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Applying Psychological Thinking to Sports

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"Sports is by far one of the fastest growing pass times in the United

States" (Rainer 1987). Even if people don't take it to the professional

level, sporting events are happening in our backyards, and at all of our

local schools around the country. With the growing popularity and the

increasing competitiveness of the sports, it will take more than just a

physical advantage to compete at the highest level. This is where the

psychology of sports comes into play. In my research I will cover different

areas in which you can psychologically strengthen you mental and physical

skills to become a more skilled and competitive athlete.

Goal setting is a hugely powerful technique that can yield strong returns

in all areas of you life. At its simplest level the process of setting goals

and targets allows you to choose where you want to go in life. By knowing

what you want to achieve, you know what you have to concentrate on and

improve, and what is merely a distraction. Goal setting gives you long-term

vision, and short-term motivation. By setting goals you can achieve more,

improve performance, improve the quality of you training, increase your

motivation to achieve, increase your pride and satisfaction in your

performance, and improve your self-confidence (Bull, 1983).

Research (Bull, 1983) has shown that people who use goal-setting

effectively suffer less from stress and anxiety, concentrate better, show

more self-confidence, perform better, and are happier with their performance.

The way in which you set your goals strongly affects their effectiveness.

Before you start to set goals, you should have set the background of goal

setting by understanding your commitment to sports, understanding the level

you want to reach within the sport, knowing the skills that will have to be

acquired and the levels of performance that will be needed, and know where

this will fit into your overall life goals. The following broad guidelines

apply to setting effective goals. Positive statements, be precise, set

priorities, write goals down to avoid confusion and give them more force, and

keep operational goals small (Rainer, 1987).

"Your body is a beautifully evolved sporting machine, comprising, among

other things, muscles that can be trained to a peak of fitness and nerves

that control the muscles" (Morris 1992). The nerves are massively linked in

your brain: vast numbers of nerve cells are linked with a hugely greater

number of interconnections. Many of the pathways, however, lie within the

brain. These pathways can be effectively trained by the use of mental

techniques such as imagery and simulation.

Imagery is the process by which you can create, modify or strengthen

pathways important to the co-ordination of your muscles, by training purely

within your mind. Imagery rests on the important principle that you can

exercise these parts of you brain with imputes from our imagination rather

than from your sences: the parts of the brain that you train with imagery

experience imagined and real inputs similarly, with the real inputs being

merely more vividly experienced (Rainer 1987).

Simulation is similar to imagery in that it seeks to improve the quality

of training by teaching your brain to cope with circumstances that would not

be otherwise met until an important competition was reached. Simulation,

however, is carried out by making your physical training circumstances as

similar as possible to the "real thing"-for example by bringing in crowds of

spectators, by having performances judged, or by inviting press to a training

session (Rainer 1987).

Deciding your Commitment to your sport is possibly the most important

"Sports Psychology" decision you will make. It is important to realize that

excellence demands complete dedication: if you want to be the top athlete,

then training to be the top athlete must be the most important thing in you

life (Orlick 1994).

Self-Confidence is arguably one of the most important things you can

have. Self-confidence reflects your assessment of you own self-worth. It

will play a large part in determining your happiness through life. Sports

can be both enormously effective in improving self-worth, and highly

destructive in damaging it (Orlick 1994). Imigery, positive thinking, and

goal setting can dramatically help in ones own self-confidence.

You can help yourself to routinely apply sports psychology techniques by

getting into the habit of using a Training and Performance Diary before and




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