Sports psychology experts often talk about the importance of learning mental toughness to improve your performance. However, my 15 years of teaching the mental game to students makes me think that understanding mental toughness skills is not the whole enchilada. To be successful with mental toughness training, athletes must learn how to apply it.

You can be taught to improve concentration and focus all day long. You may understand the information and concepts by hearing it or reading about it (see “The Focused Athlete” at However, until you actually are able to put the focusing skills into practice and competition, you can’t make any progress and *really* learn mental toughness.

If you're serious about getting the most from what you've learned, then you must be sure to apply consistently the mental skills you understand on a conceptual level. This is the biggest challenge in my work – helping athletes apply the concepts.

Take confidence, for example. Teaching athletes and coaches strategies to enhance confidence (such as how to fight doubt) and how to put it into action is the first step. Until athletes actually implement, practice, and add these techniques into their routines, you won't see improvement.

The biggest challenge is the commitment to work on mental toughness daily over weeks, months, and even years. It’s easy to pick up a book on mental training and then forget about the strategies one week later. The key is to apply your new mental toughness strategies to practice and competition on a daily basis.

This is similar to the skill of visualization (seeing what you *want* to happen). When an athlete visualizes her performance, she can see it in her mind, but can she truly believe it and feel it?

Visualization can be just wishful thinking on the part of the athletes. If you don’t believe in the images you create in your mind and have complete control over those mental images, it just will not be effective.

I asked one of my golf students if she visualizes each shot before she executes. Her reply, “Oh no! I stopped visualizing my shots because I would only see a bad shot in my mind before I hit it.” Is this athlete really using visualization the way it was intended?

The best athletes truly feel, sense, and believe in what they see in their minds *and* have total control over the images when they use visualization. When you can join your mental pictures with true confidence, then you have power to change your performance by just using your mind.

Author's Bio: 

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Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach who works with professional and amateur athletes, sports parents, and teams of all levels.