As athletes and coaches at all levels become more sophisticated, using a team of people to support and help the athlete and coach is becoming more commonplace.
Using a strength and conditioning coach to develop the physical side, a physio or sports therapist to stay healthy, a nutritionist to work on what they eat and drink, and even a video analyst to complement technical and tactical improvements are all seen as signs of an athlete and coach being serious about performance.
All athletes and coaches recognise the vital importance that the mental side plays in development and performance when it matters, but why do they often shy away from people like me who devote their life to understanding how to improve the mental side?
The reasons are many. They may think that needing a mental is a sign of weakness, something that’s just not acceptable in the competitive nature of sport. They may think that you’ve either got mental toughness or you haven’t. They may think that working with a mental performance coach means you must be crazy!
If people feel this way, their opinions are valid, but the common theme here is a misunderstanding of what people like me do, and how we do it.
Here, I’ll attempt to start to demystify how I work.
Firstly, I follow a process exactly the same as any coach working on the technical, tactical and physical side would follow:
Baseline ===========================> Plan ===========================> Implement
Like developing every part of your game, it’s important to get an understanding of where an athlete’s initial mental strengths and areas to improve are.
Each athlete’s circumstances are different, but I tend to use some or all of the following techniques to get a baseline: Interviews to understand the athletes perspective of what they want to achieve, Observation in practice or competition either in person or on video to recognise responses to situations and Performance Profiling.
Once we know what you’re good at, and what you want to improve we develop a programme to make your strengths even stronger and also work to improve areas that may be limiting your performance.
These areas may fall into the categories of things such as; mental toughness, confidence, motivation, managing pressure, concentration, choking, emotional control, negative thinking, dealing with injury, responses to mistakes, etc.
With regards to techniques, I’ve got 1000s in my toolbox that I select based on various criteria such as the areas we’re looking to work on and your preferences for the approach that will work most effectively for you.
These techniques could involve activities such as mental rehearsal, mental imagery, relaxation skills, using self-talk, reframing negative thoughts, using video, using music, goal-setting, developing pre-training and pre-competition routines, simulation training of matches in training, body language development, etc., etc.!
So, now we understand your baseline and we have a plan to allow you to perform better. The final step is both the easiest and the hardest – You’ve just got to do it!
You’re never going to get better technically without practicing, and it’s the same with the mental side.
This is where people often go wrong – they try something for a session or two and if they don’t see a miraculous transformation, then they give up and dismiss working on the mental side as a waste of time.
However, compare this to the physical side – you wouldn’t do one sprinting session and expect to be Usain Bolt the next day, would you?
Again, we follow a logical plan by generally trying the skills together until you’re comfortable with them, before we transfer them to your training environment. Once you’re feeling good about them, we look to transfer them to your game environment.
At every stage, we’re monitoring the effectiveness of the plan and making any necessary changes as we go along to make sure you’re getting the best out of your work!
So there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of how I work as a mental performance coach.
I hope you’ve got a feeling that you don’t have to be crazy to work on the mental side, in fact quite the opposite, if you want to deliver your ability to its full potential you’d be crazy not to!