What is Mental Skills Training?

What is mental skills training (MST)?

Also known as psychological skills training, MST involves the systematic development and application of mental techniques and skills to enhance mental qualities that promote performance and well-being.

A mental technique is a cognitive or practical technique to build mental skills or qualities.  For example: goal-setting, deep breathing, action planning, and cognitive reframing.  Imagery is a mental technique that can be taught to athletes using layered stimulus response training as well as providing support for image generation.

A mental skill enables you to regulate thoughts, feelings, and actions.  For example, staying focused, managing emotions, building confidence, and changing intensity levels.  One of the foundation mental skills is self-awareness.  For more ideas on how to develop self-awareness in athletes, click here.

A mental quality is a positive characteristic displayed by or within an individual.  For example, confidence, self-worth, and resilience.

Why do MST?

Some of the key benefits include:

  • Confidence
  • Resilience
  • Stress management
  • Performance enhancement
  • Well-being
  • Life skills and character development

Who is it for?

Anyone can benefit from MST, but it is typically used in sport to help athletes to maximize their potential and achieve success.  MST has also been used with musicians, combat soldiers, police cadets, and surgeons.  In collaboration with St Basils, we have also been working with young people who are homeless or at risk to develop to develop their mental skills with the My Strengths Training for Life™ programme.

You don’t need to have a mental problem or weakness to work on your mental skills because it can help you to uncover and develop your strengths.

How does it work?

By learning, practicing, and implementing mental techniques, individuals improve their capacity to self-regulate and, in turn, develop positive characteristics that optimizes their performance and well-being.

MST Process 3



Holland, M. J. G., Cooley, S. J., & Cumming, J. (2018). Identifying, measuring, and facilitating psychological skill development. In C. Knight, C. Harwood, & D. Gould (Eds.), Sport Psychology for Young Athletes (p. 43-54). Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge.

Holland, M. J., G., Woodcock, C., Cumming, J., & Duda, J. L. (2010). Important mental qualities and employed mental techniques: The perspective of young elite team sport athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 4.

Woodcock, C., Holland, M. J. G., Duda, J. L., & Cumming, J. (2011). Psychological qualities and techniques relevant to young elite athletes: Significant other perceptions. The Sport Psychologist, 25, 411-443.


About the author: I am a Chartered Psychologist and a Reader in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Birmingham (UK). The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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