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Sports Psychology and Mental Training

The power of thoughts

There is scientific proof that negative thinking does play a role in producing negative outcomes. If you do not believe it then try this experiment: You will need another person to serve as a volunteer. Tell the volunteer that you are going to be conducting a test in muscular strength and how positive and/or negative thoughts and words affect muscular strength. Make sure that your volunteer has no arm, shoulder, or elbow injuries before undertaking this test.

Extend your arms straight out to the side, shoulder height, parallel to the floor. I am going to place two fingers (index and middle) on your wrist. I am going to push down on your wrist, trying to force you to lower your arms. I want you to resist my pressure. Ready? Go. (Push slowly until their arms begin to lower.) Okay, that was great! For this experiment that will be your base strength. We will use it to compare other tests. Now close your eyes and lower your arms. See yourself doing something negative. It could be failing a test, not playing well, blowing a sale, or even tripping and falling. Say out loud your favourite putdown words. Repeat them out loud several times. After they repeat their favourite putdown words out loud 6-8 times, have them raise their arms again. They are to continue saying their favourite putdown words. Once again place the two fingers on their wrist. Ready? Go.

What happens?
Normally, they are unable to apply much resistance and their arms go down much easier. Now, close your eyes again and lower your arms. This time I want you to visualize yourself doing something positive. Repeat the words; I can make a difference over and over again. When I think you are ready, I will have you raise your arms again, and we will test you once again.

What were the results this time?

In most cases, your volunteer will be at least as strong, if not stronger, then in the first test. Ask the volunteer what their impression was. Most will tell you that they felt much stronger and felt better about themselves.

So what does this little experiment prove?

It shows us the power of our thoughts over our bodies. When we say negative things, we tend to zap our strength and easily lose mental focus. When we fill our subconscious with positive thoughts, we become stronger and mentally more alert. As an athlete, there might be a part of your training regiment that you strongly dislike negatively affecting your overall performance. Conversely, if you can change the words from ones of dislike or hate, to words of like or love, you strengthen your body which in turn strengthens your mind. When your body is feeling stronger, and your mind is sharp and focused, you will be more effective in whatever you do. As a result you will feel better about yourself and will be more enjoyable to be around.

Sports Psychology Background

Sport psychology is a science in which the principles of psychology are applied in a sport setting (Cox, 1990). They are interested in what motivates an athlete, how athletes regulate their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and how they manage anxiety and arousal states in order to maximise performance (Parker, 2000). Motivation is a particularly relevant issue which can be defined as being aroused to action or to directed purposeful behaviour, although this may not always be either efficient or effective (Davies, 1989). You may have noticed athletes who seen to have all of the physiological and skill components necessary for great performance, yet lack motivation, i.e. regularly show up late, do not try very hard during training etc. Quite often, as athletes progress in their sports, the improvements become gradually smaller. It then becomes harder for athletes to make significant improvements, and often results in a loss of motivation (Davies, 1989). An appropriate level of motivation will not only improve physical performance, it will also assist in the learning of physical skills, which in turn, will affect the quality of performance (Parker, 2000). Motivation essentially comes in two forms: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. If an athlete is motivated to perform an activity for its own sake, they are said to be intrinsically motivated. When an athlete performs an activity solely to obtain some external reward, they are extrinsically motivated. (Parker, 2000) To improve the level of motivation in athletes the following methods could be used: Avoid using winning or performance outcomes, instead use the outcomes of fitness or skill Give Praise. All athletes need positive, honest feedback about their performances.

Vary the content, venue and sequence of training sessions. Boredom will lead to staleness and/or burnout Set Goals based on the S.M.A.R.T.E.R principle. Goals should be specific, measurable, affirmative, realistic, time based, evaluated, and recorded. They should also be short-term, intermediate, and long term. Use Mental Imagery. Use Role-Modelling. A team-bonding session; when a team is bonding well, performance improves.

In cycling, maintaining motivation and remaining focused are essential to enjoying the sport and being a consistent competitor. Here are a few tips: Know your objective. Why are you a cyclist? Think about what it is that you're working for and use that objective as a short or long-range reference point to focus on. Remind yourself that every training session can bring you closer to your goal. Stay Tough. Some training days are just hard. You show up not wanting to do your workout and think to yourself "hmmm...I'll just go a little easier today...cut some corners". Days like this are crucial. These are the days that separate the champions from the mediocre athletes. Endurance athletes have to be able to push themselves. Be strong and give your training session your best effort. After the session you'll feel a sense of accomplishment and that feeling will carry over to motivate you for future training sessions. Consistency. Many athletes are great at maintaining motivation for short bursts of time (a few weeks, a few months) but it is important to understand that improvements are a result of a consistent effort over a long period of time. Set some long-term goals. Where would you like to be 1 year or 3 years from now? Keeping focused on long-term goals will help you to remain consistent and not overemphasize training sessions or drive you to burnout. No one becomes his or her best overnight. It takes many years of correct practice. Enjoy. Remain passionate about the sport.

The 4C's
Concentration, confidence, control and commitment (the 4C's) are generally considered to be the main mental qualities that are important for successful performance in most sports. Concentration - This is the mental quality to focus on the task in hand. If the athlete lacks concentration then their athletic abilities will not be effectively or efficiently applied to the task. For most cycling sustained concentration is needed. Confidence - results from the comparison an athlete makes between the goal and their ability. When an athlete has self confidence they will tend to: persevere even when things are not going to plan, show enthusiasm, be positive in their approach and take their share of the responsibility in success and fail. To improve their self confidence, an athlete can use mental imagery. Control - ability to maintain emotional control regardless of distraction. An athlete's ability to maintain control of their emotions in the face of adversity and remain positive is essential to successful performance. Two emotions which are often associated with poor performance are anxiety and anger o Anxiety comes in two forms - Physical (butterflies, sweating, nausea, needing the toilet) and Mental (worry, negative thoughts, confusion, lack of concentration). Relaxation is a technique that can be used to reduce anxiety. Commitment - ability to continue working to agreed goals In competition with these goals the athlete will have many aspects of daily life to manage. The many competing interests and commitments include: work, studies, family/partner, friends, social life and other hobbies/sports

The techniques of relaxation and mental imagery can assist an athlete to achieve the 4C's.

Mental Imagery and Visualisation

Mental Imagery is a technique in which the athlete employs as many senses as possible (sight, sound, taste, feel, smell), to recreate a sporting experience in their mind (Castella, 1996). Imagery is often regarded as preferable to visualisation, which implies a restriction to the sense of vision (Parker, 2000). Mental Imagery helps reinforce a good competition strategy, and reinforces the nerve pathways that will be used during training and competition (Castella, 1996). Mental Imagery can aid performance by enhancing the learning and execution of physical skills. This would be useful if an individual or team is not very skilled. The use of word triggers is an important component of imagery. Golfers, for example, may use the word ooooooomPAH, to program the image of a slow back swing, and a vigorous downswing. Imagery can also aid performance by enhancing perceptual skills. It can assist in the learning of new strategies and tactics. Imagery may strengthen muscle memory, for a task, by having the muscles fire in the correct sequence for a movement, without actually executing that movement (Martin et al, 1999). Mental Imagery can improve athletic performance without any physical activity. Mental Imagery will enhance performance if used regularly. It is seen as effective because the brain sends messages to the muscles in the body that would be used in a movement, even though the body does not actually move (Castella, 1996). Imagery can sometimes be more effective than actual practice, because the athlete/s can visualize being in a competitive situation, and this to an extent, is more realistic and valuable During mental rehearsal, the athlete imagines positive outcomes, and this creates a feeling of success, which in turn builds confidence (Davies, 1989).

Carbohydrate Can Help Prevent Mental Fatigue

Taking in carbohydrate during exercise may have a profound effect on mental fatigue. Scientists have known for years that ingested carbohydrate keeps muscles perking along at a high level during extended bike rides, but they're just beginning to realise that carbohydrate may also have a profound effect on brain cells. It happens this way: carbohydrate feedings during exercise reduce the amount of fat circulating in the blood. As a result, less tryptophan is freed from its tenuous marriage with blood albumin, and so a lower amount of tryptophan enters the brain. Your nerve cells can't chill out on serotonin, the realisation that carbohydrate delays central (mental) fatigue leads automatically to the following practical recommendations: 1. Don't fast before workouts or competitions. 2. Avoid fatty foods during the 12-hour period before training sessions or competitions 3. In order to reduce blood-fat levels, eat a carbohydrate meal two to four hours before training sessions or competitions. 4. Take in three to four swallows or more of sports drink every 10 minutes or so during extended exercise to delay the onset of mental fatigue - and improve your performance.

Developing a Daily Goal Setting Sheet

The daily goal-setting sheet can be used to give direction in each training session, and is useful in motivating athletes. The information is be best utilised by an athlete if it is filled out immediately before and after each training session. This is important, as the information needs to be recorded before it is forgotten. It is also useful in comparing training sessions, to see if any improvements were made on previous sessions. Each section of the sheet can be best utilised in the following way: Nature of Session: Detail the exact reasons for completing the session, why it is important, what will be done during it, and the importance of the session in relation to the overall program. Goal 1: This goal should include a physical, technical, and tactical component.. Goal 2: This goal should be mental. It may be as simple as remain positive. What are you going to do to prepare for the session? This section should include the preparation that will take place in order for the session to be successful. It could be to have a quality warm up. Rating: This section allows the athlete to rate/evaluate their performance in certain aspects of the session Comments: This section allows the athlete to add any important information that may be of use to them.


NAME: DATE: NATURE OF SESSION: GOAL 1: Include a Physical, Technical, and Tactical factor GOAL 2: Mental i.e. Be Positive WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO PREPARE FOR THE SESSION?

RATING: 1=Poor, 2=OK, 3=Good, 4=Excellent CONCENTRATION: WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN: CONFIDENCE: ATTITUDE: MOTIVATION: COMMENTS: NOTE: Things most happy with: Things least happy with: How to improve session next time:

Inspirational/Thought-Provoking Quotes Winners never quit and quitters never win The flowers of tomorrow are the seeds of today You miss 100% of the shots you never take If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got Tough times dont last but tough people do Focus on the process, not the outcome