Mental toughness. We know it when we see it but how does one define it? Better yet, how do you get it? Some people are naturally blessed with the skill while others become a product of their environment. But for the rest of us, we try to develop this skill; a skill which must be nurtured, strengthened by challenges, and life experiences to make each person grow in confidence, focus, and maturity.
Sport Psychology Consulting (SPC) is the specific area of study designed to assist athletes, performers, artists or everyday people who want to become better in whatever field they work or participate in. Whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend warrior trying to break 80 on your local golf course, no matter where you are in your life’s journey, you can always get better and improve your performance.
Common Psychological Skills in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology are:
Anxiety or Energy Management
Skill most commonly used to help individuals who experience arousal at a level that is not effective (i.e., too high or too low) for optimal performance. These techniques can be used for anxiety, stress, and anger management. Common treatments include: (a) breathing exercises (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing, rhythmic breathing), (b) progressive relaxation, (c) meditation, (d) imagery or visualization, and (d) cognitive techniques (e.g., thought stopping and cognitive restructuring).
Attention and Concentration Control (focusing)
Being able to focus one’s awareness on relevant cues so they can deal effectively with their current situation. These skills help them maintain their mental intensity within a situation. Common techniques include: (a) attention control training (to avoid distractions) and (b) techniques to expand awareness (e.g., attending to performance cues and bodily sensations).
Skill used to help improve group cohesion and individual interactions in a sport setting (e.g., athlete–athlete, athlete–coach, coach–parent). Techniques used with this skill include: (a) teaching active listening and communicating skills (reflecting, clarifying, encouraging, paraphrasing), (b) helping individuals create a free and open environment, and (c) assertiveness training.
Skill commonly used for enhancing motivation, focusing attention on the aspects of performance that are most in need of improvement or facilitating rehabilitation from injury. The establishment of a goal-setting program often includes several common components, including: emphasis on skill development (not the outcome, such as winning), identifying target dates for attaining goals, identifying goal achievement strategies, and providing regular goal evaluation.
Imagery, Visualization, Mental Practice
Skill using all of the mind’s senses (e.g., sight, sound, taste, touch, hearing, kinesthetic/muscular feel) to re-create or create an experience in the mind. Uses include: (a) mental preparation, (b) anxiety control, (c) attention, (d) building self-confidence, (e) learning new skills, and (f) injury recovery. Common components include the evaluation of imagery ability, the establishment of the proper physical and mental setting (i.e., relaxed and quiet), and practice creating vivid and controllable images.
This is what you say or think to yourself. Self-talk patterns are related to how people feel and act. Changing self-talk is commonly used for (a) prompting a specific behavior, (b) improving self–confidence, (c) attention control, (d) motivation, and (e) arousal control. Common components include the identification of negative or irrelevant thoughts, challenging these thoughts, the creation of positive thoughts, and the substitution of positive thoughts for the negative thoughts.
This is the process of helping the members of a group enhance their ability to work cohesively through the improvement of communication, group objectives, trust, and respect. Team building strategies are often used at the beginning of a season to help group members become more familiar and trusting of each other. Common techniques include group introductions of each other, ropes courses, and individual and team goal setting.
This is the ability to plan and maintain one’s regular schedule in a way that avoids confusion, conflict and undue stress. Common time management techniques include: (a) teaching how to use a planner, (b) learning about the demands of a task, (c) setting legitimate goals for tasks, (d) understanding the demands of one’s life (managing role conflict), and (e) developing pre–performance routines.