Mental Skills Etc.

Mental Skills are often confused with the methods aimed to help improve mental toughness. One of our sport psychologists sets the record straight.

Mental skills play a monumental part in sporting success.

Mental Skills Are… umm … Skills

The term mental skill (or mental skills) is one of the most misused in elite sporting circles. In fact, it’s used incorrectly almost everywhere in my experience. And here’s why.

The skills are the outcomes, not the processes yet most people accidentally refer to them as the latter.

When we talk about an athlete who is technically skilful we are referring to the amount of technical skill (ability) they already have. We are not referring to how they became skilful only that they are skilful. So with the technical side, it’s quite easy to separate the outcomes (ability) from the processes (how).

Let’s take a soccer (football) player as an example and consider the skill of dribbling the ball. Because the most common way to become better at dribbling is by actually dribbling a ball then the skill and the process got mixed up along the way.

But actually dribbling is NOT the only way to become better at dribbling.

As I explain in this 2020 visualisation video imagining yourself dribbling can be just as effective. So what we end up with is a variety of “methods” that can be used to become more skilful. And these skills are not limited to technical skills. They can and should include physical skills, tactical skills and of course mental skills.

The main reason that the term mental skills is used incorrectly is it is often used to describe the methods when it should be describing the outcomes.

Let’s All Use The Correct Terms

If I were in charge of the “sports science dictionary” so to speak I would insist on the following. All processes (activities) should contain the word ‘method’ or ‘process’ and all outcomes (abilities) should use the word ‘skill’. So for example catching a baseball is regarded as one of the technical skills of baseball. But there might be dozens of processes that coaches use to help their players hone this particular skill.

How This Plays Out For Mental Skills

There are two main reasons why this doesn’t happen for mental methods and mental skills as much at the moment. First, the mental side is less visible and less tangible than say the physical and technical aspects of performance. Secondly, there is very little agreement within the sport psychology community pertaining to exactly what are the most significant mental skills for optimal performance. How many are there? What are they called?

At Condor Performance, we have been diligently working away behind the scenes to come up with our own consensus. It is still too early for us to publish these findings, but I am happy to reveal exclusively to the subscribers and readers of the Mental Toughness Digest that we believe there are, in fact, six primary mental skills. And these six in actual fact all contribute to a seventh, the mother of all mental skills … consistency.

Inspired By Physical Skills

The area of sports science that does the best job of separating methods from intended outcomes is the physical side. Try to finish these sentences off by just using what comes to mind …

  • I could improve my flexibility by …
  • To improve my cardio fitness I could …
  • A great way to improve your upper body strength is by …

In these three examples, the word in bold is the skill – the thing you’re aiming to improve. Therefore the processes need to be added at the end. For example:

I could improve my cardio fitness by running, skipping, rowing, walking, cycling and/or swimming.

One physical with many physical methods. Probably hundreds if we really did some thorough brainstorming.

Now let’s see how you go with the mental side of performance by me revealing two of the six mental skills I alluded to above.

  • I could improve my composure by …
  • A great way to boost concentration is to …

Not Quite So Easy Is It?

Remember composure and concentration are the mental skills here. So the question is what processes might help improve them? Or maintain them if they are already excellent?

For composure (“the feeling of being calmconfident, and in control“) it would appear as if Psychological Flexibility is key.

For the mental skill of concentration, it seems as if sport-specific routines play a major role. Both routines for before you start competing or performing as well the those for whilst you are competing or performing.

What About The Other Four Mental Skills?

All in good time my friends, all in good time. As many of you may know in the past we have attempted to put some of our core ideas online for anybody to access. Imagine the explanation part of sport psychology consulting only, without the conversation part or the individualisation aspect. We are on track to replace all of these self-guided courses with updated ones by the end of 2024 and our followers will get first access when they are ready. In the meantime, the old version of Metuf is still available to trial for free online via this link here.

And if you want to access the full course you can do so via a whopping 60% discount using this code until the new versions become available:

newmetufcoming2024

Just copy and paste the above at the checkout where it says “Have coupon?” and away you go.

Metuf mental toughness training
Metuf – online mental toughness training

Control The Controllables

There is a lot of stuff we can’t control. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day, training and competition turns out.

Learning to control the controllables in professional surfing is essential.

Control The Controllables

Earlier this year Condor Performance turned 18 years old 🥳 .

As you might imagine there is not too much in common between the organisation we were in 2005 and the one we are now in 2023. But there are a few concepts that have stood the test of time.

One of these is the concept of control or influence as a pivotal aspect of our sport psychology consulting philosophy.

I was first made aware of this idea when I attended a professional development workshop entitled “Are You A Control Freak?”. I can’t recall the name of the presenter but I do remember the phrase ‘control the controllables’ being used a lot. More than enough for it is leave an impression and motivate me to find out more.

The premise was very simple, logical and appealing. There are a whole bunch of things that we encounter in our everyday lives which we don’t have much control over. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day goes most of the time. And of how our training or performance turns out as well.

Classic Examples

Let’s take the weather as a classic example.

We have absolutely zero ability to reduce the wind speed at any given time. But for a whole bunch of pursuits variation in wind speed will play a huge role in the outcomes and enjoyment of these activities. Golfers, for example, of all abilities score worse when playing in very windy conditions. Sailers, on the flip side, all underperform when the wind blows less.

When I first came across this theory almost 20 years ago it was very black and white. Basically, stuff could be broken down into one or two lists. The first list is everything that you can control. And obviously, the second list is everything that you can’t. It was a key part of my consulting weaponry between 2005 and 2010 … to get all of my clients to create exactly these two lists.

I would try to let these athletes and coaches populate these lists for themselves, but obviously part of the coaching process is to steer them towards “better”. “Do you really think you can control your results?”. Typically the uncontrollable list would contain items such as these:

  • Surroundings
  • Opponents
  • The Past
  • Weather
  • Results

And in the controllables list would be stuff like:

  • Myself
  • My Thoughts
  • My Teammates
  • My Effort
  • The Present Moment
  • My Feelings
  • My Actions

But There Was A Better Way

It took me a while to realise this black-and-white framework was not ideal. In other words, I was quickly able to see that there was a lot of stuff that was neither controllable nor uncontrollable. In fact, virtually everything was somewhere in between these two extremes.

For example, sporting results as one of the biggest distractors. Outcomes by their very definition are not controllable. But some are obviously more than others. In basketball, a player clearly has more influence over their own points tally compared with that of their teammates. The same applies to other people. Team-sport athletes clearly have more control over their own teammates than they do over the members of the opposition. “Hey Sue, try dropping back a few meters”.

So it was around 2010 from memory I moved to a spectrum of control. Anyone who attended any of my workshops from around this time would surely have been introduced to A Mental Dumbbell. The dumbbell was an analogy with absolutely no control on the left and maximum control on the right with the bar between the two sets of weights representing the variances between these two extremes. 

I Always Struggled With The Word Control

The word control in the English language kind of implies a yes or a no. So, as a psychologist who believes in the power of words ‘control’ felt like it was still very black and white. Yes, you can say you have some control over something, but why use this word when there is a far better word for this? Do you want to guess before you scroll down?

Time To Think
Time To Think

That’s right, it’s influence.

So the dumbbell was updated. The far left became ‘no influence’. The extreme right became ‘maximum influence’. And between is all the shades of grey needed. Some influence, lots, a little and so on. So when I hear (or read) Control The Controllables I hear (or see) Influence the Influenceables. Watch the video for a much greater explanation of how to “control the controllables”.

What Influence the Influenceables is really trying to do is to emphasise that various different factors are much more beneficial to obsess about than others. And crucially a lot of these are typically not as naturally exciting as a lot of the stuff that is better off being noticed as opposed to forced.

How Influenceable Are Thoughts?

It is impossible not to form some heavy opinions about where key psychological concepts should fall on the spectrum when this is a central aspect of your working life. In particular, thoughts, feelings and actions. Still, to this day there are a significant number of psychologists who suggest that humans have a lot of influence on all three of these. And in changing one you are likely to change the other two as well.

But that is just not true.

Acknowledging slight variations in the person, and the type of thought/emotion/action I firmly believe that this should be embedded in the value system of all performers. Your actions – especially the ones that have been well rehearsed – are highly influenceable. If you prefer the word control then they are highly controllable. When looking to ‘Control The Controllables’ basically it’s mostly these highly reliable motor skills. Thoughts are halfway down the spectrum. We have some influence but far less than our actions. And then feelings/emotions are very close to the left. We have a small amount of influence over them. Not nothing at all but typically less than many people believe.

Think about this for a second. Listen to your favourite song, and you might be influencing your mood for a few seconds, you might feel more joy. But try to feel joy for an entire day and you will fail every single time.

This Spectrum of influence, I find is a far better way to explain why at Condor Performance we are such advocates of psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is better understood as accepting thoughts and feelings whilst committing to our actions.

Recently, I put the below comment up on social media and it attracted quite a lot of controversy.

There is no such thing as an unhelpful thought or feeling. They just don’t exist. It is only actions (behaviours) that can/should be considered as either helpful or unhelpful. Nobody ever went to jail because they had some unhelpful thoughts and feelings. It is what they DID they put them in the slammer. Nobody ever won anything due to having helpful thoughts and feelings. It’s what they DID that got them the award/trophy/medal/certificate etc. Try to just DO BETTER whilst at the same time thinking and feeling whatever you just happen to be thinking and feeling at the time. 😎 #psychologicalflexibility

If you are reading this then use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this. Be honest, if you believe it’s wrong then say that but try and justify why you disagree with it. It was astounding to me how many people on social media threw their toys out of the cot when they saw this. But when I pushed them to explain themselves virtually all of them went quiet very quickly.

Working With Coaches

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my consulting in 2023 is working with a new wave of young sporting coaches from around the world. Most of them have realised that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be both a successful athlete in a particular sport and then go on to be a world-class coach.

All of these young coaches recognise the huge importance of sport psychology from a coaching perspective. And most of them don’t want to stop actually coaching in order to get a sport psychology qualification.

So the smart ones are baking their cake and eating it. What does that mean? These coaches continue to coach whilst becoming more mentally astute “whilst on the job” by working with an already qualified sport/performance psychologist like myself and my colleagues at Condor Performance.

In the work that I do with my coaches teaching them to Control The Controllables / Influence the Influenceables is a big part of the work. And making sure they can use this concept directly with their athletes. Coaching is stressful, especially at the pointy end so a chunk of consulting with coaches is also about helping them maintain good mental health.

As these coaches are genuine experts in their sports it is exciting to see how they take a number of different mental processes (like the dumbbell) and adapt them for their particular performance area.

If you are a sporting coach and you’d like some details about how to have a world-class sport/performance psychologist in your corner then get in touch today.

Baby Steps

Learning to take small steps in the right direction is potentially one of the most important mental skills of them all. As Gareth explains in this brand new feature article.

Learning to take small steps in the right direction is potentially one of the most important mental skills of them all.

What Are Baby Steps?

Most of you have surely heard the term baby steps, right?

Maybe for some, it rings a bell from the classic Bill Murray movie “What About Bob?”. For the rest of you here is a two-minute clip from the 1990’s comedy classic which gets straight to the heart of this concept:

As brilliantly explained by “Dr. Leo Marvin” Baby Steps are about taking small, incremental steps. And as I will explain later they actually don’t have to be towards a goal. In fact, sometimes chasing a goal can create some surprising and unnecessary issues.

Baby Steps for Sport Psychology

Although the concept of baby steps originates more from psychiatry it is just as applicable to modern-day sport psychology. In fact, it might be even more beneficial in performance-enhancement settings than deficit-fixing ones.

There are a couple of important aspects to highlight first. To start with most of the really meaningful stuff in our lives takes a lot of time to develop. So although the concept of baby steps does not directly mention the speed of those steps I think it’s implied. Slow and steady baby steps.

The second aspect central to baby steps is that most improvement is kind of hard to see. Like the nervous steps of a toddler learning to walk sometimes it’s more shuffle than step. And of course, there is a lot of falling over. 

I have always held the belief that slow, steady, hard-to-see improvements are the best type. For they tend to be longer-lasting.

Sure, every athlete and performer has the potential to make huge improvements all of a sudden, but these are typically the direct result of years of hard work where suddenly everything clicked. In most situations, there were a ton of baby steps before the huge step occurred.

Baby Steps With And Without Goals

Despite rumours in some circles, I don’t have a problem with goal setting. Setting goals is fine as long as the “setter” has a vague idea of how much influence they have on what they are “setting”.

I am a decent squash player and one of my intentions for when I hit 50 (4 years from now) is to climb the squash Masters rankings. Now I might set a goal, for example, of trying to get into the Top 10 squash players of my age group in New South Wales. But I am blissfully aware that I only have some influence on this. Another way of saying this is the reaching or not reaching of that future intention is only partially up to me.

Think about it. The quality of the other squash players and their training processes play a monumental part in whether or not I will achieve this goal or not. Imagine if suddenly five of the best male squash players of my age suddenly decided to move to New Zealand to start up a business together. Without me doing diddly squat the chances of me achieving this ranking goal would improve dramatically.

On the flip side, if a small wave of squash-loving Egyptian and Pakistani immigrants moved to Australia in the next few years (both nations are traditionally very strong in this sport) then the chances of me achieving my goal would go down significantly. But without me doing anything differently. 

So how then do baby steps work without setting goals?

Basically, you try and make tiny improvements at something important but without having a bigger purpose. This might be hard for many involved in competitive sports where there might always seem like there is an end goal in mind.

One of the biggest myths about the world’s best athletes is that they all set goals. Absolute hogwash. A large chunk of them just want to get better over time, and then with a huge dollop of patience, they end up at the top of the pile.

Examples

The basketballer wants to improve her basketball abilities but is not too concerned about making it as a pro. The cricketer is obsessed with becoming a more consistent batter but has not sat down to clarify his cricketing intentions over the next 5 years.

Earlier I said setting goals can actually do more harm than good. There are two ways in which setting goals can trip up athletes and other nonsporting performers.

First, is the very existence of the goal as a huge dollar of unnecessary pressure. Now of course in an ideal world using a psychological flexibility framework pressure would not be problematic. In the same way that negative thoughts and feelings ought not to be problematic. The reality is that working with a qualified sport psychologist to ensure that this happens is still the exception, rather than the norm. So too much pressure is an issue for many performers still. And a lot of this unhealthy kind of pressure comes from the expectations of others and the future.

Imagine a golfer going into a golf tournament whereby only a win will give them enough ranking points to get into the Top 20 Order of Merit. The goal they set at the start of the season. Many psychologically inflexible golfers would perform better if they didn’t have this hanging around their necks as they stood on the first tee each day.

The other issue with goalsetting is actually when you achieve them. If not careful ‘getting there’ can act as a huge demotivator. Let me use the golfer from the previous paragraph to illustrate. So this golfer had a season-long goal of finishing in the Top 20 Order of Merit. Now, let’s imagine that he had a better-than-expected season going into the final tournament. In fact mathematically even if he comes dead last in this event he will still end up in the Top 20. Deep down, will he be as focused in these final rounds?

Baking Your Cake And Eat It 

The Japanese have a word that roughly translates to constant improvement. It’s called Kaizen. So a Kaizen Mindset might be the best way to use baby steps. And it’s best done by actually separating out the four performance pillars.

Let’s see if we can slowly improve your sporting abilities without concerning ourselves too much with where it might end up.

See if you can get some objective data on your current physical abilities. Now get to work and try and improve them ever so slightly over the next month. Then retest. Do exactly the same for your current tactical, technical, and mental abilities. For the mental part, you might like to consider mental health and performance-specific mental toughness as being related but not the same thing.

And if you need a hand, we can help you with both (get in touch here).

Practice Makes Permanent

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. The very concept of perfection, the idea that something is so good it can’t be improved, is flawed. Let us explain.

Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect. There really is no such thing as perfect. This hockey player is making his skill permanent not perfect.

This article was first written and published in 2020 but has recently been updated and improved. If you enjoy it and/or find it useful please take a second to share it with your online communities.

The Sporting World Is Full Of Clichés

The majority of them are normally harmless. However, some are either mentally beneficial or potentially damaging. A while ago I wrote a blog containing some of the best quotes from a sport psychology point of you in my opinion. But what about the duds? What about the quotes or clichés that sound good but in actual fact are detrimental to performance? Fortunately, there are a lot less of these “stinkers” compared to the good ones. Those that I would be more than happy to see my sporting clients right on post-it notes for inspiration outnumber the ones that should be binned.

It may come as a surprise to some of you that a number of the least useful but very well-known sport psychology quotes come from Vince Lombardi. I do not want to criticise Vince or take anything away from his amazing achievements as a coach. But some of the quotes that he is most known for are psychological bloopers. Chief among them are these three:

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

Vince Lombardi

I won’t go into too much detail about why the first two above simply send the wrong message to anybody playing competitive sport. Suffice it to say that for the first one think of Lance Armstrong and the “win at all costs mindset”. The second one, well, that just sounds like an excuse to me. I know it’s supposed to be cheeky but saying you only lost the game because you ran out of time is no different to saying you only lost the game because the opposition scored more points than you.

Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect

But it is this third quote that I really have an issue with. In particular, the shortened version which is ‘practice makes perfect’. Fun fact ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ currently gets 976,000,000 hits on Google. ‘Practice Makes Permanent’, the correct version, gets half the amount at 515,000,000 results.

For those of you who we have had the privilege of working with since we opened our doors in 2005, you’ll likely be aware of the fact that we do not do too much by way of cognitive restructuring during the mental conditioning process. By this, I mean that by and large, we let people think what they think. We would much rather help our clients to accept their thoughts and execute their motor skills regardless. Sometimes this philosophy is slightly misunderstood as us not being interested in cognitions at all. This is not true, let me explain.

Certain practitioners who subscribe to the ever-increasingly popular Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model may choose to be completely distant from the meaning of words and the potential impact of one inspirational quote versus another.

This Is How We Help Our Clients To Bake Their Cake And Eat It

There are many, many types of thoughts. Let’s conceptualise thoughts in terms of how permanent they might be. A simple way to do this is to divide thoughts into two separate types. The first group, which we could call VABs (for values, attitudes, and beliefs) tends to be more permanent. They create most of the other types of thoughts, the second type. We could call these Current and Individual Thoughts (or CITs). 

This Is How VABs And CITs Interact

We all have some very well-ingrained beliefs. Let’s imagine someone who has an ingrained belief that at work everybody should dress in a smart and presentable way. This would mean that they value people who take pride in their own appearance and choice of clothing. This is likely to have been the case in the past. It’s the case now and very likely to be the case in the future. It’s a permanent belief, one that would be hard to change.

Now imagine that somebody with these values and beliefs starts a new job. On the very first day, they are provided with a mentor to show them the ropes. This mentor has come to work in attire that would potentially be more suitable for a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The VAB about dressing well at work then combines with a desire to leave a good first impression to create a whole bunch of CITs. For example “I can’t believe she’s come to work dressed like that” and “don’t say anything, look beyond the Hoody and smile”.

It Works The Same In The World Of Highly Competitive Sport

For example, consider an athlete who values effort above results. And maybe this athlete has a coach who has a ‘win at all cost mindset’. The athletes’ VABs might result in CITs such as “coach is going to be pissed again because we lost despite playing pretty well”. 

How this all plays out from a Mental Toughness Training point of view is quite simple. As sport psychologists and performance psychologists, we see the benefits of spending some time on your values, attitudes, and beliefs. This can be done in many ways but ‘hoping for the best’ is not one of them. Most people simply develop their values, attitudes, and beliefs from their childhood. It’s typically a very organic process. Now this is fantastic if you have been surrounded by psychologically astute people since you were born. But this is rare. For most of us, we would need to sit down regularly in order to clarify our VABs. If you have absolutely no idea about how to go about it get in touch by completing your details on our contact form.

One of my beliefs, not just as an applied sport psychologist but as a person too, is that the concept of perfect does not exist. Striving to be perfect at something is alright as long as you know you’ll never get there. I am a very logical person and it is this analytical part of me which has led me to believe that chasing perfection is like trying to find the Loch Ness monster. Just because people talk about it doesn’t make it real. 

This Is The Reason Behind The Belief

Perfect implies that no more improvement can take place. As improvement is never ending then this renders the concept of perfection as a misnomer. Think about it, each time you get to something that you mislabelled as perfect you can still improve it further! So it wasn’t perfect in the first place, now was it?

It should come as no surprise having read this why I dislike the “practice makes perfect” principle. And no Vince … perfect practice doesn’t make perfect either!

What practice can do, if you go about it in the right way, is make something permanent. Practice makes permanent correctly suggests that through the process of repetition, it will eventually become a habit, an automatic action that requires little or no front-of-mind awareness. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

Often when I am helping my sporting clients with their values and I manage to convince them to replace practice makes perfect with practice makes permanent they ask me about how long it would take to make something permanent. Quite often the 10,000 hours principal comes up which is another furphy. There are too many variables to that question. It will depend on the complexity of the task and genetic factors. Are you starting as an absolute beginner or are you already reasonably adept at it? 

Having said that I did stumble across this very cool TEDTalk recently which suggests that a massive amount can be achieved in the first 20 hours:

But the goal for competitive sports and anybody wanting to perform consistently at their best should always be the same. You need to put in the effort so that the main motor skills required become automatic. This allows you to go into high-pressure situations with the aim of being present and enjoying yourself. Trust that the practice has made these skills permanent. Accept whatever thoughts and feelings that you happen to be experiencing on the day.

And of course, if you need a hand with all of this give us a shout.

Sport Psychology Barriers

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole outlines the eight most common sport psychology barriers and how to overcome a few of them!

There are many barriers to fully embracing sport psychology. One of them is what you imagine it to be like. Something like the above? Not even close …

The 8 Biggest Sport Psychology Barriers

At Condor Performance we speak to a lot of people who make enquiries about our sport psychology services. Since we have been operating we would have spoken to approximately ten thousand parents, coaches, athletes, performers, and sporting administrators. In doing so we have learned a lot about the reasons why many performers still don’t bother to include bonafide sport psychology as part of their plans.

With this in mind below we will outline the eight most common of these barriers and where possible help you to put a step ladder up against a few of them. As always we welcome your comments and questions either publicly (via the comments box below) or privately (via [email protected]).

Sport Psychology Barrier #1: No Idea There is A Mental Side of Sport / Performance

Mental Toughness is not as tangible (visible, obvious) as the other performance areas. Consequently, it’s not targeted for improvement because many athletes have no idea their mental performance can be developed and strengthened just like other more obvious areas such as skills and fitness.

The only way around this barrier is through some kind of education so that an awareness of the mental side takes place. This will happen automatically if working with a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist but there are other ways too. One such way is to invest in your sports science knowledge via videos such as the one below.

This video runs for 11 minutes.

Sport Psychology Barrier #2: Confusing Mental Training with Something Else

Similar to the above but arguably worse. It’s very common for athletes to fall into the trap of thinking that working on the physical, technical, and tactical aspects of their sport will naturally result in greater mental toughness. So for example, because it took commitment to get up at 6 am to go for a run in winter, it will automatically result in an improvement in your overall commitment.

Although this might happen, it also might not. Sport psychology, as with all types of psychology, wants to be and should be heavily evidence-based. What this means is that the mental skills (or methods) used to improve mental toughness have been tried, tested, and approved. For example, sitting down and writing a Why Statement may well be a better motivator for most people.

Even those who are aware of the importance of the mental side, and are motivated to try and improve it, can be left really struggling to find genuine, dependable ways to actually work on it. Most resort to Googling questions like ‘how to improve my concentration’ which results in millions of websites full of contradictory ideas.

Sport Psychology Barrier #3: Hoping For A Magic Bullet

By “magic bullet” we mean those who expect that a single session with a sport psychologist will suddenly make them mentally tough. That all of a sudden their nerves will vanish. And they’ll be able to motivate themselves at will and focus like a fighter pilot. When this doesn’t happen, they bail well before the sport psychology process starts to bear fruit.

The only way to overcome this barrier is to trust in the process and be patient. There are many ways to help with this. One is to remember that improving the mind is a lot like improving the body. No one ever expects to go to the gym and have a 6-pack after one session with the exercise physiologist. Not even a dozen sessions. It works the same with sport psychology. If you want results fast, fine, listen hard, and apply the mental skills but don’t expect miracles.

Sport Psychology Barrier #4: Confusing Mental Toughness with Mental Health

Unfortunately, the words ‘psychology’ and ‘psychologist’ still evoke thoughts of mental illness and disorders. Therefore, a large number of athletes incorrectly feel that seeking the assistance of a sport psychologist or performance psychologist is a sign of mental weakness. A few years ago I wrote an entire blog post on this which you can read in full here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #5: It’s Too Expensive

Even when none of the above barriers apply, often cost gets in the way. The current recommended hourly rate for psychologists is over $250 an hour. This is the most awkward of the sport psychology barriers as it’s relative to your own income/wealth. For some people, $250 an hour is loose change but for others, it’s a fortune.

At Condor Performance, instead of reducing our rates and cheapening what we do, we add extra value to our 1-on-1 sport psychology services instead. How? Our rates are per month not per session so we allow and encourage email/text communication between sessions. Furthermore, the first session is not charged for, it’s free. For a more in-depth understanding of our monthly approach browse the answers to our FAQs here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #6: There Are No Sport Psychologists Near Me

The Corona Virus was a terrible thing but there were some benefits. Suddenly, the whole world realised that a sport psychology session via video call is just as good as one where the sport psychologist and client are in the same room. We knew this early on and started delivering sport psychology sessions this way as early as 2008. So maybe this barrier is not really a barrier nowadays but we’ll still keep it here anyway.

We’re almost at the point now where we could say that sessions via Zoom, FaceTime video, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams, and other platforms are better than what we call Same Place Sessions. Why? For a start, they are a lot more convenient with no travel time required. Athletes and performers can and do have sessions just before practice, competitions, and sometimes – where allowed – during both of these.

In 2023, our current team of psychologists delivers roughly 400 sessions per month between them. Of these, 380 would be via webcam.

Sport Psychology Barrier #7: I already tried seeing a psychologist and it was not effective …

This is a tough one. First, make sure the previous profession was actually qualified. The qualified ones, such as our whole team, are still outnumbered by the unqualified ones and the underqualified ones. In Australia, you can check to see if someone is a registered psychologist here.

But even if they do have the right credentials that is no guarantee of their effectiveness. Sometimes there are simple personality clashes. Other times, they are just not trained in the right area of psychology. This has always been one of the biggest advantages of choosing Condor Performance as your provider in the space. In the unlikely event that you don’t click with one of our team, we can simply transition you to another.

Sport Psychology Barrier #8: Now Is Not The Right Time ...

Tricky, tricky, tricky. If your Granny passed away so you had to postpone your start then this sounds like a sensible option rather than a barrier. But most of the time when we hear this it’s for other stuff. I am too busy. I’m in my off-season. I have just picked up an injury so need to focus on that. I have too much going on. I’m playing really well, will get in touch when I am in a slump.

Trust me on this, the best time to start improving mental aspects is and always will be now. How? Easy, fill in the contact form here, and one of our team will be in touch as soon as possible.


The Best Sport Psychology Quotes

This blog has some of the best sport psychology quotes. It’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists.

There are millions of sport psychology quotes, we have sorted through as many as possible and only added the “best ones” to this page.

47 of The Best Sport Psychology Quotes

The right kinds of quotes punch well above their weight. For such short sentences, they can really change our perspective. The challenge is picking through them all to find the best one. So we have decided to put on plastic gloves and sort through the trash (rubbish). Below are some of our favourite sport psychology quotes. As you’ll see it’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes, and psychologists. Furthermore, we have unpacked each quote a little. Essentially, providing a quick explanation about why it has been included in this ‘best sport psychology quotes’ blog. A number of these quotes are from our very own team of psychologists.

If you would like us to add your favourite sport psychology quotes paste them into the comments section below. Enjoy and please share with your networks. You have our full permission to copy and paste any of these to inspire or motivate or whatever.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Athletes

“There’s no way around hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there is always something you can improve on”

Roger Federer

Comment: If you want to go after it in life and explore your full potential as an athlete or performer, you are going to need to put in the work. Accepting the difficulty that comes from doing hard work is essential. As one of the greatest tennis players ever highlighted here, we can all learn from Roger Federer by believing that we can always improve in some capacity. A concept that is known in Japanese as “kaizen”.


“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”

Dan Gable

Comment: This is such a great sport psychology quote. Maybe one of the best of all time hence why it’s at the top. So true. The medal, the trophy, and the prize money are just symbols. The real reward is the actual hard work. To this end, I am aware of many medal winners who don’t even bother to display them. They are in boxes collecting dust somewhere.


“It’s not who’s put up the fastest time in the world that year, or who’s put up the fastest time in the previous four years, but who can get their hand on the wall first today.”

Nathan Adrian

Comment: This quote perfectly sums up a lot of the early conversations we have with athletes. We have this idea that on game day we need to be feeling great and thinking positively, and that we won’t perform well if we aren’t. The reality is that no one feels great on game day. The athletes that come out on top are those that can put together the best performance despite how nervous they feel and how unhelpful their thoughts are. 


“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Wayne Gretzky

Comment: This could be the most famous sport psychology quote of all time. Why? Because it’s one of the best from one of the best.


“People say to me all the time, ‘You have no fear.’ I tell them, ‘No, that’s not true. I’m scared all the time. You have to have fear in order to have courage. I’m a courageous person because I’m a scared person.” 

Ronda Rousey

Comment: We have this idea that athletes are superhuman. They don’t feel nervous or fearful and never doubt their ability. This just isn’t the case. The top athletes in the world feel all the same things we feel before an important moment, but through years of experience have just become really good at performing with all of those unhelpful thoughts and feelings present. 


“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them; a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Muhammad Ali

Comment: Not sure ‘the greatest’ meant to infer the following but anyway. Far too many of the sporting pathways overemphasise physical and technical. There is far too little on mental, tactical, and personal.


Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. While you can daydream for free, goals don’t come without a price. Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat. How will you pay for your goals?

Usain Bolt

Comment: This great quote gives us a possible sneak peek into why UB was one of the greatest of all time. He worked very hard in practice. He then relaxed (or tried to at least) on race day allowing that Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat to just bubble to the surface.


“I can only control my performance. If I do my best, then I can feel good at the end of the day”

Michael Phelps

Comment: One of the greatest Olympians of all time on the importance of focusing on your own performance and effort. At Condor Performance, we believe in the importance of focusing on process over outcome. A sentiment echoed by Michael Phelps.


“I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything.”

Michael Phelps

Comment: Michael Phelps on understanding the mind and how we can train it to help ourselves perform better. Phelps has always given significant credit to his mental conditioning as an overall factor for his success in competitive swimming.


“I was forced to learn a lot about psychology as a player, and as a captain to get the best out of others. There’s still a lot of scepticism about it in sport and the workplace, but dealing with fluctuations of form, and pressure, and being away from home is more important than your cover drive.”

Andrew Strauss

Comment: This quote is not one that we had not come across before researching for this blog. This comes from one of the great thinkers of English cricket. It accurately explains that technical abilities (such as hitting a cover drive) don’t mean much without the mental side. Our coaching model Metuf explains this via the use of an analogy of an airplane.


Preparation is everything and focus is the key. It’s easy to say you gave it your all out on the pitch. But the point is if you’d prepared you’d have had more to give and you’ve played better”.

Eric Cantona

Comment: This is such a great point from the Manchester United legend. What it sounds like he’s saying is there is only so much you can do on match day. Performers who take shortcuts in training hoping to “bring it” on match day are likely to be found wanting.


The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Gary Player

Comment: This quote was originally linked with Samuel Goldwyn but was later popularised by Gary Player. What he/they are saying is actually 100% accurate. If luck is the random stuff in sports we have no influence over then we can reduce the role this plays in terms of results by ensuring high-quality effort. You can read more on the psychology of luck in sports here.


“I got more bruises, grass-burns and cuts in practice than in match play.” 

Jonty Rhodes
Jonty Rhodes

Comment: This quote is from legendary South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes. Despite retiring more than 15 years ago he is still considered one of the best fielders to ever play the same. The full article, from which the above was taken, can be viewed here. As can be seen from the profile page of our founder Gareth J. Mole, Jonty is a real favourite of his.


“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” 

Kevin Durant

Comment: There is an argument that the whole concept of talent is a bit of a myth. Essentially, when people refer to talent they are basically meaning genetics. In other words one of the few factors of performance that we have no influence on at all.

Some Sport Psychology Quotes By The G.O.A.T:

These seven quotes by legendary sport psychologist Jonah Oliver are all taken from his Podcast Interview with John O’Sullivan. Listen to the full interview here: Episode 272 of Way of Champions.

“Our brain craves reducing uncertainty. Uncertainty is the hardest human emotion.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: So true. This is more commonly played out in overly controlling behavior.


“You know what we worry about, things we care about. I didn’t get nervous making breakfast this morning.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: I love this. Nerves are so misunderstood. They are just your body preparing you for something important.


“It’s not about positive thinking it’s about taking positive action, no matter what you feel. There are no gold medals for the best positive self talk at the Olympics. Sport is a behaviour.”

Jonah Oliver

Note: This is one of the top three sport psychology quotes of all time in my view.


“One of the biggest errors we have made in elite sport is we use the word confident when we actually mean competent. I can’t sing. I am not competent at singing. Put six beers in me in a karaoke bar and now I’m confident … but I am still terrible at singing.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: You can read more about the concept of Competence Before Confidence here.


“Competition is an ordinary performance on a special day.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: Imagine how much better we would be if this is something that all coaches said before their players competed. Go out there and be boring.


“It’s not about reducing pressure it’s about building the capacity to embrace more.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: In your attempt to perform better under the pressure, do you spend most of your time basically just trying to reduce the actual pressure? If so, you may want to rethink your strategy.


“It’s not about motivation, it’s about connecting to what matters.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: In other words, stop trying to boost your motivation. Instead, consider your values and connect to what matters to you.

The Michael Jordan Section:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: This is arguably one of the best sport psychology quotes of all time. It helps us to understand that performances at all levels and all types are full of errors. Knowing that processes (effort) and outcomes (results such as winning) are separate is key here. And as performers knowing we have a lot more influence over the former also helps.


“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: Again Jordan is showing us that it was his mindset that made him so special. Being able to distinguish between effort (“trying”) and results (“failure”) is so very important. One way to do this is to forget about being able to control anything. Instead, consider the amount of influence you have. The more influence the more mental value you might put on those areas.


“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: This quote is all about creativity. For example, during the Corona Virus, which was full of obstacles, did you stop? Or did you find another way to do the tasks you value?

More Quotes From MJ …

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and others make it happen.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: Actions and desires are not as linked as you might think. In the work we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists we don’t do as much work on thoughts and emotions as you might imagine. Why? At the end of the day, especially in sport, it all comes back to actions. Would you rather kick the ball in the right way whilst thinking negatively or kick it incorrectly whilst thinking positively?


“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: As knowledge of sport psychology and sport science explodes we are at great risk of getting away from the fundamentals. In other words, it is becoming harder and harder for athletes to stick to the basics. Great coaches can have it both ways. Their sport psychology knowledge can grow without letting this overcomplicate their coaching. Do you know what your fundamentals are?

Sport Psychology Quotes By Coaches

“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that really counts.”

John Wooden

Comment: John Wooden is considered by many as the first real mental coach in sports. He was either the first or one of the first to really take the mental side of performance seriously. In this sport psychology quote, he highlights the importance of never-ending learning.


“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”

Phil Jackson

Comment: Phil is most known for how we managed the tricky team dynamics of the Chicago Bulls team from the 1990s. If you are yet to do so we highly suggest you watch The Last Dance documentary.


“Comfort the challenged, and challenge the comfortable”

Ric Charlesworth

Comment: This quote is more or less about the concept of flow. Flow is basically trying to find the sweet spot between too easy and too hard. As coaches or psychologists, we’re trying to help those we work with not only find this middle ground. But we also want them to have the skills to thrive once they find them.


“No judgment of your practice, just practice.”

Gary Olson, Yoga Teacher at The Ashram Yoga

“Self-talk is overrated. Don’t think about doing it … just do it”

Gary Olson, Yoga Teacher at The Ashram Yoga

Comment: I’m not sure whether Gary considers himself a coach but this feels like the most appropriate section for his two quotes. The above and the below. I came across these two quotes whilst doing one of his online hot yoga sessions and I instantly loved them.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Other Famous People

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

Mark Victor Hansen

Comment: Perfectionism is a common mental block in sports. You can have some of its motivational qualities of it without the ugly side with a simple reframe. Instead of striving to be perfect aim to just be better. And do this through the right quantity of high-quality preparation.


“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent van Gogh

Comment: You might be starting to sense a theme from some of these great quotes now. Doing and thinking are not the same. Focus more on doing and less on thinking. Would you rather be the best thinker or the doer in your sport or performance area?

Some Less Famous Ones …

“Confidence is a habit that can be developed by acting as if you already had the confidence you desire to have.”

Brian Tracy

Comment: Have you ever heard ‘fake it til you make it? Maybe a better version for sport psychology consulting is ‘fake it til you feel it’. This is so powerful. Waiting until you feel a certain way before you act that way is so very limiting. If you don’t know how then hire an acting coach and ask for them to help you. Or get in touch with us and we can include this as part of a larger mental training plan.


“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”

William Arthur Ward

Comment: It’s hard to be sure about this one. Does it mean that challenges in life are invaluable mental training? What is certainly clear is the proposition that there is a choice about how we respond to adversity.


“Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.”

T. Harv Eker

Comment: Similar message. Thoughts and feelings are not fused with behaviours. You can still do remarkable things regardless of how you might be thinking and feeling at the time.


“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

William Jennings Bryan

Comment: In others separate feelings from the action. Accept the feelings but commit the actions. Then remember you did this so you can repeat the process later. For a lot more on confidence read this blog post by Harley de Vos.

Still More Quotes …

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain

Comment: This quote speaks for itself.


“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Comment: This is such a great quote. In sport, worrying about what others (teammates, coaches) think of you is so common. Yet, it happens so much less than we realise. Furthermore, this has been confirmed via a number of lab experiments.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Psychologists

“Multitasking is seriously overrated. Try to do one task at a time and learn to do it with more purpose. “

Gareth J. Mole

Comment: I could write a whole book on this subject. Maybe I will one day! By multitasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at a time. After all, breathing is doing. It’s about trying to complete more than one non-automatic task at a time. For example, eating your lunch and typing an email. In my view, these kinds of tasks are always best of being done separately. There are many reasons but the main one is this kind of multitasking means the quality of both tasks is compromised.


“They don’t hand out winner’s medals to those who were feeling the best on the day, nor to those who were thinking clearly and positively. The medals only go to those who did the best.”

Gareth J. Mole

Comment: This sounds very similar to one of the Jonah Oliver quotes above. So I will give him the credit for it. But I like my version too.


We have this thing in our mind of I gotta feel perfect, calm and confident and THEN I’ll perform well. Mate, if that’s the case you’re going to perform well a very, very small portion of the time.”

Peter Clarke

Comment: This quote is taken from the first few seconds of Peter Clarke’s interview on the podcast Under The Lid with Scolls, Buck & Burkey. Once again it points out that we don’t need to be feeling a certain way in order to execute our motor skills under pressure. And in fact, waiting to feel that way will limit the number of chances you give yourself.


“Listen to everyone because even an idiot will have a good idea once or twice in their life. Then evaluate and pick out what works for you and commit to it.”

James Kneller

Comment: Our own James Kneller reminds us about the importance of listening. In sport we so often talk about the importance of experience. Well, that experience is comprised if you’re always listening to the same people over and over again.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Unknowns or Those Who Wish To Remain Anonymous

You are NOT your thoughts.”

Unknown

Comment: This quote might not even qualify as a quote. Maybe it’s just a fact. And certainly, in the work that we do as sport and performance psychologists, it’s a fact worth remembering. These five words are so powerful that they are the ideal final sentiment of this extensive list of sport psychology quotes.

Ambition beyond ability is almost as bad as having no ambition at all.”

Former TV Sports Broadcaster

Leave while they still want you.”

Former TV Sports Broadcaster

Champions have their triumphs before millions and their failures, the later is the real test of character.

Former TV Sports Broadcaster

Comment: These three quotes were kindly submitted by one of Australia’s best-known and loved television sports broadcasters. Understandably, he has requested that we do not use his name.

If you know of a quote that does appear above but feel it should then please add it to the comments section below and we’ll add it next time we update this page.

Sport Psychology Basics

Sport Psychology Is Vulnerable to Over Complication. Let’s Get Back To Basics

Sport Psychology Basics

I am a big fan of keeping things as simple as possible at any time, but especially at the start of a new year. With this in mind, this first blog post of 2023 is a shorter one and is designed to remind all of us – practitioners as well as clients – of some of the fundamentals that can be forgotten.

There are three fundamental questions that arguably once answered can summarise any profession. Why do you choose to do what you do? Who do you work with? What do you actually do with them?

Below, I will endeavor to address each of these questions and finish up with some very simple sport psychology tips. As always comments and questions are welcomed via the section at the bottom of this article.

Sport Psychology Basics; Why Do You Choose To Do What You Do?

Firstly I appreciate that many people don’t actually choose to do the work that they do. I’m thinking about the single parent who takes on a second job packing shelves to make ends meet. But certainly, I choose to do the work that I do. My experience and training would now allow me to pick from a considerable number of jobs. And it is not uncommon for me to be contacted by recruitment agencies asking if I would be interested in work related to psychology.

So what is it about my role at Condor Performance that means that I don’t even take a look at the details of these kinds of offers? One of the biggest reasons is that it feels like we are really making a difference now. Not only in terms of the quality of our consulting but also the sheer amount we are doing now. The current size of our team allows us to get a lot more work done compared with most of our competitors.

With our friend and colleague David Barracosa in charge of the smooth running of the day-to-day operations, it allows me much greater flexibility. I can now focus on building new relationships and content clarification in a way that would have been impossible a few years ago.

The Second Reason …

The second reason why I continue to choose my work at Condor Performance over other jobs is that I still love the vast majority of my working time. Maybe it’s because of how important I know the fun factor to be. I always ensure that the work that I am doing a Condor Performance is highly motivating. Writing this blog post and the vast majority that are published through the Mental Toughness Digest might not be many sport psychologists’ cup of tea. But I love it. Writing really lends itself to my strengths. I have unlimited ideas and passion when it comes to sport psychology. From sport psychology basics to the most complicated aspects of the profession.

Work-Life Balance

It also helps me tremendously with the all-important work-life balance. I can tap away – as I’m doing now – at any time of day or night. This flexibility is key when you have bitten off more than you can chew. Furthermore, it acts as practice for one of our most exciting future projects. A number of sport-specific mental toughness training guides are in the pipeline, most of which will have a written version initially. Watch this space.

Sport Psychology Basics; Who Do You Work With?

When answering this question it might be better for me to answer on behalf of the entire Condor Performance team. For I myself now work with only a very small percentage of our overall clients. Still to this day, the majority of our one-on-one clients are athletes. This should come as no surprise when the first word of the profession is the word ‘sport’. Non-sporting performers, sporting coaches, and sporting officials make up the rest. By non-sporting performers, I’m referring to students, medical personnel as well as those in the military for example. These non-sporting performers have correctly worked out that the mental skills required by an elite athlete to perform consistently at the top are very much the same as would help them in their profession.

Probably the most exciting group of individuals who have shown real interest in what we do over the last few years are sporting coaches. These are often highly qualified and highly motivated individuals who have identified that their training was potentially lacking in evidence-based applied psychology. Much of the work we do with sporting coaches is as a mentor with little or no direct involvement with their athletes. If you are a sporting coach, and you’d like to learn more about having a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist in your corner then start by completing our MTQ-C here.

In terms of the athletes that we work with individual sports still dominate over team sports. In other words, we are more likely to be contacted by a golfer than a water polo player. The range in ages and professional levels is truly vast. We work with 8-year-olds through to 80-year-olds. We work with athletes ranked inside of the Top 10 of their sport right through to the amateurs who just want to win their club championship.

Sport Psychology Basics – What Do You Do With Them?

Again I am answering this question on behalf of the team rather than just myself. Despite the fact that our methodology has evolved over the past 20 years there are still some very common core ingredients. I have listed these below in bullet point form and I invite you to consider the benefits if you were guided by a professional in adopting all or some of them. If you think you would be then get in touch and request info about our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.

1. Focus mainly on the process (effort) and let the results (outcomes) take care of themselves.

2. Try to concern yourself much more with anything you have a lot of influence over – such as your actions – rather than factors you have little or no influence over – such as thoughts.

3. Avoid only working on your weaknesses. Improve your strengths as well.

4. Don’t underestimate the impact that overall mental health can have on performance. But also don’t confuse mental health with the mental aspects of your sport or performance area.

5. The number of ways to improve is unlimited, but the time you have to improve is very limited. So learn to prioritise.

6. Fake It Til You Feel It. Basically, work on your body language regardless of how you’re feeling. Try and look confident more so than trying to feel confident.

7. “Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it”. Quote borrowed from Baz Luhrmann.

8. Learn to visualise and then do it regularly.

9. If you don’t already, start a training diary/journal.

10. Learn to breathe properly. An entire blog post is currently being written on this topic. If you don’t already get notifications when new articles are added to our website then add your details here.

Performing Under Pressure

“I’m fantastic in training but I fall apart during matches. Can you coach me on how to perform better under pressure?” These are amongst the most common reasons that performers first reach out to us as sport psychologists and performance psychologists. This article provides a few tips on how we help these athletes and non-sporting performers.

Performing Under Pressure: Hugo Lloris of France dives as Harry Kane of England misses a penalty during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Qatar. Photo by David Niviere/ABACAPRESS.COM

Note this article was originally published in June 2021 but has recently been updated in Dec 2022 – days after France beat England in the quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup. I wanted to take the opportunity to make a quick comment on the penalty miss pictured above. I do not believe that the main reason Mr. Kane missed was due to pressure. His body language, unlike the Spaniards who missed in the shootout a week before, seemed to be calm and composed. Also, I am aware that Gareth Southgate (coach) is a huge fan of sport psychologists and I am sure the players would have been mentally prepared. A much better explanation for the miss is technical and tactical. I assume he picked the wrong spot (high and middle) and then didn’t use the correct technique to execute this.

Introduction

It’s important to start an article entitled ‘Performing under Pressure’ by clarifying the key terms. What do we mean by both performing and pressure?

In some circles, performing is regarded as almost any action. This can range from really obvious actions, like playing a sport, to less obvious ones such as running a business. For others, the word performance is and should be much more limiting. It only applies to competitive sports and a few other areas such as the performing arts.

At Condor Performance we sit somewhere between these two extremes. For us performing is essentially just the execution of skills. With the majority of these skills being motor skills. So of course this covers all traditional sports. But our definition also includes the performing arts, military activity, and most medical and emergency procedures. And even competitive games such as chess and eSports despite the fact that there is less human movement involved in these.

Practice vs Competition

Performing really includes both the preparation and competitive sides of the equation. This is important because in many sports the word performing gets mostly used as a synonym for competing. For example, in a post-match press conference, a coach may say that she was happy with the performance. Or that the performance wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The issue with using the term performance as a synonym for on-the-day competitive outcomes is that it forgets about the performance element of preparation. As you’ll see below it is actually what you do in preparation that ultimately allows us to perform better under pressure.

In the interest of accuracy and objectivity here is the Cambridge Dictionary definition of the word performance. In summary, “how well a person, machine, etc. does a piece of work or an activity”.

So What About This Thing Called Pressure?

In my work as a sport psychologist, I often simplify and separate everything into thoughts feelings, and actions. Those who are familiar with my particular style will know that I am a big believer in predominantly learning to accept thoughts and feelings whilst still committing to our actions. When breaking down the human experience like this it can be useful to try and consider if pressure is more of an emotion or a thought or a combination.

For most performers, it will be a combination of thoughts and feelings. Consider the typical signs of experiencing extreme pressure. In terms of emotions tensing up, tightening of the muscles and nerves might be common. The thoughts that often present themselves when pressure is experienced are often predictive and negative. For example, cognitions such as “what if I mess up today” or “I just know I am going to play badly”.

Arguably the most important starting point when it comes to helping performers to be more consistent under pressure is for them to learn unequivocally that pressure is neither good nor bad. All too often athletes and non-sporting performers will regard pressure as negative. They frame it as something that will get in the way of them performing at their best. Interestingly there’s actually a small percentage who believe the exact opposite! This minority holds the view that they need some pressure to produce the goods! Do any of you want to guess why neither is true? If you do, add a comment below.

The Pressure Is Real, Just Accept It

The mindset that we are looking to help our clients develop is one whereby pressure is just pressure. It’s neither good nor bad. It can be useful for you to consider the variations in pressure as similar to other variables. Such as the weather or the colour of the opposition’s kit (shirts). These are just natural variations common in sport. It’s unhelpful to think of warmer days as being good and cooler days as being bad for example. The same applies to pressure vs. no pressure.

The most effective way of learning to perform better under pressure is by learning to accept your thoughts and feelings rather than getting into a fight with them. There are multiple ways of doing this but some of the most useful would be via these five mindfulness apps which have been approved by psychologists. 

Once the process of learning to observe thoughts and emotions is underway we can move on to the next stage. That is, learning they needn’t have any impact on your desired actions. In other words, the goal is to learn to execute your skills irrespective of the thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing at the time.

This is easier said than done of course. Often experiences of pressure are much less common in training. This reduces the opportunities whereby we can prove to ourselves that we can take a penalty under the most intense pressure imaginable (below).

Mentally Harder Practice

The concept of mentally harder practice addresses this issue some of the time. MHP attempts to replicate pressure-related feelings and thoughts in training situations. The logic behind this is sound. Doing MHP in training will make it much easier to ride the pressure wave when it happens organically in competitive situations. 

A nice analogy for mentally harder practice is lifting weights. If you want to be able to flip a truck tire over a dozen times then you’re gonna need to slowly increase your muscle strength in practice. The same logic applies to performing under pressure using mentally harder practice. You need to be able to slowly increase the mental demands of certain aspects of your training so when they occur in competitive situations that they are not so different from the training challenges you set up. 

The weight training analogy is so useful because it quickly allows you to see the risks of overdoing it. So if you make your training psychologically too difficult, it will have the opposite effect and potentially cause some kind of psychological injury. By psychological injuries, we could be referring to genuine mental health impacts such as a trigger for depression or anxiety.

Conclusion

As we have very little influence over who stumbles across our blog posts then we would urge anybody who feels they might want to lower the risk of overdoing mentally harder practice to get in touch and be guided by one of our highly qualified and experienced sport psychologists or performance psychologists. The best way to get in touch is by completing one of the free, online Mental Toughness Questionnaires via this link here and one of the crew will get back to you in less than 48 hours.

Visualisation For Sport And Performance

This 10 minute read is the debut article by Condor Performance’s brand new Intake Officer Sudhi. Comments and questions are welcome via the form at the bottom of the article.

Visualisation from the classic movie Cool Runnings (Turteltaub, Jon. Cool Runnings. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1993).

Introduction To Visualisation

Visualisation, often used synonymously with mental rehearsal or imagery, is a mental training strategy that is implemented to achieve a range of positive performance outcomes. These outcomes include (but are not limited to) improved concentration, decreased anxiety, heightened self-confidence, and increased motivation. All of which ultimately endeavor to enhance performance in some way.

This technique started to attract widespread attention in the 1980s with its benefits being increasingly recognised amongst sport psychologists, coaches, athletes, as well as those from a non-athletic background. 

Visualisation is better thought of as a process, rather than merely a concept. Embodying the mental practice of applying the senses to stimulate an image of something sums up this process rather well. This recreation can be done by either picturing specific skills or can also involve rehearsing a performance from the beginning to the end.

Examples Of Visualisation

Most competitive skiers make use of visualisation to run through their performance on the piste and acquaint themselves with its various elements such as the presence of slopes or slants in the trail, and the placement of turns. Skiers can also visualise their execution of particular skills such as their turns, jumps, or specific sections they need to control their speed.

Competitive skiers use visualisation more than most …

On the other hand in team sports such as soccer, visualisation can be implemented to run through various game scenarios and solidify team strategies and tactics. As such this technique is beneficial in reducing the degree of unfamiliarity.

Another strength of this tool is its flexibility in the sense that it does not require any external prompts. It can be executed at any time, at any location, and still produce beneficial outcomes for performance. Can you think of a recent scenario in which this flexibility is especially useful? Clue, cough … cough.

Athletes can also use visualisation during a period of injury or rehabilitation as it allows them to train safely without adversely affecting their condition. In sport psychology, this technique is also used in conjunction with other forms of mental strategies or physical training to enhance positive outcomes. 

The Psychological Science Behind Visualisation 

Recent research has examined the science behind this technique to understand its popularity and effectiveness amongst athletes of all ages and levels. 

Neurons in the motor cortex of the brain that are stimulated when physically executing an action, are also activated when athletes picture this during visualisation. This subconscious process of rehearsing performance fires neural patterns similar to those that are created when the target muscles are physically performing the movements. This becomes crucial in adapting an athlete’s body to key movements specific to their sport, consequently speeding up the learning process and enhancing skill acquisition. 

Referring back to the sport of skiing, a ski coach can encourage the practice of visualisation for their athlete when demonstrating a new skill such as jumping. As touched upon previously, pairing visualisation with the physical rehearsal of the skill enhances the effectiveness of the technique and boosts learning.  

A study at the University of Chicago by Dr. Blaslotto further demonstrates the positive impact of mental rehearsal. He measured the improvement of free throws amongst three groups of randomly selected individuals. This experiment ran over a period of one month where one group spent half an hour daily visualising successful free throws, one group practiced free throws for half an hour a day, and the other group did not practice at all.

It was found that the group who practiced free throws daily improved by 24%, no improvement was observed amongst the group with no practice, and the group who had simply practiced visualization without touching a basketball had improved by 23%. 

The Downside Of Visualisation 

As with any sport or performance area, it may not be possible to accurately recreate the entire experience due to the presence of external influences that are out of our control. 

Whilst the many benefits of visualisation have been established including its ability to enhance motivation, boost confidence, and sharpen concentration, there is a gap that this technique cannot fill. No matter how well, or how much time an athlete invests in rehearsing mentally, it must be recognised that there remains a range of factors in competitive sport that are determined and controlled by factors external to the athletes themselves. Some of the most obvious are the spectators, the opponent’s behaviour as well as environmental conditions. 

With reference to the prior example of a skier, environmental factors such as wind speed, visibility, quality of snow, and temperature are all externally determined. These factors can be influential in defining crucial aspects of the athlete’s performance such as their speed, as well as their ability to manoeuvre and control their movements.

Practice Is Key! 

As with most processes practice makes permanent. Visualisation is easier to execute when a goal has been established. A good way for an athlete to establish purpose is to consider their current training and competition schedule and determine aspects that they feel will be challenging. For example:

  • A cricket bowler who is considering how they might go during their first over of a match.
  • A golfer who is predicting the challenge of playing the last two holes, whilst protecting a one-shot lead.
  • A race car driver who is looking for an edge in tomorrow’s race where the forecast is for wet conditions.

Once this step has been cleared, the individual is ready to practice visualisation. Finding a silent space without distractions, and ensuring the eyes are closed will assist with this experience. Then, they may take a few deep breaths to connect with and be aware of the body at that present moment. This technique is most effective when as many of the fundamental senses are engaged. For any athlete rehearsing for an upcoming game or competition, visualisation may look something like this.

Starting with some deep breaths, they can then begin to immerse themselves in the experience of being present at the site of the competition. They may prompt imagery by asking themselves questions. What sounds are audible? Is there a large audience presence? What does the weather look like? Do I feel a breeze across my face? What smells can be sensed? Do I feel nervous? Do I feel my heart rate increasing?

Mindset To Be Included

Imagining the mindset under which an athlete performs can be useful in making the experience more realistic and can help train the mind and body to reduce any negative emotions or sensations.  

Following this process of engaging as many of the senses as possible, the athlete can begin to feel the motions of the body as they run through their performance. For a basketball player, this may involve running through any pre-game routines, team strategies, and gameplay from beginning to end. They may also focus on visualising their execution of skills such as passing, or a different technique for three-pointers. This mental rehearsal would then be used as a guide for the athlete to perform and physically engage their body in the movements. In the case of basketball players, they can then practice shooting on the court.

Whilst performing these skills, it is beneficial for the athlete to pay attention to the senses again, as well as their body. This includes the way the ball feels against their palms, the stimulation of muscles on their legs and hands as they follow through with the shot, and the movement of the ball in the air. This is then repeated for the duration of the training.

Conclusion

It should be acknowledged that the mind is susceptible to distractions and may wander at times, but it is useful to accept this and be able to reset or restart. Thus, visualisation cannot be mastered in the first go and results will take time to show, however maintaining consistency will support this process and contribute to positive outcomes overall. If you need a hand, give us a shout.

Team Unity and Culture

“Team Unity” works the same as all the other mental skills. They don’t become excellent accidentally. What are you and your teammates doing to intentionally improve this essential performance ingredient?

Team Unity. In team sports, we often talk about team unity as playing a vital role in success. But how important is team unity to sporting success? And how do we go about developing it?

Creating a Winning Culture 

In this article, I will mainly use the term team unity. But as is often the case in psychology there are often multiple terms to refer to the same thing. Other common ways to describe team unity include team cohesion, togetherness, chemistry as well as team culture. Note this article was originally written in 2021 but recently updated.

Coaches often talk about creating a “Winning Culture” as one of the keys to success. When we talk about a winning culture, we’re usually referring to a team environment that helps its individuals thrive. So what does the training environment of a team with consistent success look like?

You would likely see a group of individuals with shared values (despite varying individual values). A group working towards a common goal and supporting each other to flourish in their own individual roles. Characteristics such as work ethic, honesty, constructive feedback, and having a positive influence on the people around them would likely be commonplace. If team unity is not a priority then that team limits its opportunity to improve. The unavoidable nature of team sport is that it requires individuals to work together towards a common goal. 

Process Goals In Team Settings

In an effort to develop team unity, it is important firstly to separate outcome-based goals from process-based goals.

Sure, working towards establishing a ‘winning culture’ sounds good and might motivate players (initially), but placing such a large focus on results is not that useful. With every outcome goal, we want process goals as well – preferably a whole bunch of them. We want to place more focus on how we plan to improve compared to how we want to end up. 

We have a lot of influence over our processes. Not only the planning of these processes but carrying them out as well. Outcomes on the other hand, not so much. Why? Because there are a lot of other contributing factors to results. The most obvious and common of these include other people, varying weather conditions, officials, and equipment.

Process goals might include communicating in a compassionate way, showing support for team members through verbal (spoken words) or physical (handshake, pat on the back) signs of support, and being authentic, genuine, and respectful in your interactions with others (through tone of voice, choice of words, body language and eye contact).

Understanding Your Role

One of the trickiest aspects about working in a team setting is that you basically have a group of individuals with different experiences and roles trying to work together. In a team setting it is vital each member understands their own ability, role, and expectations. Team members need to be able to make judgments about when to rely on others and when to step up and perform. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, you’ll have multiple individuals trying to do the same thing. Or worse, nobody there at all.

For the team to progress individual players need to progress. So it is important for players to recognise any progress they have made, examine how they contributed to the team outcome, and highlight areas that need to be improved on an individual level.

For example, how was your footwork, passing, and communication regardless of the fact that we won/lost the game? The team outcome is not a reliable indicator of their individual performance. It is important for individuals to reflect on their own performance as well as that of the team. Remember there are many things outside of their influence that may have contributed to the outcome.

Culture, Atmosphere, and Communication

For team unity to flourish then the group atmosphere needs to be a positive and cohesive one. Positive and cohesive team cultures are made up of a whole range of factors but here are the most common:

  • Player attitudes
  • team motivation
  • Individual empowerment
  • Team identity

Team identity refers to the distinct characteristics of the team that make it unique. It is strongest when each team member takes pride in their membership in the group. Individuals also need to place the values of their team above their own. Easier said than done, right?

Effective communication is also a huge part of establishing that positive team atmosphere. Open communication needs to be able to occur without fear of disrupting the relationship between coaches and players or the players themselves.

One way individuals can provide feedback in a group setting without damaging those important relationships is through solution-focused feedback, as opposed to problem-focused feedback.

Solution-based feedback involves highlighting what individuals could be doing instead, or should start doing differently. Problem-centered feedback on the other hand is where the problem is highlighted, and individuals are told not to do those things again.

Pointing out what players have done wrong and asking them not to do it again might seem helpful, but in actual fact, this can lead to a lot of overthinking on their end around NOT making the same mistake. Keeping the feedback solution-focused helps guide their thinking towards how they can do that skill better, which indirectly prevents them from making the same error again.

Helping players solve the problem rather than just highlighting the problem is one way of making them feel supported in their development, and this kind of feedback should extend between players to foster an environment of camaraderie and ensure team members feel supported by each other.

Respect 

It is important to distinguish liking our team members from respecting them. In the sport and performance domains, respect plays a huge role in fostering an environment where team unity can flourish. Individuals might differ in their approach to the work and what they value, but agreeing with or liking the approaches and values of everyone we work with isn’t necessarily required for unity to thrive. Respecting them, however, is.

Respect is defined as demonstrating a high regard for someone or their ideas regardless of their differences and in order to create an environment where individuals push themselves beyond their limits each day they need to feel valued and respected by others around them. We can choose to communicate with others whose ideas we don’t like with complete disregard, or we can choose to show our appreciation for the strengths of those ideas and offer alternative ones. The team environment needs to foster non-judgment to allow individuals to take risks and step outside their comfort zones on an individual level as they work towards that common goal.

Let The Score Take Care Of Itself

The take-home message from this piece is that in order to establish a winning culture, we might want to focus less on winning. Rather the focus should be on establishing supportive environments for team members where they feel valued and empowered to achieve their individual best for the good of the team. And the goal of their work should be more centered around the journey rather than the destination. That is, focusing on the here and now, what we can be working on that is within our influence to give ourselves the best chance of success later on, rather than working with success at the forefront of our minds. In the performance world, we often see the best results achieved by those who don’t focus on results at all. As legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh famously said “The score takes care of itself” (see right).

Get In Touch

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.

References

Yukelson, D. (1997). Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct services approach at Penn State University. Journal of applied sport psychology, 9(1), 73-96.