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  • Writer's pictureMental Gear Closet

Mental Strength Checklist for Athletes

There is a major and unrecognized need for us to normalize preventatively checking on and taking care of our mental health/strength, just as much as we do in other parts of our lives.  Take for example how we’ve normalized:

  • Car preventative maintenance even if our car is running perfectly.

  • Dental cleanings even if we have no cavities or pain.

  • Yearly medical checkups even if not experiencing a single sign of illness.

  • Ski and bike tune ups even if they’re functioning just fine.

Yet when it comes to the strength and health of our mind/brain - that little thing that just so happens to control 100% of our physical body and human functioning in every way - our culture views mental health care as a luxury or weakness.  This needs to change!

You may be left wondering though what to check on or know about yourself to make sure all systems are a go.  After all, our culture has no set process for this when it comes to mental health and strength.  As a licensed therapist with specialized training in sport psychology and almost two decades as a competitive athlete, here is where I’d start:

Mental Strength Checklist for Athletes

  • What are the mental strengths, qualities and/or habits that I believe make a great athlete in my sport?  How would I rate myself in each of these qualities?

  • How do I measure progress or success?  Does this definition actually work for me, or create excess pressure and unrealistic expectations?

  • What is my pre-game/pre-competition mental routine?

  • Is my mental preparation the same or different for low importance versus high importance competitions?

  • What does it look like (how I’m acting), sound like (thoughts in my head) and feel like (sensations in my body) when I’m performing really well?  How about when I’m not?

  • When it comes to activation how would I define: too activated/keyed up, too flat/unmotivated, just right/optimal energy?

  • What coping skills do I have for the following: Poor performance, Stress OUT of sport, Stress IN sport, Injury, Pressure from myself or others, Plateaus?

  • What does recovery - mental and physical - mean to me?  What do I need to add versus maintain within my active recovery system?

  • How well am I able to zoom in (see the here/now, small picture) and out (future, big picture), depending on need and circumstances?

  • How well am I able to shift my attention from internal (how my body feels) to external (the crowd, opponent, weather, etc) depending on need and circumstances?

  • How well am I able to refocus as needed?

  • What helps me emotionally reset when frustrated or defeated versus angry (low) or anxious (high)?

  • How would I rate my mental health if it is defined as: The overall state, health and strength of how my mind works and functions?

  • Who is in my physical AND mental support tribe?  List each person and their roles, including their strengths (aka, when you’d go to them vs. not).

  • When I have a disappointing practice or performance, how long is it helpful for me to be in my negative feelings?  And, at what point should either I or someone else help me shift out of it?

  • When I’m thinking or feeling negatively, how do I want my team (teammates and/or coaches) to respond to me?  When is it helpful versus unhelpful for them to try and pull me out?

  • (If parents are involved)  How involved are my parents, and how do I feel about how they interact with me as an athlete either before, during and/or after competitions and practices?

  • How is my relationship with my coach(s)?  What would I want to change versus maintain?

  • How would I rate my ability to communicate my needs, set boundaries and have conflict conversations (3 different ratings)?

  • Given the scientifically supported immense impact of sleep on performance, memory, mood, emotional regulation, cognitive capacity, etc., how would I rate the consistency and length of my nightly sleep?

  • Given the impact of nutrition and hydration on my energy, mood, focus and health, how would I rate these the quality and quantity of my nutrition?

When you’re ready to prioritize your mental health and strength, I’d love to hear from you OR support you in finding a sport psychologist or therapist in your state.

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