State of the Union: Mental Performance

By Zack Etter

Before we begin a fall series of articles that will alternate between providing content and educational information about Mental Skills, and giving insight on current events in the sports world from a Sport Psychology lense, I first want to discuss the State of the Union of Mental Performance.

There are 4 “domains” of performance. 4 aspects that go into an athlete’s ability to reach their full athletic potential. 


How big, strong, and fast is the athlete? Size, strength, and speed can be developed in the weightroom through training with strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, and medical trainer. It’s helpful in performance and necessary to prevent injury, especially in contact sports.


How to play the game. This is the “X’s and O’s” aspect of performance. How to score, how to defend, where to lineup, and understanding how to exploit the opponent. This is typically developed in the film room with the aid of coaches. Coaches create a game plan that players must understand and execute.


The technique and mechanics of the position and sport-specific performance. For a quarterback, this is the footwork, and release point aspect of throwing the ball. For a baseball player, his batting stance and weight distribution through his swing. For a soccer player, it’s their ability to dribble, pass, and defend with proficiency. Having great technique should become second nature to high performing athletes, but takes hours and hours of work and maintenance. 


Controlling emotions, remaining confident through adversity, managing expectations, creating proper goals, maintaining motivation, flushing mistakes and moving forward, alleviating performance anxiety, etc. These keys to performance are what separates great athletes and gives them a tangible advantage over their opponents.

Simply put, the more aspects of performance an athlete can excel in, the better player they’ll be. I won’t make an attempt to “rank” the aspects in order of importance, but being dominant in one aspect could certainly make up for lacking in another aspect. A player’s size and speed could make up for a lack of technical ability. An athlete who is mentally tough can make up for being smaller than others at their position. Players who dominate college, pro, and olympic sports excel in at least three aspects of performance.

Improving mental performance is a positive practice in two ways. One, of course, is it will help the athlete play at a higher level, more consistently, and reach their athletic potential. But there’s more to it than that. The NBA and other professional leagues and teams hiring Sport Psychologists are not just bringing in help to improve their players’ performance. Working on the mental aspect of the game will improve an athlete’s overall mental health as well. Athletes struggle, as many people do, with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, substance abuse, trauma, etc. Increasing one’s mental skills allows the athlete to manage anxiety, develop coping skills to handle adversity, become self aware, maintain confidence, and acknowledges that the mind is a powerful asset that they can control.

Questions regarding Sport Psychology and Mental Performance?