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Common Mental Game Challenges for Athletes

Common Mental Game Challenges for Athletes

Middletown Athletic Association’s PJ Mallon Photo by John Birk

One of the hallmarks of great athletes is the desire to improve themselves. Athletes at all levels use mental training and sports psychology to become better athletes, and overcome their mental game challenges. Mental training helps athletes perform more consistently, find the zone more often, keep a winning streak alive, and learn how to think well under pressure.

The first step of mental training is to identify the need to improve your mental game. Often times athletes are unaware of the mental barriers the limit their performance, and how mental training can help them meet their athletic potential.

The following mental game challenges are the most common I see among athletes who seek mental training. You may be surprise to find that you or someone you know can relate to one or more of the performance barriers listed below.

1. Fragile or low self-confidence. In sports confidence is defined as one’s belief in their ability to execute a task or win an event. Confidence is key to success in sports and the number one asset that separates great athletes from the rest of the pack. Athletes cannot reach their true athletic potential without massive amounts of confidence in their game(s) and abilities. Athletes who are not confident perform in comfort zones, have doubts about their ability to perform, and are more likely to experience performance anxiety.

2. Breakdowns in trust. This happens when you do not give up control and allow your body to perform like you have trained it to. Athletes with a lack of trust often seek mental training because they perform better in practice then in competition. In competition these athletes tend to over-analyze their performance, question their game plan, and make indecisive decisions in key situations. Practice is time to changes focus on technique. In competition it is important that you stick to your game plan, and perform with freedom or trust especially in times of adversity or pressure.

3. High Expectations. Expectations are strict demands that athletes make about their performance. With expectations, athletes constantly judge how they are doing compared to what they expect to do. Expectations are very result-oriented focus. They can make you feel frustrated when not playing up to your expectations and/or limit your performance when playing “better than expected.” Many athletes and coaches believe that high expectations come with high confidence, but it is quite the opposite. When athletes do not meet their expectations, it undermines their confidence. Like I previously mentioned, confidence is the belief in one’s ability to execute a task or win an event. A strong self-belief without expectation (self-judgment) is ideal. Confidence precedes execution and is void of judgment post execution. Expectations are used to judge how you are doing based on what you expect to do.

4. Fear of Failure and Social approval. Fear of failure is characterized by high expectations, a strong desire to succeed (and not fail), anxiety or tension, worrying too much about results or outcomes, social approval issues or worrying too much about what others think, and performing with a serious, controlled mindset. Fear of failure is most often associated with social approval because these athletes worry too much about letting others down by not performing up to others expectations. Social approval influences how much pressure and expectations athletes put on themselves to be successful in sports.

5. Perfectionism. Perfectionist athletes are characterized by high levels of motivation, an intense desire to succeed, and a strong work ethic. Despite high levels of motivation, perfectionist underachieve because of fear of failure and wanting so badly to succeed. Perfectionist athletes try to hard to perform perfectly. This causes a lack of trust and relates to the athlete’s expectations about how he should perform. Perfectionists often compete with a training mindset caused by an obsession with perfection, and wanting to practice to improve for the future. This causes them to over-analyze their technique or mechanics and keeps them from just playing the game and performing. Perfectionists perform with an over analytical and judgmental mindset, which often undermines their competitive self-confidence. This is caused by their need to perform perfectly. When these athletes make an error or mistake they tend to dwell on it, lose composure, and take their head out of the game.

There are several other mental challenges that athletes face such as, focus, concentration, composure, goals, nervousness, anxiety, and lack of mental preparation to name a few. Mental training gives athletes the tools they need to break through these mental barriers that limit their performance. Sports psychology or mental training helps athletes perform up to their potential and achieve their performance goals. With mental training, you can learn to “tune out” worries about what others think of you and focus on what’s most important—playing the game and performing your best.


  1. Great article! You summed up a wealth of useful important information. I’ve coach high school baseball for 13 years, and the mental aspects you highlighted are challenges I see each season. This article has helped me fill in a lot of black, I look forward to reading me. Thanks!

  2. Your site has all the information I have been looking for and more. I am an undergraduate student athlete at UCLA studying sport psychology. I wish I had this information as a young athlete. Athletes and coaches need to be aware benefits of mental training. This article will help me is school and on the field.

  3. Your the fizzle bomb!

    Sports Psychology

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