Mental Skills Training

Mind gameMental Skills Training includes:

  • Motivation
  • Confidence
  • Energy control (managing anxiety)
  • Focus
  • Imagery
  • Pain management
  • Goal setting
  • Coping with injury
  • Thought control


Motivation is the ability to focus on a goal and work toward that goal, regardless of physical ability. It is willpower. Motivation has two major elements: direction and intensity. Direction is the choice of the goal. Intensity is how energized the individual is toward that goal and it is largely influenced by emotion.


Confidence is the realistic expectation of success or achieving one’s goals. It’s what athletes reasonably hope to do, not what they dream of achieving. Confident athletes are prepared and accurately judge their abilities. They are also able to recover more easily from the highs and lows of the athletic experience.

Energy Control (Managing Anxiety)

Arousal is alertness, excitation, vigilance, or wakefulness. Arousal refers not only to mental activation, but also to physiological and behavioral responses. Examples include: high heart rate, increased breathing rate, and increased sweat response. Each athlete has his/her own level of optimal arousal for performance- too much or too little hinders successful performance.


It is critical to pay attention to the right things at the right time. Focus can be external (outside of the body) or internal and either narrow or broad. The ability to shift and hold focus is a critical element in sport performance.


Mental imagery involves picturing images, creating/recreating experiences in your mind, and using the senses to improve performance.

Pain Management

Pain refers to two things:

1)      A type of sensory event

2)      An emotional reaction or state

Modern athletes believe that “no pain, no gain,” and “pain is weakness leaving the body,” are obsolete training mantras. However, pain in training is often unnecessary, and pain in competition should not be overwhelming, intolerable, or constant. However, it is unreasonable to say that successful athletes don’t regularly experience pain. Athletes benefit from learning how to manage that pain effectively and to reinterpret pain as the sensation of becoming fitter or reaching one’s goals.

Goal Setting

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you get there? The more specific your goals, the easier it is to map your way and reach your potential. Goal setting improves focus, enhances motivation and confidence, relieves boredom and anxiety, and makes training more challenging.

Coping with Injury

Most athletes experience an injury at some point during their competitive career. It is important to have mental skills in place to cope with an injury and guide one through the rehab and recovery process. It is also important to mentally prepare to return to play/competition and cope with the emotions associated with that experience.

Thought Control

Athletes’ words surrounding competition are his/her most important ally. Learning how to use self-talk to one’s advantage and change negative thoughts to positive ones are keys to athletic successs

By Jen Gapin, Ph.D., Sports Psychology Consultant