Are You Coaching Mental Skills? Why Not?

Article excerpt


Across all levels of the athlete continuum, from youth through professional sports, psychological preparation is as essential to success as physical conditioning, adequate hydration and proper nutrition. For many athletes psychological barriers impede performance as well as the ability to enjoy otherwise meaningful experiences. Since the early 1980s sport psychologists have stressed the importance of psychological or mental training through research in areas such as concentration (Durand-Bush, & Salmela, 2002), motivation (Gould, Dieffenbach & Moffett, 2002), imagery (Gould, Eklund & Jackson, 1993) and mental toughness (Jones, Hanton & Connaughton, 2002). Much of this work reinforces the need to develop mental skills training programs designed to assist athletes in managing the various psychological impediments to success (Murphy, 2005).

Mental skill training focuses on the positive aspects of an athlete's performance, abilities and preparation while enabling an athlete to gain more control over their performance. Mental skills training is most effective when implemented in a routine training program and must be practiced often (Porter, 2004). Athletes from amateur to the elite can improve their performance by practicing mental skills as diligently as they practice their sports; however data also suggests a divergence between attitudes towards mental skills training and actual implementation of effective programs.

For example, Gould, Hodge, Peterson, and Petlichkoff (1987) conducted a study which addressed this dilemma with intercollegiate wrestling coaches. Although 82% of the coaches in this study rated mental skills as important components in determining wrestling success, only 9% of those same coaches reported success in developing mental skills in their athletes. Therefore, even though coaches and sport performers are aware of the significance and impact of mental skills in sports, they have problems developing these skills systematically.

Present Investigation:

In an effort to further clarify the divergence between the importance and implementation of mental skills training, semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) coaches from a mix of Division I, II, III male and female sports teams. Each participant had a minimum of ten years of experience as a head or assistant coach at the college level, in their specific sport. Interview questions and procedures were approved by the Internal Review Board at Roanoke College (Study Number: 09HP024). Coaches were surveyed in an effort to determine:

1.) If coaches are implementing mental skills training?

2.) What factors influenced mental skills training?

3.) What kinds of programs could be successfully integrated into practice schedules?

Qualitative Interview Results

Question 1: Do you feel that mental skills are important to develop in your athletes? If so, how important do you feel these skills are?

100% of the participants agreed that mental skills are important in an athlete, and are very important or vital to their programs. Each coach felt that mental skills were as important to develop in athletes as physical skills. Moreover 80% of coaches mentioned that the overall performance of their athletes is related to their ability to focus under pressure.

Question 2: Do you work with your team in an attempt to develop their mental skills?

9% of the coaches (2 out of 22) responded that they work with their team to develop mental skills.

Question 3: Why do you feel that coaches in general do not spend enough time on developing mental skills?

100% of participants provided the same two reasons for not spending more time on developing mental skills. The first was due to NCAA time restrictions and the second was due to a general lack of knowledge or comfort level in providing mental skills training. …