Maximizing Performance: Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is a crucial component of an athlete’s performance. From high school to college, and even beyond, the way an athlete trains and focuses on their mental state impacts their abilities on the field and in the classroom. 

At Signing Day Sports, we want to see everybody be able to achieve their goals. Knowing about how your mind can affect your physiological state has a drastic impact on whether you will experience success in your sport, and in turn, get recruited to play at the next level. 

Today, on The Wire, we will discuss the basics of sports psychology and provide actionable tips and guidelines for prospective student-athletes along with their coaches and parents. Also, discussed will be common barriers to having a positive outlook and the role that “mental toughness” plays in sports. 

Sports psychology defined

Don’t let this bore you too much, but Vincent J. Granito with the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology writes about the history and outlook of sports psychology in a comprehensive encyclopedia entry.

“Sports psychology centers on the psychological dynamics associated with participation in competitive situations,” wrote Granito.

Why should you care about this? 

Well, it’s clear how much of your athletic career is tied up in your psychology. And not just yours, but your teammates’, your coaches’, and your parents’ too. We all know how demanding sports can be, especially for those hoping/expecting to play at the collegiate level. 

For you, your mindset matters more than you might think at this point. In fact, the way we frame situations or dynamics in our minds directly affects the way they play out in real life. 

More relevantly, consider you’re playing a baseball game. You’re at the plate in a closely contested game – full count. The pitch lands outside the strike zone, and you drop your bat and start unstrapping your batting gloves as you begin your walk to first base. Only, the umpire calls it a strike and signals that you’re out. 

This is when your psychology and your mindset matter more than the physical component of the game. One can use this as fuel, or one can implode and use it as an excuse. How can you turn it into a positive?

Techniques for improving mental performance

  • Focus / Concentration
      • Often, external factors to sports come into play in unwanted ways. Things like fan commentary, weather conditions, pressure, negative self-talk, coach input, and countless others can bring our attention away from what matters in the moment. Psychologists encourage athletes to focus and concentrate on each short-term goal that lies in front of you, eventually culminating in the end goal of winning the game, or getting a hit, or running for a touchdown. 
  • Visualization
      • Our confidence in sports is tied heavily to our processing of psychological dynamics and occurrences throughout a game or a practice. If we can imagine, or visualize certain events before they actually play out, there are noted increases not only in confidence levels, but performance levels too. Try creating a live scene in your mind where you have an upcoming game, and imagine the strategies, or the plays you will make, or even what you are sensing in those moments. 
  • Flow
    • In the context of sports, a state of “flow” is when things are happening naturally, outside of your conscious mind. Think of it as letting your instincts take over. This allows the mind to relax, and external factors to take minimal hold over your physical output. Properly utilizing the aforementioned techniques will allow athletes to more easily enter this state and then stay in it longer. 

Mental barriers for sports psychology

  • Lack of self confidence
      • If you doubt your ability to perform, you are likely to develop performance anxiety as a result. Things will snowball from there. Your confidence, as an athlete, is heavily contingent on your self-talk. This goes for verbalized and non-verbalized statements. Treat yourself kindly, and your brain will do the same! 
  • Lack of trust
      • Remember the flow state we mentioned as a constructive trait? Well, if you don’t trust your instincts to allow you to enter that state, this can lead to a myriad of additional issues. On the other hand, there needs to be trust between athlete and coaches, or athlete and parents. Everything’s a two-way street. 
  • Fear of failure / perfectionism
    • A classic. Most, if not all, athletes are guilty of some form of this thinking: “If I mess this thing up, everything’s ruined, and my career is over.” Maybe this falls on the extreme side. But that sentiment is true of many athletes, and it creates an environment in which one is not allowed to fail. In fact, failure is one of the greatest teachers. Embrace failure as a learning mechanism. 

Overall, sports psychology plays a critical role in any athlete’s performance. It’s important to not only understand these concepts but to apply them in your training and day-to-day life as an athlete. From visualization techniques to overcoming your mental barriers, the benefits are clear. 

We’d love to hear from you – how has sports psychology impacted your own performance? Share your experiences with us in the comments below. 

Leave a comment