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Money Smart Athlete Blog

Mental, cognitive and emotional development creates better athletes

Jan 22, 2020 | Athlete Development

By Constantinos Massonos, Contributor

Sports, like everything else in life, is constantly changing and evolving. To ensure progress, athlete development specialists are continually seeking for ways to renew and upgrade their training methods and create better performing athletes. The modern pathway for creating elite level athletes, starts at an early age and requires hours of daily rigorous and demanding training. Developing athletes who will perform at their maximum potential does not only involve building bodies and keeping them in excellent condition but also preparing athletes’ minds the same way. 

The science of Sports Psychology was first introduced at the beginning of the 20th century, drawing on knowledge from different fields related to sports including psychology, to attend to the psychological needs of athletes. Sports psychologists help athletes utilize mental and cognitive strategies and emotional control techniques that can hugely boost their athletic performance.

By developing their mental skills, such as the ability to work under pressure, self-belief, resiliency, motivation, consistency, focus, drive and other areas specific to their sport, athletes can build mental toughness and gain a psychological advantage over their competitors. Learning to utilize mental strategies can also allow athletes to better handle the additional mental stress that comes with high training loads, tough competitions, and their stressful lifestyle and positively affects their ability to return to play after an injury.

Athletes are required to make decisions while they are in a competitive environment, under pressure and with limited resources and information. To make proper decisions under these conditions, athletes depend on their brain, analyzing all the stimuli they are exposed to. The brain uses some core (cognitive) skills, to think, learn, remember, reason, pay attention and to move incoming information into the brain’s knowledge bank so it can retrieve them when needed. Improving their cognitive skills which are specific to their sport, enables athletes to predict and adapt to the outcome of different situations during competition, therefore improving their “game intelligence”.

Another crucial factor for athletes’ performance in a competitive environment is the ability to identify, assess and manage their own emotions as also to sense the emotions of others, to create top performances on demand and be able to build productive relationships with teammates or coaches. Athletes who have built this “emotional muscle” or “emotional intelligence” are often described as mentally tough, emotionally controlled and as having the right psychological disposition and they are able to build the characteristics that are critical to high performance during the heat of competition.

Mental and cognitive skills, as well as emotional intelligence, can vary from one person to another and can be both inherent and developed over time through training. So, even athletes who appear not to be “born with these skills” can definitely cultivate them to improve their ability to perform better and win;  the only thing needed is the motivation to learn and the intention to apply it to the sports environment. 

For more information and a discussion on the development of the athlete’s mental and cognitive skills along with emotional intelligence, you may get in touch with us at