Improving an Athlete’s Mental Game

With the school year and spring sports season winding down, now’s the time when young athletes mighImprove_Mental_Game_2t need an extra edge over their competition. Additional drills and practices can help, but so does increased mental motivation.

“Competition can cause some athletes to react both physically and mentally in a way that can affect their performance negatively,” says Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, a CHOC Children’s psychologist. “Certain techniques can help young athletes overcome these barriers and continue to improve.”

Check out six ways to increase motivation and enhance overall athletic performance:

Tolerate failure

To become a good athlete or improve at a favorite sport, children must tolerate failure and accept it as part of the process of succeeding. Without failure, no one learns, and without learning, no one improves.

Dig for motivation

An athlete must have an emotionally compelling reason to stick with an exercise program. For serious athletes who train for four to eight years at a time, the motivation might be an Olympic gold medal. Here’s a trick: On the days your child doesn’t feel like practicing or exercising, talk about how good he’ll feel afterward.

Compete against yourself

Another important component of motivation is not comparing oneself with others. For example, if a teen works out regularly at a gym, she should channel her competitiveness into the progress she’s making, not against the highly fit person on the next treadmill. The same is true when competing: A runner should tune out the other athletes in the race.

Hold mental rehearsals

An athlete trying to master a particular physical feat, such as diving off the high board or perfecting a tennis serve, should imagine himself doing it.

Stay in the present

In the midst of an activity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of concentrating on the uncontrollable factors, such as the weather, an opponent or past performance. Instead, stay in the present. While running a long race, for instance, an athlete should concentrate on his breathing rhythm or arm swing, not on the length of the race or the other runners.

Plunge through a plateau

Reaching a stagnant level of fitness or performance – a plateau – is a natural part of training. However, it can dampen enthusiasm and motivation. Talking to others who have achieved a similar goal will help an athlete improve exercise performance after reaching a plateau.

An athlete can stay positive by creating a daily victory log. It might read, “I ran five miles today, and at the four-mile mark, I pushed myself when I wanted to stop.”

Learn more about psychology at CHOC, and schedule an appointment by calling 714-509-8481.

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