Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Cognitive Sports Training

With effort and time, everyone can improve their mental game and your mental game is essential to your overall game.

Cognitive Sports Training for Performance Enhancement

Sports can be reduced to two key components: PREPARATION and PERFORMANCE.

Preparation involves both mental and physical preparation
Performance involves both mental and physical performance

An athlete must put time and effort into both physical and psychological development; each building off each other and necessary to complete at high levels. Too often athletes do not devote enough time and training to mental skills, in turn, it is the mind that is to blame. Cognitive Sports Training hones psychological and physical processes, enhancing performance. Listed below are some of the keys we use to help athletes perform at their highest levels.


Athletics are the epitome of Mind-Body unification. An elite athlete must have a skill set which includes both physical and psychological abilities. Athletics develop specific and general skills like coordination, speed, strength, stamina and agility. However, just as important are skills like anticipation, spatial reasoning, visual perception, memory, habitual reactions, and attention. Each sport develops a unique profile of acquired skills and in one way or another involves the nervous system. Understanding which skills are important and how to develop them is integral to athletic success.


Anxiety or nervousness is often one of the factors involved in both successful and unsuccessful performances. The trick is finding the right balance between too much anxiety and not enough. Too much anxiety causes an athlete to lose control, allowing reflexive actions to take over when smart-conscious decisions are needed and conscious worries to take over when non-conscious reflexes are needed. Just as detrimental to performance and similar in consequence is a lack of anxiety or motivation. A lack of anxiety causes athletes to miss opportunities in both practice and performance, making their task more difficult. An athlete must know how to stay optimally motivated during both preparation and performance to reach their full potential.


Successful athletes have incredible control over their minds. Attentional training is employed to attain better control of mental and physical processes, allowing quick conscious and non-conscious actions. In particular, attentional training allows an athlete to modify and exploit the psychological and physiological consequences involved with how our nervous system learns. The nervous system is wholly integrated, and constantly adapting to our behaviors. The more we practice, the greater our control becomes. Continued practice allows an athlete to increase or decrease activation or concentration levels when necessary. For example, top performers have to maintain concentration and execution when faced with stressful or mundane situations (i.e. practice); this is much easier with well-trained attentional skills.


Practice does not have to involve the exact behaviors you are practicing for. Mental rehearsal helps to develop the same neural networks controlling motor movements and cognitive processes. It can teach athletes how control their anxiety levels during intensive performance situations by placing them in similar situations. Mental rehearsal allows an athlete to learn without performing every aspect of the task or actually being in the specific situation. This approach highlights the importance and benefits of “pregame” or “pre-performance” mental and/or physical routines, something to help normalize the situation and put the athlete at ease before performing.


Both successful and unsuccessful athletes have an internal dialogue going on in their heads. The difference between success and failure is often the ratio of positive and negative thoughts. Positive self-talk helps motivate an athlete during both preparation and performance. It is important to monitor this dialogue, striving to increase positive thoughts while decreasing negative ones.


Goal setting is a major component of performance and encourages an athlete to establish specific, measurable and time-targeted objectives. Goal setting provides motivation, attentional focus and guidance. It is best to combine short-term goals with long-term goals; this allows immediate gratification or consequence to help propel an athlete through the rigors of attaining long-term goals.


Regardless of your methods, there is no substitution for practice. The successful athlete must learn to practice like a champion, developing both their physical and mental game.