Sports Psychology For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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Being a successful athlete is about more than just physical strength and agility — your mind plays a key part in your winning performance. You can use sports psychology techniques to build confidence and improve your focus.

Sports psychology isn’t limited to athletes — as a coach, you can use sports psychology to help your athletes achieve their goals.

Improving your focus with sports psychology

Focus is one of the most powerful tools in sports psychology. Whatever sport you compete in, the ability to focus is essential to success. You can improve your focus by following these tips:

  • Know what you need to focus on. The clearer you are about what you want to focus on, the more likely you’ll be to stay focused on the factors that contribute to your success.
  • Focus on what you can control. You have control over yourself and your own actions and attitudes — nothing more. Keep your focus here. If you focus on outcomes (things you have no control over), you’re creating unnecessary anxiety. Focus on the process and you increase the likelihood of positive results happening.
  • Stay relaxed under pressure. When you’re stressed and anxious, your focus drops. Find ways to stay calm in high-pressure situations, such as taking deep breaths, stretching muscles to loosen them, engaging in effective routines to keep your focus where it needs to be, or listening to music that keeps you centered.
  • Use cue words. Cue words are simple words and phrases that remind you of your focus points. Repeating words and phrases such as relax, play hard, or quick feet will remind you to focus on what you need to do. If your mind is focused on your cue words, your body will follow.
  • Develop effective routines. A routine is like a funnel — it channels your focus and gets you ready to compete. Your routines help you maintain your focus on the right things and prevent many potential distractions from entering your mind. For example, listen to three or four songs before games to get yourself ready, or eat a certain meal, arrive at the playing field in enough time to get prepared, or go through a specific type of warm-up.
  • Use mental imagery. Practice seeing yourself perform exactly as you want to perform, focusing exactly as you want to focus. The more your train your mind to focus on the right things, the more it will respond. Mental imagery is simply seeing yourself perform as you desire long before you even step on the field of play.
  • Rate your focus daily. Keep a journal in which you rate your level of focus before and after each practice or competition. Simple daily evaluations are critical to improving your focus. By consistently being consciously aware of improving and evaluating your focus, you’ll automatically do so.

Building confidence in sports

Sports psychology can help athletes looking to improve their confidence. You may be the strongest, tallest, most powerful athlete on the field, court, or track, but if you aren’t confident in your abilities, you’ll have trouble reaching your goals. Work on improving your confidence just as you work on developing your sport-specific skills, and your performance will soar.

  • Realize that confidence fluctuates. Confidence for all athletes — even at the highest level — ebbs and flows. Confidence is not all or nothing. It’s a state of mind that fluctuates, so don’t beat yourself up when your confidence is lower. Just focus on improving, and your confidence will follow suit.
  • Focus on yourself, not on others. Instead of thinking about how well your teammates or opponents are doing, think about your own performance and how you can improve. This is your athletic career, so you need to focus on what you need to do to improve as an athlete. And when you improve as an athlete, your confidence will increase.
  • Focus on day-to-day success. When you have success every day in training — even the smallest of successes — your confidence rises. If your confidence rises a small amount each day, just think where you’ll be in one month, six months, or a year!
  • Concentrate on the process, not outcomes. When you focus on improving your performance — the process of improving — you become more confident because you’re focusing on something you have control over. You can’t control outcomes; you may play your best game ever and still lose. If you’re focused on process, sure, you’ll be disappointed when you lose, but your confidence will remain high, because you’ll know you performed your best.
  • Focus on what you’re doing right. Learning from your mistakes is important, but you don’t want to linger on them. If you spend too much time thinking about your mistakes, your confidence will wane. When you focus on what you’re doing right and correct your errors, your confidence will rise.

Using sports psychology as a coach

As a coach, you can run drills with your athletes day and night, but if you ignore your athletes’ minds, you’ll only tap into a fraction of what they can do. Here are some ways you can use sports psychology to help your athletes reach their goals:

  • Use mental imagery. Make sure your athletes engage in some form of mental imagery — visualization techniques, journaling, or discussion. They’ll become more focused in practice, which will lead to improvement, greater confidence, and more success.
  • Build a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality. Simple, daily exercises can take a team of average athletes working together to accomplish the success of a championship-caliber team. For example, engage in social activities, such as team dinners, video-game tournaments, or bowling, as a way for your athletes to get to know each other off the field.Create athletic drills where teamwork is critical for success. Show famous movies that involve sports and teamwork as a way to keep the importance of teamwork in the forefront of your athletes’ minds. Seek out a good sports psychologist to come out and help to create numerous team-building activities that help emphasize the “we” mentality.
  • Motivate your athletes. One of the best ways to motivate your athletes is to get to know them personally and show that you care about them, not just for their sport skills. If you notice a drop in motivation, ask them about it. Share stories of famous athletes who fought through hard times when motivation was low.Bring in guest speakers, such as elite athletes or former alumni, to inspire your athletes to be the best they can be. Keep them focused on getting better every day. Set short-term goals and help them accomplish them. Help them connect to the reason they’re playing the sport in the first place.
  • Build awareness. Journaling and mindfulness drills build awareness of the power of thoughts and emotions. These are simple exercises and great tools for the mental game.
  • Teach parents how to best work with their kids. Remind parents to have a good time because when they have fun and keep sports in perspective, their kids can relax and perform better. Tell them that life skills are the most important ways they can help their kids — being prepared for practice, working hard, establishing good habits, eating well and getting enough rest, having integrity, displaying teamwork, and bouncing back after a mistake. These concepts will help parents assist you in teaching their kids and your athletes good habits.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Leif H. Smith, PsyD, is president of Personal Best Consulting, a sports psychology and performance consultation firm. Todd M. Kays, PhD, is president of the Athletic Mind Institute, a sports and performance consulting firm.

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