Sports psychology tactics you can apply to day-to-day life
The discipline of sports psychology has become an integral part of the world of the modern athlete. While natural ability, technique and learnt skill are huge parts of a sport,
the mental aspect of performance is widely acknowledged as being key to achieving the highest levels of sporting excellence. There is a number of essentials in every sports psychologist’s toolkit, techniques that address the core of what it takes to make it as a professional athlete. These techniques, designed to help athletes deal with stress, emotional management and performance anxiety, can equally be applied to other aspects of life. Here are key insights to apply to your everyday life.
The things you say to yourself are a very large part of how you conduct yourself in life. The voice in your head can make all the difference in sinking a putt, nailing a presentation or performing well at work. Researchers at the University of Thessaly found not only that self-talk can improve sports performance, but that different types are better for different situations. For mastering a skill, instructional self-talk, where you mentally remind yourself of
the specifics of a certain technique, is better. But for cases where strength or endurance
are needed, motivational self-talk, where you mentally tell yourself that you can
do it, is a much better option. The most important insight? Having prepared scripts of self-talk for instances when you need to perform is imperative to reaching your full potential.
Mental rehearsal is the act of imagining performing an activity. It is an important part of any high-level athlete’s preparation, and has been shown to dramatically affect performance. By running through any activity mentally – whether it be your tennis serve or your best man’s speech
at your mate’s wedding, you’re actually activating the part of the brain that deals with that activity. And by methodically imagining every possible scenario and your response, you’re priming your brain
for success. But it is still possible to take mental imagery one step further. Dynamic imagery, where you move as you imagine – by pretending to hold a tennis racquet as you imagine serving for instance – further improves rates of success.
The ability to motivate yourself is obviously a huge asset, but psychologists have found that the ability to relax before a big event is as important. Relaxation is an essential part of managing your emotional state – without it, you are much more likely to choke under the pressure of performance. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a useful technique anyone can use to deal with stress and anxiety, whether it be general work stress or ahead of a big event that you need to perform at. Start by tensing the muscles in your toes tightly and releasing them as you exhale, allowing all the stress and tension to flow out of them. Repeat the process, working your way up your body until you have progressively tensed and relaxed all of your muscles.
Surprisingly, sports psychologists don’t often tell their athletes to set a goal of ‘winning’. Why? Because winning itself
is an outcome goal and inherently outside
of the individual athlete’s control; their opponent might be better than them, the conditions might not be right or they may be having an off-day. So if ‘winning’
is not a valid goal, what is? There are two types of goals athletes set: performance goals and process goals.
1. Performance goals are very specific, quantifiable goals that an athlete can reach – run 5 km in a specific time, bowl
at a certain pace or kick a set distance.
2. Process goals are those small steps an athlete can take to achieve performance goals – work on leg strength three days a week or improve your cardio endurance
By breaking goals into measurable parts, you shift focus from something outside of your control to things that are absolutely within your control. Instead of focusing on nailing a pitch or presentation, focus on improving projecting your voice, having
a more confident body posture and making sure that you meet everyone’s eyes during the session.