Those who practice sports at a competitive or professional level train hard in order to achieve their goals. They improve their physical condition, their technical skills and the special parameters and requirements of their sport.
And then there comes a competition and after the game as we walk among athletes, coaches and parents, we hear phrases like “I got anxious”, “I wasn’t focused enough”, “I need more determination in my actions”, “I got angry, then I lost it”, “it was like I didn’t want to win” and many more. A bad performance is rarely attributed to a lack of training – although this is often the case! -, but on the contrary low performance is more often perceived by athletes and coaches, as the result of low psychological skills. Psychological and mental skills like focus, attention, self-confidence, positive and mature attitude, resilience to stress, arousal control, control of emotions like anger, frustration, anxiety and more, seem to make the difference when it comes to performance and victory.
However, although we acknowledge the importance that these factors have for our performance, most of the times athletes do not dedicate the time and effort that would help them develop and master these skills. Most of the times, they just wait for the next game/competition, saying “I wasn’t in a good day today”, thus leaving their hopes to luck so that “next time, I will be in good day”.
Luckily, this perspective is wrong! We can control our attitude, concentration, self-confidence, emotional control and arousal. We just haven’t been trained to do this, we haven’t been told how and we haven’t practiced the effective way so far, and that’s why we consider them to be out of our control. Mental skills are not a ‘you have it or you don’t have it’ thing. The truth is that these skills can be taught to the athlete and he/she can learn how to practice them so that when in competition, performance can be the one who suits his/her true abilities.
Of course, the mental skills development process involves hard work and requires the athlete’s consistency. It is training. Training for the mind.
In all the above, the role of the sport psychologist is highly important. Working with a sport psychologist doesn’t mean that the athlete has a problem. The sport psychology consultant is another coach. There is the coach for the technical aspects of the sport, fitness and conditioning coach, nutritionist, physiotherapist and for the development and strengthening of mental skills there is the appropriate coach, the sport psychology expert.
A sports psychology expert can also work with the coach and the parents in order to help them support, guide, give feedback and coach the athlete the most effective way. But the most important figure is the athlete. Through this collaboration with the sport psychologist, the athlete can learn and develop skills like goalsetting, motivation, focus, concentration, attention, resilience, emotional control, self-confidence, coping with pain and others. What is remarkable though, is that these skills don’t just help the athlete in sports, but are capitalized and generalized in all other aspects of his/her life, as in personal, study and work.
So, do you train only your body or you work in a comprehensive way towards your goals?