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‘The Mind of a Winner’ – The Psychology of Sports

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A winning athlete possesses strong mental skills, which translates into an athlete who is “whole”. This athlete recognizes that the mind is as important as the body in overall performance. Dr Jack Lesyk, a renowned psychologist, suggested that “you don’t have to be a professional athlete or an Olympic champion to be a successful athlete, but rather your sport must be important to you and you should be committed to being the best that you can be within the scope of your limitations – (other life commitments, finances, time, and your natural ability).{{more}} As a winning athlete, you are required to set high but realistic goals for yourself and train and play hard. Athletes are successful when they pursue their goals and enjoy their sport. Their sport participation enriches their lives and they believe that what they get back is worth what they put into their sport.”

He further cited that there are nine specific mental skills that contribute to success in sports.

Successful Athletes:

1. Choose and maintain a positive attitude.

2. Maintain a high level of self-motivation.

3. Set high, realistic goals.

4. Deal effectively with people.

5. Use positive self-talk.

6. Use positive mental imagery.

7. Manage anxiety effectively.

8. Manage their emotions effectively.

9. Maintain concentration.

1. Choose and maintain positive attitude:

Attitude is a choice and it is important for an athlete to maintain a positive mindset. They should view their sport as an opportunity against themselves, as they strive to be better at each event, than they were previously. They should strive to learn from their successes and failures.

It is important that they maintain a spirit of excellence and not perfection. They should realize fostering an attitude of perfectionism can be dangerous and crippling to their personal and professional growth as an athlete. Let your attitude be one of balance between humility and self-confidence.

2. Motivation:

Successful athletes are very aware that it is not only about external motivation, but rather it is the internal value and satisfaction they get from their very own performance which makes the ultimate difference. They realize that support can be eliminated in a split second of poor performance, but amidst this risk, they are willing still to get out on the field time and time again.

They are aware of the rewards and benefits embedded in their ability to self validate and assess; in doing so, they can persist through difficult tasks and difficult times, even when the rewards and benefits are not immediately forthcoming. They realize that many of the benefits come from their participation, and not the outcome.

3. Goals and Commitment:

The successful athlete sets long and short-term goals that are realistic, measurable and time oriented. Decide on what is needed to improve your skill level, and work towards achieving it. The athlete is aware of the current performance levels and is able to develop specific, detailed plans for attaining his/hers goals.

4. People Skills:

The athlete sees himself as part of a larger system, which includes family, friends, team-mates, fans etc. They master the art of communication which shows respect, care and a general interest in the well-being of others. They have learned effective skills for dealing with conflict, difficult opponents, and other people when they are negative or oppositional.

5. Self-Talk:

It is sometimes a good practice to speak to oneself. Speaking positive and uplifting things keeps you focus and in the zone. It helps to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviours during a competition.

6. Mental Imagery:

Successful athletes spend quality time preparing themselves for competition, by imagining performing well. The mental images are usually detailed, specific and realistic. It is a useful practice, as it helps the athlete to recover from errors and previous poor performances.

7. Dealing with anxiety in an effective way:

Understand that the feelings of anxiety come with playing sports. The anxiety experienced is useful to keep you grounded as an athlete; this humility and fear of failure can be the impetus which triggers excellent performance. The athlete must, however, be able to fully monitor the intensity of their anxiety and on those instances where it is too strong, they are able to reduce it, while remaining pumped and in the zone to compete.

8. Dealing with emotions effectively:

Athletes accept strong emotions such as excitement, anger and disappointment as part of the overall experience as being in the game. They are able to use their emotions to improve, rather than interfere with high-level performance.

9. Concentration:

The successful athletes keep their heads in the game. They know what they must pay attention to during each game or match. They have learned how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether they come from around them or within them. These athletes know how to remain in the “here and now,” without regard to either past or future events.

If you want to be an exceptional athlete……….TRAIN YOUR MIND.

“My attitude is that if you push me towards a weakness, I will turn that weakness into strength.” – Michael Jordan.

Prepared by:

Dr Jozelle Miller

Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital

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