Each month, in this section, I'll offer a performance enhancement or sport psychology principle designed to not only help you enjoy the sports experience more, but also perform at a higher level. Whether you are an athlete or a coach, mastering the mental game of sport will allow you to reach greater heights as a competitor than you could otherwise achieve by focusing exclusively on the physical side of sport.

You can use these tips in a variety of ways including incorporating them completely, sequentially and additively into your own game plan or selectively choosing from among a variety of techniques—the ones that most interest you at a particular time.

The Importance of Mental Skills

The best place to start is to outline why mental skills are so important to performance and why they are often neglected by coaches and athletes. Yogi Bera has been quoted as saying, "sport is 90% mental and 50% physical." You can question his mathematical savvy, but if you're an athlete, coach or fan, you can't question his wisdom. Most of us realize that it is often deficits in our psychological game rather than errors in our physical performance that keep us from performing at optimum levels in practice, games or matches.

Both research and anecdotal evidence support the notion that it is not the physical talents or abilities that separate athletes and teams, or successful versus less successful performance.

Rather, the psychological dimension in sport is the most frequently cited variable explaining a given sport outcome or individual performance. In fact, when over 600 United States Olympic Athletes were interviewed after the 1996 Olympic Games and asked to list the top ten factors essential for success at the higher levels of competition, mental skills were listed in the to five spots. Not surprising, the single most important quality cited was mental toughness. In sixth place, athletes listed physical talent.

What do these elite performers know that the rest of us can utilize to supplement our traditional training methods? They understand and develop the psychological dimension of their game. No matter what sport you play or the level of competition you face, recognizing and developing your mental game plan should be a significant priority.

The Fundamentals

Every sport is comprised of four fundamental components, namely:

  • The technical
  • Tactical
  • Physiological
  • Psychological.

Briefly, the technical components represent the actual skill necessary to play a given sport. Examples include dribbling in soccer, shooting in basketball, passing in football, etc. The tactical aspect refers to the strategies and concepts employed to showcase those techniques in competition. Examples include what system to play in soccer, what offense to run in basketball, or what offensive schemes to utilize in football.

The physiological components refer to the physical demands of a given sport. Examples include the cardio-respiratory demands, strength, flexibility, anaerobic needs, etc. The fourth component is the focus of "Colleen's Psychological Skills,": the psychological dimension. Examples include: motivation to compete, mental toughness, self-confidence, imagery, goal setting, etc. These are the topics that will be addressed each month.

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