Mental skills training is vital in elite sport

Psychological skills training – mastering distraction, conquering nerves, overcoming fears and instilling confidence – has become an accepted and valued part of an elite athlete’s preparation for competition, with the likes of Jessica Ennis and Hannah England talking openly about working with a sport psychologist in their Olympic build-up.

“he more important an event is to the athlete, the more psychological factors can influence the outcome,” Dr Victor Thompson, a Chartered Psychologist who works with athletes of all levels and is himself a competitive triathlete, told the psfk website..

Dr Thompson believes that the role of a sport psychologist is both to help performance and improve psychological well-being: “The performance area is easy to understand. The well-being is about increasing enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as reducing anxiety, anger or despondency. By working on well-being, you get a happier athlete with the added benefit of an almost guaranteed improvement in performance.”

Even those of us who are far from podium standard can benefit from sport psychology – be it to develop a graded approach to addressing your fear of swimming in open water to complete a triathlon or simply to improve exercise adherence.

“Establishing what you want to achieve and setting the right goals helps give a ‘point’ to every training session, enhancing motivation,” says Dr Thompson.

Sports psychology techniques can also help with how you execute your performance. If, for example, you tend to lapse into a slow, heavy running stride when you lose focus, a cue, such as a brightly coloured wristband or a bleep on your watch, can remind you to move your feet fast and light.