The Biggest Misconceptions about Mental Skills Training
I've discovered that one of the most challenging aspects of navigating the sport and high performance field is explaining what I do. Often it’s something that people honestly have no clue about so more often than not I'll find myself needing to start from “square-1” which can sometimes seem as a disadvantage when compared to professions like doctors, engineers, and strength coaches whose titles and duties are somewhat familiar. However, it’s not the people who come in with minimal knowledge who pose the most challenge, it’s those who come in with predetermined notions of what sport psychology is or hold certain misconceptions around about these types of services. So what are these misconceptions? And how can we begin to shift the mindset to perhaps one that is more open and at ease when contemplating anything with the word "psychology?".
The following will unpack some of these misconceptions and provide some insight with the intent to kickstart a different mindset and societal “norm” about sport psychology and mental skills training.
I) I only need mental training as a last resort or when I’m doing “bad”.
This is probably the most common one I've come across thus far. Often athletes and performers are open and ready to the idea of exercising their mental skill set, but only in the event where they are starting to break down. Without a doubt, mental skills training can be the catalyst to help guide you through performance obstacles like dwindling motivation, a lack of confidence, or learning how to navigate transition periods. What is won't do is be the "magic pill" that cures all your struggle in a weekend. Similar to strength training, the degree in which you develop your mental skill-set is highly dependent on how much time and effort you dedicate to it. The classic "you get out what you put in" dynamic. Therefore it's advisable to consider structuring your mental skills training ALONGSIDE physical development and practice, setting aside dedicated chunks of time during the off-seasons to continue developing these skills. If you make it a priority, you'll begin to cultivate the benefits of such a practice all season long.
II) Mental skills training is ONLY for professional athletes or adults.
Another common one. Often athletes think that they need to hit a certain point where mental skills trainings becomes valuable, ie, "It only matters at the professional level, right now I need to focus on getting stronger." While mindset training can be difference maker at the elite level, training the mind is something that should take place along the entire trajectory of your career. It elevates your physical development, enhances recovery, and dials in your approach to self-betterment.
Getting parents of younger performers to buy into this notion can be a challenge, with many explaining "I can't believe so-and-so would get a sport psychologist for their child, do they think their kid is going pro?!" I can understand this perception given the climate around psychologist services, but regardless of your perspective, mental skills training is as important, if not more so, at a younger age. It's not entirely about sport development but more about giving them the tools to thrive on a daily basis, whether that's in sport, school, or in the household. Working with kids has been a major highlight of the work I do for a couple of reasons. 1) They usually don't have deep-seated beliefs or programmed thought patterns we need to deconstruct first in order to implement a new habit or perspective. A child's ability to remain open and earnest in their pursuit of mental development can be a major advantage with working with youth.
III) Mental skills training is ONLY for athletes.
Another common error! Athletes are a popular choice when we want to point to the cutting edge of competition and self-mastery but so many others are on this pursuit as well! The mind is the filter through which all things flow. Every exercise, every written word, every decision, perception, and so forth is dictated and ignited by the mind. Mental skills training is something that has and is being harnessed by the world's most elite in a multitude of high stakes arenas such as business, the performing arts, the military, NASA, and beyond. Our ability to shape and mold the mental landscape into one that operates on a consistent peak performance level is one of the most valuable and effective tools with have at our disposable. With a sharper mind comes a heightened propensity to seek out and ignite your ultimate talents.
Keen to learn more on how to kickstart your mental training?