In all competitive environments, high performers repeatedly ask themselves one question, “How can I get better?” Well, for athletes in particular, there are four major areas to consider…

  • Technique (efficiency & repetition)

  • Fitness (endurance, strength & flexibility)

  • Tactics (strategy & planning), and finally,

  • Mental toughness

We call these the “Big 4.” Each component is critical to an athlete’s success, but at the higher levels, athletes tend to have very similar technique, fitness and tactics. So the component that truly separates the good athletes from the great… is consistent mental toughness.

1) What is Mental Toughness?
The performance “Zone” is often thought of as the result of mental toughness. It’s that calm, confident, focused state of mind that tends to produce peak performances. Mental toughness then, is best defined as performing in the zone when it matters the most. Contrary to the beliefs of people outside the world of sports, athletes are not born with mental toughness, nor do they develop it by just practicing really hard. We now know that mental toughness can be learned and developed by training mentally.

2) How Can I Get Mentally Tough?
Fortunately, there are now a variety of methods available to athletes (and anyone interested in high performance) to train mentally. In fact, it’s important to note that mental training is not something that’s reserved solely for elite athletes, but is instead readily available and affordable to all high performers looking to take their mind and abilities to the next level.

  1. One on One Sessions allow athletes to receive personalized mental training from people educated and certified in the sport psychology industry. Each athlete receives a custom mental training program consisting of mental skills that athletes use to control their thoughts and emotions, which directly affect performance. By using video conferencing, athletes anywhere in the world can work with a Mental Trainer®.

  2. Webinars and group presentations are a lower cost way to learn mental skills. While not customized, the information can serve as a great introduction to mental training, especially to those who never thought of training mentally before.

  3. Mobile Mental Training is exclusively available through Mental Training, Inc.’s MentalApp™. This app for mobile devices was designed to help athletes LEARN 15 key mental skills, PRACTICE them, and then be able to TRACK performance improvements. Since each program is customized by the athlete and his/her coach, the system can be REALLY effective. And, because MentalApp™ is affordable (less than $30/mo per athlete), each member of any sized group can get the ideal amount of attention and support.

3) Can You Recommend a Good Mental Toughness Book?
We’ve published a few books (and read a ton more) but we’ve found that by themselves, books and DVDs are not very effective at improving athlete performance. That’s because simply UNDERSTANDING the information is not enough. There are two additional parts that are critical: memorizing and applying. Just like athletes have to practice their physical skills to develop muscle memory, athletes also need to practice daily in order to remember their mental skills. Knowing which skills to practice, when and how often can be a bit of a mystery. It really depends on each athlete’s needs, but usually 20-30min a day 6 days a week is enough. However, the single most important part of the process is knowing WHEN to apply the skills during competition. By learning to recognize the harmful thought or emotion, mentally tough athletes are able to make a course correction that can save the day!

About the Authors

Dr. Bob Neff is the founder of Mental Training, Inc. and has provided mental training services for athletes, performers, and business executives since 1990. His athlete clients include world champions, and Olympic Gold Medalists. Dr. Bob is on the United States Olympic Committee sport psychology registry. Sarah Frey earned her masters degree in Kinesiology & Sports Psychology from the University of North Texas and is a Certified Mental Trainer®. Both Dr. Bob and Sarah are among 25 Mental Trainers® who provide 1 on 1 mental training in the Dallas area and worldwide through video conferencing.