Login | April 10, 2021

The psychology of sport, part 2

Pete’s World

Published: March 29, 2021

This week is the second of my two-column interview with sports psychologist Joe Salwan.
Q: What are some signs that it might be time for an athlete to see a sports psychologist?
A: First, it’s important to realize that many athletes may share the same physical and skill attributes as yourself, and the defining difference between success and failure may reside with ones mental skills. Athletes often spend several hours during the week practicing their physical skill set but very little, if any time addressing the mental aspects of their sport. So most athletes can benefit from seeing a sport psychologist to get that extra edge. Many professional sports teams, for example, employ a sport psychologist or mental skills professional. Sport psychologists work with Olympians and professional athletes but also with youths and the weekend warrior.
Referring to the clinical issues noted above, an athlete exhibiting any of those signs or symptoms could certainly benefit as their performance will be adversely affected one way or another. Sports-related injury is a common issue that most athletes experience at one time or another and depending on the severity, it can curtail an otherwise promising career.
Another clear sign that an athlete could also benefit from seeing a sport psychologist occurs when they display a high level of performance during practice but fail to maintain that same level of skill production during competition. This is often referred to as “choking.”
When I ask an athlete why they began their particular sport the typical response is “because it was fun.” Often however, as we progress in our sport the competition and other related aspects become more intense and the expectations tend to increase geometrically placing more pressure on the individual. In other words, it’s no longer fun…it’s work. The loss of our original reason for participating frequently leads many individuals to quit their sport prematurely. Research has shown that by the age of 13 many youth have quit participating in sports-related activities.
Q: And how about those folks who are not competitive, but want to stay fit…is there a particular mental strategy for them to keep from falling off the workout wagon?
A: Getting started and continuing an exercise program can be a challenging yet rewarding undertaking. Fifty percent of those who begin an exercise program will drop out within six months. Commonly cited reasons include lack of time, inconvenience, expense, physical discomfort, embarrassment, poor instruction, inadequate support, and loss of interest.
Psychological Barriers: What gets in the way of initiating and maintaining an exercise (and weight) program?
• Unrealistic goals and expectations
• Lack of commitment and responsibility
• Perfectionism (re: their own performance, their physical response to exercise, their level of achievement, changes in body structure and weight, the rate of improvement)
• Unmet motives or needs
• Low confidence
• High anxiety
• Lack of knowledge about exercise technique
• Lack of desirable personal dispositions such as self-control, resourcefulness, hardiness, and mental toughness
• High self-consciousness
• Lack of intrinsic motivation
• Personal insecurities
• Pessimism
• Failure to use cognitive strategies
• Lack of social support or social reinforcement
Strategies for Maintaining an Exercise Program
• Exercise correctly (warm-up, warm-down, and principles of improved fitness); obtain instruction, and read.
• Have short term (weekly) and long term (monthly and beyond) challenging but realistic goals
• Engage in exercise tasks you find enjoyable
• Overcome your comfort zone, but start slowly
• Establish social support (e.g., contacts at fitness club, exercising with a friend or partner)
• Avoid people who will not support your efforts (or don’t take their discouraging words seriously)
• Schedule your exercise sessions weekly and during the day that is convenient. There is no best time to exercise during a 24-hr. period, but don’t exercise within 2 hours of bedtime
• Do not exercise 7 days a week, especially if using the same muscle groups. To prevent injury, give your body a rest
• Engage in proper exercise preparation to facilitate exercise effort (e.g., no smoking or eating at least 2 hours before exercise)
• Obtain data on improvement (e.g., improved cardiovascular or strength scores)
• Use small measures that indicate improvement (e.g., minutes, not miles)
• Seek medical attention if there is pain or injury
• Manage feelings of self-consciousness (who cares what others think)
• Have fun, and feel confident and optimistic in your ability to make this work. You can’t be enthusiastic and unhappy at the same time
Joe Salwan can be contacted at drjfsalwan@gmail.com, drjfsalwan@protonmail.com, or 234-738-2886