Thanks to Dr Joann Lukins from Peak Performance Psychology for this article.
Sport psychology is a scientific approach to understanding and enhancing performance in sport. Its focus can be on performance excellence, mental health counselling, and helping athletes to better understand what will assist them to achieve their sporting and health goals.
Regardless of the level of the athlete, from the person just starting out through to the ultra athlete or professional, there are psychological techniques that can be utilised to enhance your experience and performance.
“If you’ve reached a point in your training or competition where you are feeling unmotivated, that’s a clear sign that you would benefit upon re-setting your goals”
The key factor that drives all of our decision-making is ‘why’ we do things. Motivation within sport psychology is a key factor to understanding which activities we choose and our level of effort applied to them. For any level of participant, understanding why you do what you do is a key component to reaching your potential. If you’ve reached a point in your training or competition where you are feeling unmotivated, that’s a clear sign that you would benefit upon re-setting your goals. Goals give us the clear direction to what we want to achieve, so setting realistic, achievable and measurable goals are a great step forward.
Another skill central to performing at your best is being able to keep your mind focused appropriately to the task at hand. Whether you need to plan ahead (you’re in the last kilometre of your fun run and you’re aiming for a PB) or you’re reflecting on the past (last time I played the 8th hole on this course I needed to push the ball a bit further to the left); keeping your mind focused within the most helpful timeframe is a key to sporting success.
“The present is the only place where you have any control. Focusing on what you can do now is a great way to keep your mind clear and attentive”
Most often I find athletes can benefit from paying more attention to the moment at hand. Each year I ask Santa for a crystal ball, magic wand and a time machine. Perhaps this will be the year! Until then, I need to remind myself that no matter how much I wish; I can’t travel back to the past, nor project myself into the future. However, I can make a huge difference with what I do RIGHT NOW. The present is the only place where you have any control. Focusing on what you can do now is a great way to keep your mind clear and attentive.
Athletes may also use other psychological strategies such as:
Visualisation — For confidence, skill acquisition, injury rehabilitation, venue familiarisation
Resilience training — For stepping back from disappointment
Communication skills — To speak effectively with teammates, coaches, and officials
Negative thought conversion — To overcome negative thinking, think more realistically, and think in a more helpful way
Relaxation training — To assist with sleep, performance preparation, managing yourself in big moments in sport and exercise
Segmenting — To develop routines to help with performance. Whether it be a sport specific task (such as taking a free throw in basketball) or more general (such as travelling for your sport)
Emotional training — Focusing upon the emotional states experienced with successful performance, plus developing the skills for accepting the other emotions that are less facilitative of success.
In addition to the sport specific techniques, it’s important to note that athletes are humans too and so experience all of the life events other people do. It can therefore be beneficial to have someone to talk to through life’s challenges. Speaking with a psychologist can help you to articulate your challenges, learn techniques to deal with them and make a plan to move forward.