Why is mental training so important?

Why is it that some people succeed and others fail? In the world of sports, the word ‘performance’ has so much more to it compared to so many other contexts. In team sports with 11 players in a team, no one team will win just because they have one star, and the team won’t necessarily win just because they have 11 star players playing on the same side.

How can channel swimmers keep going despite fatigue and the cold. How do those that strive for 2 or 3 way crossings keep swimming for over 24 hours? When all the muscles ache, when you are tired, what is it that makes you dig deeper and push through any pain?

What is it that makes the great athletes or the great teams win? What is it that makes teams of great athletes fall apart from time to time? And how can you take greatness in individuals and merge that into a winning team formula? What is the real difference between talent and greatness? What is the real difference between champions and those who choke?

You may also have noticed that some athletes (maybe even yourself) have some “magical” days, when everything you do comes easily. Those are great days when you are in the flow, in the zone. And I’m sure you’ve also noticed the “other” days, when nothing seems to work. Sometimes between those completely different situations is just a matter of hours, or even minutes.

How can it happen so quickly? You are the same person, with the same resources. What makes the difference? Think about it for a minute. Is it possible that athletes forget their knowledge or technique? Is it possible that your physical shape can change so dramatically in a couple of days (or even hours)? Clearly the answers to these questions are “no“. So what does makes the difference?

Two traditional key factors for peak performance

World class athletes work on their technique every day: they focus on learning and fine tuning those technical skills that will allow them to maximise their performance. They plan and practice. Tactics is another important aspect to train every day in almost every sport. It’s important to plan how to utilise their abilities to win against a specific opponent (be that an individual, a team or the elements).

Technique and tactics are very important in every sport, and that’s why they are practiced every day. But there’s more to it than that. You could be technically the best person, but if you train less, spend less time developing relevant physical strength, then you will still find that your outcome is not as good as others.

If you take care of this physical training you will notice results. If you watch Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic playing a tennis match, you can immediately notice two big differences compared to the champions of the 80s: the speed and the power. This is the result of specific and high level physical training. Another example of this is the winner of the 2012 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins. His physical training is so systematic that it would kill most people mentally, but it gives him the strength to go that extra mile. As an example, after a long stage, he will go on the stationary bike and do 45 minutes of specific training, designed to stimulate the recovery of his muscles…. at this time his competitors are all back at the hotel getting their massage. Johnny Wilkinson changed how the England Rugby team trained when he joined by going back on the pitch after even the most gruelling training session to practice his goal kicks. Over time the other players also started practicing their special skills at the end of a training session. It was at that time that England Rugby was at its best.

Today almost every pro athlete or team has their physical coach, because they want to be in the perfect shape when they need it. So what makes the difference between first and second place or fast or slow time when you take two people who have followed the same physical training approach.

If you ask top athletes in many different disciplines the same question, they’ll tell you: the one who wins is the one who can stay more focused, the one who is not scared, the one who is not overwhelmed and can cope with pressure…. the one who doesn’t lose his mind and instead knows how to use it to excel.

So if the difference is not in the arm or the leg, not in the muscle mass or power, not in the equipment you have and not even in the amount of money you have access to, where is it then? The difference we are talking about is primarily the combination of the mind and the heart running all of the above mentioned things. It is how you think and feel. We know that if your heart and mind aren’t in it, you risk significantly underperforming or not finishing.

So the big question is: how come that many athletes still do not spend as much time on this part of their training as the other parts.

Training the mind

So, if technique and physique are well trained everyday what would happen if you started training the mind everyday as well?

The reason that it’s called mental training or conditioning and not mental “miracle” is because the key word is TRAINING: training your mind to play with you and not against you. And, like all the other skills, the more you practice, the more you will be in control when you need it.

In an ideal world, athletes would focus on the mental aspects of training in preparation for a big event. Typically, people think about doing this when things go wrong and they don’t know how to fix it. Often, when this happens the negative self talk starts, “I’m not good enough”, “everything is going wrong”, “I can’t do it any more”, “I’m too old / fat”. Even worse they start to believe their own propoganda. This can be the beginning of the end without intervention.


If you think you can do something or you think you can’t, you’re right
— Henry Ford

What you believe to be true gives you the power engine to create your result or can stop you in your tracks. If you think small you will probably get small results. When you start thinking big, something extraordinary happens.

State Management

If you can dream it you can do it
— Walt Disney

You will have heard it many times from famous sports people and may have experienced it yourself “I was in the zone”. Being in the zone describes the state of flow. Flow is the optimal experience and condition.

Optimal experiences are moments where, instead of letting yourself be controlled by blind forces, you feel in control of your own actions and destiny. Those rare occasions where you are caught by a feeling of excitement, a feeling of happiness, which you can treasure for a long time and which will stay in your memory as expressions of how life ought to be. These are moments where nothing else matters and you become so absorbed in what you do, just because you enjoy doing it. These best moments in our lives are not passive, receptive or relaxed, you have worked hard for it. They typically occur when our body or mind are stretched to the limit in an attempt to achieve something difficult and valuable.

What can you do?

It’s really important to have a goal in order to set a direction. Your goal should be behaviour related. Once you know what you want in terms of behaviour, then this requires you to be in a certain state of mind. Ask yourself what it would feel like to be really enjoying the activity? What would be the components that would make up that feeling? Once you’ve identified the ideal state to be in, you can aim to create that state as often as possible. This is something that a performance coach can help you with.

Now consider this, are you only after short term results or sustainable success? It is like a garden. If you only plan one year ahead every year your garden will look not that pretty, simply because some plants take longer to flourish.

How can I help you?

I can help you discover your short term and long term goal. I can help you identify what peak performance means for you and teach you how to create it at will. I can also help you with the physical training aspects too - the full package.

Why not get in touch now so that we can tailor a package to support you. If you have already done an event and it all fell apart, I’m here to help you pick up the pieces and build success.

emma@emma2france.com ~ 07702 814690