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Sport Psychology: What Exactly is the Mental Side?

By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Sport Psychologist
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating

In my last blog post I left you thinking about the mental side of performance and the fact that athletes rarely train for the mental side. I stated that when I present to groups of athletes and coaches I have heard that they believe performance is anywhere from 50 – 90% mental. But the most I have heard an athlete say they train for the mental side is 10%. Big discrepancy! The next question is – What is the mental side? What is the 50 – 90%? After all, to train for the mental side you need to know what you are training for.

Below I will list the various factors that make up the mental side. This list is based upon my experience working with athletes, what scientific studies say and what other professionals report. Here are a few:

1) Developing and maintaining confidence
2) Being able to focus and refocus when distracted
3) Staying motivated, especially in the off season
4) Communicating effectively with teammates and coaches
5) Staying relaxed under pressure
6) Maintaining composure (especially in contact sports)
7) Coping with injury
8) Bouncing back after a loss
9) Being a leader
10) Being mentally prepared for practice and competition

This is just a very short list. Don’t rely on this list or what others have to say. After reading this blog take out a pen and paper and make a list of what you think is mental about a) practice and b) competition for you. Then rate how strong you feel your ability is in each area. If you do this you will have started the journey to be a mentally fit athlete. This will take time and effort. But I can tell you that athletes who perform beyond their expectations do so as a result of determination and persistence in all areas of their training. You know this. The same applies to the mental side. You did not become physically skilled as a result of months of training. It took years and years. To learn how to use your mind as a weapon, it will take time. So stop, don’t get up. Start writing and feel excited that you have begun your mental training program!

Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance.

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