October 21, 2019

Mental Skills Training in Sport How It Can Improve Your Shot

Regardless of your sport, whether it is recreational or competitive, mental focus and preparation are an important aspect of training. Stadium Program director Eileen Reyes says, "I aim to implement mental training into our programs because having focus and vision are transferrable skills to all sports and in life." In the context of sport, mental skills training can be useful in facilitating successful performances and promoting healthy recovery from both physical and psychological losses and injury.

What is mental skills training?

           Mental skills training refers to the systematic and continual practice of mental and/or psychological skills for the purpose of enhancing one’s performance, increasing enjoyment, and/or achieving greater self-satisfaction. Coaches and athletes can benefit in participating in regularly practiced mental skills training, as it will prepare individuals for high-pressure situations. Mental skills training has the ability to facilitate better performances by teaching athletes techniques to improve focus, attention, and concentration. Specific to basketball, various techniques of mental skills training will produce better statistics of shooting, rebounding, assisting, and blocking opponents.

How can mental skills training improve your free throw percentage?

           At all levels of sport competition, imagery is a mental skill strategy adopted by coaches and athletes alike. Imagery is a cognitive form of mental skills training, and the most significant effects include (but are not limited to), successful execution of skills, and an increase in performance accomplishments. With regard to basketball, imagery can best be used for closed motor skills, such as a free-throw.

What is a closed motor skill?

           Regarding skill classification, sports skills can be defined as open or closed. An open skill involves an environment that is constantly changing, so athletes will have to adapt their movements continually according to the environment (ex. running a defensive play in basketball or making a pass in football). Meanwhile, a closed skill involves a stable and predictable environment that allows athletes to know exactly what to do and when it will occur (ex. making a free-throw in basketball and making a serve in tennis).

How can imagery help your game?

To improve free-throw shooting accuracy, imagery is a mental skills technique that is adopted by many athletes worldwide. The free-throw always occurs in a predictable environment with fixed demands, unlike other basketball skills, such as rebounding and defending, and thus being an ideal situation for imagery rehearsal. Athletes utilizing imagery to improve their free-throw shot often engage in pre-shot behaviours (e.g., deep breath, visual focus on the rim), the feel of the action (e.g., rhythmic arm movement, follow-through, ball release), and a successful outcome (i.e., ball swishing through the net). Using imagery remains a common technique used by athletes to enhance performance through creating vivid, vicarious experiences. Consistent practice of imagery has the ability to improve a players’ free-throw percentage. However, imagery has the potential to be useful in other closed-sport skills, such as a penalty shot in soccer, a serve in a volleyball match, a serve in tennis, etc. To effectively improve your shot, try implementing imagery into your practice regimen by practicing mental rehearsal of a free throw shot by following the steps below:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Visualize the rim
  3. Visualize your form and ideal ball release
  4. Visualize your follow-through
  5. Visualize a successful outcome
  6. Repeat