You can have all the talent in the world, but it takes mental strength to be a champion.

Why is that a volleyball player can serve faultlessly all match and then, when required to serve the ball on match point, miss?

How does a tennis player lose after being two sets up?

How does a footballer miss the winning conversion?

Or, a basketballer miss an important free-throw?

An athlete can spend years of developing and sculpting their body for a perfect physical performance, however, when it comes time to compete something else needs to be trained and repeated – The Brain.
After all, it has the ultimate control over the effectiveness of that body.

Through development, through practice, through more development/practice; and additional training; a perfect physical body is formed.
A simple formula: Improvement – Brain (Success) – Consistency: with the addition of Sport Psychology; training of mind -> Champions are made, and/or success can be achieved.

Psychology has a marked effect on athletes training and performance. Sport Psychology is the study of the psychological and mental factors that influence and are influenced by participation and performance in sport, exercise and physical activity.

Sport Psychology can help with:

  • Performance enhancement
  • Mental skills (goal setting, imagery,…)
  • Anxiety management and relaxation
  • Concentration and mental preparation
  • Arousal management
  • Team building and leadership
  • Post-performance debriefing
  • Injury rehabilitation

Common sports psychology problems seen, include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Distractions
  • Under/Over arousal
  • Injuries
  • Poor motivation
  • Poor team cohesion

Common sports psychology problems can be overcome through psychological skills:

  • Mental Skills including: visualization, concentration, self talk, motivation, relaxation, performance routines, music, pep talks, and goal setting.

1- Concentration: concentration is the ability to maintain attentional focus to relevant environmental cues. Concentration techniques reduce the effects of distractions, focus on task ahead and the ability to rapidly change attentional focus to me the environmental demands.

2- Mental rehearsal (Imagery): Mental rehearsal/visualization/imagery, is when an athlete practices his or her mind the physical skills that the athlete wishes to perform. In this process, there is no visible physical movement, the athlete imagines the performance and rehearses the activity in his or her mind to try to prepare the mind and body for competition.

3- Music/Pep talks: Music forms part of the pre-competition environment for many athletes by evoking a relaxation response. Music’s tempo has an effect on athletes movements.
Up-beat = increase arousal motivational talks, commonly known as pep talks, by a coach, teacher, teammate or parent are popular ways of increasing athletes’ motivation and arousal.

4- Motivation: Motivation is defines as the ”Direction and intensity” of one’s efforts. Motivation is primarily concerne with encouraging others to achieve a goal. It can influence how people feel, act and think. Motivation includes: positive; negative; intrinsic, and extrinsic.

5- Self-talk: Self-talk is a technique used to improve concentration. Self-talk is based on the theory that what people say to themselves has an effect on the way they behave. It includes: positive; negative; technical or insttructional; and neutral talk.

6- Performance routine: Is a routine established by the athlete in order to maintain focus. Many athletes take a moment to perform routines, before closed skills, such as serves and pitches, to increase their concentration. For instance, a basketballer might use the same routine when shooting free-throws such as bouncing the ball a certain number of times before shooting.

7- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques are often used by athletes to calm themselves, thereby decreasing anxiety and controlling over-arousal. Relaxation is the state from uncontrolled tension, anxiety and negative thoughts. It is commonly characterized by feelings and ease, looseness and readiness. It includes: pprogressive muscle relaxation; meditation; focus on breathing and or bio-feedback.

Popular phrases such as ”choking” and ”spitting the dummy” have developed over the years to describe psychological issues of the performance of athletes; let’s look in more details of what they mean theoretically and how they can be dealt with pratically.

1- Choking: Is a process of increasing anxiety due to the perceived importance of an event. Performing badly at a critical time in a match with a high degree of perceived importance is commonly called choking.

2- Sport tantrum ”spitting the dummy”: It means to indulge in a sudden display of anger or frsutration, to lose one’s temper. The phrase is usually used of an adult, and the implication is that the outburst is childish. Usually when the result does not go on athletes way.

Additional topics in relation to sport psychology:

1- Psychology of injury
2- Psychological recovery
3- The debriefing process
4- Goal setting

1- Psycholoy of injury: Several research studies report that psychological factors, especially stress and anxiety, are related to sports injuries. Numerous studies have used imagery, team-building strategies, relaxation techniques and attentional control interventions in order to reduce risk of sport injury with surprisingly positive results.

2- Psychological recovery: Every athlete follows a warm (cool) down routine of some sort armed at removal of ”lactic acid” from the muscles or other such recoveries. A pychological recovery is how atheletes warm down their brains post physical activity. Psychological skills are aimed at controlling emotions and the link between the mental and physical state should never be underestimated.
Psychological recovery includes: relaxation/reflection
training/debriefing

3- Post-performance debriefing: A post-performance debriefing is the process of prividing feedback on performance in a supportive environment. The debriefing process is an opportunity for the exchange of meaningful feedback on the process of the performance as well as the outcome in a supportive environment.

4- Goal setting: Goal setting is a mean by which individuals and teams direct their focus. Goals give a team direction and mental focus, and enable athletes to focus attention on the process of achieving sucess.
Three main types of goals in sport: outcome goals; performance goals; and process goals. Goals are not to be confused with dreams or wishes. Goals need to be realistic and achievable at the performer’s skill level.

In sum, athletes cannot truly rely on physical formation to be successful. Sport psychology is an essential component of long-term sporting success.

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