Yogi Berra is quoted with saying, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” The physical aspects of sport most assuredly get the greatest attention. However, mentally preparing for competition is where elite athletes separate themselves from competitors. Research has proven athletes who utilize sport psychology techniques have mental advantages over their competitors.

Great athletes who utilize, or have utilized sport psychologists include Russel Wilson, National Football League Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player; the late Kobe Bryant, National Basketball League, 18-time All Star; and Aaron Judge; National Baseball League, Rookie of the Year. Wilson’s mental coach instructs him to create images of his future successes. Kobe Bryant’s mental coach challenged him to avoid “stinkin thinkin”. Meanwhile, Judge stated, “The mental game is what separates the good players from the great players. So, anything I can do to get that mental edge to help me stay my best, I’m gonna try and do it”.

Another aspect that is often overlooked is the injury recovery process. Every athlete feels invincible until they realize the human body and mind are delicate. No athlete is immune to intermittent or season ending injuries. An athlete’s individual self-efficacy is based on how they perceive themselves performing in future events. When setbacks occur, players may suffer emotional challenges such as anxiety or fear of reinjury. These emotions are fueled news clippings detailing stories of players who are unable to return to their previous elite status. These emotional instabilities can lead to depressive behaviors and low self-esteem. Therefore, practicing goal setting, imagery, and positive self-talk help athletes maintain self-confidence during recovery and rehabilitation.

Sport Psychology Tools and Techniques

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Goals

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Successful athletes use goals to propel themselves to higher performance levels. Meanwhile, achievement goals motivate an individual toward behavioral purpose and persistence.
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Motivation

There are two types of motivation: Extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation drives athletes who desire accolades, while intrinsic motivation comes about through personal achievements like reaching a personal best time or number of points scored. Every person is not alike and requires different types of motivation. Additionally, coaches often mistake “loud” for “leadership”. Therefore, it is important for coaches to understand athletes are not motivated strictly by fear and the same style does motivate every player.
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Mindfulness

This technique is often associated with meditation to attain a tranquil state and simultaneously enable a person to be fully aware of their surroundings. Individuals who use this relaxation approach do not allow themselves to be overcome by situational emotions, but patiently work through the current moment. Athletes can utilize mindfulness by practicing imagery, visualization, and breathing techniques which provide pathways to stress reduction and body relaxation.
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Breathing

This normal bodily function is taken for granted; however, stress arousal affects breathing and performance. When the body is stressed, breathing becomes shallower and erratic. Sport psychology teaches individuals to take slow, rhythmic, and timed breaths. This process enhances the body’s autonomic responses and is psychologically influential to alleviating stress.
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Self-talk

As a spectator, you may have witnessed an athlete taking to themselves when they are standing at the foul line on a basketball court. They are not crazy. They are focusing their attention on making the foul shot by providing themselves with positive feedback. Creating positive thoughts overshadows negative thinking and improves self-confidence.
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Imagery

This technique is designed for athletes to use all senses. This includes utilizing gustatory, optical, olfactory, auditory, and kinesthetic images to reach optimal performance levels. These tools are utilized to enhance training and practice sessions; compete more effectively; accelerate skills progression; stay motivated; and continue athletic form when injured.
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Hypnosis

During stressful moments, athletes may remember the last time they missed a layup or struck out with bases loaded. Hypnosis is a very effective technique for providing an alternative state of consciousness which relaxes the mind. Submitting to the hypnotist’s suggestions enhances a person’s ability to prepare for optimal performance levels versus remembering the last failure. The suggestible state enables the subconscious mind to be open for post-hypnotic suggestions. Hypnosis is a great tool for helping people focus on the positive aspects of sport and life, as well as clearing those events which cause mental turmoil.