According to sports psychologists and mental health coaches, mental training plays a big role in athletic success. Some even say it’s just as important as the physical and technical training when it comes to achieving athletic goals.

And many elite athletes agree. In the wake of learning the 2020 Olympic Games had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, American gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles said, “We have to stay in shape mentally just as much as physically, and that will play a big factor moving forward, listening to your body and your mind.”

But you don’t have to be an elite athlete or have experienced the loss of a sports season to benefit from mental training. Any athlete at any level can make mental training a part of their overall training plan and build mental toughness.

5 Mental Training Tips for Athletes

  1. Set (or reset) goals. If you’re a driven athlete, you’re probably already goal-oriented. But it never hurts to reset. Have recent life experiences made your goals less attainable? Or perhaps the contrary—maybe you suddenly have more time to dedicate to training? Whatever the case, revisit your goals and see what might need to be tweaked.
  2. Use positive self-talk. The internal dialogue you have with yourself is perhaps one of the most powerful mental training techniques. Those words in your head can either crush you or carry you in the last mile of a hard run. They can be just what you need to hear to either start or scratch a workout when you wake up unmotivated.
  3. Practice mental imagery. Visualizing your workout or competition vividly from start to finish—what the environment will look like, the discomfort you’ll feel, the mistakes you’ll want to avoid—can help prepare you for the real-life activity and actually help you perform better.
  4. Manage anxiety. Before you can deal with anxiety, you need to accept that anxiety is a normal part of being an athlete. In fact, some level of anxiety can actually help your performance. The trick is to not let it get the better of you.
  5. Become resilient. Resilience is an important life skill inside and outside of sports. Being able to recover and adapt after a mistake, a poor performance, an injury or a loss can help fuel your desire and ability to come back even stronger.

For more techniques to help you build mental strength, check out these mental drills from Peak Performance.