Many endurance athletes have now realized that working with a mental coach can help them achieve their peak performance. Paula Radcliffe, who long held the women's marathon world record with a time of 2:15:25, had this to say about the subject: "Improving your mental toughness will pay off - not just in running, but in life in general."
Biathlon legends such as Ole Einar Björndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen were also firm believers in the effectiveness of mental health training during their great careers.
Even though this awareness is often already present among amateur athletes, in most cases the approach for concrete implementation is missing. First, mental coach Wolfgang Seidl explains the most important basics, then he has written down three simple exercises for mental training for ISPO.com.
Of course, recreational athletes don't earn their living with their sport, but they still invest a lot of time for endurance training and money in their passion. When, despite all their efforts, they are unable to deliver their performance in competition, it is frustrating: "Negative thoughts, doubts or nervousness put a spoke in their wheel," says mental coach Wolfgang Seidl. Counselors like Seidl offer the right mental techniques for precisely these pressure situations.
"Every athlete who decides to start mental training starts an inner process," says Seidl. "For this, it is also necessary to face one's weaknesses, to leave one's usual comfort zone and to allow changes." This is not always easy, he said.
You benefit from what you've learned not only in athletic competition, but also in everyday life, whether in your private or professional life. And precisely when it really counts, i.e. when the fear of failure is at its greatest.
Nervousness Is paralyzing in the truest sense of the word. This tension, as banal as it may sound, is much more often responsible for weaker performance than a lack of muscles or technique. The inner self-doubt, the uncontrolled fear of failure and the self-made pressure weigh at least as heavily as insufficient preparation.
"Here, many make the mistake of not addressing the cause and strengthening their mental skills, but instead want to bring about success with even more effort and training volume," Seidl knows. The increase in effort is often even counterproductive, because the maxim prevails: I have invested so much, now it MUST pay off.
An overriding goal of the Mental training approach is to encourage the athlete to reach the state of his or her ideal performance. In other words, precisely that point at which the athlete (still) feels his actions with pleasant ease. Elementary for this process is self-confidence, which is neither a mere predisposition nor an arbitrary twist of fate.
Only when a trail runner, marathon runner or free climber has confidence in his abilities can he achieve his personal goals. Through his experience, Seidl is convinced that an athlete's self-confidence can be specifically increased with mental training.
With mental health training, the athlete learns to consciously train his concentration. Competitors "will experience how much more energy they suddenly have at their disposal when they focus their concentration in the here and now and steer it in the right direction," Seidl knows from his many years of work.
This is biologically determined, because every thought triggers electrochemical processes in the brain and accordingly has a decisive influence on performance. Anyone who has ever had psychosomatic complaints knows how powerful the unit "body and mind" is.
Mental training always deals with a concrete objective in all phases of work. This must be explicitly worked out. Only those who know their goals can achieve them. Defining the right goals is much more difficult than it seems at first glance. Because it is by no means only about result goals, but in a first step about performance and action goals.
Mental training also helps in the recovery and regeneration process; finding the balance between tension and relaxation. Especially in today's fast-paced and complex everyday world, where people are constantly exposed to stimulus overload, it is all the more important to switch off and rest.
Mental training also plays an important role in phases in which, due to injuries or illness, physical training is not possible. A coach helps maintain focus and accelerate the healing process.
"Anyone can develop and expand their mental skills. But it takes time, work and courage to break new ground," explains Seidl. Former Russian world chess champion Garri Kasparov once said, "We only find new ways of solving problems by looking for new paths and having the courage to take them. Of course, not all of them lead to the goal, but the more we experiment, the more successful the experiments will be. Let's break our habits! Even the ones we're actually comfortable with, to look for new and better methods."
Words that for Seidl are valid everywhere - whether for sporting, private or professional challenges.
You don't have to hire a trainer, you can lay the foundation for better mental health yourself with the following exercises at home:
- Regularly work on your breathing. When at rest, concentrate on deep and slow abdominal breathing and observe what changes in your body as you do so.
- Be aware of your self-talk and thought content often during training and ask yourself: What thoughts are going through my mind right now and are they helpful or disturbing? Which thoughts would be more helpful and support me better?
- Before training or competing, focus on the process instead of the result!
Mental health training helps you to improve your athletic performance. The interview with Wolfgang Seidl confirms that mental strength plays a more important role than physical performance. The well-known saying "mind over matter" is not just a figure of speech, but corresponds to reality.
Below we answer frequently asked questions related to mental training.
Professional athletes also use mental training. Soccer stars like Serge Gnabry and Erling Haaland, for example, successfully keep themselves mentally fit with neuroathletics. Top athletes put their bodies under constant strain, which also affects their mental health. With training for will and mind, professional athletes not only keep their bodies fit and guarantee maximum performance.
Mental strength can be built in a variety of ways. Establish routines, exercise, eat well, control negative thoughts, and remove yourself from bad external influences (e.g. toxic people).
If you consciously pay attention to your diet, you not only provide yourself with important nutrients, but often refrain from temptations. This sensitizes you to good habits and thus also strengthens your willpower.