Mental Training Techniques
Camilla Sheppard provides an overview of how you can improve your performance with simple mental training techniques.
Sports psychologists and professional athletes have for a long time hailed the benefits of mental training to improve performance. Research has shown that having self-belief, a high level of concentration and self-control can vastly improve the abilities of even the most successful athletes. In fact, not possessing these mental skills can be the difference between remaining an amateur and becoming a professional.
Cristiano Ronaldo is just one professional sportsman that benefited from the guidance of a sports coach. During the 2007-2008 season, football coach Rene Meulensteen helped Ronaldo to work on his mental skills, and primarily his emotional control. He highlighted that often Ronaldo displayed negative body language and compared that to video clips of other professional sportsmen and women who did not allow their emotions to distract them from the game in play. It was during this season that Ronaldo's performance on the pitch dramatically improved. He always had the physical skills, but the mental training helped him to reach his full potential.
In 2014, Japanese neurologists looked at the brain activity of Brazilian footballer Neymar and compared their findings to footballers of varying levels as well as individuals who did not play at all. The results showed that Neymar conducted basic motor tasks with less than 10% of the cerebral function of the other participants. By using less brain power, he was also able to complete the tasks much faster. A similar study looked at the brain activity of poker players of varying levels. The findings were interpreted by leading sports psychologist James Hazlett who explained that the expert players showed a much higher level of self-control and focus compared to amateurs.
How can you improve your performance by using mental techniques?
If you do not believe you are capable of setting that record, scoring that goal or winning that match then you cannot possibly play your best. This type of self-belief, however, does not always come naturally to sportsmen and women. Imagining yourself in these scenarios however can-do wonders for a confidence boost. Tennis star Evonne Goolagong is just one sports person who combined visualisation into her training, "Every time I hit the ball on the wall I used to pretend I was there (Wimbledon). When I went to sleep I used to pretend I was there".
Sometimes giving yourself a pep talk is all you need to stay focused and improve your confidence. During training, set yourself realistic performance goals and encourage yourself to meet your targets. Sports teams can also benefit from group talks to boost morale. When the whole team is feeling confident, your opponents suddenly will not seem so intimidating.
A whole host of professional sportsmen and women have used meditation as part of their training, including Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Concentrating on breathing techniques and letting go of negative thoughts can help you to control your emotions so that you can avoid feelings like anxiety, fear and frustration by taking the focus away from your performance.
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About the Author
Camilla Sheppard graduated from Kings College London with a 2:1 in Hispanic Studies and writes on a variety of topics including travel, technology, sport and the arts.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: