Sport Psychology - What is it?
Adele Muscat, Malta's leading sports psychologist shares some insights on the importance of mental preparation before a race
Although sport psychology has grown immensely in Malta over the past years, some athletes are still wary of what this is all about. The word psychology seems to bring about ‘visions of needing to go to someone because I have problems.’ However this comes about from a lack of knowledge about the subject.
Sport psychology is an area all athletes should be working on throughout their athletic career. You should have a coach to help you improve technically, physically and tactically. But what about your mental game? Whilst some athletes are blessed with mental toughness and/or have coaches who are able to develop their mental skills, other athletes might need to work on having that edge.
I work with athletes on two levels: (1) by helping them develop their mental skills for performance enhancement ex. Learning to regulate anxiety levels, psyching up strategies, goal-setting, concentration skills etc. (2) helping them deal with everyday life issues which may be affecting their performance.
Athletes need to learn to focus on what is in their control and what isn’t. And yes, your emotions can be in your control. This may be difficult to understand but this is one of the main areas I work with athletes the most. It may be useless to think too much about the environment, race conditions, other athletes, spectators. However you need to focus on your performance and your emotions. Unless your emotions are managed well, it is going to be difficult to have the best performance ever. So when you have a good performance how do you feel before and during that race? Can you recreate those same emotions next time?
What about mental warm-up? I can hear some of you say ‘What is this?’ Just the same as you do physical warm-up you also need to do mental warm-up. You might need to eliminate thoughts of work, issues with a partner etc. Mental warm-up can come in various forms however the most popular being visualization or imagery. Imagining your best performances before a race, or else imagining yourself performing well in the coming race can help prepare you well.
What about the thoughts that enter your mind during a race, or even during training? Are they positive or negative? If you find yourself thinking thoughts such as ‘I’m going to stop, I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘everything always goes wrong for me on race day’, than this might be hindering your progression. When you think positive you are much more likely to keep pushing on when things aren’t looking so good.
What about if you are a coach and would like to help your athletes develop mental routines? There are so many techniques one can incorporate into an athlete’s training regime. The routines prior to races are crucial. Athletes, from a young age should get into a routine of always trying to do the same thing before a competition so that they feel ‘safe’. Of course this needs to be something that you can always do. It is also important to avoid getting superstitious!
It is so easy for an athlete to get distracted on competition day. Emotions are high and any little thing can disrupt an athlete’s focus. Every athlete is different and knowing what is the right thing to say to an athlete prior to their performance may be difficult. It is so important at this point to build up the athlete’s confidence. Some athletes may greatly suffer from anxiety. Knowing how to employ the right relaxation techniques goes a long way. Other athletes may need psyching up. Music, motivational videos, clips of themselves performing well can all help to get the athlete in the right frame of mind prior to competition.
If you want to improve in your performance or if as a coach you want to help your athletes get better than mental training is a must. Practicing one or two techniques daily during your training can go a long way to help you achieve personal bests.
Adele Muscat is a sport psychologist with over 15 years experience in the field, having spent over 13 years as the sport psychologist at the Maltese Olympic Committee. She has been the sport psychologist for the Malta Football Association (academy, U17, U19) for the past four years and is also the sport psychologist for the National Sports School. Adele also lectures in the subject at the University of Malta. For more information please contact Adele on 99403166 or check out facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sport-Psychologist-Malta-Adele-Muscat/1387022171563601?ref=hl