Multimodal mental training, also known as mental skills training or psychological skills training (PST), involves educating athletes, coaches, and exercisers on the effective use and implementation of psychological techniques and skills that are associated with sporting and exercising excellence. Discussed here are the goals of such interventions; common components of multimodal mental training; and phases commonly involved with multimodal mental training’s planning, delivery, and evaluation.
Goals of Multimodal Mental Training
Multimodal mental training typically adopts an approach that helps athletes and/or coaches to self-regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The normal focus of multimodal mental training is on improving performance and personal well-being. However, there is growing recognition that multimodal mental training can also improve the development of the person as a whole. This more recent, holistic approach is rooted in the positive youth development movement and posits that the mental techniques and skills learned in sport settings also can be applied to other life domains (e.g., school or work environments). Multimodal mental training therefore allows those responsible for the development of young people to fulfill the moral obligations of this role and equips athletes with the skills to successfully navigate various life transitions that are considered a prerequisite for long-lasting sporting success. Indeed, multimodal mental training can likely play a major role in talent development, whether it is to accelerate learning, sustain intrinsic motivation, or cope with difficulties such as injury or deselection.
Components of Multimodal Mental Training Programs
A number of psychological qualities distinguish more successful performers from their less successful counterparts. These include a high level of self-confidence and positive expectations for success, experiencing appropriate emotions and arousal levels, being totally concentrated and focused on the task at hand, feeling in control and viewing difficult situations as a challenge rather than a threat, having positive thoughts and images about performance, and being determined and committed. These psychological qualities can be regulated as appropriate through mental skills (e.g., building or maintaining confidence, attentional and/or arousal control) and mental techniques (e.g., goal setting, imagery, self-talk, and routines) employed to develop those skills.
Different mental techniques have separately been shown to enhance the mental skills associated with greater performance. Implementing a combination of these within the same program helps ensure that the individual needs and preferences of the targeted group are met. It is likely that athletes and coaches will favor certain techniques over others, and this preference may vary within groups of individuals receiving the same intervention. Within a rugby team, for example, the forwards who participate in the scrum might prefer to focus more on techniques to increase their physical activation, whereas the backs might wish to focus on improving their passing and kicking techniques by imagining themselves performing these skills well.
For this reason, multimodal mental training components are usually designed to meet the needs of individuals. Therefore, when implementing multimodal mental training, it is important to consider the physical, technical, logistical, and psychological demands of a specific sport and/or player position, as well as the age, competition level, and previous experiences of the athletes. Athletes and coaches with negative attitudes toward sport psychology (SP) and/or who have had poor previous experiences may be less accepting of a multimodal mental training program delivered by a sport psychologist. However, research shows if athletes believe the program has been tailored to their personal needs and preferences, it is more likely they will buy into what is being taught and adhere to recommendations for its use and implementation.
Phases of Multimodal Mental Training Programs
Multimodal mental training programs are typically divided into assessment, education, acquisition, practice, integration, and review phases. In the assessment phase, the aim is to obtain sufficient information about the intervention athlete or group of athletes to determine (a) what are the aims of the program; (b) which techniques and strategies should be taught; (c) how should the techniques and strategies be taught (e.g., length and frequency of sessions) and by whom (e.g., sport psychologist or coach); (d) when should they be taught (e.g., off-season, competitive season); and (e) in what sequence should they be taught.
Next, individuals are taught the techniques and skills (education). This phase involves learning how to use techniques and skills as well as understanding why they influence performance. Resources are often developed to aid this process such as diaries or worksheets, video clips, websites, and online discussion blogs. Also used are reports of well-known athletes and coaches describing their personal use and experience with the techniques and skills being learned.
Opportunities for athletes to become more proficient in the use of these techniques and skills are then provided by employing structured training methods in a nonevaluative environment (acquisition). Once a certain level of competence and comfort with the technique or skill use has been reached, these are systematically integrated into practice routines and customized to meet individual needs (practice). The next step is to integrate techniques or skills into competitive situations. Finally, it is important to evaluate and update the program to prevent boredom and ensure it continues to be relevant to the group thereby promoting adherence. The review process, although usually ongoing, can be informal, just gaining the impressions of the individuals involved, or formal, whereby objective performance tests, questionnaires, and semi structured interviews are used.
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