9 Sport psych tips for the win
Which is your contender mentality: Let me see if I can do this…? Or, I am going to do this.
The above is a common question that I discuss with my athletes during a session to spark thought about their behavior under pressure. It is helpful for them to know which mindset they frequently choose: one with question, or one with intention. Not only does the latter help lower anticipatory anxiety, it greatly increases one’s chance of success. So, if you are an athlete that vacillates between owning it and hesitantly awaiting the outcome, start by learning the following terms and applying them for more positive performance results.
1. re·sil·ience or re·sil·ien·cy /rəˈzilyəns/
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
Resilience is the common characteristic that coaches want their athletes to demonstrate. Because, it is not a mistake that sets apart a successful athlete from the others, rather it is the ability to bounce back from the mistake with intention to fix the problem, that forms a winner.
2. Cognitive Relaxation cog·ni·tive /ˈkäɡnədiv/ re·lax·a·tion /rēˌlakˈseiSH(ə)n/
Relating to the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning; used in relation to the act of increasing calmness. Using the mind to calm the system.
The idea of relaxation is nothing new. But what is new to some, is that relaxation works best when you first practice it AWAY from stress, and then apply it under stress.
Success with relaxation methods is unique to the individual. It is best to explore various relaxation techniques, then choose one (or a combination of some) that you find the most helpful. In sessions, we discuss all forms of relaxation to target the most effective method per individual. By mastering cognitive relaxation, you will be able to self-detect on-coming mental tension and release it before it becomes somatic.
3. Visualization vi·su·al·i·za·tion | \ ˌvi-zhə-wə-lə-ˈzā-shən
The formation of mental visual images
Visualization can be experienced through the eyes of the athlete or as a viewer. As an athlete becomes more advanced, they will also “feel” the performance in their mind. Choosing the right technique, and perfecting the process takes time and exploration. There are various ways that an athlete can heighten brain awareness during visualization, for some this is getting motivated “pumped-up,” yet for others it is calming down. You know visualization is working when you can, see it, say it, feel it, and do it. ™
4. Meditation med·i·ta·tion | \ ˌme-də-ˈtā-shən
A combination of thought, focus, reflection, study, and practice.
If an athlete visualizes and rehearses systematic-relaxation techniques, they are technically meditating. But there is an element of meditation known as “non-doing,” that differentiates it from V&R because of the effect that it has on the brain. To engage more of your brain-capability, it is helpful to practice the following 3: visualization, relaxation, and clearing the mind to rid unwanted “extra” thoughts.
5. Stress | ˈstres
Strain put on the system – an environmental demand put on the body from birth until death.
It is unfortunate that in conversation stress is used as a negative term, because it truly is an element one needs to endure for improvement. To experience a stress positive, one needs to understand their threshold for stress, then delicately push this limit with adequate amounts of rest. This enables the mind and body to go through the process of: experience, learning, acceptance, and recovery. This process will in turn, lead to a stronger system.
6. Focus fo·cus | \ ˈfō-kəs
A result of blurring distractions while remaining clear-eyed and mentally connected to a task at hand.
The human brain increases its ability to focus, by repetition and simple step by step instruction. If the brain becomes overwhelmed with too much information, focus becomes difficult. Everyone also has an individual threshold for focus, and this threshold can be increased with the proper stress-rest balance.
7. Anxiety anx·i·ety | \ aŋ-ˈzī-ə-tē
A typical emotion associated with worry; a strong desire with mixed emotions; doubt, fear, or uneasiness.
Contrary to common belief, this term too does not have to be thought of as a negative, and can be used as a positive energy source, if honed correctly.
Quick take away tip: Avoid saying I have anxiety, and instead state I am nervous. This simply clarifies how you feel (pliable, in-the-moment) instead of owning it as trait (a rigid personality characteristic). Understanding situational anxiety (see below) is also helpful; you can use very specific focusing techniques to feel more in control.
NOTE: Even those with severe anxiety, in due time, will benefit from using the state versus trait technique. But as mentioned before, thresholds vary, and our ability to handle stress requires a unique amount of time to lower reactive symptoms.
8. Situational anxiety sit·u·a·tion·al anx·i·ety | \ aŋ-ˈzī-ə-tē
SA is a feeling of anxiousness caused by specific situation or event.
When Aspire athletes deal with specific situations that cause an influx of “nerves,” we create personalized case-studies so they can monitor their progress. First, the athlete tells their story, we pin-point the techniques that will work the best, apply them in practice, and continue to streamline until the anxiety becomes helpful or perceived as a positive. It becomes their positive performance adrenaline, a power source of energy. The situation is no longer the boss, now they are.
9. Confidence con·fi·dence | \ ˈkän-fə-dən(t)s
Faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way
Confidence is a term that is often used, but generally misunderstood. People [coaches, parents, teammates] tell athletes that their problems would be solved if they just “believed in themselves,” and had more confidence. But, confidence is birthed from memorization of many good repetitions. If one has not done enough repetitions to understand a skill, or put in enough mileage to build stamina, believing that one can do it, is actually an advanced and strenuous task. So more impactful than telling an athlete to just be confident, is reminding them before every practice: Do everything required to be ready and then…be confident.