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Psychsocial Mental Skills Program

9 Mental Skills of Successful Athletes

The 9 mental skills, created by Dr. Lesyk, are widely considered key traits of successful athletes.  We have talked about a number of them so far.  The content and practical tools for each mental skill will be outlined below.  For reference, the 9 mental skills are: attitude, motivation, goals and commitment, people skills, self-talk, mental imagery, managing anxiety, managing emotions, and concentration.

We will be introducing a mental skill for each month.  Please review the mental skill for March, Self-Talk.  So far, we have talked about People Skills for February, Goals and Commitment for January, Motivation for November, and Attitude for October.


Concentration (Focus for July)

Concentration is important in sport as it helps you be in the present moment, overcome distractions, and helps relieve anxiety.

Practical tools:

1) Have a cue word to help refocus and get back in the present.

2) Use detailed mental imagery to concentrate on what you are working on.

3) Focus on what you can control.

Managing Emotions Effectively (Focus for June)


Managing emotions effectively is being able to realize and accept your emotions and effectively use them and refocus to optimize your performance.

Practical Tools:

1) Mantras- create a saying for yourself to stay motivated and focused.

2) Cue Words - cue words can help you focus on being in the present and reset your thoughts.

3) Put things into perspective.

4) Journal out your thoughts and feelings.

Managing Anxiety (Focus for May)

Performance anxiety is a common obstacle for all athletes. Practicing breathing techniques, routine, and visualization are just a few ways to help manage anxiety.

Practical Tools:

1) Ocean breathing - When using this technique, imagine "a wave crashing on the beach, running up as far as it can onto the sand, then retreating back into the ocean." (My Mental Playbook)

2) Having a specific routine before and after any performance helps keep the mind in the present moment.

3) Visualizing specific events that may occur during a match before the match starts decreases anxiety throughout the game.


Mental Imagery (Focus for April)

Mental Imagery impacts you in every way: psychologically, emotionally, physically, technically, and tactically. Think of mental imagery as weight lifting for the mind.

Practical Tools:

1) When you perform poorly in your imagery, immediately rewind the “imagery video” and edit the imagery video until you do it correctly

2) Repeat the sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that you would experience in an actual competition.

3) Slow the imagery video down - frame by frame to see yourself executing the skill correctly. Then, as you see and feel yourself performing well in slow motion, increase the speed of your imagery until you can perform well at “real-time” speed.

Self-Talk (Focus for March)

Self-Talk is one of the most important mental skills to hone as a player and a person.  Our thoughts can flood and overwhelm our mind in the heat of battle.  How can we improve this?

Practical tools:

1. Present tense messages - "I can do this", "I am capable", "I am strong". Build a better performance by redirecting your focus away from negative or intrusive thoughts and back to the task at hand.

2. When to use it? All the time! Self-talk can be used to improve self-confidence and lower anxiety in high-pressure moments as well as low pressure moments.

3. Keep practicing.  Track what you say, identify if it's good or bad for you, then learn to FLIP it to positive self-talk.

People Skills (Focus for February)

People skills are an incredibly important skill to have even as a futbol player.  How we communicate goes a long way not only in the eyes of your teammates, but also your coaches, teachers, family members, friends, and potential college coaches.  

Practical tools:

1. Try to be an active listener.  This means really understanding what the other person is saying, paying attention to their body language, and analyzing their tone.  Don't interrupt another person.  Be patient.  It's a sign of respect.

2. Think about what you're going to say before you say it.

3. When you speak to your teachers, college coaches, coaches etc., have a clear idea of what you want to say.

4. Greeting someone with a firm handshake is a sign of confidence.

Goals and Commitment (Focus for January)

Goal and Commitment provides direction and a sense of purpose.  Without goals, it is difficult to put in maximum effort, especially during challenges, because we won’t have a clear picture of our purpose.

Practical tools:

1. With your parent, complete an honest evaluation of your game—i.e., strengths and areas that you want to improve upon.  This will provide the foundation of what your goals should focus on.

2. Start small.  Don’t create 20 goals if you haven’t created more than 2 before.  This can get overwhelming and will likely de-motivate you rather than motivate you.

Motivation (Focus for November)

Why are you doing what you're doing?  At the heart of it, motivation helps us understand the true reason for why we do what we do, whether that be on the field, in the classroom, or at home.  When we have a clear understanding of what our deepest motivation(s) is/are, it can give us confidence, clarity, and mental fortitude.

Practical tools:

1. Write down your why.  Put it on a piece of tape and then place it in your bag so it's easily accessible.

2. Talk to someone about your why. This can help clarify your motivation.  Often, they can provide support during challenging times.

Attitude (Focus for October)

Attitude is one of the foundations of building a winning mentality because it largely determines how we will perform.  It is our belief towards any situation we face. We can learn to control our attitude regardless of the situation, whether it be taking a penalty, playing a weak opponent, playing a strong opponent, participating in preseason practice, participating in National team practice, taking a test we didn’t prepare for, etc.

Practical tools: 

1. We strongly encourage you to begin tracking your attitude by writing down in your Red Journals or if you don’t have it on you, your phones, what you’re thinking and feeling in any situation you would like. 

2. Another tool is to think back to a time when you faced a tough opponent and you had a great attitude.  Write exact details about what you were thinking and feeling, what led up to that point in terms of preparation, etc.