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