When the chips are down, the athlete often cannot share his/her inner fears, anxiety and anger issues with the coach or their parents. Now, the athlete has a critical ally…the professional Sports Psychologist (also referred as the professional Sport Psychologist).
The Sports Psychologist, who should be Certified and well-trained in examining the whole person, can provide the athlete with skills that can really develop an elite athlete from a good athlete. Coaches and trainers focus almost exclusively on left brain activities, including game plans, strategy, technique, speed, agility, muscle building, etc. Most athletes focus exclusively on training using the left brain. Accordingly, athletes are cheated because their right brains are being ignored.
Right brain activities include balance, emotions, music, and visualization, all of which can really enhance performance. The Sports Psychologist trains the athlete to exercise the right brain along with the left brain. For example, teaching mental toughness skills (including intensity, confidence and emotions during key moments in competition) critically important in peak performance.
Overcoming pressure is another right brain activity that can be taught to athletes. These skills include recognizing the causes of emotions during key moments in competition and how to modify those emotions, if necessary.
Stress management skills are critical and necessary if the athlete wants to compete successfully and consistently. Interestingly, a certain amount of tension (i.e., being on edge, pumped up, psyched) is crucial for peak performance to be maintained. In fact, the athlete with too much relaxation is at the same disadvantage as the athlete with too much tension. The key for each athlete is to learn where the exact mixture of relaxation and tension lies. This is where the Clinical Sports Psychologist with hypnosis training can really help the athlete zone in on that level and learn to modify it as game conditions warrant. Too much tension is lowered by deep breathing and calming thoughts and not enough tension is raised by jumping, exercises, etc. to raise the heart beat.
Goal setting, while a left brain activity, is closely linked with right brain activities, such as emotions, patience, optimism and learning to overcome obstacles. These are also key skills that the Sports Psychologist can teach the athlete.
In addition, there are many issues in an athlete’s life that can impact her/his sports performance. Relationship stressors, personality traits (e.g., perfectionism, anger vulnerability), attention deficits, mood changes, and the lack of life skills (e.g., assertiveness) are just a few of the factors that can dramatically impact ones performance on the playing field. Consequently, a comprehensive initial history and mental status exam is necessary in order to plan the treatment. In fact, many parents bring their youngsters to me in order to teach them life skills that will also be used in their sport. For example, the young athlete who gets overly anxious during competition also gets overly anxious prior to taking a test. The same coping skills can be taught for both issues.
Perhaps the best right brain skill the athlete can learn is self-hypnosis and visualization. I have referred to these skill sets as the “unfair advantage,” because they really propel athletes to enhance their performance.
Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Certified and Licensed Sport and Clinical Psychologist
Diplomate, National Institute of Sports Professionals, Division of Psychologists
Diplomate, American Academy of Behavioral Medicine
Certified Hypnotherapist, American Academy of Clinical Hypnosis