Mindset - Part II
The concept of an athlete's mindset was introduced in my interview with Chris Villani. The article can be found here.
What separates elite athletes from really good athletes? Here is another Q and A session with a sports psychologist to discuss the importance of an athlete's mental focus to their game.
Brett Blackiston is a mental skills coach who works with youth, high school , college and professional athletes. Brett earned a Master's in Sports Psychology from Capella University. He was a sports psychology staff member with the Philadelphia Union Youth Soccer Academy. while there, he designed and implemented several mental training programs for coaches, players and parents. He has also worked with the IMG Academy in Florida as a part of their sports psychology staff. Brett currently works at Inner Edge Sports Psychology.
How would you describe an elite athlete's mindset? (Do you believe elite athletes approach their game differently than the more casual player?)
In my opinion, mindset plays a critical role in an athlete becoming elite in the first place. Athletes may have physical or technical gifts that initially separate them from other players, but it’s their mindset that keeps them there. You see many gifted players that disappear as their careers progress toward the upper echelon of the sport. This is where mindset comes into play. So yes, I believe elite athletes approach their game differently than the more casual player, as this is what helps them reach and sustain that level.
So how would I describe an elite athlete’s mindset? To start, elite athletes demonstrate a growth mindset. They understand that hard work and commitment are necessary for growth. They understand failure is not final, and use setbacks to propel forward their development. Additionally, elite athletes have a present mindset. Instead of getting distracted by the past or future, these athletes focus on the present: what is the next action I can do to impact the game? What do I need to take care of in this moment? These two qualities are essential to success at the elite level.
Many elite athletes are accused of coming across as arrogant. How important is it for an elite athlete to believe they are the best?
I am firm believer that rather than believing one is the best, athletes should focus on the believing that they are capable of being their individual best at any given moment. Let’s be real: there is only one Leo Messi and there is only one Cristiano Ronaldo. What good would it be to convince oneself he or she is better? While comparing ourselves to others can serve as a motivational tactic to improve and grow, it can also be detrimental to one’s development. Comparison can cause us to attempt to live up to unrealistic standards, adding unnecessary pressure and fear of falling short in training and performance. I believe athletes should aim to becom! e the best they themselves can possibly be, focusing on what it takes to actualize that goal, day in and day out.
Are there any commonalities you have found in an elite athlete's mindset - regardless of the game.
In my work in sport psychology, I coach athletes from all different sporting backgrounds: from soccer to weight lifting, squash to lacrosse, and swimming to American Ninja Warrior. I think to be elite in any sport, athletes must develop the same mindset described earlier. Obviously there are differences and complexities within each sport, and with those come different challenges. Team sports are different than individual sports. Certain sports move at faster paces than others. However, across the board, the foundation of a growth mindset and the ability to stay present allows one to play and compete at an elite level. I refer to my coaching arena as “! between the ears.” While each respective athlete has a different arena in which they compete, I believe this type of coaching allows them to succeed, regardless of the context.
How important, if at all, do you believe visualization is to an athlete's performance?
Visualization is a very important strategy that athletes can use for a myriad of reasons. I teach visualization to my athletes as a tool that can be used for pre-game preparation, allowing athletes to imagine and focus on the way they want to play in the upcoming match. Additionally, visualization can be used to increase confidence, as well as to reinforce desired behavior changes. As the saying goes, “where the mind leads, the body follows.” Visualization prepares the mind, and thus prepares the body to follow suit.
There are many players who want to learn how to become a professional soccer player. If they are truly serious, they must include focus on the mental parts of their game in their practice.
AFFILIATE LINKS and RECOMMENDED READING (Please note that I will receive a commission, should you decide to make a purchase after following a link).
Craig Sigl has been featured on television, major newspapers, and dozens of radio shows for his work with professional and amateur athletes regarding the mental side of their game. He has several online programs that can be purchased to help improve an athlete's mental outlook.https://programs.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/how-to-be-a-fearless-competitor https://programs.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/confidence-from-scratch https://programs.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/advanced-mental-toughness
Recommended Reading to
Improve Your Mindset
Have you, or your contemporaries published any books on the topic, or are there any that you would recommend an athlete read?
Neither Dr. Neff, founder of Inner-Edge Sport Psychology, nor I have published any books or publications yet. For soccer-specific reading, I recommend the works of Bill Beswick, primarily Focused for Soccer and One Goal. Beswick has vast experience in England with the Premiere League and the national team. Read his books at the beginning of my career, and they really sparked my passion in the field of sport psychology.