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Sports Psychology

Dr. Declan Aherne is a registered sports psychologist with the Irish Sports Council

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Correcting your Negative Thoughts

positive_mindsetInstructions: Negative thoughts tend to be automatic and irrational and by challenging them and re-placing them we can learn to feel more confident in ourselves. In the left hand column below write in any negative thoughts you might have or have had. A negative thought is one that is self-critical or anxiety provoking.

Give this thought a rating on a scale of 1 –10 where 1 = ‘I don’t believe at all’ and 10 = ‘I fully believe’.

In the second column write in the type of error in your thinking that is contained in this negative thought – using the list on the page attached.

In the final column construct a positive alternative statement to the negative thought. This positive thought needs to be carefully worded as a counter statement which you agree with and are willing to believe in.

Once more rate this statement on a scale of 1 to 10 as above. Through constant familiarisation with your typical negative thoughts and changing them into positive alternatives you will gradually develop a consistent positive outlook , no longer engaging in negative thought patterns.

The objective of this exercise is increase your belief ratings for the positive thought column while at the same time seeing a decrease in your belief rating the negative thought column. It is only by constant practice that this skill of positive thinking can be acquired.

You are advised to refer to it on a daily basis until such time as you feel the negative thoughts have been abandoned completely.

Positive Affirmations

In order to promote and maintain a positive negative_thoughtoutlook it is essential that we get into the habit of speaking in a positive manner to ourselves. One helpful means of doing this is by practicing positive affirmations on a daily basis.

A positive affirmation is simply a statement that reflects our most positive and realistic wish and objective going forward. It is saying in words, what it is I want for the future, in terms of my performance and what I am going to do. It leaves no room for ambiguity or uncertainty.

It contains a message which I am willing to commit myself to fully. It is to be rational and attainable and the words used are to be positively construed. An affirmation is to be brief and to the point, personalised and meaningful to the individual who writes it.

You can write your affirmation on a card and place it in your wallet or next to your bed where it can be referred to on a daily basis and repeated at least 20 times per day. Make sure that your affirmation card is kept nicely and in a safe place.

Showing respect for this message of self-affirmation reflects the respect you have for your own self-worth.

Examples of affirmations which you might adapt and expand upon for yourself:

  • I will remain relaxed, calm and composed
  • I am determined to be self-confident
  • Every day I am going to feel physically stronger and fitter
  • I will concentrate more easily from now on
  • I am well able for this
  • Well done on your achievements
  • As I become more and more relaxed I will feel more and more confident in myself
  • I’m going to feel more alert, more wide-awake and more energetic
  • I am as good as the rest
  • I am able to do this
  • I will succeed
  • My Affirmation

Please click here to download our Positivity Adapted PowerPoint Presentation

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6 Week Training Programme


Now that you have been introduced to the broad range of psychological skills required to optimise your playing performance, it is time to get down to practicing these skills. This training programme is no different to any other programme you have used to improve your game in the area of skills, strength, speed, etc. Practice makes perfect, but without practice there can be no change.

By adhering to this 6 week programme you will improve your skills level significantly and you will also have learnt strategies that will be of ongoing benefit to you for the rest of your playing career. You are asked to complete the attached schedule as you proceed through the programme.

The programme outlined has a menu of items to choose from. You may choose to do all or some of the items. This ought to be based on your assessment feedback which identifies areas of weakness or areas you wish to improve on.


  1. Relaxation – PMR or letting go exercise on tape x3 times weekly
  2. Visualisation – following relaxation exercise, see yourself perform skills excellently, 5 minutes daily ( see instructions attached)
  3. Breath awareness – noticing your breath at various times throughout the day
  4. Concentration / focusing – 8 minute bare attention exercise x5 times weekly
  5. Concentration with distractions – incorporate distractions for two minutes of visualisation exercise
  6. Positive Thinking – identify negative thoughts and counteract, 10 minutes daily ( see exercise sheet attached)
  7. Affirmation – Repeat positive mantra 30 ( 3 x10) times daily ( see exercise sheet attached)
  8. Sports journal – Monitor various aspects of your programme ( see Guidelines attached)
  9. Feedback report – complete the day after every match
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‘Involves Total Absorption In The Task At Hand’

You must prepare to concentrate, don’t just expect it to happen.
We prepare at each training session as well as on the day of the match.

You will concentrate most effectively when your focus is specific, relevant and above all under your control.
Specifics for you to focus on are your specific involvement in set piece moves as well as your positive statements for the match.

Concentration loss occurs when you are paying attention to things that are in the future, out of your control and irrelevant to the task at hand.
Typical distractions occur after scoring, thinking of outcome rather than performance and noticing things off the pitch.

Anxiety decreases your concentration ability.
This is one of the reasons why we emphasize the importance of relaxation before and during a match.


  1. Simulation training
    e.g. incorporate likely external distractions into training sessions by having opposition and shouting to distract.
  2. Specific performance goals
    These have been set by you from the start of the season and need to be regularly reviewed.
  3. Have pre-performance routines
    e.g. prior to every set piece, for both backs and forwards.
  4. Have trigger words as cues to concentrate.
    These ought to be one or two words to help you focus.

How to concentrate in Sport

To be practiced at training and to be put into action during matches, in particular at key points in game when concentration can lapse.

  • Focus on what is happening in the present, here and now, not thinking about mistakes that just occurred or what the final result might be
  • Pay attention to your specific task at each point in time in the game
  • Each call for a set move or piece of play to be used as a cue to concentrate, as well as communicating the move
  • Use your positive match statement throughout the game, this stops the intrusion of distracting internal or negative dialogue
  • If you find yourself getting anxious or worried remember to relax and settle – by noticing your breath and letting go
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‘Seeing is Believing’

How It Works
Muscle memory, mental blueprint, mental set.
Your doing it anyway.

Uses Of Imagery

  • Enhancing physical skills : learning , practicing, problem solving.
  • Enhancing perceptual skills : learning , practicing, problem solving.
  • Psychological skills : arousal (over – or under – psyched), stress management, goal setting, self-confidence, concentration, refocusing, self-awareness controlling physiological responses, interpersonal skills, recovery from injury.

Key Considerations

  • Imagery perspective : internal / external – both can be used.
  • To be used in conjunction with physical practice.
  • Imagery ability of sportsperson.
  • Skill level of sportsperson.

Times To Practice Imagery

  • daily practice (before, during and after training)
  • preperformance routine

Methods Of Practicing

  • alone / group
  • cassette / cd
  • journal / logbook


  • Confidence: imagining yourself performing to the best of your ability
  • Specific skills practice : see yourself doing it exactly as you know how to, particularly useful if you are having difficulty, e.g. kicking, passing, throwing, catching, tackling, jumping, scrimmaging
  • Injured: mental practice instead of physical
  • Anxiety: relaxation imagery
  • Arousal: to get psyched up – imagine an animal
  • Teamwork: seeing yourself in match situation and noticing whats going on around you
  • prematch routine

How To Imagine

  • Creative powers
  • Use of all your senses
  • Get into the feel
  • Go with and be open to it
  • Relax

Daily Imagery Training Programme.daily_grid

10 minute sessions daily.

Choose from any number of the following menu of activities:

  • Specific training drills, vary these from session to session.
  • Specific skills e.g. tackling, rucking, mauling, carrying ball.
  • Specific set pieces e.g. lineouts and scrums.Within each session , things to be addressed incl.
  • Always image successful completion of a task.
  • Always be relaxed prior to commencing imagery drills.
  • Notice concentration levels and determination within the image.
  • Image both from inside your own body and as if watching yourself on TV.
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Goal Setting Guidelines

  1. Set specific goals in measurable and behavioural terms
  2. Set difficult but realistic goals
  3. Set short range as well as long range goals
  4. Set process and performance goals as opposed to outcome goals
  5. Set goals for practice as well as for competition
  6. Set positive goals as opposed to negative goals
  7. Identify target dates for attaining goals
  8. Identify goal achieving strategies
  9. Record goals once they have been identified
  10. Provide goals for evaluation feedback
  11. Provide support for goals

Common problems in setting goals:

  1. Setting too many goals too soon
  2. Failing to recognise individual differences
  3. Setting goals that are too general
  4. Failing to modify unrealistic goals
  5. Failing to set process and performance goals
  6. Understanding the time commitment needed to implement a goal setting program
  7. Setting only technique related goals
  8. Failing to create a supportive goal setting atmosphere

Click here to download the “Goal Setting Review” paper.

Click here to download the “Goal Setting Review & Performance Evaluation” paper.

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‘Mindfulness and Sport’ – The key to maximising your performance on the pitch

Key question: In both training and matches where is your attention?

To maximise your performance at any point in the game you need to be fully present to what you are doing. If you are only 90% present then you are only able to contribute 90%. Your goal ought to be 100% present. This is achieved by being aware / focusing on the here and now in all its formats.

  1. Internal awareness – noticing your level of calmness and tension and adjusting as appropriate. Noticing you feet position, your eye contact, hands, communication.
  2. External awareness – noticing what is going on around you that is relevant to what you are doing and to your role and function such as the weather, the wind, the opposition, the ball.
  3. Broad span of attention – prior to decision making, in order to make good decisions, use your peripheral vision to notice what is going on around you on the pitch, things you need to take into account in deciding what to do next.
  4. Narrow span of attention – this is where you hone in on exactly that thing that you have decided to do and all that entails, nothing else matters at that point.

The idea is that at any point in time you can bring yourself more into the present by noticing where your awareness is and ensuring it is based in one or more of the above areas as appropriate.


  1. By learning to be present using mindfulness techniques such as meditation, you are learning how to pay attention to various cues in the here and now. The more you practice these techniques, the more readily able you are to switch into the here and now and maintain your present when required in match situations. 10 minutes daily practice is recommended
  2. For your next training session, specifically check out throughout the session where you attention lies, is it in the here and now or is it wandering off to irrelevant issues past or future. Notice what happens to your performance when you bring yourself back to the here and now. Gauranteed that you will up your performance.
  3. You can do this type of mindfulness awareness at any point in time during your day, whether in training, in the gym, driving a car etc. As you get more used to checking in with your awareness, you will find yourself more comfortable with it and you will begin to see the benefits more and more.

Click here to download the “Playing in the hear and now” document.

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Game Evaluation

Click here to download the “Game Evaluation Form“.

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The 3 C’s – Confidence, Concentration & Calmness


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Sports Psychology Intake Form

Click here to download the “Intake Form“.