What exactly is Psychological Skills Training and for a coach or instructor, what advantage is gained by its implementation? In other words, why bother? Psychological Skills Training (PST) is typically more comprehensive than a few short sessions with a few simple interventions that a coach or instructor might suggest. PST usually integrates cognitive and relaxation techniques in a more encompassing approach to mental training and as a complement to physical training. Individualism is a hallmark of most PST programs. (Gill, 2000)
The Importance of Mental Skills
Why are mental skills so important to performance and why are they often neglected by coaches and athletes? Yogi Berra 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. (Hacker, 2000) Many athlete's understand that while developing oneself to their physical potential is a critical element in performance potential, it is often a deficit in our psychological game rather than errors in our physical performance that keep us from performing at optimum levels in practice, games or matches. Spud McKenzie, the Budweiser poster puppy, suggested that it is important to say when, but also emphasized the critical element of knowing "when to say when". It is often the successful athlete has recognized what needed to be done and the unsuccessful athlete was unable to do so. As a consequence, it is not the physical talents or abilities that separate athletes and teams, or successful versus less successful performance, rather, the psychological dimension that most frequently explains a given sport outcome or individual performance. For this reason games are played. Prior to each contest, judgment could be made with regard to which team or individual is the "more highly skilled". If games were decided on who is the most physically gifted and/or talented individuals or teams, it would prove to be an exercise in futility to compete. As a result, whether you are an athlete or a coach, mastering the mental game of sport will allow you to achieve a level of success as a competitor than you could otherwise not achieve by focusing exclusively on the physical side of sport. PST - The Initial Learning Phase
The four commonly used PST techniques are: arousal regulation (progressive relaxation, meditation, etc.), cognitive restructuring (positive self-talk, thought-stopping-centering, etc.), a goal setting program and imagery training. Whichever technique of PST addressed should be incorporated as part of a regular daily practice and game routine, not necessarily separate from or in addition to the participants normal sport activities. In this way, rather than adding another "thing to do" in a day, mental practice can be incorporated into the arena where it is needed to be used. Just as physical skills are first practiced in a controlled environment in order to sharpen and automate performance, the same principle should be followed for PST. As an athlete becomes more proficient in practicing the skills, they will gradually begin to apply and utilize these techniques in a consistent, ongoing manner. Primarily the coach should work with the athlete to provide the particular content that is essential for each sport and individual. The athlete and coach must work through the semantics to arrive at the most meaningful descriptions of task-relevant items, and significant language. Often there is a tendency for coaches to tell athletes what they should be thinking of and concentrating on in competitions without verifying the significance with the participant. As participants apply goal setting or practice positive self-talk as part of their daily training schedule, proficiency through consistency can be attained. Rushall, (1995) suggests that there are two stages in a contest that require different forms of task-relevant thinking:...