Since sport psychology exploded onto the world scene with the 1976 Montreal Olympics there have been literally thousands of books and articles published on how to “do mental training”. My particular approach was adopted by the Coaching Association of Canada and integrated into their 5-Level coaching system – I wrote the sport psychology content for Levels 1,2, and 3 (French version). Here is the original article describing my approach: Bacon (1989). Periodization of Mental Training.
My approach has been always been very practical (I have never stopped coaching and competing) and simple and continues to be supported by current research and involves 4 steps – which can be 4 one-hour team meetings, that can be implemented by either a coach or a mental training consultant. In support of the 24 athletes on the 1988 World Champion Canadian Racquetball Team, I trained the National and Assistant National Coaches to deliver my program via email, telephone, mail, and training camps – very well evaluated by the team members – so you do not actually need a sport psychologist to support your athletes in the mental area:
- Introductory meeting (60 min.) To help guide athletes to enquire about and learn lessons from their own best and worst sport performances. Athletes complete an individual form and we take up some of the answers in a group setting. I introduce Jim Loehr’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) model – still the simplest out there in 2016 – you can download a copy here: ipsloehrsports.
- Goal-Setting and Introduction to Mental Skills meeting (60 min.) There are a multitude of goal-setting forms available, but Terry Orlick’s form is still the best with key questions on dream, realistic and specific mental goals. My mental skills approach involves having the athletes do 1-2 basic 2-3 minute exercises from each of the five categories of skills: relaxation, positive self-talk, activation, visualization and concentration – followed by a 2-3 min. I facilitate a short discussion on how these skills can be used in an actual competition. Optional additional self-assessment questionnaires (very short or more comprehensive) can be completed by the athletes to help them zone in on specific areas they need to work on. Orlick also has a short one-page “self-directed interview” the athletes can complete before this meeting. Here is a link to a YouTube video where I demonstrate the different exercises.
- Focus Plan meeting (60 min.). To help athletes to write a one-page plan on a) how to prepare optimally, both physically and mentally for a competition; b) how to focus their attention at key moments in a competition (e.g., start, in between points, near the end of a game, near the end of a match, etc.). Here is one of the forms we have used in the past: Squash Focus Plan Form and a post with more details on how to develop a Focus Plan.
- Distraction Control (Refocus) Plan and Competition Evaluation meeting (60 min.). To help athletes develop a written list of situations that cause them to play poorly or lose their focus, and though group discussion lead them to find possible solutions to get back on track. The final step is to introduce an evaluation process – which includes a written form – that they can complete after every competition to speed up their “experience” and development of mental toughness. Here is one of the forms we have used in the past: squash-match-evaluation-form.
The meeting format I use closely follows the meeting format recommended by Terry Orlick in his book Psyched for Sport (out of print but available used on Amazon.com) – all Canadian National Team and Olympic coaches have been trained in this approach. Canada is generally recognized as having one of the top coaching training programs in the world. in fact you cannot coach on a Canadian National team if you have not obtained your Level 4 Coaching Certification (I got mine way back in 1988 in the first cohort of Squash Canada Level 4 coaches).
Following the above four-meeting approach above, a coach will meet the needs of about 80% of their athletes (80/20 rule:). There will always be athletes that need more assistance in developing mental toughness and solving “mental problems”.
If you need help preparing your mental training program, or would want to engage me to run the meetings for your team drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org – rates start at $50 U.S. per hour. Here is a link to my Facebook Page.
Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Certified Squash, Tennis & Badminton Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions). He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).