Optimizing Human Performance

Sport Psychology

On Site Training in Austin - Central Athlete

The role of sport psychology is to help athletes achieve more consistent levels of performance at or near their physical potential by carefully managing their physical resources through appropriate psychological strategies and techniques. Anxiety, Arousal, and Attention Athletes are frequently concerned about anxiety, arousal, and attention. Anxiety, more specifically state anxiety, is a subjective experience of apprehension and uncertainty accompanied by elevated autonomic and voluntary neural outflow and increased endocrine activity. State anxiety is a negative experience, but its effects on performance can be positive, negative, or indifferent, depending on the athlete’s skill level and personality and the complexity of the task to be performed. Trait anxiety is a personality variable relating to the probability that one will perceive an environment as threatening. Arousal is the intensity dimension of behavior and physiology. Arousal is always present in an individual to some degree as a continuum ranging from being asleep to highly excited. The athlete who is psychologically well prepared knows the appropriate zone for optimal performance and can manage it accordingly. In an anxious state, arousal is relatively uncontrolled resulting in tense skeletal muscles, elevated heart rate, and negative thoughts. This lack of physical and psychological efficiency is typically initiated by uncertainty about a present or anticipated event. The athlete’s ability to focus is referred to as attention and is defined as the processing of both environmental and internal cues that come to awareness. The ability to inhibit awareness of some stimuli in order to process others is termed selective attention, and it suppresses task-irrelevant cues (e.g., people in the stands at Regionals) in order to process the task-relevant cues in the limited attentional space. It should be noted that the ability to focus attention on task-relevant cues and to control distraction is a skill that can be learned. Emotion can alter the neural programming involved in initiating and controlling voluntary movement. A way to deal with anxiety and attentional challenges is by adopting a ritual or a mental checklist, known as a preparatory routine. This principle is based on the idea that by thinking about one set of thoughts actively precludes attending to other worrisome thoughts because of the limited capacity of working memory. Take weightlifting for example, the lifter might use key phrases to focus on the task-relevant cues associated with the lift, such as foot placement, back position, point of visual focus, or positive self talk. Such focusing strategies can promote mental consistency during the preparatory state, which in turn can promote physical consistency. Ideal Performance State Should have the following characteristics:

  • There should be an absence of fear – no fear of failure
  • No thinking about or analysis of performance
  • A narrow focus of attention concentrated on the activity itself
  • A sense of effortlessness – an involuntary experience
  • A sense of personal control
  • A distortion of time and space, in which time seems slow
  • There is an absence of negative self-talk, a strong feeling of efficacy, and an adaptive focus on the task-relevant cues. A key aspect is that the athlete trust their skill and conditioning level and just “let it happen,” without interference from negative associative processes.
Motivation Intrinsic motivation is important for any athlete and is defined as a desire to be competent and self-determining, self-motivated. Intrinsically motivated athletes are more likely to maintain effort consistently across practice and competition. Another desirable construct is achievement motivation, which relates to the athlete’s wish to engage in competition, or social comparison. All things being equal between two athletes, whoever is higher in achievement motivation will be the better athlete because he or she has a desire to compete. People have opposing personality traits within themselves: the motive to achieve success (MAS) and the motive to avoid failure (MAF). MAF relates to the desire to protect one’s ego and self-esteem. MAS dominated athletes are most intrigued by situations that are either uncertain or challenging, with a 50% probability of success. MAF dominated athletes are comfortable in situations in which it is either very easy to achieve success or extremely difficult (i.e., they would not be expected to win). Self-Efficacy The main objective for applied sport psychology is generating a psychological perspective that improves performance, and it has been argued that perceived self-confidence, or self-efficacy is a better predictor of task execution that either arousal or anxiety. Self-efficacy is perceived self-confidence about a given task in a specific situation. It is the sense of success that an athlete feels he or she embodies or can control. Someone who is highly self-efficacious does not doubt his or her ability to succeed at a given task, even when failure is experienced. Find out what drives you and don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying something. If you don’t win or things don’t work out just remember that you didn’t have anything to lose in the first place.


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