October 24th, 2020

Training Matters: Time to end the stigma of mental training

By None on September 7, 2018.

As many athletes seek out mental training services, it feels like an equal number are instead asking why they even need it.

Isn’t the strength and conditioning, specialized coaching, and in-practice training enough? With back to school upon us, consider the same analogy. Is going to class, participating, maybe even taking notes, enough? Could you get away or even pass with decent marks without studying, completing homework, and working in groups to complete assignments? I’m going to go out on a limb and say I’d doubt that (at least at higher grade levels).

Think of your mental training as just another component that is going to help you succeed with the best chances of reaching your goals. Look at it as your homework, your studying, or your brainstorming. Maybe you could get away without those things, but are you really going to achieve the same grades by cutting them out?

Over the years, strength and conditioning has become part of the game. Regardless of sport, at any high level, it is expected that you’ll be completing group or individual training sessions to get your body into peak physical shape to perform at its maximum potential. In fact, I bet if you heard of someone in the NBA or NHL who only went to practice, you’d be flabbergasted. That’s because it’s one very controllable component that you can put into place to help you peak when you need to.

Consider an elite-level athlete, let’s say a national tennis player at the U.S. Open. You would expect to see their training progress as the season goes on, tweaking little things here and there as a result of their goal achievements and setbacks. If they had a triumphant win, you’d expect that they’d be asking what was helpful and what went well so that they can replicate it again. And if they lost horribly and made a fool of themselves, you’d be sure that they’d be re-evaluating their approach and making the necessary changes.

At that level, it’s not usually the physical capabilities that hold someone back; it is usually their mental strength and stamina.

Can we adapt this same approach with mental training? Sure, but like anything, it’s going to take work and possibly a change in perspective. There is stigma behind many aspects of mental health, including mental training. I’ve often had athletes, parents, and coaches who joke and refer to a mental trainer as a shrink, a slang term for a psychiatrist. Although it is meant in good nature, it is preventing us as a sport society from moving forward and accepting the advantage that mental toughness can bring.

Acceptance, integration, and regular check-ins with mental health, mental fitness, and mental strength are the actions that are needed to help normalize mental training in all levels of sport. When coaches place value on it, we see a shift in the players. When parents change from feeling like their athletes will be “fixed” by working with a mental training to adopting a growth mindset and supporting their athletes in their training, then we can make progress.

Sport can work if you choose to work. Just as success can be achieved if you’re willing to commit to the work, strengthening all sides of yourself as an athlete as the work is the key to reaching your ultimate goal.

I encourage you to check yourself. Check in with yourself, and check on yourself. What are you doing to strengthen your beliefs about the importance of mental training? What are you doing to train your mental game? And how does it all come together to make you a force to be reckoned with? Once you’ve determined the course of action to hit your goals, execute it until you reach your highest potential.

Courtney Marchesin, MA, sport psychology consultant, is the mental skills coach for the Alberta Sport Development Centre-Southeast. She can be contacted at courtneymarchesin@gmail.com.

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