• Jesse Engelbrecht

Introduction to mental skills training

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

As a player I felt I was not able to reach my full technical and physical potential due to my wavering mental side of the game. As soon as I thought I had figured things out and strung together some good wins, the cliff face seemed just around the next corner. Lack of confidence, nervousness, the red mist, anxiety would all begin to appear all too regular and have huge detrimental effects on my performance no matter how hard I was training. Maybe this sounds familiar with a lot of players?

Transitioning to a coach career, it bugged me that I let myself down mentally and have made it my goal and mission to learn more about this side of sport in order to pass on this valuable asset to my players. I felt I was never given the right tools to appreciate the depth of the mental side as well as not having easy access to practical practises I could apply routinely. I entered into a Masters research project with the University of Gloucester in 2018 attempting to uncover mental toughness in squash. It was a great experience and the depth of knowledge I gained was invaluable. Unfortunately, it also left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction as it was heavily academic, and I felt it was not as transferrable as I would have liked to the real world.

Having researched the power of mental skills training, and in particular visulisation, for sports the impact and effectiveness is undeniable. There have been numerous longitudinal studies conducted in this field as well as first-hand interviews from athletes who follow a mental training program. My goal is to bring together all that I have read and come across over the years from the experts, interleaving my own personal experiences along the way, and to be able to present a robust, easy to use and accessible mental skills training program. Soon this will come under a Mental Skills Training app which will be being released very shortly. The best way to keep up to date when the app launches is following me on social media

Studies have time and again shown that our brains cannot tell the difference between an actual physical event and the vivid visualisation of that same event. When we experience something and when we visualise the same thing, we activate similar brain circuits. Being able to visualise effectively and to be taught how to do it in an easy and accessible way creates powerful habits that are transferred into performance.

Over the next few blogs I’ll be diving in deeper to the mental aspects of the game and how you will be able to start to apply a mental skills training program for yourself. Part of maximising your mental skills training is to have a deeper understanding and grounding of the reasons why visualisation is so effective. I will be discussing theories behind what is happening in the brain with effective visualisation. Topics such as dealing with pressure, coping with nerves, converting from in front, acceptance, plus many others will be discussed and practical tips will be suggested in order to attempt to maximise consistent performance under pressure.

Some really powerful recommended reading around some key mental aspects would be:

The Inner Game of Tennis – Timothy Gallwey

Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert

The Mindful Athlete – George Mumford

Practical tips to use right away in preparation for mental skills training

- Start by becoming more aware of your emotions in a match and pay attention to them

- Journaling for a few minutes each morning and evening

- Start with some daily meditation using the SquashMind Meditation Timers

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