What is Sports Psychology?
Psychology is the scientific study of our minds and our behaviors. Sports psychology, more specifically, is the study of how our minds affect how we perform in sports. It shows us how our brains contribute to our successes and failures in sports and teaches how to train our minds to perform at our fullest. This knowledge is especially important for student-athletes because it can give us the tools to improve our sports experience while we’re young and help us build on future success.
Sports psychologists have discovered that one of the most important mental skills a top athlete has is the ability to maintain confidence under pressure and to stay positive even when things aren’t going as planned. This is a skill that both professional elite athletes and student-athletes can develop with practice, using techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, and mindfulness training.
Think back to when it was your chance to win the game in a last-second situation. Many thoughts like Don’t choke the shot are rushing throughout your head. It’s easy to mess up and stress out during these times, but you can convert the pressure into focus instead.
Chances are you’re going to face similar situations in the future so using sports psychology will benefit your performance. While sports psychology may not magically solve all your problems, it will help you get through those tough times more easily by understanding and using different techniques to reduce stress and improve flow.
Since sports psychology studies performance, whatever you learn for sports can be applied to other areas of life, like taking an exam. Sports psychology is also used when a single performer has no problems. For example, as busy students juggling many activities, sports psychology can be used to improve practice efficiency. “Deliberate practice” is a way to make a quality practice session.
Instead of getting in many reps like shooting thousands of shots, deliberate practice is where an athlete is problem-solving on mistakes while practicing and challenging themselves at the same time. Instead of shooting 100 free-throws, you shoot 20 and analyze your mistakes. Then, you work on shots farther from the free-throw line once you get the hang of a nice form. You save time and learn more this way. Like strength training, mental skills can always be improved.
In summary, sports psychology gives athletes the mental tools to up their game. There is a myriad of skills that performers can use. Some include confidence, preparation before performances, and getting in the “zone.” These skills can be obtained using techniques like visualization and self-talk.
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For more information, check out this article: 72 Benefits of Sports Psychology and our introductory podcast with Cathleen Small on sports psychology.