The psychology of performance

Why do some athletes thrive under high stress conditions, while others crumble under pressure? The answer often lies in their levels of mental fitness.

A natural or developed psychological edge, mental fitness allows you to be composed, focused, confident and determined no matter how much stress you are under, or what your circumstances might be. It refers to the ability to optimally regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, while successfully coping with many demands.

When under pressure during an athletic endeavour, technical and physical skills sometimes aren’t enough to reach your full potential. Your degree of mental fitness can have an significant impact on your performance outcome, no matter what your sport participation level may be. Developing mental fitness competencies can also lead to improved consistency and increased enjoyment of your chosen sport or activity, whether it’s recreational or competitive.

So how do you know whether you’re mentally fit?

Common mental fitness attributes associated with top performers include:

    • high self-confidence
    • commitment and motivation for achieving goals
    • calmness and composure
    • ability to embrace and manage pressure
    • ability to be focused on task and manage distractions
    • optimistic and positive mindset
    • adaptability and flexibility
    • emotional control

Mentally fit athletes also strive to develop the following three competencies:

1. Energy maintenance: Maintaining the level of activation that is required for peak performance

    • Relaxation, engagement/activation, stress/pressure management, mind-fulness, emotional regulation, managing anxious styles of thinking

2. Focus: Maintaining optimal concentration on the task at hand and regaining focus in the face of distraction.

    • Focus, distractions control, performance planning (mental fitness warm-up, performance plan, debriefing strategies)

3. Confidence & trust: Demonstrating complete trust and belief in ability to execute performance, and commitment to task at hand under any condition.

    • Strength building, managing doubts and fears, thought control, risk taking, confidence and trust

Like physical training, mental fitness development requires deliberate practice and working with a trained professional. You will become a better expert on yourself and how you respond under pressure, more aware of factors contributing to good/poor performance, and build a mental skills tool kit. No matter what your sport participation level, mental fitness can help you achieve a higher level of personal and performance excellence.