Develop Your Brain Game
Improvements to your athletic performance are the direct result of committed and fundamentally sound practice. The mental game is no different. To develop a motivational mindset, you must hone your mental performance skills through perseverance and practice.
When developing your motivational mindset, you will likely encounter challenges like boredom, lack of focus, frustration and disappointment. Do not let these distractions hinder your mental performance training; instead, condition your mind to effectively manage and overcome the obstacles.
Create operational goals. That is to say, you must be able to establish a training regimen that is appropriate and congruent with your desired end result. For example, if your goal is to become a better three-point shooter, you must establish a training routine with workouts and drills that will improve your three-point shot.
Avoid setting outcome goals—like scoring an additional ten points per game. Outcome goals rely on dynamic variables respective to each individual circumstance. Set goals that are a stretch but completely within your reach. Achieve a goal to improve your shooting technique by adding shooting drills to your practice—which may eventually help you get those extra ten points per game.
Learn more about how to develop better goals from Jessica Mohler, sport psychologist at the U.S. Naval Academy.
When athletes set goals, they must believe themselves capable of achieving them through progressive stages of hard work and perseverance. For example, if an athlete's goal is to complete a marathon, his or her first day of training should require running only a mile or two.
When working with an athlete on goal setting, I often use a 1 to 10 rating system—ten being unreachable and one being too easy. A seven or eight rating is ideal, because it indicates the goal is challenging but attainable.
Understanding Your "Why"
It's important to identify why you value competition. Is it the challenge of pushing your body to the limit, becoming an athlete role model, or experiencing the unmatched thrill of victory? Whatever it is, let it inspire and drive you during your weakest moments.
Total Engagement and Disengagement
One of the greatest challenges elite athletes face is performing consistently at their maximum athletic potential. The best way to regularly reach peak performance is to give each training session 100% commitment and focus. When an athlete trains, he or she must set aside all other concerns, because anxiety caused by external factors can drain an athlete's energy.
Athletes must be able to completely engage in each training session—and to completely disengage when the session is over. When you leave the gym, weight room, court or field, it is critical to fully reconnect with your family, work or school. This is not only smart time management, it also lets your mind and body reenergize and re-engage with critical support systems essential for reaching your goals.
Embrace Training Discomfort
Finally, and maybe most important, an athlete must understand how to embrace and accept the discomfort or pain inherent in training. Whether you are physically challenged by a difficult exercise or by attempting to master a new skill, you must rely on your mind to push yourself beyond your previous performance threshold. Performance improvements occur when you ignore the voice in your head that says "stop."
Use these mental conditioning skills to frame your training sessions and ultimately reach your goals. For more tips on building your mental game, check out STACK's Sports Psych Guide.