Multimodal Mental Training

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.


  1. Duda, J. L., Cumming, J., & Balaguer, I. (2005). Enhancing athletes’ self regulation, task involvement and self determination via psychological skills training. In D. Hackfort, J. Duda, & R. Lidor (Eds.), Handbook of research in applied sport and exercise psychology: International perspectives (pp. 143–165). Morgantown, WV: FIT.
  2. Holland, M. J., G., Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2010). Important mental qualities and employed mental techniques: The perspective of young elite team sport athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 4, 19–38.
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