Sports psychology–the study of how psychology influences sports, athletic performance, exercise, and physical activity–isn’t just for professional athletes. All sports enthusiasts–no matter their athletic abilities–can become successful if they train their minds as well as their bodies. There are many reasons an athlete would see a sports psychologist: for improving performance and motivation, learning methods that will enable them to stick to an exercise regimen, discovering how to deal with performance pressure, challenging themselves to remain focused and recover from injuries, and more.
Below are a few popular topics in today’s sports psychology industry and some techniques on how to apply them:
Imagery: How to visualize yourself on the court, field, track, arena, etc.
Techniques: One way to use imagery while exercising or preparing for a game is to use mental images of yourself performing and “see” yourself kicking the football into the net, or if you’re the goalie, blocking the ball from entering into the goal. Imagining plausible situations in your mind increases confidence and sparks motivation. One helpful tip is that if you see yourself falling during a match or a game, instead of continuing on and brushing off the mistake, rewind your visualization, exhale, and run through the imagery until you get the move right.
Motivation: Studying both internal and external motivators. Championship titles, money, and awards are external and the personal desire of achieving a goal is internal
Techniques: Partner up with a teammate or a friend and work together to motivate each other. If your aim is to grow stronger and be able to lift a certain amount of weight, bring a friend to the gym and have them hold you accountable to your training schedule.
Attention Focus: Learning how to ignore distractions (such as a cheering crowd) while playing and focusing on your game
Techniques: When you need to refocus, put your attention towards your breathing, the game, and concentrating on your pace. Take a few deep inhales and exhales and breathe out the cheering fans or other distractions, focusing on the task at hand.
As much as physical abilities are important, attitude also plays a crucial part in determining success, and no one knows this better than Israeli Judo fighter Ori Sasson.
Sasson, who earned a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, wasn’t always sure of his talents and neither were his coaches. He was deeply moved after he won his first Olympic medal.
My dream came true in front of my eyes. I have worked so hard for this. I’ve had so many wins and so many losses and today was my day. I defeated all my fears. Two years ago I was considered a medal candidate in competitions, but I didn’t believe it deep inside. I only started believing in the past couple of weeks and everything fell into place.
Sasson had been an extraordinary athlete for years, but it wasn’t until he adjusted his attitude towards himself that he achieved one of his lifetime dreams. Even his coaches–who recognized that Sasson possessed incredible athletic abilities–weren’t sure he was capable of making it to the Olympics. He was just too insecure about his talent. What led the Israeli athlete to a bronze medal was his attitude. To prepare for the Olympics, the judoka trained with sports psychologist Noam Eyal, who works for the Israel Olympic Committee. Eyal specifically worked with Sasson on mental resilience to better understand how psychology could transform him as an athlete. Whether the sports psychologist had him working on imagery, attention focus, or motivation, it’s clear those tactics played a huge part in Sasson’s win.
Cyclist Chris Froome–who has won the Tour De France numerous times–also partially credits his attitude for his athletic success. He uses keywords like “hunger” and “determination” to propel himself forward during the toughest workouts. “It’s about the body only up to a certain point…“There comes a point that you’re so far into the red and so far over your limit that it turns mental. It’s a mental game,” he said.
Part of an athlete’s success is forgetting about their opponents, working on their personal goals, training to the best of their abilities, maintaining focus, and mentally pushing through their most challenging moments.