Mental Toughness: How to get it done?


Mental Toughness: How to get it done?

You can choose between several forms of training such as cognitive function training or self-control training. If you ask coaches or athletes what they mean by mental training, the answers often given are "more concentration" or similar.

Different training methods are mixed under the generic term "mental training". But what exactly does the term "mental training" mean and what are the different forms of training? What is "mental coaching"? The overall objective of mental coaching is to help the athlete reach a state in which he or she can achieve and maintain ideal performance.

This state is described in the literature with different terms (e.g. Zone of Optimal Functioning) (1). In the scientific sense, mental training represents a "planned, repeated, conscious imagining of movement sequences without real execution for the optimization of motor learning processes" (2).

In 1995 Eberspächer developed a general definition of mental training (3). This states: "Mental training addresses the direct influence of mental processes on movement. There is a systematic and intensive mental conception of a movement process with the goal of its improvement, without the movement being practically executed“ (3).

A direct influence on psychological processes is also called intervention. This is understood to mean, depending on the field of application (management, health, and rehabilitation sport), both preventing and counteracting psychosocial problems through professional assistance (4).

On the basis of these definitions, mental training in the narrower sense is to be understood as sporting movements, which are executed in the mind's eye. In the broader sense of mental training, we trainers intervene in the psychological process by providing assistance, and thus we speak of mental coaching.

This can be done through external interventions as well as internal interventions. As we can see now, mental coaching has several intervention possibilities. So it is not easy to jump to the term "mental training" in a blanket way, rather one should pick a sub-area that is the most suitable method in the particular training situation (consideration of all deficits of the athlete).

It is important for The Trainer to apply the right training method in mental training. Mental coaching in practice. But what should such mental coaching look like in practice? A mixed form has developed here. This includes both an active execution, such as stress or pressure situations in a team or individual sports, as well as a sport psychological intervention with different goals.

These are the promotion of personality development and social integration through education, the optimization of action competence through training, and the prevention of psychological and social undesirable developments through prevention.

The following objectives can be formulated from this (5):

Category from sports psychology Destination
Psychomotor Training - Mental Imagery Regulation of movement while learning, perfecting, and correcting sports technique
Cognitive functional training Regulation of action when coping with tactical demands
Motivation training Attitude towards yourself
Motivation training Willpower and self-motivation
Cognitive functional training Cognitive control
Cognitive functional training Regulation of the current mental state
Psychoregulation Training Psychological regulation in competition
Psychoregulation Training Regeneration after training and competition loads
Motivation training Regulation of social relationships in the sports and non-sports environment
Motivation training Life orientation and long-term career planning
Each of these tasks can be worked on different occasions in sports psychological support.

Each of these occasions can be assigned to one of the three levels (adapted from Beckmann and Elbe 2008).

  • Level 1: Basic training
  • Level 2: Advanced training
  • Level 3: Crisis intervention
At the first level, basic training is carried out.

This includes, among other things, the technician learning, as well as the "sport psychological basics". An initial diagnosis is not absolutely necessary in order to start at this level. Rather, the goal is to prepare the athlete for the mental demands of the load (training and competition).

This includes, for example, breathing exercises, autogenic training, or team building. On the second level (advanced training), training is carried out that is linked more to the individual diagnostic findings in order to eliminate existing deficits.

Training methods such as presentation training or self-talk regulation are included in this level. The third and last level (crisis intervention) includes the forms such as psychotherapy or failure processing and rehabilitation training.

This level is used only when necessary. Through these three levels of sports psychological support, the following forms of training in mental coaching have developed, which I would now like to describe in a differentiated manner and present practical examples.

Skills training is used to improve the athlete's skills with the help of performances and is composed of psychomotor and cognitive functional training. Psychomotor training is also known as imagination training. Here, sport-specific movement is controlled by the imagination.

There are several types of mental training. These include:

  • the subvocal training
  • Mental Imagery
  • Motor Imagery
In subvocal training, the athlete speaks the movement sequence to himself in the form of a soliloquy. Opposite to this is Mental Imagery, in which the athlete sees the training or competition unfold in front of his "inner" eye (a kind of film) and thereby mentally observes different perspectives (external).

In Motor Imagery, the athlete puts himself into the movement (internally) and feels it. Cognitive functional training is concerned with optimizing perceptual processes (thinking, recognizing, and reacting). One form of training in this area is anticipation training.

In anticipation training, for example, a certain movement is explained to the athlete, who must recognize it in the opponent and then act accordingly. This optimizes the ability to recognize and decide/react. Self-control training includes motivational training on the one hand and psychoregulation training on the other.

Motivation training is on the one hand about directing the often strong motivation of ambitious athletes into the right channels (e.g. overtraining). On the other hand, it is about dealing with fluctuating, declining, or even missing motivation (e.g.

school interests or professional interests). This "goal-setting" training is one of the most important sports psychological training techniques in dealing with these challenges (6). Depending on the type of training, different target times are distinguished (short-term goals, medium-term goals, and long-term goals) and the desired effects are to be achieved.

It is important here that the goals are accepted and internalized by the athlete. The aim of psychoregulation training is to enable athletes to actively influence processes in their own organisms. This can have an activating or relaxing orientation.

Practice-relevant training forms are breath tension, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenous training. Practical tips:

  • Sport-psychological goal-setting is the core of mental coaching
  • Mental coaching can be person-centered, environment-centered, or task-centered
  • Mental coaching takes place on an ad hoc basis and on three levels (basic, advanced training, and crisis intervention)
  • Crisis interventions cannot be planned or predicted.
  • (1) Hanin (1995): Individual zones of optimal functioning, pp.103 - 118.
  • (2) Ulich (1967): Some experiments on the functional of mental training in the acquisition of motor skills.

    Ergonomics, p. 411 - 419

  • (3)
  • (4) Beckmann & Elbe (2008): Practice of Sport Psychology in Competitive and High-Performance Sports, pp.
  • (5) Mathesius (1996): Principles and Tasks of Psychological Training, pp.

    29 - 126.

  • (6) Hänsel, Baumgärtner, Kornmann, Ennigkeit (2016): Sportpsychology, pp. 264 -269.
Thanks to PTCA Accredited Professional Mariius Schröder for his contribution to mental toughness!