Dr. Shweta Suri Midha Assistant Professor (9810964430)
Dr. Saryu Ruhela, Associate Professor (9911109154)
Department of Physical Education
Kamala Nehru College
University of Delhi
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN ATTAINING SPORTS EXPERTISE
One question that has always emerged in our mind is, what is mental preparation and how much of mental preparation is important for the development of an athlete’s performance. The purpose of mental preparation is to create a mindset that lets an individual consistently perform up to their capabilities and talents in competition. When the same question is asked to athletes and coaches that how important the mind is to achieve success in sports, with few exceptions, the response is that the mind is as important as the physical and technical side of sports. They were of the view that the mind is an essential piece of the sport performance puzzle.
Psychological process involves systematic training of mental skills to enhance sports performance. The psychological process focuses on the cognitive-behavioural approach which analyzes the ways in which individual thoughts determine behaviour and their influence on physical activity. It emphasizes the use of psychological skills training (e.g., goal setting, imagery, self-talk) by educating and instructing the athletes on how to use these skills effectively during performance situations This will help an athlete to build a mindset which in turn will allow him to perform in a consistent manner. Each of these psychological processes has a function and they all work together to produce complex human behaviour. It is the athletes own psychological mindset that controls performance.
Top athletes in any sport, are gifted, exceptional in physical condition, technically sound and have the best equipment but on the day of competition what separates the best from those who are close but couldn’t get to the top? All of these factors being equal, it must be what goes on in their minds. The mental side of sport is vastly more important. There are several factors as to why a positive mentality or mental toughness is a huge benefactor to success. Research on elite athletes shows that most successful athletes differ from less successful ones because they have better concentration, higher confidence, more task-oriented thoughts, feelings without distraction, lower anxiety, more composure under pressure, more positive thoughts and images, and more determination or commitment which are related to their mental toughness.
What makes physical conditioning and technical development effective, it is basically organized consistent workouts with a clearly defined progression and structured program which results in optimum physical preparedness for the sport. But not much time and energy is devoted to mental preparation, and certainly not as much as it deserves. It is important that mental training should be treated at the same level as physical and technical training and it should be an integral part of an athlete’s holistic training process. This is best accomplished by a collaborative effort among the coach, the sport psychologist, and the athlete.
Mental toughness is a psychological edge that helps one perform at a high level consistently. Mental toughness is a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in sports. As a broad concept, mental toughness emerged in the context of sports training that allows a person to become a better athlete who is able to cope with difficult training and difficult competitive situation without losing confidence. An elite athlete is able to handle pressure, have self-belief and avoid any lifestyle distractions. They have the urge to win and know that they have all the capabilities to do anything they desire. This separate’s the good athletes from the elite athletes
CHARACTERISTICS OF MENTALLY TOUGH PERFORMER
There are four attributes that make up the belief system of mentally tough performers. The four beliefs are: (1) Having an unshakable self-belief to achieve goals; (2) Having an inner affirmation; (3) Cope with adversity; (4) Belief in desire
Mentally tough athletes develop an unshakable self-belief that they have qualities and abilities greater than opponents. They have a total awareness, a total self-belief, learnt from years of deliberate practice. Research states that it will take a long time for a real belief in an athlete to build. The more the athletes demonstrated their abilities to overcome specific challenges and reach certain targets, the more it raised their self-belief and confidence. The athletes learnt that they could achieve their goals. This belief is built on a very solid foundation; it’s not about hoping and wishing, it’s about knowing as a result of what the athletes have done.
Beliefs and expectations influence performance. It is true that most athletes under-perform in races because of not having that needed unshakable belief in performance. These underperforming athletes haven’t completed the mental component of race training; they don’t believe they will perform well. It is the weight of expectation without complementary training for the brain that undermines many athletes. These athletes lack the self-belief to be a champion.
The mentally tough athlete has an inner affirmation which contributes to his/her belief that success is achievable. These athletes can look at their talents and truly know how they can reach at the highest level of their performance. They believe that when they set their minds to do something they will accomplish it. Negative feelings, irrelevant and irregular patterns of thought lead to disappointing results. Negative feelings hamper the athlete to perform up to expectations but on the other hand inner affirmation helps athletes to think positive and to achieve desirable results.
Cope with Adversity
The mentally tough athlete is able to overcome any obstacle that may come in their way. With experience, athletes learn how to cope with any adverse situation that may cause them to lose focus, confidence or composure. Mentally tough individual always cope better than their opponents with the specific demands of the game.
Belief in desire
The fourth attribute describes how the belief in their desire (hunger) ultimately results in mentally tough performers’ fulfilling their potential. The athlete, who embraces the pressure of competition, had a attitude that he/she will going to win it. The athletes viewed this attribute as having the belief that one can actually be that good, that one can actually achieve their goal and this belief enabled them to truly know what they can realistically achieve.
REASON FOR NEGLECTING PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS IN SPORTS
Lack of Awareness
Though sport psychology has been a field of study for more than 100 years, it has not been a traditional part of training for most sports. The unfortunate, still-alive social stigma is that athlete who seeks mental help is either mentally weak or incompetent. This perception is however inaccurate and can prevent athletes, coaches, and parents to seek the guidance of sports psychologist. So giving counselling on mental preparation is an essential contributor to sports performance that must be developed proactively.
Misconception about Mental Training
There are lots of athletes who do not believe in mental training. Rather, they believe that if they work on the physical and technical aspects of their sports that will be enough to reach their goals. Unlike the physical and technical aspects of sports, the benefits of mental training are not tangible. So athletes neglect the mental aspect of their training.
Not a Part of Athlete’s Daily Routine
Another reason is that mental training is simply not a part of their daily practice regime
Lack of Support from Coaches and Parents
“Mental training is really important”. If coaches and parents continuously remind the athlete about the importance of mental side of the training and make it a part of their daily practice. Athletes will get the benefits of mental training.
Lack of Time
Athletes these days do not have free time between physical conditioning, practice, taking care of their equipment, and video analysis, they are confused in which slot they keep their mental training. Ultimately, it is athlete who has to decide how important is the role of mind to achieve the desired goals, like other aspects of sport. If they truly believe that psychological preparation is essential for athletic success, then the athlete will certainly weave mental training in the very fabric of physical training.
PHASES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILL TRAINING
Psychological skill training is a systematic practice to enhance performance of an individual. It has been noted that psychological factors are the reasons behind performance fluctuation.
The first phase of psychological skill training (PST) is educational because many athletes are generally not familiar and knowledgeable with the fact that mental skills do enhance performance. The phase is suggested to take place in team and individual meetings during the training period. Education phase will enable athletes to recognize and acknowledge the importance of acquiring PST to enhance their performance. To achieve this goal, it is important to ask participants how they view the mental side of sports performance.
It is also essential to let them know that psychological skills can be learned over time. This phase is also the best stage for the teams counselor to perform a needs assessment. The assessment aims to find out which mental skills of the athletes are the most important to develop. Aside from this, the assessment is a helpful tool in determining what mental training tools will be used in developing those skills. This should be conducted so that the athletes know their strengths and weaknesses and the counselor can help them to maximize their efficiency towards success. This is also the stage where strategies are applied to suit the specific needs and abilities of athletes. The primary goal of this phase is to aid the athletes in developing their desired skills. Psychological skills need to be learned and practiced. Expect improvement as an individual develop these skills and refine them over time.
Acquisition phase is used for strategies and techniques needed to learn psychological skills. This is also the stage where strategies are applied to suit the specific needs and abilities of athletes. The primary goal of this phase is to aid the athletes in developing their desired skills. The phase can be conducted during team meetings and training sessions incorporated with the implementation of skill and method. This can also be facilitated through personal practice.
For instance, the counselor can facilitate discussion on positive copying statements to eliminate negative statements under stressful conditions as a way to teach athletes about the development of arousal regulation skills. The counselor can also teach them on how to use positive coping as applied to actual settings. It is important to tailor training programs to meet individual needs. Counsellor can provide general information to the group or team, but be specific when developing an individual’s PST program.
Once the athletes have understood and incorporated their desired skills, they have to move to the next phase. This phase has three primary objectives:
1) To automate skills through over learning,
2) To teach athletes to include and apply psychological skills to real settings and
3) To simulate skills that one wants to apply in actual settings.
The practice phase indicates that mental training tools and skills are only effective when athletes have over learned them. This means that athletes can use these tools and skills automatically without consciously thinking of when and how they will use them.
To achieve this goal, the athlete must use these tools and skills through different ways such as simulations and competitions. Athletes can simulate adverse situation during practice so that he/she can deal with this situation during competition. Through simulation, this phase can assist the athletes in applying mental skills in the game plan while at the same time dealing with challenges.
COMMON PSYCHOLOGICAL PROCESSES TO HELP THE ATHLETE ATTAING SPORTS EXPERTISE
Arousal regulation refers to entering into and maintaining an optimal level of cognitive and physiological activation in order to maximize performance. Excessive level of arousal leads to increased muscular tension, poor decision making, loss of concentration, and disrupted rhythm and co-ordination. Recognizing and controlling the level of arousal is important to maximize athletic achievement. This may include relaxation if one becomes too anxious through methods such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation, or the use of energizing techniques (e.g., listening to music) if one is not alert enough.
Goal setting is the process of systematically planning ways to achieve specific accomplishments within a certain amount of time. Goals should be specific, measurable, difficult but attainable, time-based, written down, and also there should be a combination of short-term and long-term goals. Each long-term goal should also have a series of short-term goals that progress in difficulty. For instance, short-term goals should progress from those that are easy to achieve to those that are more challenging. Goal setting is a widely used as a powerful motivational technique for the enhancement of performance and productivity in sport. Goal setting can improve athlete’s motivation by eliciting commitment, perseverance, dedication and effort. Goals provide focus and direction to one’s activities or actions.
Imagery can be defined as using multiple senses to create or recreate experiences in one’s mind. Vivid images are more likely to be interpreted by the brain as identical to the actual event, which increases the effectiveness of mental practice with imagery. Good imagery, therefore, attempts to create as lifelike image as possible through the use of multiple senses (e.g., sight, smell, HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinesthetic” o “Kinesthetic”kinesthetic), proper timing, perspective, and accurate portrayal of the task. Imagery is an effective tool to enhance performance and psychological states relevant to performance (e.g., confidence). This is a concept commonly used by coaches and athletes the day before an event.
Pre performance Routines
Pre performance routines refer to the actions and behaviours athletes use to prepare for a game or performance. This includes pregame routines, warm up routines, and actions an athlete will regularly do, mentally and physically, before they execute the performance. Frequently, these will incorporate other commonly used techniques, such as imagery or self-talk. Examples would be, dribbling done by basketball players at the foul line, and pre shot routines by golfers or baseball players use prior to a shot or pitch. These routines help to develop consistency and predictability for the player. This allows the muscles and mind to develop better motor control.
Self-talk refers to the thoughts and words athletes and performers say to themselves, usually in their minds. Self-talk phrases (or cues) are used to direct attention towards a particular thing in order to improve focus. Self-confidence of an athlete that is needed to be mentally tough can be maintained through positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk is universally practiced by champions. Self-talk can be broken down into three types; motivational (desire to achieve), mastery based (to enhance confidence), and instructional (reaffirming competition goals, using other mental skills). Using motivational self-talk helped the athletes to maintain and increase their drive to do well. It helped them get psyched up and relaxed for a good performance. When an athlete had mastered self-talk there will be high levels of focus, self-confidence and an ability to cope in difficult situations. They will be able to focus on task relevant factors not task-irrelevant factors..This characteristic of positive self-talk is present in all mentally tough athletes.
Mastering over Confidence
Confidence can be defined as how strongly an individual believe in one’s ability. It is important to believe in one’s ability because if they do not believe that they have the ability to perform, then they will not be able to perform up to their fullest capabilities. Confidence demonstrates faith in one’s ability and their preparation.
Confidence is a deep, lasting, and resilient belief in one’s ability. With confidence, an athlete is able to stay confident even when he/she is not performing well. It keeps athlete positive, motivated, intense, focused, and emotionally in control when required. Confidence also encourages to see difficult situations and tough opponents as challenges to pursue. The greatest disruption to confidence is failure.
There are several ways to master the confidence: the athlete should develop the attitude that demanding situations are challenges to be sought out, athletes should believe that experiencing new challenges is a necessary part of becoming the best athlete, the athletes must be mentally prepared to meet the challenges, they should stay positive and motivated in the face of the difficulties, focus should be on what is to be needed to overcome the challenges, the athlete must accept the fact that they may experience failure when faced with new challenges.
Mastering Concentration Skills
Concentration is essential component of performance. The most important element of concentration is the ability to focus one’s attention on the task at hand and thereby not be disturbed or affected by irrelevant external and internal stimuli. External stimuli may include an audience yelling, music, bad officiating calls, and unsportsmanlike behaviour from opponents. Internal stimuli include distracting body sensations and thoughts and feelings such as “My heart is exploding in my chest”, “I’m really tired, and “Don’t be nervous,” the pain is fierce, My opponents is bigger and better”. While external and internal stimuli appear to be separate categories, they continually affect each other. Almost every external event will evoke thoughts and an emotional shift in the athlete and a corresponding change in the responses of the body. Similarly, a change in one’s thoughts and feelings changes to what one attends and how one attends. Because this interaction occurs all the time, coaches and sport psychologists must train athletes to cope with these changes under pressure situations such as a major competition. Unless concentration skills have been mastered, performance will almost always suffer. Failure to develop or utilize concentration skills has resulted in the downfall of many athletes.
Ironically, trying to concentrate is also not concentrating. Concentration means focusing, not forcing, one’s attention on a task. At times this may be perceived as shielding ourselves from stimuli that might penetrate and disturb our focus of attention. Active shielding by itself would be a distraction. Thus, concentration is the learned skill of not reacting to or being distracted by irrelevant stimuli. Concentration also means being totally in the present. When minds drift into the past or future, then athlete will not be as effective in the ongoing present performance. The ability to concentrate is a skill, and like any other skill it can be developed and improved through practice. We either learn to decrease attention to irrelevant stimuli or increase attention to relevant stimuli.
The above mentioned psychological processes are used by the athletes to improve their mental skills. Like any other skills, these also require practice and athletes should also be encouraged to spend quality time on practicing and developing these skills in their daily training schedule.
Success or failure on the field often depends on mental as well as the other factors. It will certainly take some time, for mental preparation to receive the same attention as its physical and technical counterparts. Now days, sports competitions are becoming tougher, the athletes and coaches has to look for every opportunity to gain the competitive edge that separates success from failure. When the limit of physical conditioning and technique is reached at the highest level, it will be necessary for athletes to mentally prepare themselves to achieve success in sports. Although most athletes do understand that their psychological preparation influences performance but few actively adopt the psychological processes necessary for them to excel in their game. For making any mental skill training effective, it is important that it should be accepted by the athlete as useful tool. To enhance and achieving consistency in performance, the athletes needs to utilize, develop and practice variety of mental skills which is essential for attaining expertise especially in sports.
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