What is Mental Coaching and How Can You Benefit?

This headline appeared August 12, 2011 in the newspaper publication USA Today: “Phil Mickelson adds ‘Mental Coach’ to entourage”.  What is a mental coach? Why would an accomplished golfer like Phil Mickelson desire to retain a mental coach?

What a Mental Coach is NOT

Every year I receive a phone call from a distressed coach or parent asking me to help an athlete who is in crisis.  The presenting problem typically goes along these lines “[Athlete name] is competing next week at the National trials and he/she is extremely anxious and can’t focus on preparation.  Can you help?”

A common misconception is that mental coaches are ‘shrinks’ – someone who works reduce a psychological problem that is interfering with performance achievement.  The truth is that very few mental coaches have this expertise.  The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), a North American Society that governs mental coaching, details practitioners who can treat performers with clinical issues versus practitioners who develop performers’ psychological skills.  I’ll talk more about psychological skills later in this post.

What Mental Coaching is

Mental coaching is a broad term used to describe consultants who use a psycho-educational model to develop the mental/psychological aspects of performance achievement.  On the golf course, in the operating theatre, on stage, in the classroom, or in the line of duty, achieving a peak performance is complex.  Each human performance act requires an individual to efficiently integrate an unique combination of physical fitness, technical expertise, tactical strategy, and psychological skills. Mental coaches are experts in the field of sport and performance psychology and understand how decision making, beliefs, images, and feelings affect and are affected by performance acts. Mental coaches utilize this expertise to assist performers to develop their ability to be focused, determined, committed, and confident in all performance circumstances.  The development of psychological skills requires a systematic training program designed to utilize the performers’ strengths, address self-imposed weaknesses while remaining focused on achieving targeted goals even in the face of unexpected challenges.

Psychological Skills and Achieving Real Results

There is convincing scientific evidence that psychological skills such as focus and concentration, determination and commitment, and confidence can be learned and developed.

There are a number of psychological skills that have been identified to be important for human achievement and performance – motivation, imagery, emotion control, thought control, mental planning, and team building.  Generally, the research reveals that Olympians and Professional athletes who medal and earn the most money in comparison to peers have more proficient psychological skills compared to less accomplished athletes.  One reason why Phil Mickelson may have hired a mental coach is for performance enhancement.

Scientific research also reveals that psychological skill proficiency is associated with higher performance satisfaction and mental well-being.  This finding implies that psychological skills are important for enabling performers’ attitudes towards pushing personal boundaries and managing the dark periods of physical fatigue and mental frustration in the pursuit of personal excellence.  Thus, another reason why a mental coach has joined Phil Mickelson’s entourage is for performance satisfaction.

The Bottom Line

Mental coaches design and develop systematic psychological skill training programs to assist aspiring performers towards personal and performance excellence.

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