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Essay/Term paper: Applying psychological thinking to sports

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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"Sports is by far one of the fastest growing pass times in the United
States" (Rainer 1987). Even if people don't take it to the professional
level, sporting events are happening in our backyards, and at all of our
local schools around the country. With the growing popularity and the
increasing competitiveness of the sports, it will take more than just a
physical advantage to compete at the highest level. This is where the
psychology of sports comes into play. In my research I will cover different
areas in which you can psychologically strengthen you mental and physical
skills to become a more skilled and competitive athlete.
Goal setting is a hugely powerful technique that can yield strong returns
in all areas of you life. At its simplest level the process of setting goals
and targets allows you to choose where you want to go in life. By knowing
what you want to achieve, you know what you have to concentrate on and
improve, and what is merely a distraction. Goal setting gives you long-term
vision, and short-term motivation. By setting goals you can achieve more,
improve performance, improve the quality of you training, increase your
motivation to achieve, increase your pride and satisfaction in your
performance, and improve your self-confidence (Bull, 1983).
Research (Bull, 1983) has shown that people who use goal-setting
effectively suffer less from stress and anxiety, concentrate better, show
more self-confidence, perform better, and are happier with their performance.
The way in which you set your goals strongly affects their effectiveness.
Before you start to set goals, you should have set the background of goal
setting by understanding your commitment to sports, understanding the level
you want to reach within the sport, knowing the skills that will have to be
acquired and the levels of performance that will be needed, and know where
this will fit into your overall life goals. The following broad guidelines
apply to setting effective goals. Positive statements, be precise, set
priorities, write goals down to avoid confusion and give them more force, and
keep operational goals small (Rainer, 1987).
"Your body is a beautifully evolved sporting machine, comprising, among
other things, muscles that can be trained to a peak of fitness and nerves
that control the muscles" (Morris 1992). The nerves are massively linked in
your brain: vast numbers of nerve cells are linked with a hugely greater
number of interconnections. Many of the pathways, however, lie within the
brain. These pathways can be effectively trained by the use of mental
techniques such as imagery and simulation.
Imagery is the process by which you can create, modify or strengthen
pathways important to the co-ordination of your muscles, by training purely
within your mind. Imagery rests on the important principle that you can
exercise these parts of you brain with imputes from our imagination rather
than from your sences: the parts of the brain that you train with imagery
experience imagined and real inputs similarly, with the real inputs being
merely more vividly experienced (Rainer 1987).
Simulation is similar to imagery in that it seeks to improve the quality
of training by teaching your brain to cope with circumstances that would not
be otherwise met until an important competition was reached. Simulation,
however, is carried out by making your physical training circumstances as
similar as possible to the "real thing"-for example by bringing in crowds of
spectators, by having performances judged, or by inviting press to a training
session (Rainer 1987).
Deciding your Commitment to your sport is possibly the most important
"Sports Psychology" decision you will make. It is important to realize that
excellence demands complete dedication: if you want to be the top athlete,
then training to be the top athlete must be the most important thing in you
life (Orlick 1994).
Self-Confidence is arguably one of the most important things you can
have. Self-confidence reflects your assessment of you own self-worth. It
will play a large part in determining your happiness through life. Sports
can be both enormously effective in improving self-worth, and highly
destructive in damaging it (Orlick 1994). Imigery, positive thinking, and
goal setting can dramatically help in ones own self-confidence.
You can help yourself to routinely apply sports psychology techniques by
getting into the habit of using a Training and Performance Diary before and
after every training session and performance. Take a diary that has a full
page for every day. Block each page into sections for Entries before the
Session: goals, and Entries after the Session: achievements, errors, quality
of session, and mindset. Keeping this diary has the following advantages: it
focuses your attention before a session on what you need to achieve. It
helps you to track the achievement of goals. It helps you to isolate areas
needing improvement. It give you the raw data you need to track improvement
over. It helps you to see and analyze how mood, distraction, and stress
relate to performance (Orlick 1994).
Part of Mental Preparation for competition is ensuring that you start
your performance in a state of flow. Many high level athletes do this by
developing routines that help them to focus their minds and block out
distractions. These may involve complex and detailed rituals that involve
preparation, detailed dressing rules, or precisely executed warm-ups. You
can perform best in competition if you remember the following pointers.
Enjoy the performance. Execute, analyze, and improve skills in practice, and
if you make a mistake during performance, forget about it and focus on
executing (Morris 1992).
One thing to watch out for as you get better at a sport is loss of Focus.
This can happen for two main reasons. As your reaction becomes automatic,
they hold your attention less. And the other reason is because as you get
better, you may find that you are not as challenged by other competitors.
You may find that these focus problems have their root in goal setting: if
you are setting outcome goals such as "coming first", then this will not be
challenging if you win easily (Orlick 1994).
Bad Moods damage your motivation to succeed in training or competition. They
make you more prone to negative thinking, and cause distraction, often as you
trigger bad moods in other people. Bad moods emerge as bad temper,
unhappiness, lethargy and sluggishness. If you are in a good mood, then even
dull training can be enjoyable. Your mood is completely under your control.
You can improve you mood in the following ways: through positive thinking and
suggestion, by treating each element of a performance individually, by using
imagery, by reviewing your goals to remotivate yourself, and by smiling
(Orlick 1994).
Distraction is damaging to you performance because it interferes with
your ability to focus and disrupts flow. It interferes with the attention
that you need to apply to maintain good technique. This causes stress and
consumes mental energy that is better applied somewhere else. "Distraction
can come from a number of sources, both internal and external" (Rainer 1987),
such as: the presence of loved ones you want to impress, family or
relationship problems, media, teammates and other competitors, coaches who do
not know when to keep quiet, frustration at mistakes, unjust criticism, poor
refereeing decisions, or changes in familiar patterns.
What is worth remembering is that when you are distracted, lose
concentration, and make a mistake, you have not lost your skills. You have
just lost your focus. The following points help to deal with distractions.
Your reaction to distractions is controllable, think positive, prepare for
distractions, expect distractions, learn how to change bad moods to good
moods, sleep and rest more before big events (Bull 1983).
Too much Stress and Anxiety can seriously affect your ability to focus on
your skills and low in a performance. It is important that you recognize you
are responsible for your own stress levels. Very often they are a product of
the way you think. Always be aware that others may be out to manipulate your
stress levels.
A certain level of Stress is needed for optimal performance. If you are
under too little stress then you will find it difficult to motivate yourself
to give a good performance. Too little stress expresses itself in feelings
of boredom and not being stretched. At an optimum level of stress you will
get the benefits of alertness and activation that a good level of stress
brings. Excessive levels of stress damage performance and damage your
enjoyment of the sport.
When you are in a competitive environment or are in an environment in which
you are being evaluated, Adrenaline may enter your bloodstream. This has the
following positive and negative effects on you body. Those positive include:
adrenaline causes psychological arousal, it causes alertness, it prepares the
body for explosive activity. Those negative effects include: it inhibits
judgement, and it interferes with fine motor control (Morris 1992).
Anxiety is different from stress. Anxiety comes from a concern over lack of
control over circumstances. In some cases being anxious and worrying over a
problem may generate a solution, normally, however, it will just result in
negative thinking (Bull 1983).
You need mental energy to be able to concentrate your attention and maintain
good mental attitudes. If you are concentrating effectively then you can
conserve physical energy by maintaining good technique when your muscles are
tired. You can waste mental energy on worry, stress, fretting over
distractions, and negative thinking. Over a long competition, these not only
damage enjoyment, but also drain energy so that performance suffers. It is
therefor important to avoid these by good use of sports psychology, and by
resting effectively between events and by ensuring that you sleep properly.


*Orlick, Terry. (1994) Human Kinetics. In Pursuit of Excellence. 121-150
*Martens, Rainer. (1987) Human Kinetics. Coaches Guide to Sports
Psychology .
*Bull, Stephen. (1983) Sports Psychology: A Self Help Guide. Crowood Press.

*Morris, Summers,. (1992) Wiley: Sports Psychology. 7-16
*Dorcas, Bull. Reinhold, Van Nost. (1983) Psychology of Sports: Behavior,
Motivation, Personality and Performance of Athletes. 66-69


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