Publish at May 23 2023 Updated May 23 2023

Mental preparation: the element not to be neglected

Athletes, students and teachers can benefit

An athlete lit by lights puts headphones on her ears

Faster, higher, farther. The Olympic motto aptly represents what lies at the heart of every athlete, regardless of their level of competition. Although few will make it to the top of international events, all try to surpass themselves. This is a noble and inspiring goal, but one that requires significant discipline. Indeed, a progression in any sport relies on physical training, nutrition and mental preparation.

The importance of psychology in performance

This last element is usually omitted by the general public who believe that everything relies on the bodily conditions of an athlete. Yet all Olympians have often repeated that a huge part of their success has rested on the ability to prepare for this major competition. It is indeed most of the time the element that will play and make the difference between a first and a seventh place finish in a competition.

Tennis demonstrates this regularly. Take two top 10 players in the world without a major injury in a match. The one who comes out on top will not ipso facto be the one with the greater physical ability. In particular, it will be the one who is able to keep the momentum going on the decisive points, to seize the opportunities when he dominates or, on the contrary, to resist when the opponent starts to play brilliantly. The first one who gives up and doesn't believe in his chances will quickly go to the locker room.

The psychological factors behind performance are well known:

  • Motivation
  • Concentration
  • Emotional control
  • Self-confidence

It's enough a blockage in one or more of these spheres and performance will decline. In this, practicing a sport and learning at school are very similar. As much a soccer player, amateur or professional, as a student will be in a delicate situation from the moment their motivation is lost or they no longer have confidence to succeed. In both cases, it will be equally beneficial to prepare mentally whether it is to avoid these lows or to get out of them.

Preparation techniques

The sports world is already well aware of the benefits of mental preparation. Most Olympic teams have at least one "mental coach" or more to help athletes get to an international competition and execute their best performances, whether or not they result in a medal. This psychological training is offered even at lower levels to increase confidence, decrease anxiety and reduce fear of failure. Young athletes would do well to use it here even if they tend to avoid it.

What is mental preparation? It offers tools that the athlete will use in the days, hours and minutes before a competition. To do this, there are different ways:

  • Evacuate negative thoughts such as fears of injury, disappointing others or yourself, or believing you won't make it.
  • Use positive keywords to anchor rewarding phrases to use regularly.
  • The most popular is to visualize one's performance before by looking at oneself from the outside employing the best techniques learned.

Mental imagery is therefore intended to be a tool of choice for trainers with athletes. Nevertheless, some use other methods such as mindfulness meditation or breathing techniques to calm anxiety. These approaches aren't just applicable to the sports world. The school world can definitely borrow some of these techniques to help students believe in their potential and pass their assessments.

On the Internet, more and more preparers are offering their services in the school field, both for learners and teachers who can sometimes also lose their confidence. Mental preparation would then be a good way to put oneself in a better state of mind perceptible in both the verbal and non-verbal.

And does it work?

In the end, does it work? The multiple testimonies of medal-winning Olympians suggest that, yes, it has non-negligible virtues. The sports world has not questioned for decades this preparation that has become as important as physical training.

Scientifically, studies also tend to show that the effects are positive. This systematic review of research done in combat sports confirms this with one caveat: there is a lack of analysis to affirm this across the board. A similar reality in other sports and also in the school setting since the idea of mental preparation is rather recent there.

Nevertheless, there is no evidence that it has any negative impact. Therefore, athletes, students and teachers are not taking any risks by preparing mentally.

Photo: Jacob Diehl / Unsplash


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"Mental Preparation For Sport: How To Approach It?" Julien Quaglierini. Last updated September 25, 2022.

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Vidal Andreato, Leonardo, Maryon Gotardo dos Santos, and Alexandro Andrade. "What do we know about the effects of mental training applied to combat sports? A systematic review." ScienceDirect. Last updated November 2022.

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