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.
To start with the question I asked at the end of the last post: why doesn’t mental training have the same structure and consistency as physical and technical training in sports? Here are 4 reasons.
1. Though sport psychology has been a field of study for more than 100 years, it has never been a traditional part of training for most sports. Old attitudes, habits, and methods die-hard and new approaches to improving athletic performance are not easily accepted. Perhaps it will take a new generation of coaches who have been exposed to sport psychology as competitors for the tide to turn toward wider use of sport psychology with athletes.
2. The reality is that the best athletes in the world have done pretty well without formal mental training. They simply developed mental skills on their own. As a result, the need for structured mental training may not seem great. I would suggest, however, that for every successful athlete who develops mental toughness on their own, there are one or more who are equally talented, but need help in developing their mental capabilities.
3. Psychology lacks the concreteness of conditioning and technical training. It is easy to notice physical and technical deficiencies: the amount of weight lifted in the gym or technical problems revealed on video. The mental side of sport is not so easily seen, quantified, or measured. As a result, it’s harder to gauge where athletes are in different aspects of their mental preparation, or what areas they need to work on.
4. Sport psychology suffers from ‘guilt by association’ with the broader field of clinical psychology that still carries the stigma that only screwed-up people seek professional help. This perception, however inaccurate it is, can prevent athletes, coaches, and parents from seeing mental preparation for what it is: an essential contributor to sports performance that must be developed proactively.
It will take some time before mental preparation receives the same attention as its physical and technical counterparts. But, as the stakes get higher and the competition gets tougher, athletes and coaches will look for every opportunity to gain the competitive edge that separates success from failure. As the limits of physical conditioning and technique are reached, it will be necessary to leverage all that sport psychology has to offer. Only then will sport psychology stand as equal partner to physical conditioning and technical training as athletes strive to take advantage of every opportunity to achieve success in pursuit of their goals. I look forward to that day.