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Mental training

 

Mental aspects play an important role in sports. When talking about mental aspects, we mean for instance being able to deal with competitive stress. Many athletes perform better during training than during a competition. Being able to fully focus during a competition or training is a determining factor in your performance. There are often enough causes that distract an athlete, for instance the spectators or an opponent's comment. Athletes often seek the help of a mental trainer because they struggle with self-confidence or with staying motivated. 

The theory behind mental training

Every athlete needs a certain level of tension to perform well. This is called their 'optimal tension level' and varies for every athlete and for every task. If one is too tense, one's performance will be negatively influenced. For instance: too much tension leads to overly tense muscles, loss of focus or too big of a focus on just one part of the game. This often affects athletes during an important game or an important moment during the game, such as taking a penalty. When one's stress level is too low however, it will also affect one's perfomance: one lacks vigilence or is quickly distracted and not feeling energetic enough. Athletes usually experience a lower stress level when playing against an 'easy' opponent or during a training match. 

Every athlete has their unique 'optimal tension level'. Mental training teaches you what your optimal tension level is and how to influence it.

What are mental skills?

Mental training teaches you to better deal with tension, optimise your focus ans increase your self-confidence and motivation. Mental skills that are taught are: goal setting, relaxation techniques and energising, thought training, concentration exercises and visualisation. Training these techniques will improve your performance.  

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Goal setting
Many athletes have a way of setting goals that impact their performance negatively, such as: 'We have to win this competion!'. The real question is however: how are you going to win? 
Mental training teaches you how to set goals aiming to better focus your attention, increase your motivation and performance. Setting goals allows you to track you own progress, make quicker progress  and therefore stay motivated.

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Relaxation
Through breathing techniques and becoming aware of your tension levels you will learn to deal more effectively with stress, both during a competition and in daily life.

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Energising
Energising techniques will teach you how to boost yourself for a training or a competition.

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Thought training
As you are exercising or playing a game, thoughts go through your head all the time, such as 'I have to do well' or 'I am going to score this penalty'. Some thoughts benefit your performance, others don't. Mental training helps you to realise how thoughts are often the cause of negative emotions, how to recognise these thoughts and how to change them into thoughts that strenghten your self-confidence. You are taught to deal with disturbing thoughts, which will eventually lead to a better performance.

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Concentrating on the task
During a game or exercise, there are many distractions that can cause you to lose your focus. In mental training you will discover what way is best for you to focus your attention, which will improve your concentration levels. You are taught to identify your most important tasks during a game or exercise and to, by applying focusing techniques, hold your attention. 

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Visualisation
Visualisation is the part of mental training in which you practice your technique in your mind. It helps to learn new technique or to sharpen existing ones, such as the shooting movement when taking a penalty. Visualisation before a game also helps you determine your strategy during that game. It increases your self-confidence, which leads to less tension during the game. Visualisation helps you to program your body and mind in a way that optimises your performance during those crucial moments. Last but not least, you can use visualisation techniques to replay a game in your mind and even detect problems in your technique. It also allows you to keep practicing your techniques mentally in case of an injury.

Toolbox

The above mentioned mental skills can be considered your 'mental toolbox', you learn to use them when needed and every athlete has their favorite tools. Not every mental techique will have the same effect for everyone. It partly depends on the (type of) sports you practice which technique you will benefit from the most.