Mental skills are one of the most significant factors ensuring high performance and success for elite athletes. One of the biggest myths in sports is that mental skills are born with and cannot be taught. However, overwhelming empirical evidence reports that mental skills can be learned and improved through practice, just like physical skills can be honed through exercise.
Although there are different definitions of what mental skills entail, the general understanding is to be able to cope with various demands of the game better than the opponent. Successful athletes can effectively withstand different stressors, whether emotional or physical.
There are different aspects of mental skills that differentiate elite and non-elite athletes. In a study by Ercis (2018), it was shown that elite athletes do not depend on technical abilities alone for their success. Rather, they use a combination of skills, including mental skills like imagery, goal setting, stress moderation, self-confidence, commitment maintenance, and various personalized mental practice in competition.
In a study by Sharp et al. (2013), participants reported that the mental skills training they received had a positive effect on their performance. The study also acknowledged the importance of coaches to learn teaching mental skills as to support the athletes, the mental practice program has to be well thought out and professionally carried out. This requires the coaches to be educated on the components of mental toughness and equipped with a method to deliver the training. The authors also reported that the gathered mental skills were not only applicable in sports but in other areas of life as well.
Ercis, S. (2018). Comparison of Mental Skills of Elite and Non-Elite Athletes. Journal of education and training studies, 6(n4a), 72-75.
Sharp, L. A., Woodcock, C., Holland, M. J., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2013). A qualitative evaluation of the effectiveness of a mental skills training program for youth athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 27(3), 219-232.