Sports Psychology, Part 4: Psychological Management Strategies

21 Sep

Mental preparation is an important part of athletic performance.  According to Baechle and Earle in The Psychology of Athletic Preparation and Performance, “Applied sport psychology involves the employment of techniques to gain control over psychological factors, which influence sport performance.  The validation of such techniques is one mission of the scientific discipline of sport psychology.”  There are several strategies that can help athletes and coaches work together to improve athletic performance outcomes.

Goal Setting

Coaches can potentially improve athletic performance by incorporating appropriate goals for their athletes.  Coaches can instill a sense of success, achievement, and self-efficacy through positive and negative reinforcement.  Goal setting involves a process that pursues progressively challenging standards of performance in an attempt to increase the likelihood of perceived success.

  • Process Goals can be achieved under the athlete’s control.  If the athlete puts forth the effort, success is likely.  Weight loss could be considered a process goal.
  • Outcome Goals are those over which the athlete has little control.  Winning a game or race might be an example of an outcome goal.
  • Short-Term Goals are those that, while challenging, are close to the athlete’s present ability level.  They increase confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
  • Long-Term Goals are “big picture” goals, like winning a championship.  Athletes may see more relevance in short-term goals if they understand how they contribute to long-term goals.

Long-term goals and short-term goals are interdependent.  Long-term goals provide a sense of significance for pursuing short-term goals.  The attainment of short-term goals provides a progressive sense of mastery and success that builds self-confidence.  Athletes should define process goals to focus on elements of their performance over which they have control.

Relaxation Techniques are intended to reduce physiological arousal and increase task-relevant focus.  These techniques are critical when attempting to execute complex, difficult-to-learn tasks.  Examples of relaxation techniques are diaphragmatic breathing, muscular relaxation, and visualization.

Diaphragmatic breathing, referred to as belly breathing, focuses the athlete’s thought on breathing to clear the mind.  It requires that attention be directed away from the chest and instead to the abdominal region, as the source of conscious breathing.

Muscular relaxation is accomplished by going through a series of alternate muscular tensing and relaxing phases.  This process can help athletes learn to become aware of somatic (voluntary) tension and thereby control it.

Visualization is a skill in which the athlete uses all the senses to create a mental experience of an athletic performance.  The perspective of the image can be internal (the athlete himself or herself) or external (another person).  Visualization can help an athlete to reinforce a particular behavior or skill.

Coaches and athletes can improve performance and increase the enjoyment of competition by understanding and embracing the mental aspects of performance.  Positive, goal-oriented coaching is a powerful contributor to psychological preparation for sport.  Physical and nutritional preparation should be the foundation on which performance potential is based.  An adequate understanding of the mind-body relationship can help athletes to manage emotion and arousal.

Your thoughts?

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