The textbook definition of sport psychology is: The study of people and their behavior in a sport and exercise context and the application of this knowledge.
Rather than studying the negative aspects of the human condition, sport psychology turns to the question of what makes one athlete better than another when their physical skills are the same? What is going on in the mind of an elite athlete? How does she prepare herself mentally for competition? Does she use certain mental skills that are common to elite athletes? These are the questions asked by sport psychologists in their research. Their research has discovered that yes there are certain skills that great athletes use and they can be learned and developed by all athletes.
Mental game coaches teach these skills for performance enhancement. The mental game coach is concerned about the skills of performance enhancement and teaching these to athletes. Many of these skills are really common sense things. They are things that we do almost every day. Let’s start by having you close your eyes and think about your best performance in your sport.
Did you see a picture in your mind?
- Were you positive?
- Were you relaxed?
- Did you have a goal?
- How was your concentration?
- What were you feeling?
- Was your mind free of worry?
OK, if you have this picture in your mind, that and the feeling you identified are the state that we seek in sport. Mental coaching can teach us the skills to get our mind into this state of excellence or as some call it “being in the zone”. It’s all based on the idea
that when we can control our thoughts, then we can learn to produce the state of mind that allows us to achieve our best performance. Here are a few questions and thoughts to further clarify the application of sport psychology by the mental game coach:
- How do we know whether it’s my physical skills or my mental skills that I need work on?
- Are my thoughts hindering my performance?
- Think about your practice session-compare it to your performance under game conditions–are you relaxed in practice and tense or tight during the game? Do you think clearly during the game or match? Or do your thoughts wander? What were your thoughts and feelings like when you pictured your best performance?
- There’s a good chance that if you are performing better in practice, then your thoughts are hindering your performance during the game or match.
- When you practice both physical skills and mental skills-performance is improved.
- Learning and practicing mental skills does not happen overnight-it’s going to take some work, but if we use our thoughts right, it can be a lot of fun to practice-we can work on it almost anywhere! For example, I had one of my golf students visualize shooting 62 in his mind while he was between classes at the university. He did this consistently to the point where it began to show up in his actual playing. His scores started to drop into the 60’s as he added this mental skill to his practice.