A component of exercise science and human performance, sport psychology is primarily concerned with understanding the relationship between mentality and behavior in order to improve athletic performance. The three primary topics that sport psychologists study and deal with in their practice are stress and anxiety; motivation; and goal setting.
Studies have shown that anxiety and stress are the two biggest inhibitors of athletic performance. (Learn about 2 ways to combat them.) Anxiety occurs when an athlete experiences apprehension and uncertainty, or perceives something in the environment as threatening. Stress is considered a disruption of mental and physical calm. Ideally, athletes perform at a higher level when they can minimize the effects of stress and anxiety. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
It's important for coaches to understand their athletes' motivation. Some athletes are motivated purely by their love of the game. Sport psychologists refer to this as "intrinsic motivation." When athletes are self-motivated, they are much more effective, because their achievement stems from their personal desire to compete.
Coaches use a mix of positive reinforcement and punishment to spur their athletes' motivation. Ultimately, sport psychologists prefer positive reinforcement over punishment, because it affirms what athletes should do and rewards them for doing it right.
Setting goals helps athletes focus on both individual and team achievement and success. It's a process that should progressively set higher standards of performance. (Reach your potential with goal setting techniques.)
Long-term goals and short-term goals are interdependent, because long-term goals provide incentives for pursuing short-term goals.
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