By: Nick Newman M.S.
It has long been acknowledged that psychological skills are vital for the success of elite athletes. Unlike bio-motors such as speed and strength where suitable genetics are essential, it is now accepted that athletes are capable to learning the required mental skills through exposure and practice. With this being said, the importance of developing such skills is often placed behind the other elements of a training program. During this two part series I will establish the role and the importance of Sport Psychology. During part one I will discuss the most important aspects of Sport Psychology known as the “Tool Box”. Part two will go into further detail and explain how the elements of the “Tool Box” should be integrated into the periodized training year for a speed/power athlete.
Because it is possible to write an entire book on each element of the Tool Box, I have tried to point out the most important aspects of each tool. The most important tools are below;
Motivation – The training of an elite athlete is hard and very repetitive. Training alone will bring ups and downs and a high level of motivation during this time is essential. Often, motivation is closely related to enjoyment. Athletes who enjoy what they do will strive to improve and will appreciate the hard work which athletic improvement is dependant on. This type of intrinsic motivation will often out last motivation based on times, money or fame.
Goal Setting – Linked to motivation, realistic goal setting can be the make or break of an athletes season. It is great to dream big, but it is more important to set attainable goals that are ever changing and progressive. Outcome goals focused around times or distances should not be the only priority for athletes/ coaches. Process goals are centered on specific elements that make up the overall sport/ event. An example of this might be, improving your block start during a 100m race. Achieving these process goals will often lead to higher performance and are therefore are the most important goals to set.
Arousal Management – Speed/ power sports often involve extremely high intense bursts of activity. Arousal state plays a large role during these sports and has to be effectively managed. It is common for athletes to achieve high arousal states during warm up and then lose their “edge” during a competition. The timing of such emotions has to be practiced as difference athletes achieved optimal arousal states in different ways. Effective breathing strategies and mental imagery are important aspects of arousal management.
Confidence/Self Talk – One of the most important tools in the box. It will often be the difference between a good and a great athlete. An important underlying theme of sports psychology is the notion that you are what you think you are. An elite athlete must believe he/she can successfully achieve the required task. An unfounded belief in ones own ability is more beneficial to performance than a low sense of belief. Believe that you can do it!
Mental Imagery/ Visualization – Creating an athletic experience in your mind has been shown to elicit a similar physiological response to actually performing the image. It is probably the most commonly used “tool” among athletes and can be extremely beneficial to performance. These benefits include improved performance, improved concentration, increased confidence, decreased anxiety, injury coping.
Relaxation – With speed/power athletes spending most of their time in a high intensity environment, the need for relaxation is essential. Imagery and breathing exercises can assist in relaxation practice. Consistent practice of relaxation will aid injury prevention and the recovery process. It is also an important ingredient in successful mental imagery.
The tools within the tool box can all be used on an individual basis. However, they all naturally blend together. In order to maximize the benefit of the tool box, athletics and coaches should understand how and when they should be congruently used. In part two of this blog, I will discuss this is more detail and demonstrate how it works with a sample program.