With so much known about how to properly train the body, increased focus on the importance of mental strength and conditioning is only natural as athletes and coaches seek the next frontier for competitive advantage. In an episode of SCI TV, Matt Belair discuss “Above the Neck” sports performance. Belair, a sport psychology & mental strength coach, explains the importance of mental strength in achieving peak performance. He highlights the key elements athletes should use for optimum performance when it matters most.

Key Elements for Mental Strength 

Over the years, Belair has identified key elements for optimizing mental strength. The first main element is mental preparation and practice. Throughout an average day there are many opportunities to be consumed by stresses and pressures to succeed, whether it be at school, work or leading up to athletic competition. It is important to have the ability to relax your mind and visualize what you want.

“The key to everything is to relax your mind. So that’s where meditation can be very useful,” Belair said.

The next step is to pinpoint your internal dialogue; what you are telling yourself. This is where you should identify your perspective and any negativity that might be discouraging or hindering your ability to perform at your best. A wrong or negative perspective can lead to mentally spiraling out of control.

“The biggest thing for any athlete is to learn to master your perspective; what you’re thinking about,” Belair said. “It is very important to take that perspective from the negative of what could go wrong to exactly what you want to happen and focus there.”

The third element that Belair acknowledged as one of the most important is understanding “your own self worth, your self confidence and your belief in yourself.” This step is significant in altering your mindset and, as Belair explains, when you can come to that connection within yourself, then you can express yourself in your sport honestly and to your highest potential.

“What is it that you believe about your ability to be number one? That is the first thing we look at to figure out how much you believe that you have the capacity to win,” Belair said. “And then the next steps are to implementing the right mental programing, including visualization, dieting, training regimen, what your going to say to yourself and what your going to do for recovery.”

What is the Best Mindset?

Mental preparation requires the development of your mindset to prepare you for any given situation. It is important to put yourself in both positive and negative situations mentally. This will help you determine your mindset, or what you want to accomplish, so that when a situation arises you already know how to react.

“Putting yourself there mentally before it happens gives you a very string ability to prepare for that, because that is where that mental game kicks in,” Belair said.

In some situations, you also want to prepare your mind to compete, not against others, but against yourself.

“The goal is the achieve your best,” Belair said. “It is very important to compete against your self, and get the best performance out of yourself that you can and you can use competition as a catalyst to improve that.”

When to Start Mental Training?

Building mental strength is a process that can take some time, which is why Belair recommends that athletes begin mental training as early as possible.

“It should start at the youngest age for everybody. We put some much importance on the physical, but really 99% of sport is mental. All of the lessons that you learn from the mental game, that’s stuff that you can apply everywhere.”

Belair also points out that mental training can benefit all aspects of your life, no just as an athlete.

“Learning each of the tools of visualization, dedication, fitness, nutrition and meditation, you can apply that to daily life, your business, financially, and how you feel about yourself,” Belair said. “My hope is to bring it more into the forefront, where mental training is just like physical training and I hope that those two worlds meet as quickly as possible.”