Four Strategies to Develop Your Mental Game

I remember it like it was only yesterday. It was the 12th of September 2014 and I was competing in the World Drug Free Powerlifting Federation Single Lifts. For my third and final attempt at the squat I stood with 132.5kg on my back and took two short, sharp steps back.

I took one last breath and began a strong descent to about 2 inches below parallel. I bounced back out of the hole with ease, with as much grace as is possible with the equivalent of a baby elephant on you back. I thought I had it until I hit a massive sticking point and it all started to quickly fall apart.

The voices in my head began to despair ‘It’s too heavy’, ‘You haven’t stood up’, ‘Give up’, ‘You’re too weak’. And as if by command I felt two spotters on either side of me bar grab the loaded bar to help me back in towards the rack.

I missed the lift and I felt completely devastated. My upset was made even worse when I looked at a video replay and saw how close I was to successfully completing it. My muscles were strong but my mental game was weak.

Mental coaching, or your mental game, is not just for elite athletes or professionals, it is as important for you and me as it is for them. However for many of us preparing for a competition our mind-set is an underdeveloped or even completely forgotten aspect of our training.

And this would, for the following 6 months, be the core focus of my training.

If you have ever felt like you your head is preventing you from becoming a winner, suffer from slumps, choking, psych-outs, negativity or a lack of confidence or if you perform better in practice than at “crunch time” you must learn how to become mentally tough.

Here are these 4 strategies to help you up your mental game and develop the mindset of a champion.

  1. VISUALISE: Visualisation, also known as mental imagery, is the process of creating a mental image (or intention) for what you want to happen. It makes the future clearer and is the first step toward creating it. Whilst most people have tried some form of visualisation, the sports approach is much deeper and should include physical, kinaesthetic (movement), imagining the entire task playing out at the same speed and with as much positive emotion as possible. Visualising success, on the playing field or the sporting arena, is extremely effective and worth taking time to become skilled at.

  2. LISTEN TO MUSIC: Listening to music is a behavioral strategy that helps to create and control a specific environment. Music has the ability to instantly transform our state of mind by reminding us of a successful memory. Have you ever listened to an upbeat song and felt completely reenergized as a result? Create an uplifting playlist on your music player and listen to it when you need to psyche yourself up. 

  3. FAKE IT 'TILL YOU MAKE IT: Because I believed that I was not going to get the lift, that belief may have led me to alter the strategies I used for physically and mentally preparing myself, as a result I performed way below my best. While I may have had a good chance of succeeding, my belief hindered my performance, and I made this belief become reality. Psychological research shows that the self-fulfilling prophecy works for both negative and positive predictions - the beliefs you hold have an impact on what happens to you. In order for you to succeed at what ever you put your mind to you need a belief so strong in yourself that you can overcome any set back!

  4. MANAGE YOUR INTERNAL DIALOGUE: My greatest weakness on that day was not my physical strength; it was that I believed the inner critic when she said I was weak. Develop self-supporting (or self compassion) affirmations to help you control your thoughts.


Six months after I missed this lift, I successfully completed my best competition, going 6 for 6 in both the squat and deadlift with each final lift being a new personal record.

It is true what they say, our mind will give up before our body does. Your mental game is a crucial part of your training, regardless of level or standard. It all starts with a simple can do attitude. Good luck!

Sarah is a life coach and motivational speaker. As the co-founder of The Better Life Project, a movement dedicated to helping you live happy, healthy, positive and confident lives and with oodles of infectious energy she is super passionate about helping to inspire feel, life and be better. She’s the “go to” life coach for anyone feeling stuck in a rut, lacking in confidence or struggling with low self-esteem or body image. Sarah offers life coaching and mentoring services and works with clients in person in Dublin, Ireland and over Skype around the world.
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