Mental skills. What are they and where should you start?
Basically, mental skills refer to what’s going on between your ears to help you perform. Example mental skills are confidence, focus, communication, and leadership. They complement physical skills, which tend to get a lot more love.
Mental skills, like physical skills, should be practiced deliberately and consistently in order for you to rely on them. So, where should you start?
Get a better sense of who you are as a competitor. When you compete, how do you like to feel? What do you want to think about? What makes you nervous or angry? Answering these questions helps you become more self-aware, and a good sense of self-awareness is the foundation of all other mental skills and strategies.
So how do you increase your self-awareness?
It takes some time and reflection, but the payoff is worth the effort. To start, picture your single best and worst games. Write down:
What you thought about before and during your best and worst games
How you felt before and during them
Physically: loose, tight, energized
Emotionally: frustrated, excited, nervous, confident
Any triggers that caught your attention/shifted your focus
This initial exercise will give you an idea your ideal state before competing (that is to say, try to replicate the best game and make plans to avoid what happened in the worst game). It’s a good first step to help you plan a routine to consistently prepare to do your best.
Your next step is to start taking a few minutes after each practice and game to think about:
How well did I stick to my routine before I played?
What did I think about and focus on most?
How did I feel?
How would I rate my overall performance?
What can I do to improve?
This consistent reflection will continue to hone your self-awareness and help you realize which mental skills you want to employ (like focus cues, self-talk strategies, or imagery, for example) to help you compete at your best.