An athlete can train by doing speed, endurance, and strength exercises – generally related to the body. In addition, in various sports, he or she performs tactical or strategic training, but there is another type of training – mental one.
Interview with Katarzyna Selwant, Olympic psychologist, academic lecturer, motivational speaker and sports commentator.
What is mental training?
It is knowing how to exercise your head, such a gym for the mind. Mental training includes various issues, e.g. strengthening self-confidence, determining the correct motivation, sports goals, coping with one’s own emotional arousal, with the pressure of the environment and oneself, and many others. These are all the elements that we do not practice in sports training.
Mental training is hardly appreciated, but without it, it is difficult to achieve success in sports.
It is true, I practically do not know the best Polish athletes who would not pay attention to mental training, it has become an element of sports training for them. A professional athlete takes care of his body, consults a doctor or physiotherapist, not because he has an injury, but to prevent injuries. He pays just as much attention to how strong his head is. It is she who will decide whether we will effectively use the physical potential that we have developed during training.
Well, how important is the head? I have the impression that everything we achieve ultimately depends on our attitude. How much we train, how well we are physically prepared, if something does not work in our attitude, it will be for nothing.
Let us take an example from the last Olympic Games, our athlete Paweł Fajdek. He was perfectly prepared to compete technically, in terms of sport and effort. He also claimed so, he was the favorite of the world lists and admitted that at the most important moment – his head failed and unfortunately he did not even make it to the finals. In this case, it turns out that the head goes hand in hand with the body. It is known that even if I have a strong head and I am not physically prepared, I can give a lot, but I will not lose anything, because my body will refuse. Here, however, we have an example that the body was fantastically prepared, and there was no preparation for the “head”. On the other hand, many players believe that the hardest thing is to achieve success the first time, and then it will be easy, and we know that the hardest thing is to repeat success, achieve it a second time. For this we need a strong head, because not only do we have internal pressure – we want to win ourselves, but there is also pressure from the environment that watches us, cheers us on and wants us to win. Or it is our competition and wants to win with us.
When should we think about mental training as a complement to sports training?
Most of the cases I deal with are players who have something going on, where this “mentality” is failing. They know that they are well prepared physically, but they are unable to show it in important competitions. Ideally, we should train both mentally and physically from the beginning. What the psychology of sport proposes is psychoeducation, we teach our players how to be independent, how they can use all the skills we teach that we are not born with. Because we are not born super confident, with coping strategies or super-motivated, but we can learn all this.
Suppose we play amateur sport for fun, when and for what purpose can mental training be useful?
For people practicing amateur sports, mental training will be useful not only in sports, but also in professional or private life, because these skills are universal. When I have small children in my office who are already experiencing the first difficult moments related to losing at competitions, these children use the mental skills that we will develop together, at school or in contacts with peers. Young people who work mentally function better in various environments, develop better mentally, cope better with stress and concentrate better. I run a series of trainings for parents, because they most often spend time with young athletes. I teach them how their behavior and communication can positively influence the development of a young player. Unfortunately, these trainings are of low interest because the parent does not want to change, the parent wants his child to change, believes that he does not need education. And we adults should start with ourselves, because we at school did not have the basics of psychology: how to deal with stress, how to build self-confidence. And we are poorer for this knowledge, which we could pass on to our children and use it ourselves. Parents have the greatest influence on a child, they are the unquestionable authority. If they have knowledge, they can pass it on and apply it well. They could ideally positively influence the child, help him or her.
The entire article can be found in the Magazyn Bieganie (December 2016) and at Magazynbieganie.pl (click the link)