The Disconnect in Mental Training: Facts and Myths

STACK Expert Christine Rickertsen explodes four myths about mental training that prevent athletes from reaching their full potential.

DeMar DeRozan

After a tough loss, how often do you hear your coach preach messages like "be mentally tougher," "too many mental errors," "get out of your head," or "go in with the right approach"?

Mental training plays a large role in an athlete's success or failure. However, throughout my years of meeting with and observing players, I've noticed a huge disconnect between what athletes say about the importance of a strong mental approach and the time they actually spend practicing and preparing. If having a strong mental approach is so important to consistent success, why is it almost totally ignored during preparation?

The only reasons I can think of have to do with the power and influence of myths. Although it is growing in popularity,  sports psychology still remains irrelevant for many athletes. Unfortunately believing in these myths gives athletes an excuse to avoid mental training.

Here are some of the myths about mental training that I frequently encounter. Are you letting them hold you back?

Myth 1: Mental training is only for athletes who are struggling.

As a mental trainer, I often hear "things are going well right now, I don't think I need this." Well, after a good game, do you stop going to practice? Mental training is not just for athletes who are struggling. The majority of athletes I work with have nothing going wrong, but they do want to continue to improve and achieve peak performance. One of my favorite quotes for them is: "The moment you stop trying to become a better player is the moment you start to become worse."

The best mental approach is to continue to work on your mental skills, pushing yourself toward success in a controlled manner. The moment you think you don't need mental training is the moment you stop learning how to be better. (See Craig Kimbrel: How to Train as a Closing Pitcher.)

Myth 2: All I need to know about mental training I can learn from reading books.

Yes, lots of great references are available for learning how to develop your mental approach. However, you wouldn't only read a book to learn how to pitch, would you? Developing your mental preparation and maintaining the right mindset require constant work and attention, like going to practice every day, working on mechanics or staying in shape. A trained professional can offer a fresh perspective and help you create the specific mental approach you need, as unique as your fingerprint. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. Books are great, but they can't give you all you need to reach your potential.

Myth 3: Working on my mental approach requires a large time commitment.

A strong mental approach requires a commitment, but you can make dramatic improvements in your mental game with just a few minutes a day. This may consist of trying new techniques, learning to set goals and practicing other mental skills like visualization. Compared to the hours of time you devote to training and practice, it's a small price to pay for a profound impact on your game.

Myth 4: Sport psychology is too much like therapy, sitting on a coach discussing my  feelings.

This is probably the most common misconception about mental training. (See Billy Butler on His Mental Approach and Advice.) Although the process does involve conversation, a lot of my work with athletes in done in the field. Many athletes tell me one thing while the are sitting in my office, but they find it challenging to use the skills in practice or competition. That's why I like to meet players on the field, where they can exercise new mental skills and put them into action. In a lot of ways, my work is more like a physical trainer than a psychologist.

Remember, mental training is about taking the next step to reach your full potential. There are players all over the world who have tremendous physical talent but whose mental approach is just not there. You might be a good player, you might even be a great player, but until you give your mental approach the credit it deserves and make that investment, you will never be the best player you could be. "Be the best or be forgotten." Are you doing everything you can to be your best?


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