The Importance of Mental Training

When it comes to training, sports coaches emphasise the importance of the holy trinity: physical fitness, skill and mental training. The latter component however is often somewhat neglected by athletes, because unlike physical fitness and skill, mental training is not as easily measured.

Mental training benefits

The benefits of mental training for your physical performance however are vast, with baseball legend Yogi Berra famously declaring, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical”. Whilst these figures are Yogi’s personal opinion, the essence of the quote speaks volumes. It’s not uncommon for athletes to perform better in practice than in competition nor for an athlete who is less physically fit or skilled than their team mates to perform better in competition than during training; thus emphasising the importance of psychological factors.

Leander club, founded in 1818, is one of the most prestigious rowing clubs in the world and committee member Jeremy Moore is in charge of psychological training there. Whilst it’s no secret that rowing is a very physically demanding sport, it’s important not to underestimate the key roles of willpower and concentration during competition. A recent study showed that during competition, professionals show a more consistent level of engagement in comparison to amateurs. During an interview with the Guardian, Moore explained that rowing is an excellent sport for those with ADD, “because of the concentration it requires”.

Mens quadruple scull
Mens quadruple scull. Image Credit: Big Stock

So how can you mentally prepare for your next race?

Confidence

Self-belief is one of the biggest contributing factors to success when it comes to race day and the best way to ensure you’re feeling confident is through your physical training. You need to prove to yourself that you’re physically capable of your goal during training so that when it comes to the real thing, you know you’ve done it before and can do it again. Setting yourself realistic performance targets in your physical training and realising success will boost your confidence.

Concentration

According to Dr Kristen Race, when we start daydreaming about the past or future, we create a stress response, which disables us from using the area of our brain that focuses on the present. To ensure we remain focused during competition or training, mental conditioning coaches recommend incorporating meditation and yoga into training in order to increase engagement levels. Some studies have shown that instilling pre performance routines can also increase levels of concentration. Other research suggests that setting performance based goals instead of results based ones allow athletes to concentrate on their present actions, which are controllable, verses an uncontrollable outcome in the future.

Motivation

Having the willpower to regularly train and compete to your best ability is not something than can be easily taught. Lots of our motivation comes from our passion but even the most dedicated rowers can sometimes feel a bit uninspired. Staying motivated is a crucial part to success in any team sport since motivated athletes tend to push themselves to achieve higher goals and in doing so motivate and inspire their team to do the same. Having a close-knit team with regular pep talks can enhance group motivation but equally self talks are just as important. Using imagery is a great way to increase motivation levels by simply talking about and imagining what it will feel like to realise your goals. Some athletes use a mantra during training and competitions in order to remain focused and motivated.

The best way to incorporate mental training into your schedule is during your physical training. Techniques such as self talks, imagery and setting goals can easily be incorporated into your practice and you’ll be able to quickly identify the positive impact they have on your physical ability.

Do you use mental training to get you ready for race day? Let us know your preferred techniques in the comment section below.

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