3 Popular Mental Training Myths
Many professional athletes work with mental performance coaches to enhance performance, many of whom wished they had developed these skills much earlier in their careers. The problem is, there is a mindset that mental performance training is only necessary at higher levels where there is more at stake. However, many young players are never able to reach their full potential due to mental performance issues and those that are ‘good enough’ to reach higher levels in their sport spend more time than necessary battling performance issues. Even so - every child, regardless of their future goals or their current level, can benefit from mental skills training at the very least to improve their sport experience.
A number of myths or reservations prevent adults and young athletes from truly understanding the use and need of sports psychology.
Myth #1. “I don’t really get nervous- I’m already mentally prepared,” kids say.
Sure - there are athletes that actually don’t get nervous. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer in other areas such as dwelling on mistakes, focus, playing as well as they practice, anger or frustration issues, and of course, being “prepared.” Even if nerves aren’t an issue, any athlete that says they are mentally prepared usually cannot list the sequential steps they take before a game or the specific techniques they use and when. While an athlete may feel prepared, they often have no concrete plan of attack to deal with both positive and negative events.
Myth #2. “I’m playing well right now- I don’t need it” young athletes say.
If these kids could learn how to identify the thoughts and feelings that are feeding their success, they’d learn how to harness these thoughts and feelings at a later date—when they’re not at the top of their game.
That’s just one of the lessons they’ll learn if they embrace mental training. The term "mentally weak" implies there is an inherently defective or temporarily fragile mental quality in an athlete. This is not a helpful or accurate statement, as many elite athletes who are quite mentally strong still seek the services of sport psychologists on a regular basis. This is one of the most pervasive and damaging of the many myths about sport psychology. Why does Jose Bautista continuously work with a batting coach? His game is not "weak or broken". He works with a coach so he can continue to improve, and to minimize any backsliding. The same is true with athletes who seek the services of sport psychologists. They want to improve their mental skills.
Myth #3- “I already talk to my kid about thinking positively, why do I need someone else to do that?” parents say.
It is always critical that parents are involved in helping develop and nurture the techniques their young athletes are learning to implement however, the emotions involved between a parent and their youth athlete can sometimes stand in the way (please read other posts on this topic here). Moreover, having a cognitive, conceptual understanding of sport psychology is important, but this alone is not sufficient to help an athlete consistently perform under pressure. The principles of sports psychology need to be individualized, adapted and utilized in a very detailed and systematic way in order to be effective.
Many people think positive thinking and visualization are the crux of sports psychology, and perhaps these are among the best-known interventions, but they are only two of many approaches to improving sport performance.
There is no single technique or modality that works equally well across the board in sports psychology, for all athletes, for all issues. Just as the field of medicine has various specialties and modalities to address the multitudinous issues that patients present, sports psychology has an array of interventions that can be customized to adapt to the wide variety of psychological issues athletes face.
If you’d like to learn more about how to help your young athlete benefit from mental training contact me for a free consultation!
Jen Scorniaenchi, M.S.
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