Psychology: Key Factors in Sport

Dec 22, 14 Psychology: Key Factors in Sport

This following post is from an info-graph constructed by Ohio University’s Online Master in Coaching Education program. It visualised the ten ways psychology affects athletic performance.

Sports is not just about the thrill or the love for the game—it is about an opportunity for an athlete to discover his limits and push himself further, to challenge himself and excel. Although athletes are arguably different from the rest of us, there are factors that help them make the transition from great to outstanding.

Find out what these factors are and how they contribute to the overall conditioning of the best athletes in the world.

1. Being Aware

The best athletes are aware of their physical, mental and emotional states. From time to time, in the middle of practice or the game itself, an athlete must be able to “check in” and determine his or her level of preparedness and ability to perform. Looking inwards helps create awareness of important changes and modifications that need to be made. Awareness is a critical part of an athlete’s preparation to achieve a peak mental state. At this level, an athlete maintains better control at eliminating distractions and thoughts that have a negative impact on their performance.

2. Maintaining a Routine

There is a reason why athletes perform the same sequence of actions over and over again—to establish a routine. A routine is a way for an individual to develop what is known as muscle memory, which is a series of movements that have become familiar to the individual through repetition and frequent practice. A routine can also build condition responses, in which an athlete is able to perform a movement or action automatically. A routine, whether it is through physical, mental or emotional training, will help eliminate guesswork during an event, such as in a competition.

3. Setting Goals

A goal helps create a sense of direction and anticipation in an athlete and it can also be a good reference point when comparing progress during training. The key to successful performance in sports is being able to set specific and measurable goals that present a challenge, thereby creating a sense of fulfilment with each completion.

4. Visualising

Visualising a challenge or a problem is an important step in problem solving. Visualisation involves making a mental picture of a desired outcome to help in improving focus, confidence and calmness. It also helps identify any potential risks, challenges and negative outcomes so that the athlete is better prepared by either preventing the problem or finding a solution for it.

5. Self-Talk

Although they may have access to some of the best trainers and equipment, sports athletes only have themselves to rely on when the time comes to perform. One of the key factors that help them maintain their focus is self-talk—specifically, instructional self-talk. This type of self-conditioning trains the athlete to instruct himself about the specific steps he has to make to achieve a certain outcome. He could, for example, say something like, “Focus on the target… Breathe slowly… Raise the left elbow…” etc. Doing so helps the athlete work through the routine and motivates him at the same time.

6. Relaxation

Sports athletes utilize different ways to relax. They may, for example, turn to sleep, massages, deep breathing, music and meditation to help them manage stress and fatigue, improve their focus, recharge and visualize.

7. Concentration

Concentration allows a sports athlete to focus on the specific tasks that need to be done, from the starting position they make to their desired end result. The more focused an athlete becomes, the better he will be at doing what he does.

8. Developing Confidence

Sports athletes who have confidence in what they can do are far better at performing at the top of their game than athletes who are fearful, anxious or stressed. Knowing that they can rely on their athletic abilities makes them much more committed and focused, with better control of themselves.

For sports athletes, confidence is developed gradually over the years and is often a combination of many factors, including self-esteem, external support, reinforcement, reward, and perception. In some cases, even some harmless superstitious beliefs can make a difference. Athletes are either extrinsically or intrinsically motivated but either way are more likely to perform at their best.

9. Maintaining Flow Mindset

A flow mindset is a state where an individual attains heightened calmness, focus and confidence. Most athletes call achieving this state as “being in the zone”. Most athletes develop this gradually, then learn how to maintain it for a more successful performance.

10. Control

Control allows sports athletes to maintain balanced emotions and use what excites and triggers them in a positive way. Although they are acutely aware of potentially negative factors that may affect their game, they are able to control how they react and remain committed to their goals.


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