When the term ‘Sport Psychology’ is used, it often leaves an ambiguous expression on people’s faces. We live in an era where science and psychology have reached infinite levels concerning the body and mind. Yet, we seem to be clueless about this term.
Traditionally, India has perceived sports as a hobby and not as a serious career option with ample opportunities (albeit the exception of cricket). There has been progressive though a limited change in recent years and India is making its presence felt in the global arena of international sports and has hosted leagues for Kabbadi, badminton, football, hockey etc.
Similarly, the Indian society is gradually changing to accept that psychological help is not only sought to cure illnesses but also forms an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the intimate mind-body relationship that the field of Sport Psychology often studies.
The impact of the mind on sports:
“Sports are 10% physical and 90% mental.” ~ Yogi Berra, legendary baseball player.
At the age of 13, I participated in my first inter school basketball tournament. Till then, I had played in school, in the neighborhood and in local clubs, but this competition was big and as the captain of the team, I was feeling palpably nervous and anxious. At half – time, the opponents were leading by a huge margin. Perhaps, it was at this point that I had my first encounter with the reality of the above quote. My coach called me in, literally shook my body with his hands and sternly explained to me that it was my business to simply and merely focus on my game, and not let any circumstances overwhelm me. His five-minute simple motivational talk enabled me to relax my mind and significantly improved my performance. Eventually, the game was won.
This minor but meaningful incident in my life, has got me thinking about the impact of mental strength on your performance in sport and exercise. At the age of 13, I had probably not realized that his talk had brought my focus back to the game rather than the opponents score, but as I look back now, I realize the importance of the coach-athlete relationship as well. Most coaches, trainers and parents focus on the physical training of the athlete. Yet, they fail to train the athlete mentally- to make him/her mentally strong!
So what is Sport and Exercise Psychology?
It is the study of how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, exercise, and physical activity.
Professional sports psychologists help athletes cope with severe pressure that comes from competition and face problems such as lack of motivation and focus. Working with athletes to help them recover from injuries and improve performance is another area of sport psychology. Sport psychologists not only worth with elite and professional athletes but also help regular people to learn to enjoy sports and to stick to exercise routines.
The Effects of Psychology on Athletic Performance
Negative psychological factors (E.g.: anxiety or stress) – whether internal or external can cause mental blocks, leading to disturbances s in focus and preparation, poor performance and injuries at times to the athlete. Tactics such as goal setting, visualizations and self-talk can be focused on by coaches and athletes to combat these prevailing effects.
Mental Training techniques:
One step closer towards success, is the visualization of the athlete achieving success itself. Battling the inner voice- ‘I cannot accomplish this’ and silencing this negativity can be done through visualization of success and the practice of self-talk.
The more athletes imagine performing or practicing a task, the easier they find it to complete the task in a competitive scenario.
It is vital for the athlete to be in a state of relaxation; practicing visualization is a form of meditation. Some athletes may find it harder if their minds are constantly running. Listening to soothing music and covering one’s eyes may help the individual.
- Centering or Present thinking:
Learning how to think presently is a significant factor leading to success. For most players, making a free throw in practice sessions is a fairly simple task; but it’s much harder to make one when there are three seconds on the clock and you feel the pressure on yourself. This is because you become self-conscious, coach-conscious, fan-conscious or outcome-conscious, as opposed to task-conscious. The simple task of making the free throws are overtaken by negative thoughts; and your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
Positive self-talk goes hand in hand with visualization with the athlete both hearing and seeing success.
Self-talk is your inner voice, the voice in your mind, which says things that you don’t necessarily say out loud. Mostly, self-talk happens without you realizing it and plays the role of a subtle, yet powerful commentary in the background of your mind. Positive self-talk makes you feel good about yourself and about the things that are going on in your life. It is like having an optimistic voice in your head that always looks on the bright side.
BY MAITHILI BHUPTANI FOR BAYSIDE SPORTS.