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Sports Psychology: A Relationship Between Mental Training and Sport Performance

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Sports Psychology: A Relationship Between Mental Training and Sport Performance

James Dodson (1995) quotes Dr. Richard Coop, and says that he refers to sports psychology as "just mere helping people to clear away the mental clutter that keeps them from achieving their best" (p. 1). Dodson admits that as a golfer he has tried to break eighty strokes in golf, but did not succeed until he got help from a well-known sports psychologist. Before meeting his mental coach, Dodson tried to improve his game by buying expensive equipment such as oversized irons, gizmos, and lucky charms, but none of these worked. Once he started working with Dr. Richard Coop, he began to liberate his mind from its usual patterns and after a period of mental exercising, Dodson finally broke 80. "Dr. Coop emphasizes that golf is very much a brain game. The mind is a tool like any other skill a player possesses. But it's often the tool most of us neglect to develop" (Dodson, 1995). Once the mind is in peace, our performance progresses.

Rebecca Lewthwaite (1990) points out that an individual's motivation has a strong impact on physical performance ... therefore, "the process of mental training is the result of the meaning that the individual derives from situations, which arise from personal factors such as goals and perceptions of competency" (p. 1). Usually the performance of an individual is due to their motivation. More often than not, people tend to train with their mind unconsciously by visualizing improvement in their performance or visualizing the achievement of a goal or goals. Some athletes put the physical work in, but they also forget to work their mind. Body and mind have to come together to form a whole. Once the role of the mind and the physical aspect of the body have been mastered the performance of the individual will improve (Changing Times, 1986).

Some of the most interesting events and actions in sports are associated with the athletes' will to engage in them. For example, Butt (1976) notes that, "Two people engaged in the same sports activity may behave in a similar fashion overtly, but each may react differently under the stress of winning or losing and may express different feelings when talking about his/her participation in sports" (p. 1). Such is the case of Keith Forman who joined the track team at the University of Oregon in the early sixties. His coaches told him that he did not have the genetic make-up to become a great runner, and that he would be too slow to compete against the best; however, he became the fourth American to ever break four minutes for the mile (Lynch, 1996). Similarly, there is Roger Bannister's achievement in running the first sub-four-minute mile in the world.

Bannister was a physician, and in the years before his historic race articles had appeared in medical journals proclaiming that the shattering of the four-minute barrier was physiologically impossible. Bannister was even warned that he might die trying. Many runners conceded that the four-minute barrier was impenetrable; one of them (John Landy) described it as a "brick wall". But Bannister refused to make these statements part of his belief system, and he eventually exploded past the finish line in 3:59.4, becoming the first runner to break through the mythical barrier ... then the belief system of the world's other elite runners changed overnight. Within the next twelve months four other runners also ran sub-four-minute miles; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others have followed then across the finish line. No longer did runners believe that they "couldn't". And once their thinking was transformed, so, too, was the speed at which they were able to run (Baum, 1999).

Before Bannister ran under four minutes in the mile, all the other runners were affected by "negative thinking, which limited their performance" and were not able to achieve such goal, but as soon as they saw Bannister break through the brick wall, suddenly there was a change that turned their thinking around and the impossible became possible (Lynch, 1994). Most people back in 1954 were simply afraid of the unknown, however, Bannister was not. Even without the aid of a sports psychologist, he repeatedly visualized the race beforehand and anticipated his moves from the moment he woke up, to before the race, during the race, while crossing the finish line and returning home. This allowed him to calm down his anxieties and at the same time he realized that he had nothing to lose (Galloway, 1998).

Until now there has not been a clear definition for sports psychology since it is still in its development. LeUnes and Nation (1989) point out that, "In 1978 Singer defined sport psychology as a science of psychology applied to sport, then in 1980 Alderman suggested that sports psychology was the effect of sport itself on human behavior, but by 1983 Cratty proposed that sports psychology was an applied subdivision of general psychology" (pp. 11-12). Usually what a sports psychologist does is concentrate on performance enhancement and mental skills training by focusing on the effects of imagination and motivation (Hinkle, 1994). Likewise, Dr. Coop argues that sports psychologists are not doctors that treat sick patients, on the contrary, sports psychologists are mental coaches or performance consultants that help athletes achieve the capacity to produce the desired results within a minimal amount of energy spent (Dodson, 1995).

By looking at the evidence of relaxation, visualization, halt in negative thinking, and goal-setting; this paper will question how mental training is an important aspect to enhancing one's performance by showing how mind and muscles work together to boost performance, and how sports psychology uses such evidence.

At the professional level, athletes look even for the smallest progress to increase their potential. Such is the case of sprinters were the difference of earning a gold or silver medal is about two tenths of a second, so "even the smallest improvement in performance is crucial," and here is were sports psychology steps in (Baum, 1999). Similarly, sports psychologist Johnson believes that "baseball is only 25 percent physical ... and that the difference between Triple A ballplayers and big leaguers is plain mental" (Rosellini, 1987). Certainly, mental training helps athletes deal with performance blocks; in other words, it helps them clear away obstacles that display themselves in different ways. For instance, many athletes make their mind up ahead and decide that they are not tough enough, that they lack the right genetic composition such as fast-twitch muscle fibers in the case of sprinters or slow-twitch muscle fibers for endurance runners or that they cannot tolerate a certain

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