USSA Programs

Sports Psychology


USSA Sport Science has recently unveiled a significant addition to the training model prepared by the Sport Psychology division for use in the coming seasons by both the elite teams, National Development teams, and the camp projects of the National Development System (NDS). Although mental skills training have been a part of the menu of services of the Sport Science since its inception, the performance psychology model has undergone a steady evolution keeping pace with developments in elite and developmental levels of sport preparation. Read on to find out the essential addition to sport psychology for the coming season.


Mental skills are an everyday part of the development and application of athletes in all of the USSA's sports. The importance of learning and applying these skills has been recognized as a critical success factor for performance in Vancouver and Sochi, Russia by all of USSA's coaching staffs. These skills are integral to moving ahead in performance at all levels.


The good news is that many mental strengths, important to superior performance, are skills. They are tools and can be used like the skills of a fine craftsman to perfect a performance. As tools, these skills can be learned and perfected.


Specifically, these skills are:


  1. Arousal Regulation- The ability to control levels of activation or relaxation and how one manages competitive stress.
  2. Self Regulation- Or self confidence manifested as how and what one says to themselves or what instructions one gives to themselves.
  3. Goal Achievement Methods- Or how one plans and guides athletic activities as part of training plans.
  4. Imagery Management Skills- Or how one uses senses to see and rehearse movements and patterns of movement applications.
  5. What Holds Attention- Regarding how one focuses and what is focused on in training and competition and how the ability to concentrate on appropriate cues in the competitive environment is developed and maintained.
  6. Ability to Plan a Performance- What components are needed and how they will be marshaled and then deployed in order to succeed. These tool skills are the building blocks of training and of competition performance control.


The U.S. Ski Team is systematically assessing use levels of these skills at the time a new team member is first named. The USSA then presents all Team members with a skills training protocol so that the skills are thoroughly understood by the athlete and coach. A second assessment is then given and from this a baseline is established for skill refinement over the course of the athlete's career with the U.S. Ski Team.


In the NDS, various topics are addressed in order that racers develop an awareness of the total range of performance psychology topic areas that have an effect on the athletic performance. It is believed that this awareness will act as a motivator for further investigation and application by those athletes truly invested in fulfilling the dream of ascending to the elite levels of the sport.


As described so far this constitutes the basics of mental training components for ski sports. As an athlete ascends the levels of the national team, from a national development program through C and B teams, the team coaching staffs assesses how well the athlete has acquired these, as well as all of the other necessary components of performance skills. This continuous assessment guides the training plan in each area.


Any level of athlete can use this model. Easy steps include:


  1. Assess strengths and weakness in the mental "game" of the racer
  2. Seek knowledge and materials to help with a training program
  3. Make sure the training is as practical and targeted as possible; Failure is assured if the racer does not see relevance to him/herself
  4. Get it out of the "classroom" and onto the hill as quickly as possible.
  5. Make sure the athletes see why you are doing this and what makes it important
  6. Apply, execute
  7. Keep it flexible, fun, and applicable (targeted, relevant)
  8. Measure results
  9. Modify and refine
  10. Execute some more


The 'mental' piece of performance is always there. Communication is a mental aspect of performance and training. Teamwork is a mental aspect of performance as in team harmony or team conflict. Effort is a mental aspect of performance and training. Perseverance is a mental aspect of performance and training as is motivation, as is attribution. The tools described above are a means, not an end. They are however a great place to engage and a good place to start.


How much fun the athlete is having, how much satisfaction they get from training, how well they perceive they are doing are all mental aspects of training. The training environment the coach and parent create has a great deal to do with whether the racer defines his athletic experience favorably or unfavorably. And that is what they come back for, needs that are fulfilled.


This briefly described the first level of mental training efforts at the USSA with the elite preparation program, beginning with rookie team and NDS athletes. There are four additional levels that U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding athletes ascend. These culminate in fully automatic execution at the highest level, five, with levels two through five being the topic for another time.