The Missing Link in Training: The Mental Aspects of Performance

In the mid-1980s, sports psychologist Gary Mack and I authored the first edition of The Mental Aspects of Performance. The first M.A.P. was on the market for 12 years. In October 2002, Gary and I decided to create the second edition of the book, but a...


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THREE Control Key: Motivation
Success C: Commitment
Master Skill: Mental Discipline
All great performers have an intense desire – the “internal fire” – to be the best. Their drive, intensity and commitment separate them from the pack. They also have the motivation to keep pursuing regardless of the odds or obstacles. They are people on a mission, with a mindset for excellence. The ability for firefighters and fire officers to stay focused, maintain intensity, and sustain a high commitment level throughout one’s career requires mental discipline. This skill teaches us how to increase self-motivation, follow one’s vision and develop a mindset for success through dedication determination and self-discipline.

FOUR Control Key: Energy
Success C: Composed
Master Skill: Dynamic Relaxation
Although many great performers are highly energized and emotional, they always seem to balance and control themselves. Learning how to control, create, direct and maintain energy and emotions is a key to success.

The ability to stay intense without getting “over tense” requires that firefighters and fire officers have the ability to monitor their stress levels and release unwanted or unproductive tension through deep and dynamic relaxation techniques. Through The M.A.P., firefighters and fire officers will learn both muscle and mind techniques for controlling acute and chronic stress, which is inherent in their roles.

FIVE Control Key: Thought
Success C: Constructive
Master Skill: Self-Instruction Training
Thoughts create emotions and emotions influence performance. Learning how to talk to yourself as a constructive coach rather than a negative critic is a key to getting the job done. Performers with “Can Do” attitudes and positive self-talk are self-enhanced rather than self-defeated. The Self-Instruction Training technique teaches firefighters and fire officers how to talk to themselves in a language their brain will understand and their bodies can translate into action.

SIX Control Key: Image
Success C: Confident
Master Skill: Sensory-Enhancement Education
Whereas the mind responds well to verbal instruction and words, the muscles respond better to visual instruction and images. Winners clearly “see” themselves as successful performers and have positive mental images that provide “mental blueprints” for high performance, particularly under pressure. The Sensory-Enhancement Education technique teaches firefighters and fire officers how to use their imagination and sensory experience to mentally practice and prepare for upcoming performances. It is particularly effective in increasing confidence for physically demanding activities.

SEVEN Control Key: Performance
Success C: Conditioned
Master Skill: Situation-Evaluation Training
Any great coach knows that it’s not the will to excel, but the will to prepare to excel that makes the difference. Learning how to make things happen in practice allows one to let things happen in performance. One has the confidence to go with the flow and “play in the zone.” It is the conscious practice of mental and physical skills that leads to subconscious habits of success and better decisions under performance pressure. The Situation-Evaluation Training technique helps to eliminate the stress of unexpected, unknown or uncertain contingencies facing firefighters and fire officers.

EIGHT Control Key: Self
Success C: Controlled
Master Skill: Positive-Affirmation Training
Confidence is the “emotional knowing” that one is prepared and can handle whatever comes their way. Winners may hate to lose, but they don’t fear it. A high self-esteem and positive regard for one’s capabilities allow peak performers to learn from setbacks and come back committed to giving their best each time. People with a healthy self-concept take responsibility for their actions and are open to learning. They have a self-image that makes them open to success and resistant to stress. Patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving have been learned over time through practice and repetition. Positive-Affirmation Training teaches firefighters and fire officers how to reinforce desired behavior and extinguish unwanted behavior. It is a way of programming the mind and body with positive statements and suggestions to increase success and minimize stress.

Building Mental Muscle – Exploring the “Control Keys”:

The M.A.P. covers many topics relevant to the mental aspects of performing and incorporates aspects of psychology, sociology, group dynamics and organizational behavior into one dynamic and relevant package. It is a combination of concepts and exercises that will help put M.A.P. theory into practice. This starts with a clear understanding of the eight “Control Keys”: