Sports Psychology:  Beneficial to All Athletes

Professional teams often employ a sports psychologist to improve the performance and ensure the wellbeing of their players, and these benefits are not just limited to elite athletes. Young athletes too can hone their mental skills to improve themselves both on and off the field. 


One skill young athletes should add to their repertoire is visualization. Unfortunately, athletes often imagine themselves failing as opposed to succeeding. It’s easy for negative images to make themselves present in the mind of athletes of any age. One way of counteracting these thoughts and the additional pressures facing young athletes is through practicing mindful visualization. In layman’s terms, this basically means visualizing success. Consciously creating mental images of success can act as a sort of self fulfilling prophecy, leading to improved performance. Visualization requires that the athlete actively engages in positive emotions, including such emotions as calmness, joy, and the feeling of confidence. To get the most out of visualization, a young athlete should focus on the senses and emotions that they would feel when experiencing a positive outcome in their performance on the field. When athletes visualize, they imprint images of success in their minds. When utilizing this technique, the athlete practices twice – one time during physical practice and once through a mental practice. Visualization can often provide the athlete a boost in confidence since they have the ability to imagine and experience successful outcomes. It is important to note that visualization is a useful tool only when the athlete visualizes events that are feasible at their existing skill level.  


Another skill that’s beneficial to athletes of all skill levels is goal setting. Goal setting can be helpful in getting an athlete’s mental state to where it should be in order to help them reach their full playing potential. Having written goals is important in the goal setting process. This practice of posting one’s goals where they can easily be seen, such as on a locker or in the home, has been shown to be beneficial, as it aids in the goals not being forgotten. This idea of not allowing oneself to forget the goal helps to keep the athlete constantly working towards bettering himself, helping it become more likely that the goal will become a reality. Goal setting acts not only as a tool for visualization and planning, but also provides a level of motivation and helps with improving oneself. One very important aspect of goal setting relates to setting incremental goals which can be achieved with hard work and focus. If the goals set are too easy, then the outcome will likely not result in a true benefit to performance, and if the goal is too hard or impossible to achieve, it will only result in frustration and decrease a player’s motivation, the opposite outcome desired through the process of goal setting. Effective goal setting requires that the athlete sets a long-term goal, then breaks it into short-term, attainable sub-goals. Progress should then be monitored and capabilities assessed, followed by any necessary adjustments to the strategy and goal(s). New goals can then be set when the previous one is attained.


Visualization and goal setting can be extremely effective tools for any athlete. These psychological tools can help athletes rebuild the confidence to help increase the likelihood of their personal success. Through targeting specific mental practices, improving skill sets from the inside-out, athletes can better train and prepare for the pressures that they may encounter while engaging in their sports.