Friday, July 3, 2015

Think Before You Act

Fundamentals in sport are the basic knowledge and skills of a specific sport in which players can rely on throughout their playing career.  Certain basketball fundamental skills that are learned would be dribbling, passing, and shooting the ball. Although these skills are important, more basic fundamentals have to be learned and acquired before moving on to the sport-specific fundamentals.  These fundamental skills are mental management skills and motor skills.

Mental Skills
Before focusing on movement, awareness is the first step to learning and that starts in the mind.  It is vital that you learn how to learn by acquiring the knowing what, knowing how to, and knowing when and why.2  “The effective mental management of one’s physical performance involves the fundamental skills of goal setting, focusing/refocusing, imagery/visualization, relaxing/energizing, and self talk.”2

  • Goal Setting- It is important to set realistic short term and long term goals that ultimately reach skill level.
  • Focusing/Refocusing- Focusing on a skill is important so that you can master it.  If you find yourself getting away from doing a skill the right way refocus on your training.
  • Imagery/Visualization- It’s important to imagine yourself performing a tough skill so that you have the necessary confidence to perform the skill.
  • Relaxing/Energizing- It’s important that the appropriate  level of arousal for performance state is learned and regulated.2
  • Self Talk- It’s important to repeatedly remind yourself that you can obtain any one skill.

These mental skills are vital to learning and understanding the physical movements.  

Physical Skills

“Fundamental movement skills should be practiced and mastered before sport-specific skills are introduced.”1  These skills include running, jumping, throwing.  It is also important to introduce the ABC’s of athletics which is agility, balance, coordination, and speed.1  These movement skills are learned at an earlier age and are the groundwork for skill development later on down the road.  According to, it is important that we teach skill based on readiness.  This is basically the crawl before you walk idea.  It isn’t beneficial to teach a young girl or boy to gallop if they haven’t mastered the skip.  

In conclusion, it is typically impossible to learn the physical skill without having the right mental state of mind to learn the skills.  In the midst of athletes being taught the physical, technical, and tactical skills of a sport, the coaches must incorporate and connect the fundamental mental skills simultaneously.

1 Balyi, I. (2001). Sport system building and long-term athlete development in British Columbia. Coaches Report, 8(1), 22-28.
2 Sinclair, G. D., & Sinclair, D. A. (1994). Developing reflective performers by integrating mental management skills with the learning process. Sport Psychologist, 8, 13-13.


  1. I completely agree with you in that the mental game has to be mastered in order to begin progressing with physical skill. Especially with novice learners, these fundamental skills are essential to establishing a platform for skill development. Too much information to quickly will certainly result in cognitive overload. This was a very useful and informative blog.

  2. I wanted to respond to this article because you really got me thinking about the mental skills aspect of training. It really is worth taking the time with your student or young athlete (actually, any age athlete) to talk about what the short and long term goals are, how to focus, refocus, and visualize what you want. Also, I think the self talk is a huge component to success for an athlete AND COACH. This is great. Thank you for offering new ideas for training.