are able to make corrections and improve even the small details that will give you an edge over your competitors.

Controlling Emotions: You can deal effectively with any emotion. You can use difficult emotions such as anxiety, anger, fear and sadness to help performance and not hurt it. You can use techniques to return to your optimum mindset.

How does controlling your emotions improve your performance?

You stay focused on your game plan and in your winning mindset. You make less mental mistakes and can think clearly to execute your strategy. You can also enjoy playing more often.

Composure under Pressure: You keep a helpful mindset and can perform your best in pressure situations. You stay calm and focused on your game plan and embrace the big stage. You also keep realistic expectations and don’t put extra pressure on yourself.

How does staying composed under pressure improve your performance?

You avoid fear of failure and choking in difficult situations. You can stay aggressive and produce your best performances when it counts.

Getting in the Zone: You know how to mentally and physically prepare so you can be in your winning mindset. You can consistently get in the zone and perform the same in competition as you do in practice. You have strong pre-competition and pre-point/skill routines to stay in the zone.

How does being in the zone improve performance?

The most important benefit is that you will perform the same in practice and competition. You will be more consistent and show your potential. You will be ready to compete from the start.

Self-Talk: You can recognize when you are using negative or unhelpful thinking. You can use techniques to stop, ignore, control or change your thoughts. You understand positive thinking and use the thoughts that are most helpful to you.

How can controlling your thoughts improve performance?

You will stay in the zone and keep your winning mindset. If you have positive or helpful thoughts you will perform at your best and avoid negative emotions and their negative effects. You will be happier and more confident.

Confidence: The belief in your ability to be successful. You can keep this at a stable level and not up and down depending on performance. You use positive thinking and behavior, trust in your skills and don’t worry about what others think.

How does confidence improve your performance?

You can perform your best even in tough situations. You can bounce back quickly from mistakes and you will make less mistakes overall. As an added bonus you will also have more fun!

Recovering From Mistakes: You can let go of mistakes and bounce back quickly. You can recover before the next play or within a few seconds. You stay focused on the present and do not worry about the past or future. You are not self-critical and can control your negative thinking.

How does bouncing back quickly from mistakes improve performance?

You will make less mistakes. So many mistakes are made because the athlete is still thinking about the previous mistake. Letting go quickly and avoiding being negative means you can perform to your potential and keep your confidence high.

Motivation: You know what makes you work hard and keeps you excited to improve. You consistently give 100% effort in practice and competition. You set goals that focus on the process and not the outcome. You are determined and can bounce back from a disappointing performance.

How does motivation improve your performance?

You work hard consistently and give 100% effort which means you are continually improving your skills. You are enjoying your sport and are focused on what you need to do. This results in you achieving your goals.

Why are mental skills important for performing up to your potential?

Mental skills help you overcome the challenges that your sport brings you and perform at your best. Mental toughness gives you a competitive edge over your opponents.

What does it look like if you are mentally tough?

If you have all of the mental skills discussed above you will be mentally tough. You will be more confident and bounce back from mistakes quicker. You will make less mistakes, stay aggressive, and execute your game plan. You will have a winning mindset, enjoy competing and achieve your goals. You will perform more consistently up to your potential and more importantly when it counts the most.

What does it look like if you have both physical talent and mental toughness?

You are the complete athlete.

You will be able to:

  1. Perform in competition like you do in practice

  2. Achieve peak performance consistently

  3. Overcome adversity

Ultimately mental skills allow you to perform your physical skills to the best of your ability. Do you want to perform in competition like you do in training? Keep reading below to find out how.

All these skills can be developed with mental training.

What is Mental Training?

Mental coaches use mental training to help athletes benefit from the principles of sports psychology.

What results can I expect from Mental Training?

I believe there are so many benefits from this training that not only show in sport but in all areas of life. Some of the most common benefits I see that lead to improved performance are:

  • Improved Focus

  • Increased Confidence

  • Reduction in Mental Mistakes

  • Better Performance Under Pressure

  • Fast Recovery from Mistakes

  • Control of Emotions

  • Composed Under Pressure

  • Getting in the Zone

  • Increased Motivation

  • Increased Intensity at Practice

  • Performing in Competition like you do in Practice

  • A Winning Mindset

How are Mental Skills developed?

There are 4 steps to learning and applying mental skills:

  • Awareness: This involves helping athletes uncover the mindsets and beliefs that hurt their performance and identify mental game barriers.

  • Education: This involves introduction to the importance of a specific mental skill, how it helps performance, the key aspects of the skill and how to improve it.

  • Acquisition: This involves practice of the skill during the session and can include worksheets, exercises, discussion, and role play to help athletes master the skill.

  • Application: This involves practice of the skill in the sport environment during practices, using specific drills, and finally making game plans to apply it to competition.

What mental training is not

Common Sport Psychology Myths

What is the difference between sports psychology training and traditional work with a therapist?

Unlike therapy, sports psychology doesn't use couches, prescribe medicines, or work with abnormal behavior. Instead, the goal of sports psychology is to teach athletes how to use mental skills to improve performance. The main difference between a mental coach and a therapist is that they work with athletes on sports performance enhancement and not personal challenges (e.g. working through a divorce, coping with an addictive behavior, etc.) or abnormal behavior (e.g. schizophrenia).

What’s the difference between a mental coach and a team coach?

A mental coach specializes in mental skills for peak performance and does not work on technique (e.g. physical skills training) or fitness like a team coach. Although many coaches use mental training with their athletes, the mental coach has been specifically trained in that area and is able to provide in-depth work because that is their main focus.

Isn’t sport psychology for athletes that are weak or not playing well?

Mental training is not a weakness, but a chance to improve athletes’ mental game and performance. There are so many professional and elite athletes who use sport psychology and for most it is not because they are weak, but because they know it will give them a competitive edge over opponents. Athletes will not only build mental strength to use for sport performance but many things learnt can be applied to life.

If I am playing well right now will a mental coach mess up my momentum?

For athletes who are playing well, this is a perfect time to talk about their mental game. Athletes can become more aware of the thoughts and emotions associated with playing well. You want them to understand what they are doing well. This will help athletes keep their momentum and reach peak performance more often.

What can both my child and I hope to gain by working with a mental coach?

Mental training for sports parents and kids can help you identify the areas in your child’s mental game that are holding back his or her performance. It will also teach you the mental skills, practice routines, and communication skills to positively impact your child’s performance.

What are some key techniques taught in mental training sessions?

  • Relaxation/Energization: Strategies to keep you in the zone. You will learn how to calm down or increase your energy whenever each is needed.

  • Visualization: There are so many benefits to using visualization. You will learn how to enhance your performance by using all of your senses and developing your own scripts for competition.

  • Goal-Setting: You will learn how to increase your motivation by setting SMART goals. Top athletes understand how to benefit from setting long and short-term goals.

  • Routines: These are one of the best techniques to stay in the zone. You will develop pre-competition routines to make sure you are mentally prepared every time you compete. You will also develop pre-point and refocusing routines to get back in the zone when performing.

  • Thought Stopping/Changing: You will learn strategies to stop negative thinking and also how to change these to stay in your winning mindset.

  • Positive Thinking: You will learn positive and helpful thinking types and identify which are best for you. You will develop positive affirmations and personalized thoughts to use.

  • Emotional Game Plans: These include many strategies so you can use your emotions to perform at your best. You will develop detailed plans for your most difficult emotions.

  • Cue Words: These are short phrases that are very effective at keeping you focused and performing at your best. They can focus on technique, your game plan or improving your mood.

Who should work with a Sport Psychology Consultant or Mental Coach?

Athletes of all ages and abilities can benefit from mental training. There are three main reasons I am asked to work with athletes:

  1. The athlete/team wants to either learn new skills or build on their existing mental skills so they can get to the next performance level. They are already mentally strong but want to continue to improve.

  2. The athlete/team is underperforming and they are ready physically but there is some mental barrier in the way.

  3. The athlete/team is young and needs to learn the basic mental skills so they can continue to progress and also be prepared for the future and more serious competitions.

I also work in a similar role with many coaches and teams. I have increasingly been asked to help more and more sports parents and this is work I really enjoy as they are there every day with their children and can really reinforce what I teach.

This guide aimed to answer many of your questions about sports psychology and mental training. I hope enjoyed reading it and found it helpful. If you still have unanswered questions I am happy to help, you can leave a comment below or contact me directly using my Contact Form.

If you would like to know more about me visit my About Page. If you would like to know more about my services and why you should work with me visit my Services Page.

If you want to get more information about common mental mistakes with tips, exercises, and examples, sign up for my free email list here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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