9 Cognitive Skills Necessary for Success

I am going to be updating this blog with wellness related entries. I'll be writing about, wellness, fitness, nutrition, professional sports, etc. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to me write about a topic you are interested in and need to know more about. This first entry is about how cognitive skills that professional athletes develop relate to our everyday life and how we can use similar skills to be successful and achieve our goals. Comments are appreciated!


Kamy Bruder on Reunion Island with childhood friend Sasha

What professional athletes have in common is that their sport is important to them and they’re committed to being the best that they can be within the scope of their limitations. Assessing and working around those limitations is key. They set high, realistic goals for themselves and train and play hard. They are successful because they are pursuing their goals all while enjoying their sport.

When you are an elite athlete, or one of the best in the world, the physical differences between you and your competitors are very, very small. Everyone is talented, everyone trains hard and does the work. So what really determines success? The way athletes are approaching their sport at the cognitive level is what determines success.

We can look at 9 specific mental skills that contribute to success in sports. They are all learned and can be improved with instruction and practice, but they can also be used to achieve success in our everyday life.

There are 3 categories, and 9 skills I want to look at:

. Basic mental skills (long term development):

1. Attitude  2. Self motivation  3. Realistic goals  4. People skills

. Preparatory mental skills (immediate before performance):

5. Positive self talk  6. Mental imagery

Performance mental skills (used during performance):

7. Anxiety management  8. Emotional management  9. Concentration

These nine mental skills are necessary for performing well in sport as well as in non-sport performance situations. I believe these skills are learned and can be improved through instruction and practice. Let’s take a deeper look at these skills, first at how an athlete uses them for success in competition, then how we can use them in our everyday life to achieve our goals.

1. Attitude: A successful athlete realizes that attitude is a choice, therefore chooses an attitude that is predominately positive. Athletes view their sport as an opportunity to compete against themselves and learn from their successes and failures, all while pursuing excellence, not perfection necessarily. This is something we can apply to our everyday life as well.

2. Motivation: Athletes are aware of the rewards and benefits that they expect to experience through their sports participation and therefore are able to persist through difficult tasks and difficult times, even when these rewards and benefits are not immediately forthcoming. It is important to realize that many of the benefits come from participation, not the immediate outcome. Think of this for yourself, and what you are currently going through in your life.

3. Goals and Commitment: An athlete sets short-term and long-term goals that are realistic, measurable, and time-oriented. Awareness of your current performance levels and having the tools to develop a detailed plan for attaining your goals, while being highly committed to those goals and to carrying out the daily demands of your program is key to success. See how this applies to your life, do you have goals and a detailed plan to achieve those goals?

4. People Skills: Athletes realize that they are part of a larger system that includes their families, friends, teammates, coaches, and others. When appropriate, one communicates their thoughts, feelings, and needs to these people and listen to them as well. Learning effective skills for dealing with conflict, difficult opponents, and other people when they are negative or oppositional is a defining factor to success as well. This couldn’t be any truer for everyday life as well.

5. Self-Talk: Athletes maintain their self-confidence during difficult times with realistic, positive self-talk. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your own best friend. Use self-talk to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors during the day.

6. Mental Imagery: Athletes prepare themselves for competition by imagining themselves performing well in competition. You too can create and use mental images that are detailed, specific, and realistic. Use imagery to prepare for action and recover from errors and poor performances.

7. Dealing Effectively with Anxiety: Athletes accept anxiety as part of their sport and they realize that some degree of anxiety can help them perform well. In life, practice reducing anxiety when it becomes too strong, without losing your sense of direction. We can do this through reading, activity, meditation, etc.

8. Dealing Effectively with Emotions: Athletes accept strong emotions such as excitement, anger, and disappointment as part of the sport experience, and are able to use these emotions to improve, rather than interfere with high level performance. Emotions are part of life, and accepting and working through these emotions is key.

9. Concentration: Athletes know what they must pay attention to during each game or sport situation. They have learned how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether those distractions come from the environment or from within themselves. Here, we work on regaining focus when concentration is lost. The hardest thing to do in our life is to focus on the “here-and- now”, without regard to either past or anticipated future events. We can practice concentration through self awareness.

© Kamy Bruder 2014

ref: Ohio Center for Sports Psychology.