The Mind Game: Factors That Affect Performance in Sports

The Mind Game: Factors That Affect Performance in Sports

If you’ve watched professional athletes long enough during competitions, you would’ve seen some of them act out of character and struggle to keep their emotions in check sometimes. You have probably also seen a star athlete slip at the finals of a game, looking like they were under a sort of ‘spell’ that was going to make them lose it when it mattered the most.

As intense and physical as sports might seem, with many experts stressing on the need for quality and consistent training, we often overlook the non-physical (mental) aspect of the game. Believe it or not, sports is more mental than physical; any athlete that wants to excel at sports must first master his own emotions, stay motivated and silence all distractions.

Excelling at sports is not just about the number of workouts you do, and putting in your best efforts. There is a component to sports performance that isn’t physical – It has to do with your mental perspective. For example, if you want to take a penalty kick in soccer during extra time, you’ll need to channel your emotions and focus in combination with your training to take the shot that will get to the back of the net. Participation in sports isn’t all physical; it’s psychological, and any athlete that wants to rise to the peak of his or her sports career must learn ways to master emotions.

Staying Focused

Many athletes start a game with a high level of concentration, but as the game goes on, their consistency level drops. This could be attributed to many factors, some of which are distracting external events, an overwhelming feeling of pressure to perform, anger, frustrations about the results of the game and so on. An athlete must learn how to quickly and efficiently overcome distractions and regain focus to be able to achieve peak performance.

Controlling your arousal: Managing your intensity and body energy

As an athlete, if the level of your arousal is too high or too low it could affect the level of your performance drastically. Arousal refers to how you react to activities, events, or happenings during a game. Arousal affects your body and mental abilities of an athlete – for instance, the person may have excessive muscle tension due to high arousal levels and make decisions that are not tactically sensible. Achieving a balanced and focused state of mind is essential in sports because it can determine the courses of action of players which will determine whether the person or team succeeds, or fails.

Elements beyond an athlete’s control

An athlete may become disillusioned, frustrated or upset (and it happens often) during a game or even a major competition over a situation or outcome that is beyond his or her control. This can affect sports performance negatively. For example – the noise of the planes flying over the pitch, boos from the crowd, arena conditions, weather etc.

If an athlete is unable to keep his mind on track, it could work in the favor of his opponent. By maintaining focus on these issues instead of the game, the athlete exhausts vital energy which could have been used to attend to other important issues that can be controlled (like attitude, technique, etc. The ability of a sportsman to focus solely on the controllable factors is critical for sports performance.

Controlling Your Thoughts

Negative thoughts can affect athletes far more than they are aware of. negative thinking affects an athlete’s physical abilities in either of two ways – Awareness of the presence of negative thoughts (feeling a tension that leads to pessimism) or being unaware of it, yet it induces negative thoughts (or emotions) in the mind that could cloud his or her right judgment, decision-making ability and affect performance in sports. By being more conscious of their thought processes especially while under pressure, athletes can then control their thoughts to be more positive, optimistic and solution-based.

Using Visualizations

Mental visualization or imagery can be an extremely useful technique to achieve success in all kinds of sports. An athlete can enhance their strategy, techniques, physical capabilities and mentally prepare for sports events. Another aspect visualization can help is in athletes’ training. If an athlete can develop this mind to ‘predict’ the right outcomes they can take appropriate steps to correct a mistake before it even happens. For example, a soccer player can learn to visualize taking a shot in his mind shot and ‘see’ the direction the ball will be traveling to know if he kicked the ball correctly. Using mental visualizations is an astonishingly efficient method that works not only in sports, but our daily lives also.

Building Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is the bedrock of all achievement in sports. It is one of those aspects where athletes can get help really quickly using very simple tools. An athlete who isn’t confident will self-sabotage because he or she hesitates in making vital decisions that will lead to success. The athlete will often be afraid to take risks and his attempts will usually miss by a wide margin. Sometimes, fear can materialize in real life as small errors that happen often. When an athlete develops his self-confidence, the person is able to perform at his or her very best and doesn’t easily lose faith when a tough challenge surfaces. It is important that self-confidence is made part of any coaching program.

Getting rid of limiting thoughts

Doubts or limiting thoughts are one of the most problematic and damaging threats to an athlete’s psyche. They often run deep within the subconscious of the athlete and might be difficult to detect for even the most experienced coaches, and sometimes the athlete’s themselves.

A limiting view, for example, is when a soccer player believes that he is just not good at playing in the left wing, even though he can use both feet adeptly. If the coach insists on placing him there, he might then self-sabotage himself in those critical moments of the game to prove himself right because he has already limited himself subconsciously. When players are able to identify and eliminate limiting ideas it usually means that they are in total agreement with the fact that sports could be dynamic in nature, so they should be prepared for everything that could happen.

Last Words

As we established earlier, excelling at sports is not just merely about putting in your best physically. There is a component to sports performance that isn’t physical – It has to do with your mental perspective.


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