Do you need a mental performance coach? If you are an elite athlete, someone is going to offer to help you work on the mental side of your game. Someone is also going to offer their representative services, their workouts, their coaching, and so on. No one is going to offer to clean your car (but that is a simple process).

Working on the mental side of your performance and well-being as an athlete is  complicated. For example, how on earth are you supposed to become more confident when you are aren’t even getting playing time? The right kind of help can make this complicated process work out. This post discusses what you are looking for when deciding who to use (and if) when you are going to make an outside investment in your mental game.

How Mental Performance Coaching Works

In the realm of mental performance coaching, there are lots of options. There are coaches, peer coaches, psychologists, counselors, and behavioral analysts. They offer everything from one-on-one sessions, to group meetings, online learning, zoom session, books, and even free content.

Typically, when you begin working with someone, you sign on with them after a first conversation that is a lot of feeling each other out. Is this person a good fit for where I am now? That includes thinking about if they can address the particular problems that you are facing. You also want to think about if this person is a good fit for where you want to go. Then, typically, you agree on a payment plan and you make your first investment.

This fee is an investment towards solving particular problems and towards developing the mental skills linked to those problems. You’ll work with this person either for a set amount of time or until you feel the need to stop, change, or move on.

The second investment is your time. You will likely have to commit to a certain amount of hours with this person and doing their work.

In theory, this is what you want: some help outside of your friends and family, from an expert, who will make you better and solve your problems. For every minute you put in, you’ll get something great back. But as you will read below, it is not the only (or best) way forward.

Problems that Coaches Can (and Can’t) Solve

Mental Performance Coaches can help with a range of issues, including but not limited to, confidence issues, performance anxiety, communication, focus, and overthinking. Coaches offer their support. You get to discuss whatever is bothering you, even if these issues aren’t necessarily visible or acknowledged. One valuable quality of good coaches is their ability to help you uncover your blind spots. That means they see something in you that you didn’t know you needed to fix. Real coaches, giving their face to face time, are often best at this.

Another attribute of great coaches is that they help you take the ideas you talk about into your real life. This is often difficult, but great coaches are storytellers and teachers. They help you learn to understand what you can change and how it might help. Then they let you try it and are there to discuss how it worked or didn’t.  

Whoever you choose to work with and their methods will vary among coaches. The most common methods are discussions, providing exercises or questions designed to trigger self-awareness, and sharing personal anecdotes. The first job of a coach (and your first criteria) is someone who you can go into depth about the problem (or just your life in general) with. You should get along with whoever you work with so that you are comfortable. But that is not necessarily enough. 

Rapport is the first step of the process, but it is not the most useful. The most useful ones are changes that stick and influence your life for the better.

The truly most useful benefit of a coach is simple: can this person help you think or act differently for a consistent amount of time AND are the differences truly good for you?

This is where most people in mental performance coaching, sports psychology, and every related field go wrong. It’s difficult to make changes that are good for another person. A great coach shouldn’t even try to change something unless they know for sure it will help (many do, thinking that they have all the answers… they never do). You yourself also shouldn’t change something about your life unless you are pretty certain it will help.

Isn’t it better to stay the same getting some good results than change and risk bad ones? People in the coaching industry don’t like to talk about that, because if you didn’t need to change you wouldn’t need them. 

Issues in the industry

Maybe you would be better off becoming more emotionally stable, rather than spending another $500 or more on someone to make you more confident (I’ve done this and it didn’t last or make the difference in the end). It is so difficult for someone else to tell you what you need. Especially when that someone hops into your life at a moment where you are down and you decide ‘I need to find some help’. 

So some changes aren’t useful. The other problem is, most changes don’t last. Why doesn’t the learning always stick? Learning that happens in some environment outside the one where you want the intended results, is less likely to last. If you learn in a class, you won’t be as equipped to apply it on a field. Learning that happens in the “real-world” will stick. 

So why even bother with all this mental performance non-sense anyways? If very little of it leads to better outcomes and even less of it lasts, it seems dumb. Here is why: despite all the misguided and short-term solutions, there are 1-2 very real things you could improve on if you began to give it some thought and acted on the best way forward. Those 1-2 things, right now, would have very real consequences for you in 6 months… probably very good ones like having a better bounce back after your next bad game or being a better teammate or not beating yourself up or so on.

Then, you can add 1-2 more great changes in 6 months from now. Then do that every year, that is a change of 2-4 key things. You will reach college or the pros in your sport completely unrecognizable…better than you used to be. 

You could spend lots of money to do this (and lots of time) or you could spend a little money and the same amount of time. The solutions provided by a coach are often temporary or not what you really need. What you learn might not necessarily stick. What you consistently practice on your own is the kind of learning that sticks. 

Exploring Alternatives

My Mental Game is designed for you to bring your mental fitness into the real world of your sport. Here are 3 reasons our program will stick:

  1. It demands that you take the examples to real life as part of each exercise. Because the exercises are available on our website, you can work on your fitness anywhere there is an internet connection. Often, this is in real time when problems or opportunities to grow come up.
  2. It is personalized and independent. What you do is about you and can be discussed with the real people in your life, rather than someone you choose to pay and might not talk to in 5 years. 
  3. It costs less, so there is no pressure to do the work. If you are doing the work it is because you are motivated for the right reasons. This type of intrinsic motivation leads to increase curiosity, which improves learning.

Aside from using a program like ours, here are a few things you can do to improve your mental game without a coach/psychologist/etc.:

  1. Build friendships and a support network. Even for those who are introverted, having quality relationships is critical for learning. The real relationships you have can help you grow and develop as a person because you get real life feedback from real life situations, including having your blindspots seen.
  2. Access quality information through diverse channels, be it other people or daily experiences. Apply quality information into your real life. You don’t have to practice every idea, but one every month makes more difference than endlessly scrolling past ideas you never apply. 
  3. Spend time thinking. You might need to be alone and not distracted (this is scary for extroverts), but some individual reflection on the way things are going goes a long way. 
In Conclusion

If you can afford a coach and believe in their credentials, then consider this option. The big criteria are:

  1. Getting along well.
  2. Making real-life change (that works and lasts).

There are lots of great people out there capable of doing this. If you are speaking with someone and there is any doubt that they meet either of the criteria, hold out for the next option. Besides, working with someone is likely a temporary solution. The more permanent solution is to build better mental fitness into your life, starting with what you do everyday and who you spend time with.

Help doesn’t have to come at a high cost. Growth should be free. If you are struggling and need someone, yes, seek someone out who has expertise. But remember that real life is longer than a set of counseling sessions and there is more to it than being confident. In sports, you need so much more to get past the adversity you will face.