For many of the parents, officials, athletes, coaches and sometimes just lovers of sports (ex-players) that I meet either in New Jersey or New York, I find that they all have a distorted understanding about what we do in the field of Sport Psychology. So I’m going to clear that up, hopefully, in this post.
Learning from professional coaches, I will keep this simple. From an educational point of view, Sport Psychology deals with three things: The What, The How and The Why.
1) What does the stress response do to you, your muscles, your motion, your coordination, your vision, your focus and your breathing?
The culprit that allows my discipline to exist is your stress response and how it is easily affected by your mind and how immediate and harsh it can be towards any one of those things in the list above if left unchecked. What athlete can afford to lose control of their muscles? Motion? Coordination? Vision? Focus? or Breathing? Do you know what the sum of all those terms equal? PERFORMANCE! So, first up, we tell athletes and coaches what happens to their performance when the stress response is inevitably triggered; it goes from good to worse.
2) How can you control the stress response?
As automatic as the stress response is, it can be controlled by using certain mental and physical behavioral tools that help you to manage your performance towards consistency and peak performing. What we understand is that without mastery of these tools you will never luck into the best you…your best performance. For example, the coach can, through the culture of the program, affect their players stress but can never make the player use that relaxed or wired state to focus in games. That is something that player has to find out for themselves (the sporting world chalks that up as inexperience). One thing that these tools do is help that athlete, for themselves, control their focus and every other aspect of what’s needed for them to perform well.
3) Why does stress affect some athletes differently? especially in intensity?
The simple answer is perception. Your perception is driven by what values you hold dear to you – certain outlooks on life. And since not everyone has the same outlook their stress levels are always specific to them. I believe that because of this truth athletes label someone like me as a therapist. This couldn’t be further from the truth. What is true is that how you think or the thoughts you have impact your stress response…always. It’s important to know your values so that you can effectively begin to manage your performances. Of course this is over-simplistic but generally accurate nonetheless.
There you have it…Sport Psychology in a nutshell. I know that consultants in the field market themselves as people who can increase your performance; I do believe that we can because we have a scientific foundation that gives us that confidence. But it always takes two to tango. If you just walked out of an intense workout with your empty water bottle and I had a jug of Gatorade and promised you that I will fill up your bottle, would you stop the pour because it wasn’t full yet? No, you would wait until it is full.
If a consultant promised you that you will master your performance, do not stop believing you will, until he or she finishes pouring while you act out what is revealed. Never stop the pour when what is promised is fulfillment!
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