Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology: Mind Over Matter

What is it that makes champions champions? Is it just that they were born inherently more skilled than the rest of us? Well, skill certainly plays a role, but it’s not enough. To do well in sports, you need to have the right mind set. Your head needs to be in the game. Mind over matter. We’ve all heard phrases like this to do with sports psychology, but what do they actually mean? How do you get the correct sports mind set and motivation, and keep it going? There’s no quick fix answer, but there is a lot of advice out there from sports psychologists.

Everyone Is Different

Professor of psychology Martin Hagger notes that every successful athlete has their own methods for staying motivated, and they can be very different. Usain Bolt gets buoyed up by the crowd by treating them to humour, while Michael Phelps sits down with headphones in his ears and goes inside himself.

Unfortunately, if you’re not an international sports star, it can be hard to amass a crowd to get you pumped up. So what are the tried and true methods to keeping your sports motivation up?

Factors Of Success

There are a few factors of a sports mind set that sports psychologists have linked to success. Of course, motivation is a key factor. You have to want it badly. Secondly, you need to be confident that you can do it. Thirdly, you need to have a sharp mind– doing well isn’t just about physical skill, you have to have the wherewithal to find out what will make you do better.

Fourthly, you need to keep up routines to get yourself in the right frame of mine, and lastly, you need to manage your anxiety. This last one might not seem so important if you’re not a professional athlete or rugby player, but it’s also to do with picking yourself up and dusting yourself off when you don’t do as well as you’d hoped.

But How? Smarter Goals

It’s all very well and good to talk about the features linked to success, but how do actually get all those good attributes? It’s not something we can fully address here, and you’ll always be learning how to do it better. But we do have a few pointers. First up, sports motivation is all about setting goals – ones that are specific, time based and achievable.

Sports psychologists often talk about the SMARTER acronym: goals that are specific, meaningful, agreed, relevant, time-specific, engaging and recorded. Rather than just wanting to ‘get better’, they need to be things like ‘in one month’s time, I want to be able to run 5 km in less than 20 minutes’. You can set larger goals like running that marathon, but you need sub-goals to keep you going, as the large ones can seem unachievable.

Keeping Confidence And Dealing With Failure

Recording your progress on these goals is where confidence comes in. Seeing how much you’ve improved over time does wonders for how much you believe in yourself. There are many other visualisation and self-talk techniques that can help with confidence, and these also fall under the ‘routines’ factor.

Lastly, you need to be able to deal with failure. What happens when you don’t meet a goal? It can take time to not be devastated when this happens. But remember: failure happens to everyone. If you’ve given it your all and you’ve still failed, you know you’ve pushed your boundaries, which is actually kind of a win. And if you haven’t given it your all, well you know exactly where you went wrong.

We are in a time where sports and science have collided: there is so much research that can help you find ways to improve. Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on the physical aspects: sports psychology can be the difference between getting up at 5 am to do that training, and staying in bed.

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