Mental Skills of Successful Athletes

The article was provided by Coaches Network

High school athletes come in all different shapes and sizes and personalities.  Successful high school athletes do have one thing in common, though: They share a commitment to being the best they can be and focusing on what they can control, not worrying about the things they can’t control.

“They set high, realistic goals for themselves and train and play hard,” Jack Lesyk, Ph.D., the director of the Ohio Center for Sports Psychology, writes in an article on the center’s website . “They are successful because they are pursuing their goals and enjoying their sport. Their sport participation enriches their lives and they believe that what they get back is worth what they put into their sport.”

Lesyk believes there are nine specific mental skills that contribute to success in sports. They are all learned skills and can be improved with practice and instruction.  The states that successful athletes:

•  Choose and maintain a positive attitude.

•  Maintain a high level of self-motivation.

•  Set high, realistic goals.

•  Deal effectively with people.

•  Use positive self-talk.

•  Use positive mental imagery.

•  Manage anxiety effectively.

•  Manage their emotions effectively.

•  Maintain concentration.

•  Mental Skills Training

Lesyk created the pyramid below which represents the relationship of the nine skills to one another. Each of the higher levels incorporates and is based upon the skills of the preceding levels.

Lesyk’s article details each of these nine mental skills.

1. Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Successful athletes realize that maintaining is a positive attitude is a choice, and that no matter what, playing the sport is “an opportunity to compete against themselves and learn from their successes and failures.” Lesyk believes that athletes should pursue excellence and not perfection because no one is perfect.

2. Staying Self-Motivated:

By identifying their own form of motivation, athletes are able to “persist through difficult tasks and difficult times, even when these rewards and benefits are not immediately forthcoming.” Lesyk said that successful athletes understand many of the benefits of playing sports come from their participation and not the results.

3. Setting Realistic Goals”

Athletes should establish both short-term and long-term goals that are measurable and have an opening and ending timeframe.  Because they are extremely committed to achieving their goals, successful athletes have an easier time carrying out the demands of their training program than others.

4. Having Effective People Skills

Lesyk believes that winning athletes “understand they are part of a larger system that includes their families, friends, teammates, coaches, and others.” They can communicate their feelings easily to members of their support group, and listen to the advice that’s given to them.  Yet, these athletes have mastered the skills to deal with conflict, criticism or difficult opponents.

5. Positive Self-Talk

This is a key tool that successful athletes rely on to get through tough stretches in training or during competition. Lesyk says they “talk to themselves the way they would talk to their own best friend, and use self-talk to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors during competition.”

6. Positive Mental Imagery

Winning athletes imagine themselves performing well in competition by creating detailed, specific and realistic images.  This skill is not only used to prepare for competition but as a way to recover from poor performance during a game or race.

7. Dealing Effectively with Anxiety

Lesyk believes that successful athletes understand anxiety is part of sport, and “some degree of anxiety can help them perform well.”  They also know how to reduce anxiety when it becomes too strong, without losing their intensity in performance.

8. Dealing Effectively with Emotions

Winning athletes accept that excitement, anger, and disappointment as part of the sport experience, and they develop the ability to use these emotions as ways to improve, rather than having them serve as blocks to performing well.

9. Mental Skills Training

Successful athletes have the special ability to concentrate in every game situation.  They “have learned how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether they come from the environment or from within themselves, and are able to regain their focus when concentration is lost during competition. They have learned how to play in the ‘here-and-now,’ without regard to either past or anticipated future events.”

Click here to read the full article.  The Ohio Center for Sport Psychology helps people develop the important skills necessary for high-level performance in sport and non-sport performance situations.

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