We all agree that developing mental skills is an essential part of being a successful athlete.
The ability to perform under pressure, the capacity to remain confident and resilient when competition conditions get tough, the skill to be able to relax and stay focused when feeling pain and fatigue in competition, concentration, visualization……coaches and athletes are unanimous that spending time developing mental skills is time well spent.
However, figuring out the best way to develop mental skills – particularly mental skills which can directly enhance the competition performance of athletes is another matter.
We all think working with a Sports Psychologist is a good idea but Sports Psychologists are like life partners……we know that having one is probably a good idea but it is next to impossible to find a good one.
Psychology is a relatively young profession and sports psychology is even more in its relative infancy. However, the potential impact of working with a mental skills professional who can successfully integrate a winning mind with a winning body is enormous.
Now let’s be honest. The relationship between coaches and sports psychologists has been as bumpy as an old country dirt road. There is fault on both sides.
Coaches have believed that the development of mental skills has been their exclusive domain and that they are responsible for enhancing the mental skills of their athletes.
Sports psychologist in general, until recently, also feel they have the exclusive rights to mental skills development.
And to make matters worse, sports psychologists have often operated behind closed doors (understandable considering the need for privacy, confidentiality and professional ethical behaviour standards) which has led to coaches mistrusting sports psychologists.
Clearly, the smartest thing to do is to look at the overall performance environment and create an integrated, cohesive, open, transparent partnership between the athlete, the coach and the sports psychologist.
In recent years, there has been an emergence of life coaches, performance coaches and others who offer their services to athletes and coaches promising improved performance through enhanced mental skills.
Without getting into a debate on semantics with the sports psychology professional membership associations, let’s refer to anyone who works with athletes to enhance their mental skills to improve their performance as a mental skills professional.
So where is this heading? How can coaches and athletes best utilise the knowledge, skills and experience of mental skills professionals to enhance the performance of athletes in training and competition?
- Get them off “the couch”– Whilst there are no doubt times where the need for privacy and confidentiality is critical, most of the time, mental skills professionals – like all sports scientists who want to make an impact on performance – need to be at the coal face working with athletes and coaches at training. Get them off the couch, get them out of the office and get them down to the court, the gym, the pool and the track;
- No secrets: it’s a performance partnership – there is no room for ego in high performance sport. Everyone needs to be working together as equals in a performance partnership with a common goal: to help each athlete realise their full potential;
- Think differently about thinking differently – change the way you think about integrating a mental skills professional into your program. Only a small percentage of the mental skills industry is dealing with mental illness – the vast majority of the industry is about enhancing performance, improving thinking processes and maximising potential. The only thing crazy about mental skills and sport is not using someone to help you enhance them!
- Work side by side: be inclusive – What’s stopping a tennis coach from hitting balls from one end of the court, while a mental skills professional works with the athlete at the other end of the court? Think of the benefits of having a mental skills professional out on the field with a football coach suggesting ways of enhancing the learning environment of players executing drills and skills? Imagine the advantages of incorporating a mental skills professional in gym work to help athletes with focus, concentration and visualisation techniques during actual training sessions? To get the best out of mental skills professionals….Integrate – Incorporate – Include.
- Coaches need coaches – there is no doubt that the faster coaches can accelerate their own rate of learning and development, the faster they can accelerate the rate of learning and development of their athletes. Having a mental skills professional working alongside coaches and helping to understand coaching, communication and themselves is a brilliant way to learn, grow and improve.
The smart integration of a mental skills professional into your coaching program can give both coaches and athletes a real performance edge.
Find someone who is well trained, experienced and qualified to do the job you want them to do but most importantly, find someone who can work as a partner in your performance program, someone who will respect the coach as a fellow sports performance professional and someone who is prepared to learn as much as they are prepared to teach.