How to Use Sports Psychology Techniques to Improve Your Life


When you hear the phrase ‘sports psychology’ you probably think of Ash Barty (above) setting up for a match point, or Sam Kerr concentrating on a decisive goal. But performance science has a lot to offer us all.

Imagine this: you are about to “play”. (We’re talking about everything from public speaking to running a 10k to having an awkward conversation with your boss.) You feel the familiar sensations of sweat forming on your neck and your heart racing.

Stop and remember, “I can do this. I’m not afraid of a challenge. Now subtly change your breath, inhale, then exhale twice as long. You might also clench your jaw; Drop it. You probably feel calmer and more confident just reading this, right?

This type of self-confidence practice includes the tools you would learn in sports psychology or performance coaching. For decades, experts have taught athletes how to use these skills both in their sport and in the real world. But it’s increasingly common for these professionals to work with people outside of sport, helping them thrive in many aspects of their lives.

The demand for sports psychologists in different fields is staggering these days, says Dr. Andrea Wieland, president of Winning Systems, Inc. The application is widespread in military environments, among performing artists (think: Cirque du Sun), with business people, and in medicine, she said.

In response to the growing appeal, she adds, “more and more colleges and universities are offering a master’s degree in sports psychology.” As the world struggles to recover amid lingering COVID-19 concerns, sports psychologists are providing the support needed for this kind of universally relatable struggle. The end goal is to implement mental toughness skills so you can cope more effectively with high-stress situations and challenges – both to optimize performance and improve overall well-being.

“Especially now, these skills are more valuable to the daily worker due to the uncertainty, difficult situations and pressure that have come into people’s lives,” says Dr. Lennie Waite, former Olympic athlete and health specialist. psychology of sport and performance.

To be fair, Waite considers the word sport in the name to be somewhat limiting, as it may deter or confuse people who are attracted to these psychology tools but who are not, say, athletic leaders or fitness professionals. continued C. (There’s a common myth that it’s not for them.) “Yes, the techniques were developed for high performance athletes, but they’re transferable to many other settings,” says Waite.

So what is sports psychology, after all? Let’s see how these pros help you rewire your thinking to emulate a mindset of success and confidence — and how you can do it on your own.

READ: Why mental fitness is the hottest trend of the year

The essence of everything

Sports psychology and performance coaching (the two terms are often used interchangeably, for your information) overlap with positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Here’s the nuance: “Sports psychology techniques are more focused on training mental skills and improving performance,” says Waite.

In other words, instead of getting a diagnosis of a clinical disorder like generalized anxiety or OCD, she says, “it’s more about finding out what an individual’s goals are and how ‘to help bridge the gap between where he is and where he wants to be’. .”

So, to be clear, it’s not used to manage serious mental health issues on its own, like standard therapy might be, but it does implement some of the same skills.

What you learn in this type of coaching (see Psych Yourself Up below) shifts you from feeling out of control to focusing on things you can handle, Wieland says. You become able to deal with fear and stress more effectively and gain a sense of agency in your own life.

“When people feel like they have control over themselves – over their mind, their body, their emotions, their energy – their mental health and their lives feel more in control.”

“The end goal is to implement mental toughness skills so you can cope more effectively with high-stress situations and challenges – both to optimize performance and improve overall well-being.”

put into practice

Let’s say you’re a budding triathlete who works in marketing. Self-doubt overwhelms you before races — and before big meetings that require you to present and lead in front of your colleagues. Your first step might be to find a performance consultant. Then your coach will likely do a thorough assessment to tailor your sessions around the areas needed – whether it’s something obvious like easing anxiety before public speaking, or something more nuanced, like learning to better regulate your response to negative feedback.
From there, alongside your coach, you will work to implement mental tools to overcome these issues, as well as “rehearse” challenges and imagine your success. Your coach can get you thinking about the methods you use to get your head in the game during a start swim, for example, and then find ways to transfer that into how you present yourself for introductions.

How often you communicate with your practitioner is personal and can be determined by your needs and schedule, says Lisa Bonta Sumii, founder and CEO of AthMindset. She even offers “micro-sessions” to her clients
25 minutes.

Apply it – from the gym to life

The ultimate goal? To face your obstacles feeling equipped and empowered, instead of being bogged down by stressors and then having to climb out of trouble as it happens. That’s why Bonta Sumii’s recommendation is to have a relationship with a performance coach in place, just like you do with your GP.
Just as you go to the doctor for an annual checkup and train to keep your body healthy, you can also consult a performance coach to help you keep your mind in tip-top shape – alone or in tandem with traditional therapy and other practices. .

“We all know the difference between physical health and physical illness, but mental health and mental illness have been synonymous for so long,” says Bonta Sumii. “It is important to promote spaces and conversations where people can learn and practice the language of mental health.

Additionally, those with the healthiest mindsets tend to be those who are constantly striving (in a good way!) to succeed, are action-oriented, and have ambition, adds Waite. . “Performance coaching helps create structure, pathways and support mechanisms for people to enhance their strengths
and make them more efficient overall. Game face, lit.

Simple techniques to improve your mental well-being

#1/ Sleep well

Sleep is the number one performance tool, says Wieland. “It affects your mood, movement, memory and muscle repair, so improving quality is a great way to feel better on all levels.” And while professional athletes are known to sleep upwards of 10 hours a night, seven to nine tends to be enough for most.

#2/ Set 3 types of clear goals

I bet you didn’t know that there are different types of lenses! They include process, performance and outcome, explains Bonta Sumii. “Let’s say I’m on a football team and I want to win the league – that’s the end goal.” To get there, you need process goals that represent a path to success (like defending 10 shots on goal per practice session.) The performance goal measures progress – which could be using a centered breathing before the shots on goal. Each must also be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

#3/ Create a pre-show ritual

This is your prep piece. Before a race, it can be about preparing your outfit, the right meal before the race and how to get there. “When there’s a lot at stake, it’s important to visualize that process and think about the emotional reactions that are going to arise, how you’re going to control them and stay focused,” says Waite.

Before departure, try to close your eyes and imagine how you want your future self to feel. Use all of your senses. “You paint the scene from what you feel, hear, even taste, from a first-person perspective,” says Bonta Sumii. Do this several days before your performance, then repeat it each day before the game starts. (Note: this also works for life situations like a first date.)

#4/ Try the swimmer’s breath technique

Intentionally controlling your inhales and exhales is the fastest way to calm your physiology (pounding heart, sweaty pits) and mind, says Wieland. “It creates space to make an intentional response, rather than reacting,” she says. “It also brings awareness to your thought patterns so you can come up with a better idea, instead of getting caught up in negative thoughts.” Exhaling more than you inhale calms the nervous system. So press this method by inhaling, then exhaling for a long time until you have to inhale again. Wieland notes that you can focus on your breathing at any time, such as before bed, when your alarm goes off, or when you’re waiting in line.

#/5 Do you speak nicely

Replace thoughts of self-sabotage with encouraging thoughts. Positive affirmations can be as simple as “you got this” or “you’re good.” Speaking to yourself in the third person (“you”) is more effective than using the first person (“I”), according to research.

#6/ Be thankful out loud

“Gratitude is a skill that soothes the soul,” says Wieland. Expressing gratitude for three things (big or small) every day can improve your mood, your relationships, and your productivity, according to research. She recommends starting
a daily gratitude journal, plus directly expressing that feeling to someone to enhance the experience (which the research backs!). Send a text or a written note to tell someone you’re grateful for them and why.

#7/ Always find the silver lining

When the Olympics were postponed to 2020, Waite worked with attendees to find an edge in the disappointment. For example, if a runner had a nagging injury, the delay would give them the chance to fully recover. “There was a silver lining for every athlete, and I do the same when I work with people in business,” says Waite. If you lost your job during the pandemic, it may have given you a chance to reflect on what you really wanted from your career.


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