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Sports Psychology and Performance Enhancement

Dr Patrick J Cohn explains how you and your team may benefit from the application of sports psychology.

Mental Game Coaching is that the segment of sports psychology that concentrates specifically on helping athletes break through the mental barriers that are keeping them from performing up to their peak potential. By focusing on the cognitive skills needed to be successful in any sporting competition, mental game coaching seeks to achieve the overall goal of performance improvement.

Improve focus and deal with distractions

Many athletes can concentrate, but often their focus is displaced on the wrong areas such as when a batter thinks; "I need to get a hit" while in the batter's box, which is a result-oriented focus. Much of my instruction on focus deals with helping athlete stay focused on the present moment and let go of results.

Grow confidence in athletes who have doubts

Doubt is the opposite of confidence. If you maintain many doubts before or during your performance, this indicates low self-confidence or at least you are sabotaging what confidence you had at the start of the competition. Confidence is what I call a core mental game skill because of its importance and relationship to other mental skills.

Develop coping skills to deal with setbacks and errors

Emotional control is a prerequisite to getting into the zone. Athletes with very high and strict expectations have trouble dealing with minor errors that are a natural part of sports. It is important to address these expectations and also help athletes stay composed under pressure and when they commit mistakes or become frustrated.

Find the right zone of intensity for your sport

I use intensity in a broad sense to identify the level of arousal or mental activation that is necessary for each person to perform at his or her best. This will vary from person to person and from sport to sport. Feeling "up" and positively charged is critical, but not getting overly excited is also important. You have to tread a fine line between being eager to complete and not getting over-excited.

Help teams develop communication skills and cohesion

A major part of sports psychology and mental training is helping teams improve cohesion and communication. The more a team works as a unit, the better the results for all involved.

To instil a healthy belief system and identify irrational thoughts

One of the areas I pride myself on is helping athletes identify ineffective beliefs and attitudes such as comfort zones and negative self-labels that hold them back from performing well. These core unhealthy thoughts must be identified and replaced with a new way of thinking. Unhealthy or irrational beliefs will keep you stuck no matter how much you practice, or hard you try.

Improve or balance motivation for optimal performance

It is important to look at your level of motivation and just why you are motivated to play your sport. Some motivators are better in the long-term than others. Athletes who are extrinsically inspired often play for the wrong reasons, such as the athlete who only participates in sports because of a parent. It would help if you adopted a healthy level of motivation and be motivated for the right reasons.

Develop confidence post-injury

Some athletes find themselves fully prepared physically to get back into competition and practice, but mentally some scars remain. Injury can hurt confidence, generate doubt during the competition and cause a lack of focus. I help athletes mentally heal from injuries and deal with the fear of re-injury.

To develop game-specific strategies and game plans

All great coaches employ game plans, race strategies, and course management skills to help athletes mentally prepare for competition. This is an area beyond developing basic mental skills in which a mental coach helps athletes and teams. This is very important in sports such as golf, racing, and many team sports.

To identify and enter the "zone" more often This incorporates everything I do on the mental side of sports. The overall aim is to help athletes enter the zone by developing foundational mental skills that can help athletes enter the zone more frequently. It is impossible to play in the zone every day, but you can set the conditions for it to happen more often.

I will add that sports psychology may not be appropriate for every athlete. Not every person who plays a sport wants to "improve performance." Sports psychology is not for recreation athletes who participate for the social component of a sport or do not spend time working on technique or fitness to improve performance. Young athletes whose parents want them to see a sports psychologist are not a good candidate either. The athlete must desire to improve his or her mental game without having the motive to satisfy a parent. Similarly, an athlete who sees a mental game expert only to satisfy a coach is not going to benefit from mental training fully.

Sports Psychology does apply to a wide variety of serious athletes. Most of my students (junior, high school, college, and professional athletes) are highly committed to excellence and seeing how far they can go in sports. They love competition and testing themselves against the best in their sport. They understand the importance of a positive attitude and mental toughness. These athletes want every advantage they can get, including the mental edge over the competition.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • COHN, P. (2006) Sports Psychology and Performance Enhancement. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 34/ July-August), p. 7-8

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • COHN, P. (2006) Sports Psychology and Performance Enhancement [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Dr Patrick Cohn works with athletes and teams worldwide from a variety of sports backgrounds. As the president and founder of Peak Performance Sports (Orlando, Florida), Dr Cohn is dedicated to instilling confidence and composure and teaching effective mental game skills to help athletes, teams, and corporate professionals perform at maximum levels.