Many athletes recognize the importance of the mental side of sport, but few dedicate time to mental skills training. When they do, it’s often when a problem arises. Performance psychology then comes to be seen as a form of rehab for the mind that promises quick results to get them back in the game, at which point they can leave behind the rehab and resume life as before. Or, athletes approach mental skills training with the expectation that it will make them invincible, turning them into super athletes who are faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Still others recognize the importance of the mental side of sport, but view mental skills training as something only elite or professional athletes benefit from.
Few athletes think these things about physical training. Nobody thinks that a few runs will quickly prepare them for a marathon, that applying principles of physiology to their training will make them invincible, or that doing any training at all will only benefit Olympians. Yet there is a double standard when it comes to mental skills training, with mental skills training often seen as an optional add-on to physical training.
The reality is that everyone benefits from integrating insights from performance psychology into their training program. Rather than something to do only as a race approaches or when a problem arises, mental skills training is a key piece of the larger athletic performance puzzle. Proactively working on mental skills alongside your physical training allows you to optimize your performance. It may not turn you into Superman, but it will help you perform at your best.
An increasing number of endurance athletes of all competitive levels are not only recognizing the importance of the mental side of sport, but are now starting to integrate mental skills training into their programs. Much has been written in the field of performance psychology — both for academic and general audiences — but it can still be difficult to know where to start or how to apply the ideas.
I developed this course as a practical guide to help you begin integrating mental skills training into your own pursuits. Throughout the course, explanations of key ideas are followed by hands-on practical applications that allow you to apply the ideas to your own life and athletic interests. Move through the course at your own pace and download the course workbook with templates of all the exercises to do the work along the way.
The course is structured into four main sections. The first section, Motivation, takes you through a series of exercises to help you identify your prime motivators and discover your personal “why,” or purpose. The second section, Goal Setting, introduces key ideas about goal setting and guides you through practical applications to help you set your outcome, performance, and process goals. The third section, Mental Skills Training, discusses what limits endurance performance and helps you develop the foundational skills of mindfulness and attentional control, put your self-talk to strategic use, train your mental toughness, and use mental imagery. The final section, Executing on Race Day, helps you optimize your arousal level going into the race, deal with pre-race anxiety, and then bring the goal-achievement cycle full circle by drawing lessons from your race once it’s over.
Approaching mental skills development with the same level of commitment you give to your physical training will make you a better athlete. But it may also make you a better person as you start to realize how the ideas and training are not just limited to athletics, but cross over into other domains of your life.