Sports psychologists — psychologists trained specifically to help athletes perform their best — have become in demand in recent years, according to the British Psychological Society. But even if you’re not an elite athlete, sports psychology can help you perform better at your job.
(Photo Credit: terren in Virginia/Flickr)
Rebecca Voelker, writing for the American Psychological Association, explains that in order to succeed, athletes need more than physical training. They need the same sharp mental skills used to compete successfully in business, the arts, and in the operating room.
Apprehension and Anxiety
Athletes sometimes suffer from performance anxiety, and why shouldn’t they? When your moves are being televised (with commentary) the slightest mistake may turn you into everybody’s disappointment of the season. In some cases, how much money athletes make depends upon their performance.
This is not so different from the apprehension and anxiety that many people feel before giving some sort of presentation to colleagues, clients, or students. It also happens when interviewing for a new job. The stakes are high. Your income probably depends upon it. And, especially in an interview, you either perform the best or you are out. Gee, no pressure.
One trick up the sports psychologists’ sleeves is imagery. This is a useful tool to use, in addition to being well-prepared. Perhaps you have perfected your presentation to the board, you have practised in front of the mirror, and now you have only to wait until you are “on.” If you are waiting to be invited into the board room, you may try something like rehearsing your presentation in your mind. Just going “through the moves” may help you remember everything and appear confident.
Another way to use this technique is imagining yourself in your favorite vacation spot, or sitting next to a waterfall. Take deep breaths, make a point of relaxing your shoulders, and you may walk into that boardroom both looking and feeling confident and relaxed.
One difference between mental health counselors and sports psychologists, broadly speaking, is that the latter group is not working toward healing; rather, they are optimizing potential toward the best possible performance. Focus on positivitiy, resilience, and learning from mistakes are key.
If you make mistakes, you may want to crawl into a hole and hide. Don’t. Actively learn from them, so you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Let your supervisors know that you are taking action to improve.
Mental resilience is, in part, having the strength to work through difficulties toward best results. If you consistently attempt to work and improve at your job, your supervisors will likely notice in time. Keep at it.
Always remind yourself of the positive. Build on your strengths. For example, if you are great at math, offer to crunch numbers for a new project.
Much of the information available about sports psychology is helpful for anyone who simply wants to succeed at what they do.
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Did you play sports, and does the mindset help you today? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.