The World Cup fever is reaching its peak as we speak. At this opportune time, we’d like to talk about the individuals responsible for the well-being of the athletes. These athletes we watch daily perform under immense pressure at these major events. The footballers we watch on a daily basis, the cricketers that we support during the IPL and World Cup; they have a lot of expectations running on them. How do they cope up with the pressure? Well, that’s where sports psychologists come in.
 
Sports psychology combines psychology and fields like biomechanics to promote well-being of athletes. Sports psychologists look at the motivation that fuels athletes to give their best. The activities that guide their purpose include counseling, and mental conditioning techniques. Athletes that have anxiety can be counseled by sports psychologists to overcome their fears and grievances. This enables them to loosen up and visualize their goals. The premise that guides sports psychology is that the body and mind work together like a synchronized team. Together, they manifest as optimal performance. 
 

So, what exactly are the techniques that sports psychologists use to help athletes reach the pinnacle of their success? Here are some of the most common techniques that form the backbone of sports psychology:

  1. Visualization: If you’re running a 10km marathon, it’s no easy feat. If you visualize yourself being pulled by some mystical force towards the finish line, it makes the dash easier! Imagine a magnetic forcefield making you gravitate towards your goal. You might be more motivated to make the big dash to reach the end goal and emerge victorious.

     

  2. Focusing on the Present: When one is in a competitive environment, mistakes are common. Suppose you score an own goal like Egypt did in yesterday’s enthralling match, don’t beat yourself up about it! Focus on the present situation and trudge on to try and gain back your traction in the game. Ruminating over your past mistakes will only make you less motivated to give your best.

     

  3. Body Scan and Self-Appraisal: In a training session, it’s important to remember that giving one’s own best is of the highest importance. Setting one’s personal best is way more satisfying than overpowering your peers! This is where the notion of differentiating ‘good pain’ and harmful pain. It’s important to assess how much one can go till they reach the limit of their capacity. Good pain helps muscles grow, and its important to avoid hurting one’s self. This would lead to compromising one’s capacity for optimal performance. Ask yourself, ‘Is this pace good enough, or can I go further?’ before putting unnecessary strain on one’s body.

     

  4. Chunking One’s Goals: Looking at the journey to our goals as a single, long road is daunting. Adding a few pitstops on the way might lead us to believe that the ultimate result is more achievable. For example, one can divide a workout into sections. An energizing snack or a few sips of water after each chunk of training will make you feel more motivated!
 
These are some techniques that sports psychologists use to work towards conditioning athletes. A study in Sports Medicine, shows strong correlation between mood states and athletic performance. 70% to 85% of the time, one can look at the potential for athletic success based on the favorability of their mental state.  A meta-analysis of 45 studies published in the same journal proves the effectiveness of sports psychology. 38 of the 45 studies show improved performance post sports psychology based intervention. 
 
Mental health and physical well-being are thus, the backbones of optimal performance for athletes. The implements that sports psychology posits help to unearth an athlete’s full potential. The pressures that athletes face today are immense. At events like the World Cup, a loss rests on the shoulders of one’s opinionated and passionate home country. On stages like these, sports psychology serves its purpose.

An undergraduate in Psychology, Shantanu is an aspiring Educational Psychologist who will be pursuing his Master’s in 2018 at the Ohio State University. He is adept with psychometric and statistical research, and has honed his grasp over psychology through a 4 year undergraduate course in Liberal Education at FLAME University, Pune.