By Dr David McHugh, Programme Director – MSc in Applied Sport & Exercise Psychology


In the high-stakes world of elite sport, athletes continuously seek ways to augment their physical skills with mental acumen. Psychological Skills Training (PST) is being increasingly recognised as an important element in an athlete’s schedule when preparing for competition. More and more individual athletes and teams are partnering with sports psychologists to integrate PST into their training regimen across a wide spectrum of sports like baseball, football, rugby, basketball, tennis, golf, hurling, Gaelic football, camogie, track and field, among others. In this article, we explore key factors for implementing a successful PST programme and will delve into the PST preparation cycle. 

Key Factors in Implementing a PST programme 

Implementing a PST programme within a team environment requires consideration of several key factors: 

  1. Make it part of the whole package: Integrating PST into an overall athletic development programme ensures that it is embedded into the fabric of the training environment. By using a common language among coaches, strength and conditioning staff, and athletes, PST is better understood and implemented. This holistic approach not only fosters buy-in from the athletes but also enhances the application of psychological skills within the athletic environment. A key question to reflect on is how can we integrate PST within the athlete’s daily processes so that it becomes part of what they do? A way of making PST part of the whole package is for practitioners and organisations to develop a curriculum they want to deliver within the organisation.  
  2. Time: Linked to the previous point on making it part of the whole package, allocating time to PST is important. Key decision makers allocating time for the practitioner to work with athletes, coaches and the team enables a routine to be established where PST is part of what the athlete and team does. From the practitioner’s point of view, it is important they are able to maximise the limited time that might be available to deliver PST.
  3. Team leaders are key: Successful implementation of PST requires the commitment and understanding of team leaders, including captains, coaching staff, and strength and conditioning personnel. They can aid the process by promoting the desired mindset, utilising a common language, and engaging in PST themselves. The buy-in from the manager or head coach is particularly crucial for the success of the sports psychologist’s work.
  4. Skill of the Practitioner: An important aspect for the organisation employing the services of a sport psychologist is the match between the skill of the practitioner and the environment they will be operating within. The organisation needs to be clear on what they are looking for. In a team environment the practitioner being able to work within a multidisicpinary team will be important. If working with individuals the match between the practitioner’s approach and the needs of the individual will be important.  
  5. PST programmes should be monitored: Without consistent monitoring, a PST programme risks becoming undervalued and losing momentum. By establishing measurable goals and tracking specific indicators of progress, PST becomes more impactful. This approach also provides the sports psychologist with valuable data demonstrating the efficacy of their interventions. 

The PST Preparation Cycle 

The PST Preparation Cycle comprises several key elements: 

  1. Goal Setting: A PST programme should be set with a goal in mind. Effective goal-setting encompasses outcome, process, and performance goals, along with regular review of these objectives.
  2. Competition Preparation: Before an athlete goes into a competition it is important, they feel prepared. A PST programme can help the athlete be and feel prepared through understanding sources of confidence, adversity sessions with debriefs, attentional control strategies and what if planning. Developing vivid, controllable imagery skills helps athletes rehearse success. Using all senses and fostering positive emotions in this process enhances the effectiveness of visualisation.If the athlete is part of a team, having clear role definitions, accepting these roles, and taking responsibility for individual tasks can enhance team cohesion and performance.
  3. Competition Performance: Athletes must learn how to handle pressure, maintain composure, and regulate emotions, including identifying their ideal performance state (IP zone). This can be achieved by using pre-performance routines, mid competition routines and self-talk. Self-talk can help facilitate the ability to maintain focus mid-competition through instructional or motivational self-talk.
  4. Review: Every performance is an opportunity for the athlete to learn and improve. An athlete having a debrief process can help them identify new goals for their performance and update their PST programme. A simple and easy to implement debrief process can be  
  • 3 thing I did well?
  • 1 thing I can do better?
  • How can I work on both this week?


Implementing a PST programme to enhance athletic performance requires a clear performance process in which different psychological skills are used at different points of the performance cycle. By integrating PST into the fabric of the training cycle, we can help athletes go beyond physical limits and achieve their full potential, both in sports and life. 

MSc in Applied Sport & Exercise Psychology

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