As well as physical ability, mindset can make all the difference for sportspeople out in the field.
Managing pressure, exceeding limits and staying focused on targets are all skills that are very much in the mind. A growing number of professional sports clubs, such as Spanish football club FC Barcelona, now have sports psychologists on hand to hone players’ performances.
Sophie Huguet, a sports psychologist with 15 years’ experience working with footballers and golfers, explains how amateurs and competitors can strengthen the mental side of their game.
Psychology seems to have a growing place in high-level sport. Is this something of a trend right now?
For a sports player, going to see a psychologist is sometimes still seen as an admission of weakness, whereas, on the contrary, it often comes from a desire to progress without leaving anything to chance. Moreover, lots of so-called “coaches” claim to offer mental preparation without any formal training. That contributes to the confusion surrounding this kind of work.
What kind of mental qualities does a sportsperson need to have?
First of all, there’s motivation – that’s the reason why someone plays a sport and wants to become a champion.
Without that drive, training is pointless. Next, a sportsperson needs a high level of self-confidence and also self-esteem. They should be able to stay aware of their own self-worth beyond their results. They also need a lot of determination to overcome obstacles and move on from defeats.
Finally, a person’s mindset is very important, with the ability to maintain a positive inner discourse and to manage emotions. It’s a whole package of mental skills that help a sportsperson to succeed, including stability in their circle of family and friends. This can often be a source of pressure that can have negative effects on sportspeople.
Do all sports have the same demands?
Each sport requires a particular mental approach. You wouldn’t approach a tennis match in the same way as a football match, as the responsibility isn’t the same.
For example, a golf or tennis player will need to focus more on managing emotions between strokes. In football, it also depends on the player’s position.
Goalkeepers stay out of the action for long periods, but they carry all the responsibility when their opponents score a goal, which is why they’re often more mature. Team sports also involve managing human relationships and how they evolve within a group. At amateur level, the most important thing is to set realistic goals and to make sure you’re still having fun. So long as the relationship with the activity remains healthy, there’s no need for a mental coach or a psychologist.
Which sportspeople excel on both physical and mental levels?
Novak Djokovic is a great ambassador for tennis. He practices yoga, pays attention to his diet, and tries to understand himself on a personal level. He’s very well-rounded.
In football, the Argentinian player, Lionel Messi, a striker at FC Barcelona, is very good. He has succeeded in dealing with everything in spite of his very young age. Mentally, he’s very strong.
Are there any exercises you would recommend to help train the mind?
You can already start by being mindful of your thoughts. Knowing how to turn what is often negative into something positive.
A consciously aware sportsperson will have a better image of themselves and will automatically become more resistant to frustrations and disappointments.
Several techniques, such as relaxation, visualisation and sophrology, can be used to work on the body and to help manage emotions. Working on breathing can help players manage negative emotions more effectively. Each approach is individual and must allow sportspeople to better understand themselves and to handle pressure more effectively.
Source: AFP Relaxnews
Image Credits: google