January 11, 2018

Mental Training For Sports Performances


 Subodh  Jha

  “ It isn’t the mountain ahead to climb that wear you; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” -Muhammad Ali, American Professional Boxer

John and Stephen are two athletes having completely equal talent, physical attributes, and fitness. Both are running together to win a marathon. Despite the close similarity between them, there is one big difference. Stephen has a number of stones tide on both of his legs that continues to make his running difficult whereas legs of John are completely free.  In this scenario, it is easy to guess the winner, that too, even before the start of the race. You can also guess if these stones continued to be tied around Stephen, what is going to be the fate of his sports career. But can you guess the performances of these athletes if these stones were invisible?

Sports performances in India are largely considered a function of physical attributes and technical skills of the player. It is not uncommon to hear comments from parents and caregivers that, ‘he is not good in studies so put him in sports’. The myth that sports performers have little to do with mental skills still runs deep in several quarters of sports ecosystem in India. This belief system has caused a lot of damage to the overall well being of sports performers and overall performance of athletes from India.

Mental Training

Once, I was interacting with an athlete who had been twice national gold medalist. He came to me at the age of 24 just after recovery from an injury. He had won his last medal almost 3-4 years back. Since then he kept on trying to improve his performance. However, after toiling very hard in the field when he was about to catch up with other athletes, he got injured again! It is true that injuries are a normal part of sportspersons life. However, this was his sixth recovery from similar types of injuries. He was in tears and completely confused when he came to me. He told me that at his age, even if every other thing goes well, it will be difficult for him to compete with the performance of his fellow athletes. While discussing the possible cause of recurring injuries he said that he has no definite answer to this, however, he shared that one of the coaches told him that probably it was due to his wrong action/posture which he picked up during early days of his sporting career. He was also nursing a guilt feeling that his parents despite not liking his decision to become a sportsperson supported him through and through but he could not do justice to their faith. However, this is not an isolated story. Another, national level athlete also shared with me a similar story. He told me that each time he prepares himself for an important tournament, he somehow picks up an injury and he does not know what to do about this. When in practice, he inadvertently becomes various cautious so that he can protect himself from getting injured again. He indicated that his progress has been slow due to this. What a tragic set of stories, what a loss! These two players are linked with track and field athletics but this problem is not limited to this discipline only.

Two well known top level female wrestlers who could not move beyond quarter and semifinals in their last tournament shared following reasons for their elimination at relatively early stages. One of them shared that at one stage of the concerned match she started feeling that she is already winning and at that point, her focus got deviated from performance and she lost the match. She said that after each tournament she reminds herself not to repeat such mistakes but somehow it keeps on happening. The other wrestler told that one night before the match she becomes very anxious, her sleep gets disturbed and she is not even able to eat properly. Naturally, all these changes in her behavior just before a significant match do not help to remain in peak performance during matches. Further, both of them shared that during practice sessions they used to defeat the same opponent time and again, yet at the time of actual match they were not able to replicate the performance of their practice sessions. Both of these wrestlers are very hard working and talented and are in the sports for past many years. What is the missing link between their effort and performance?

Mental Health Performance

There are players who are not able to master certain key technical skills in their field even after several years of practice. For instance, a wrestler told me that he is not able to do somersaults despite trying hard to learn it for past many years. Therefore, he had now dropped the idea of even learning it. Similar examples you can find in other sports like Badminton or Lawn Tennis where the player stopped practicing certain technical skills due to their failure in the past to acquire the same. Just imagine if these skills are important for the performance of the player in their sports, what these players may be losing due not acquiring the same.

Undoubtedly all the above players were very talented and hardworking yet they were not able to reach the level they deserved to reach. As you are reading the above stories you may be able to find many more examples of such athletes. However, what all these stories have to do with mental training? There can be many possible answers for the problems described above but one common factor among all the above sports performers was that none of them has had any considerable experience of mental training as part of their sports routine. And mental barriers and lack of mental skills were one of the main causes of their condition.

The above narrative is true for best athletes world over. In a recent interview, while returning from Common Wealth Games 2018, India’s celebrated woman boxer Mary Kom emphasized the need of mental training. She was asked that why women boxers from India are not winning big despite having her as an example. Emphasizing on the need of mental training Mary Kom said, “…..Some of the girls need to focus more on the mental aspect of boxing. The mental strength is the difference. They have the fitness and the physical strength, but lack of the willpower and mind to win. If your mind doesn’t support you, you cannot win. They are not figuring out how to deal with the pressure of facing a strong opponent. If the opponent is strong, many already think they can’t win. They get intimidated by boxers from some countries. When you have that mental block that this country is strong and we can’t win, then you cannot win.”2

Amazing impact of mental training on sportspersons performance:

How much mental training matters in improving the performance of sports person? A long time ago, I was watching an international lawn tennis tournament and got curious to know what the people involved full-time in Lawn Tennis think about the importance of mental skills training. I asked this question to a foreign coach. Pointing his finger towards his head, he promptly replied “ninety percent!”. Insiders of all sports at least to some extent are aware of the role of mental training in improving the performance of a sportsperson. However, many of them have not much idea regarding different dimensions of mental training.

The impact on mental training on sportspersons performance is unbelievably wonderful. One international discus thrower lost his ability to throw the discus without wobble due to certain reasons. He was trying to regain the skill for several months but was not able to do so. After an intensive transformative mental training session with him, he was able to regain his skills within three days as he could throw the discus one meter ahead of his anticipated distance within a period of less than a week without any further changes in his technical skills or fitness level. Just imagine, what this quick progress would means to this athlete in coming months and years as he will cover the ground much sooner than he ever anticipated.

Top athletes in different games are well aware of this fact. Patti Johnson, a hurdler from the United States says, “Once you’re physically capable of winning gold mental, the rest is 90 percent mental”. Another sports performer Reggie Christ, American Alpine skier says“It’s amazing how much of this mental. Everybody’s in good shape. Everybody knows how to ski. Everybody has good equipment. When it really boils down to it, it’s who wants it the most and who’s the most confident.”

For sportspersons in India, mental skills could be one underutilized resource which can take performances of sportspersons to entirely new level. Just to illustrate the point, one young talented tennis player, with whom I worked, used to feel increasing heartbeat, leg shaking, stamina giving away and her breathing rate increasing during certain situations in the game. As a result of that, she would start playing a defensive game and her movement on the court also used to get slow, sometimes costing her crucial matches. When she started working on her mental training suddenly her performance reached to altogether new level. She got rid of her fear and nervousness and she gained confidence and concentration. As a result, she won several titles in a short period as she experienced the best performance of her career to that time. You may imagine with such changes in a player, how much more she can achieve in her career, which otherwise would not have been possible. In short, she was able to get MUCH MORE out of her practice due to her mental training.

The scope of mental training:

Mental training has as quite a comprehensive scope for improving the performance of a sportsperson. It includes all aspects of performance, including, fitness, technical skills training and mental skills. Mental training helps players broadly to address two principal issues related to their performance, that is, (a) mind-emotion related issues (b) developmental issues. Emotional issues include issues excessive nervousness, low confidence, fear or anxiety which like serious dampeners of the performance of sportspersons.

Mental training related to mind and emotion issues may include aspects of the ability to control anxiety, have a high level of concentration, have healthy mood states,  ability to handle negative self-talk and instead use positive self-talk, have high self-confidence, ability to rebound after mistakes, low worries, anger management, ability to deal with bad memories and fear. The developmental issues related aspects of mental training include aspects like help in skills training, formulating neurologically aligned goal setting and developing customized propulsion system to take the success of the athlete on autopilot. This also includes learning key capabilities like unconscious assimilation, attaining trance states on demand, to be in flow states on demand, have protection filters, dissociation capability and ability to learn from success and failure etc.

The interesting thing about mental training in sports is that you can take it to any limit. The more you develop your mental map, the farther you go!

Which Mental Training Approach is the Best?

Many of the readers may be wondering, if mental training is so good, from where to get it. In fact, there are several approaches and techniques for mental training and this is beyond scope of this write up to describe their advantages and disadvantages. However, while selecting training approach one should ensure that the approach or technique should not be piecemeal and should comprehensively address all key dimensions of athlete’s performance. In this context, the author from his two decades of experience in training and development has found neuro-linguistic programming(NLP) and Installations are most comprehensive discipline to address all mental training issues of athletes, effectively and quickly. Worlds best athletes in the different sport have been reported to successfully used this technology to enhance their performance.

The reason for NLP and excellence Installations are the most effective mental training technology because they are best suited to discover and change the limiting unconscious mental patterns. Dr Milton H. Erickson, MD, used to say, “… most of your life is unconsciously determined”. So an approach that works mainly at behavior level is not very effective and takes relatively long time to make an impact. In fact, different phases and various incidents of a sportsperson life may result in the creation of unwanted unconscious patterns leading to problem behaviors.  Thus, an athlete may find himself in emotionally stuck state or reacting to different situations during your sports practice or match. NLP is a systematic proven approach to get you unstuck from everything holding you back through educating your neurology at ‘structure’ and ‘state’ levels. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is about understanding both how we create meaning in life and to acquire best mental ‘strategies’ for best results. Broadly stated, NLP’s objective is to increase choices. NLP enables you to access the internal resources that are appropriate and necessary to make the desired choice and have the desired experience.

How can I know that what is my mental training needs?

As stated earlier, mostly mental training needs remain hidden and it becomes difficult for an athlete to judge whether he or she needs mental training at all or to what extent these training can help to improve his or her performance in their sports. The sports performer continue to work even more towards improving his fitness levels and technical skills but gets disappointed as he finds corresponding enhancement in performance not commensurate with his efforts.

Identifying gaps in technical skills and fitness level has been relatively easier for sportspersons. However, most of the athletes in India have almost no or very little awareness of their mental training needs. As indicated above, due to limited awareness on this aspect, a large number of sportspersons are suffering badly. It has impacted the career of many athletes as many of them have not been able to reach the level of performance they deserve to reach.

As a sportsperson as you want to become aware of your own mental training needs, you can access our FREE “ Evaluate your Game” tool by visiting our website You may find this unique field-tested tool immensely valuable to you in saving months and years of your training time and also paving your path to attaining peak performance and amazing success as you start implementing the wonderful insights you gain from this exercise!!

I would like to conclude this article with the statement of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan, “ Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Subodh Jha

NLP Mental Training Coach &

Excellence Installation Specialist, Co-Founder NLP4Happiness

Whatsapp:9711505384, Mobile: 8178668573,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.