Sport psychology and performance

by frank-stuart

The mind is a curious thing. The way we think can affect so many aspects of our life, including our feelings and behaviours. The mind can help you feel happy, or drag you through the mud. While many people suggest that the mind and body share a 50/50 share in performance, I tend to think that the mind has more of an impact. For example, if I asked you to NOT think of a pink elephant…you’re probably thinking of one right now! Again, I make the point that the mind is a curious thing because while we think we can control our thoughts, sometimes we have no control at all!

So how does the mind help you get the most out of your performance? In the context of this blog, there’ll be references to sport however much of this information can be used in any performance aspect e.g. completing assessments and sitting exams, or being interviewed by an employer.

To get the most of your training or competition, you first need to make the decision that you’re going to “be there”. Think about the times you’ve attended training and not wanted to be there. Generally, your effort would be much less and you’d be more likely to think/focus on other things besides training. It can be helpful to say to yourself that it’s time to “switch on” for certain parts of training, for example while running sprints, but it’s OK to “switch off” on the recovery walk back, as long as you switch back on later.

Your performance can also be enhanced through confidence and self-efficacy (the belief in your abilities to complete a task or perform a skill). Lacking confidence usually results in decreased effort, with common thoughts including “why do I bother?” or “I can’t beat him/her”. Developing confidence comes with strong preparation and focusing on the skills needed to get good results.

When it comes to preparation, athletes tend to forget that they spend more time training than they do competing. Missing sessions, not trying hard, and not improving in your technique affects your preparation, and when you’re not prepared you start to second guess yourself.

To help with preparation i.e. training, you should review your last performance and determine which areas need to be improved. An easy way to do this is to devise a “should, woulda, coulda” list. After a performance you can review, what you “should” have done, what you “would” have changed and what you “could” improve on. These should form your plan for training and allow you to set goals within a certain time, e.g. in the next month, or until the next major competition.

Goal setting is an important tool for the athlete and performer. It helps identify areas you need to improve in as well as giving a direction and purpose for your training. Most people spend little time on properly setting goals and the common mistake is to keep goals in your head. You may have set the goals, but they’ll continue to stay in your head until you take action. Writing your goals and showing other people, such as coaches, teammates or family, can make you feel more accountable to doing them. Those other people can also act as a support and keep you on track to achieving your goals.

Keep an eye out for future blogs, which will go into more details on specific sport psychology skills.

By Ferry Lee – Sport Psychologist at NSWIS 

Ferry Lee is a Sport Psychologist at the NSW Institute of Sport. Having represented Australia in the World Open Karate Tournament, Ferry understands the joys and stresses of high level sport giving him unique insight into athletes aiding his work with national development level to the elite. His personal experiences have enhanced his understanding of how athletes use sport psychology to improve their performance.

It is recommended that further advice be sought from a trained and registered sport psychologist in your area or country when considering whether the discussed sport psychology strategies are useful for you.

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