The Learning Process
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Mental Training for Athletes

        It is essential that athletes experience immediate feedback for their efforts wherever possible and that there is a high probability for success in each learning phase.  Our thoughts and feelings actually can enhance or inhibit the physical, emotional, and mental processes of our body.

        Mental Training involves the ability to selective retain a permanent memory of data for recall via the conscious processing of thoughts and the autonomic nervous system. Relaxation and visualization should be part of every physical training program.

The pioneering work of medical researcher Hans Selye (Author of “The Stress Of Life”)
on stress established that vital functions such as blood flow and hormonal activities are dramatically influenced by our mental perceptions. Further research has shown that the
balance of body fluids, the assimilation of minerals, and the transport of oxygen and CO2
are all affected by our mental states.

        In most cases, the cause of poor memory is the lack of focus on important information that needs to be memorized and stored as long term memory. Information not deemed to be relevant or vital by the listener is "tuned" out and never processed by the mind's short term memory.

        To effectively interact/communicate in and outside our sphere of comfort, the brain continuously processes large amounts of complex information. The mind will overload if it is unable to prioritize and determine what is the most relevant information at any given time, and store it in for long enough to act on it. This process involves the ability to become attentive, perceptive, and expand the mind's permanent storage capacity.

Sports Psychology
        In the past 50 years, sport psychology has become a popular field of study within the discipline of psychology. In practical terms a sports psychologist uses their psychology skills to assist athletes to enhance their performance. Mental training generally includes goal setting, visualization, mental imagery, self-talk retraining, mind control training, emotion control and methods to establish positive thoughts, images, and emotions to enhance sports performance.

Performance Anxiety
        A common problem experienced by athletes is some degree of anxiety as a competition nears  or during specific times during the competition. What usually occurs is that the athletes make physical and mental mistakes and errors in judgment. Being in the ‘zone’ is the opposite of performance anxiety and can be controlled by any athlete who has the discipline to learn and practice mental skills.

Strengthening Mental Skills
        Mental training involves learning and practicing mental skills that expand the ability to control thoughts, emotions, and performance. There are mental triggers that tend to cause nervousness. As athletes gain competitive experience, they need to identify what those thoughts are. By recognizing these triggers, it is possible to block them out by replacing them with positive images.

Short and Long Term Memory is a cognitive skill
Every minute of our day, in which we are not sleeping, our brain is receiving all sorts of information from the following sources:
  • Visual - light and dark, colors (tints, hues, intensity)
  • Tactual - soft, hard, rough, smooth
  • Olfactory - pleasant, unpleasant aromas
  • Taste - bitter, sour, sweet, pleasant, unpleasant Temperature - conditions ranging from extreme cold to extreme hot
        In our daily lives we depend on our working short term memory to retain information that ranges from 30 seconds to a few hours or a day or two. Eventually our short term memory is forgotten unless we train ourselves to assign a priority of importance to the topic(s) and undertake to take steps to convert the information into permanent or long term memory which can be retrieved as long as decades later.

        It is a normal part of aging to experiencing a decrease memory recall as we age. There is a proactive wait to delay and reduce the effects of aging by the use of memory training. Some individuals, from childhood, struggle to remember names or classroom lecture material. Such occurrences should be investigated for physical causes by a neurologist.

        Remembering forms an original, clear trace in the brain. This initial information is of vital importance because it is more difficulty to change incorrect impressions than to initially store correct impressions in long term memory because of the effort to unlearn before attempting to relearn. 

Connect Learning New Information/concepts to an Established Knowledge Base
        Analyze information/concepts to determine if they are alike or different from related topics. Do you tend to agree or disagree with the conclusion if the information is based on conjecture? Are there any aspects which you can criticize? Analytical thinking encourages the consideration of all aspects in the search for  knowledgeable and as a result recall is significantly improved.

The Principle of Recitation
        Reciting the material, even just once more, significantly increases retention, so try to utilize the technique whenever possible. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a psychologist and researcher, has reported that each additional recitation (after you really know the material) strengthens the mental trace deeper establishing a base for long-term retention. For many people, by the time they achieve bare mastery, there is little time left. As a result they are eager to go on to something else. 

        Recitation can take several forms:

  • Thinking about it - is potentially the least effective because it gives us the least amount of reinforcement.
  • Writing it out - involves muscle movement messages to the brain which are known to increase mental response and recording.
  • Vocalizing - is usually the most effective single technique for review because it employs more of the senses than any other review technique (utilizing both auditory and vocal senses.)

        Reviewing your notes immediately after class by vocal recitation provides an opportunity to consolidate new information and strengthen the neural messages sent to your subconscious brain.

        It is important for learners to assemble the information in note form by categories, and information clusters prior to reciting them. The most effective method is to cover the notes and then recite them aloud. After finishing the recitation, check for accuracy. Attempting to memorize and recite the material word for word is not an effective use of your time and energy. A better choice is to use your own words and explain the material to a friend or fellow student. As you become comfortable in verbalizing the material the retention of the information will improve. More importantly, you will be able to apply the information, not just repeat it.

Allow for individual Differences in Acquiring Knowledge and Skills
       Each student learns at his/her own pace and that depends upon their inherited learning ability. Some individuals acquire knowledge and new skills at a slower pace compared to those who seem to pick up things much faster. Slow or fast learners are able to learn the material equally well, if provided with a stress free opportunity without time restrictions. There is evidence that both the rate of learning and rate of retention can be improved with practice.

The Principle of Neuro-Transmitter Depletion

        The length of time one spends studying or attempting to read for content will, at some point, exceed the time we function efficiency and our retention begins to suffer. Researchers indicate that the average student cannot exceed on the same subject for more than about four consecutive hours, even with short breaks every hour. What occurs is that fatigue, boredom, sometimes slight disorientation may occur. Too much consecutive studying, even if the material being covered is relative simple concepts or an easier subject area for more than four consecutive hours event with 10 minute breaks each hour.

Recommended Reading:

PDF  Tips for Assessing Cognitive Skills for Decision Making Tips for Assessing Cognitive Skills for Decision Making. (Source: MDS Manual). Intent: To record the individual's actual performance in making everyday decisions.

PDF  Functional Assessment of Cognitive Transit Skills  The test was developed based on a Functional Skills List developed by .... does psychological or educational assessments for persons with cognitive disabilities.

What is cognitive vitality?  The continuously process large amounts of complex information.

The Process of Learning



The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

    Mental Training for Athletes:

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The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
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