Dr. Jim Taylor is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of sports performance. He has worked with professional, world-class, collegiate, and junior-elite athletes for 30 years and written eight books related to sport psychology. A former world-ranked alpine ski racer, he is a second-degree black belt in karate, marathon runner, and Ironman triathlete. To learn more, visit www.drjimtaylor.com.
I’m coming to the end of a three-week international tour of sport psychology. During this time, I have worked with athletes and coaches from the U.S., Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Russia. One questions that has emerged is:
Why do athletes train their bodies but not their minds?
Let me begin by providing some back story. Whenever I speak to athletes and coaches, I ask them how important the mind is to success in sport. With few exceptions, the response is that the mind is as or more important than the physical and technical side of sports.
Yet, when I ask athletes and coaches how much time and energy is devoted to mental preparation, they indicate: “Not very much.”
So, here’s my question: Why isn’t mental training treated the same as physical and technical training? When compared to its physical and technical counterparts, sport psychology clearly has second-class status. While teams at every level of competition have full-time technical and conditioning coaches, few have full-time sport psychologists.
To understand why sport psychology isn’t given its proper weight, we should first understand what makes physical conditioning and technical development effective. Two key elements come to mind.
First, when athletes work out, they don’t just walk into the gym and do random strength or agility exercises. Instead, they engage in organized workouts based on a structured program that coaches believe will result in optimal physical preparedness for their sport. Similarly, when athletes go onto the field, court, course, or hill, they don’t just play around and hope to improve. Rather, they follow a technical progression.
Second, athletes wouldn’t get more fit if they worked out every few weeks. And their sport skills wouldn’t improve if they only practiced once a month. What enables athletes to get stronger and perform better is that they engage in physical and technical training consistently. Day in and day out, athletes put time and effort into their conditioning and technical work.
Using these two criteria—a structured program with a clearly defined progression and consistency—it’s obvious that the mental side of sport is neglected. Yes, many athletes get some exposure to sport psychology either through contact with sport psychologists or directly from their coaches. But this exposure, for almost all U.S. athletes, lacks the structure and consistency essential for maximizing its value to their development.
Check back for my next post where I dive deeper into why sports psychology lacks the structure and consistency common to the physical and technical aspects of sport.