Thalia Panagi | Psychology
It is a common phenomenon to observe athletes perform better during their training sessions than they do during their competitions. Whilst performing for competitions they sometimes seem incapable of reaching their peak performance due to many reasons.
Why does this phenomenon occur so often?
There are a lot of factors that can determine sports performance especially during a match, such as anxiety and worry concerning the performance itself. Anxiety regarding the competition or match can be debilitative or facilitative. Facilitative anxiety results in improved performance and helps athletes to increase their effort and preparation. It can also motivate them. On the other hand, debilitative anxiety results in worsened performance. Most athletes worry excessively regarding their competition, as they want to satisfy their coach, co-players, administrative staff, fans or even themselves. Thus, the pressure they feel about winning leaves them incapable of concentrating to the match, affects their decision-making and reduces their enjoyment and self-confidence.
In addition, some other important factors which can affect performance are: low self-confidence, adjustment difficulties as well as other exogenous factors such as family problems or problems with other people meaning the coach or co-players. Finally, an injury can affect an athlete’s performance both physically and psychologically since an injured athlete needs time to recover and then get back to the level that he previously was. An injury produces an immediate imbalance in athlete’s life. It affects the athlete’s self-confidence and self-esteem. The experience of an injury can lead an athlete to the formation of many negative emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and concentration problems. An injured athlete is often concerned about gaining his previous condition or even if he will ever be able to perform again. Moreover, an injury can cause psychological trauma to an athlete, as he might be afraid that he will be re-injured.
So, how can we help athletes to perform better and reach their peak performance?
Firstly, before maximizing an athlete’s performance, we have to identify the factors, which affect his performance. After pointing out these factors, the Coach and the Sport Psychologist will work together, and then with the athlete through discussion and counseling, in order to solve his issues. During this process, empathy, trust and rapport are very important.
Secondly, as one of the most important ingredients of an optimum performance is goal setting, all athletes must set both long and short-term goals. Goal setting can help athletes to remain concentrated and focused, in order to achieve their goals. Itmust be stated that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based (SMART).
The role of the coach is also very important. The essence of the coach comes down to teaching, motivating and supporting athletes. How? Through rewarding, encouraging, and supporting the athlete during, through and after a match or practice.
The Sport Psychologist can help both athletes and coaches to reach their peak performance either through counseling, assessing and educating athletes on how to use the main mental skills such as: imagery, self talk, anxiety management, goal setting and relaxation.
The contribution of the Sport Psychologist is very important in Sports as he/she helps the athletes to develop their personality and improve themselves. Besides this, the development of a close relationship with the coach, the collaboration of the two, can effectively support and provide a variety of techniques and methods to athletes so they are helped towards enhancing their performance and achieving their goals.
It is clear that an athlete’s performance can be affected by different factors but can also be optimized. Effort and time are needed along with the co-operation between the coach, the athlete and Sport psychologist. This specific triangle is vital for enhancing an athlete’s performance. The emotional stability and success of an athlete can be attained through this triangle.
The decision on whether working or not with a Sport Psychologist primarily rests upon the hands of the Coach and then to the Athlete. Sport Psychology aims at the optimization of each and every athlete through a wide spectrum of methods and by teaching new skills and techniques to both coach and athlete, offering the athlete the chance to eventually obtain control of his psychology to the highest level possible.
To conclude, everything arises within us thus we have to work from within in order to have results and get over plateaus. The right counseling and mentoring are our means to achieving success.