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Sports Psychology is about improving athletes’ attitudes and mental game skills to help them perform at best by identifying limiting beliefs and embracing a healthier philosophy about sport.
Sports psychology may not be appropriate for every athlete. Not every person who plays a sport wants to improve performance. Sports psychology is probably not for recreation athletes who participate in a sport’s social component or do not spend time working on technique or fitness to improve performance. Young athletes whose parents want them to see a sports psychologist are not good candidates either. The athlete must desire to improve his or her mental game without satisfying a parent. Similarly, an athlete who sees a mental game expert only to satisfy a coach is not going to benefit from mental training fully.
Sports psychology strategies we can implement as a strength and conditioning coach.
A study from Perry et al. (2017) suggested that mindfulness may prevent performance deterioration and produce psychological benefits after a brief training session. Although self-talk is a useful performance enhancement tool, accessing athletes’ ongoing inner experiences, including self-talk, has proven difficult. Some of the strategies we have used as an S&C coach are to improve focus and deal with distractions, grow confidence in athletes who have doubts, develop coping skills to deal with setbacks and errors, finding the right zone of intensity zone for sport, and develop confidence post-injury.
Improve focus and deal with distractions.
Many athletes can concentrate, but often their focus is displaced on the wrong areas, such as when a batsman thinks, “I need to get a hit” while in the batsman’s mind, which is a result-oriented focus. Much of our programming and coaching focused on the present moment and let go of results.
Grow confidence in athletes who have doubts.
Doubt is the opposite of confidence if an athlete maintains many doubts before or during the performance, which indicates low self-confidence, or at least the athlete is sabotaging what confidence had at the start of the competition. Confidence is what we call a core mental game skill because of its importance and relationship to other mental skills. We use progressive loading during strength training to teach self-confidence. Providing specific intensity goals and adjusting as athlete progress has shown to improve the confidence in athletes.
Develop coping skills to deal with setbacks and errors.
Emotional control is a prerequisite to getting into the zone. Athletes with very high and strict expectations have trouble dealing with minor errors that are a natural part of sports. It’s essential to address these expectations and help athletes stay composed under pressure, commit mistakes, or become frustrated. We keep SMART goals in mind throughout the periodization. We use mixed modal workouts to push the athlete beyond the threshold using. We often set goals little over the athlete’s capacity to experience the undesirable outcome and use the opportunity to teach control over emotions.
Find the right zone of intensity for your sport.
We use intensity in a broad sense to identify the level of arousal or mental activation that is necessary to perform best. This will vary from person to person and from sport to sport. Feeling “up” and positively charged is critical, but not getting overly excited is also important. You have to tread a fine line between being excited to complete but not getting over-excited. We often use interval training to train in a sports-specific intensity zone.
Develop confidence post-injury.
Some athletes find themselves fully prepared physically to get back into competition and practice, but mentally some scars remain. Injury can hurt confidence, generate doubt during the competition, and cause a lack of focus. We help athletes mentally heal from injuries and deal with the fear of re-injury using progressive loading program design.
Bompa, T. O., & Buzzichelli, C. (2019). Periodization: Theory and methodology of training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
Dickens, Y. L., Raalte, J. V., & Hurlburt, R. T. (2018). On Investigating Self-Talk: A
Descriptive Experience Sampling Study of Inner Experience During Golf Performance. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1), 66–73.
Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Human Kinetics.
Nicholls, A. R., & Jones, L. (2013). Psychology in Sports Coaching: Theory and Practice. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 8(1), 255–257.
Perry, J. E., Ross, M., Weinstock, J., & Weaver, T. (2017). Efficacy of a Brief Mindfulness Intervention to Prevent Athletic Task Performance Deterioration: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Sport Psychologist, 31(4), 410–421.
Smith, D. J. (2003). A Framework for Understanding the Training Process Leading to Elite Performance. Sports Medicine, 33(15), 1103–1126.