Mental Skills Assessment

Mental Skills Assessment

Sport success is determined in part by physical conditioning, skill, and preparation. But it is also influenced by psychological factors such as self confidence, motivation, concentration, and emotional control. We haven’t seen any Olympic athletes who succeed without doing the physical and technical work, even though we have worked with some of the most mentally talented athletes in the world. The reality is that even an exceptionally mentally talented athlete who has not prepared well physically loses confidence and is vulnerable in competition. The best and easiest confidence is that which comes from the knowledge that athletes are as prepared, or more prepared, than their competitors, and that they are physically capable of a winning performance.

On the other hand , you may have worked with a number of athletes whose coaches called them ‘the most talented athlete on the team,’ yet these athletes never achieved international success. These physically gifted athletes were not able to manage the mental demands of their sport. Some athletes can’t handle the focus and discipline of training, while others can’t handle the pressure and stress of competition. Athletes lacking in either of these areas may succeed at time, but they will not succeed consistently.

How important do you think psychological factors are to the success of your athletes, as compared with physical factors. In short, how much of sport do you think is mental, and how much is physical?


__________% physical      ______________% psychological


Yogi Berra is often quoted as saying, “Baseball  is 90% mental;  the other half is physical.” The numbers don’t add up, but his point is well taken. Like Yogi Berra, you may believe that mental factors play a big role in sport. Most coaches agree.  You’ve probably watched races where athletes make clutch decisions in the closing seconds to propel themselves to victory – or give up under pressure.

Triathlon performance depends on a variety of physical skills, or attributes, ranging from strong lungs to good swim technique. But it does not depend on these alone. Triathlon performance is also supported by mental skills, which are the psychological attributes that help you make the most of physical skills you develop in training.

Preparing the mind for excellent performance helps all athletes. The athlete spends countless hours preparing their body for race day, but if you’re like many others, you often leave the mind out of the training equation. Most elite athletes will tell you that mental preparation plays a huge role in determining success or failure. No matter how ready your body is for an event, without mental resolve, your performance is going to suffer. When your mind quits your body soon follows. Likewise, when your body is trashed near the end of a race, you can help overcome some of the physical pain with mental training techniques.

It is important you have an open line of communication with your athletes. Mental training is very individualized. You’ll want to experiment until you find mental-training methods that work best for your athlete. Those that handle the stress of competition easily may need little more than a smile on race day to deliver peak performances, while others require elaborate routines that may be complex and time consuming. But everyone benefits from some degree of mental preparation.

Mental training lends itself well to a philosophy aimed at athletes’ growth and development – physical, mental, social, moral and emotional. In fact, mental training is training in life skills such as learning how to set goals, how to handle pressure and criticism, and how to say focused on the task at hand.  There are four major mental training tools to develop your athletes’ mental skills, such as goal setting, imagery, relaxation and self talk.

Goal Setting

The good thing for most athletes is that goal setting is as natural and inevitable as breathing. Virtually all athletes are intuitively goal driven. Setting realistic but challenging short-term goals provides a sense of direction, thereby increasing motivation as reflected in increased effort and persistence. Challenging, realistic goals help athletes get into their optimal energy zone and direct that energy to task at hand. Although striving to win is important, focusing on winning can create excessive stress. When athletes perceive the challenge not as winning but as achieving their won realistically set performance goals, the challenge will always be near the athlete’s present skill level and will create and optimal skill-challenge balance.


Imagery is structured daydreaming. It involves creating or recreating an experience in your mind’s eye, incorporating a variety of senses in the absence of external stimuli.  Teaching athletes to imagine themselves attaining their goals can help raise their motivation. By imagining previous strong performance, athletes can identify their optimal energy levels and strategies for getting int o an effective energy zone prior to performing. Using imagery effectively requires the ability to focus on desired images and thus can be sued to develop attentional skills. Imagery can be used to help athletes manage competitive stress. Athletes are less likely to experience elevated stress If they have imagined themselves dealing effectively with obstacles and unanticipated events that create stress.


Learning to energize when feeling flat, and developing the ability to relax when over aroused, can help build motivation. Relaxation and energization techniques can help athletes consistently enter and stay in their optimal energy zone, which is crucial to performing consistently at their peak.  Being either over or under-aroused hurts athletes’ ability to direct their attention to the task on hand. Relaxation and energization techniques help athletes improve their concentration skills. learning to purposefully relax when experiencing stress can help athletes manage their emotions. Energizing techniques can be sued when athletes feel that low-level stress is preventing them from getting into their ideal mental state for performing. By learning to control their energy levels through relaxation and energizing, athletes will develop a sense of control, which in turn enhances self-confidence.

Self Talk

The key question for a coach: Can you afford to ignore your athletes internal language that impacts strategy , tactics, motivation emotions, drive, confidence, anxiety sense of expectations, pressure and trust in the coaching plan?

Despite the critical role of language for an athlete, most athletes leave their self-talk to chance. This is frequently why athletes are inconsistent – world-beaters one day, also-rans the next. Good self-talk by itself cannot create a world class athletes, but bad self talk by itself can undo one! A coach who understands and shapes an athletes’ self-talk can help insure that his years and years of effort working on technique won’t be wasted.

Athletes can use self-talk to help motivate themselves. Self-talk can either raise or lower energy. Athletes can use effective self-talk use effective self-talk strategies to reach their ideal mental state before competing.  Focusing on task relevant cue words can help athletes focus their attention, or regain focus if they are momentarily distracted.  Stress level is strongly influenced by athletes’ perceptions and interpretations of events that happen before and during competition. Athletes can use self-talk to develop a positive outlook on events that normally result in elevated stress. positive self0talk can be sued to raise self-confidence, whereas negative self talk can lower it.

The ultimate key to success with mental skills training is your job as a coach. You must not only believe int he value of this type of training but also understand it thoroughly, just as you must understand the skills and tactics of the triathlon sport in order to teach them. You, as a coach, must be willing to make mental skills training a regular part of your formal training program. Ideally, you will teach and refine mental skills on a daily basis, just as you do with physical skills.

Written by Hector L Torres

USA Triathlon Florida Regional Chair, USA Triathlon Coach  Lvl 2, USA Cycling Coach Lvl 2, USA Track and Field Lvl 1, USA Swimming Coach and Tri-Bike Fit Professional


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Categories: Coach's Corner, News

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