Sports Psychology

    Virtually every great athlete, when asked, has said, "This game is 90% mental", or something to that effect.  If so much of so many sports is dependent on our mental state for success, why do we spend so much less time practicing that than we do the physical skills?  In fact, most people take the mental game largely for granted, which helps to explain why so many people are, in the end, dissatisfied with their performances.  We are willing to sweat and strain for hours on end to prepare our bodies for competition, but give precious little effort to properly preparing our minds.  This is not to say that we should only practice skill fundamentals for 10 minutes a day and think about our sport for 90 minutes, but there are numerous stories about athletes who used only mental practice and yet were successful.

    Obviously, we must master the basic technical skills of any sport before we can expect the applications of psychology to be useful to us.  It would be illogical to imagine any amount of psychological intervention enabling me to overcome Shaquille O'Neal's size and strength, Tiger Woods' innumerable hours of practice, or Sergei Bubka's talent for a sport I've never even attempted.  It is the combination of proper physical and mental preparation that gives us the edge over our opponents.

    "Strong emotion, risk-taking behavior, and physical trauma often characterize the competitive sporting experience."  So says Dr. Karen Lee Hill in her book, Frameworks for Sport Psychologists.  It serves to remind us that being an athlete is a very complex and challenging experience.  We may feel wide-ranging emotions, from unbridled enthusiasm to aggravating agony.  We have to take tremendous risks, from the seemingly simple act of stepping out onto the field or court, to the nerve-wracking extremes of critical moments in competition.  We might possibly suffer injuries with life-long implications, but we will definitely experience aches and pains daily that remind us of the effort we have expended.

    With this much on the line, it is only natural that athletes would seek every possible method of improving their competitive abilities.  World-class athletes are often seen utilizing computer simulations, high-tech training equipment, and unique methods to help them find that extra "edge".  Visualization & imagery, wind-tunnels, computer graphics, meditation, and complex machinery are all part of the modern training regimen.  Unfortunately, some athletes resort to performance-enhancing drugs, or other methods of cheating to accomplish their purpose, never realizing that they are only cheating themselves.

    It was inevitable that high-level athletes would eventually begin to apply the concepts of psychology to their athletic endeavors.  The potential advantages to be gained by athletes who could utilize the power of their mind to overcome some of their physical limitations made sports psychology an idea whose time had come.  Once, the techniques of sports psychology were available only to professional athletes who had extensive resources at their disposal.  Now, the benefits are so well-documented that any interested individual can explore the methods and apply them successfully.

     Do you have to be crazy to try this stuff?  The old joke says, "No, but it sure helps!"  The reality is that we really only have to be significantly interested in improving our athletic performance.  One of the great, liberating experiences in life is the recognition that, though we cannot always control which events occur in our lives, or control all the outcomes of situations, we are in total control of our thoughts and feelings about those events.  It is a tremendous power when we recognize that there really is nothing we cannot handle, and that we are gifted with this control over our lives.  Though there are many aspects of competition we cannot possibly control, it is energizing and exciting to realize how much control we actually do have.

    We must account for the source of our actions, thoughts, and feelings.  If malfunctions in those elements are "getting in the way" of our best possible athletic performance, they need to be changed.  Everything in life is about the choices we make, and taking responsibility for those choices.  If you truly desire to make a change in your life, and choose to make that change, you must: (1) Make change a priority in your life; (2) Be willing to take some risks to effect that change; (3) Make a personal commitment to work on changing for the better; and (4) Take action in a planned, consistent and considered way.  That's what this class is really all about.

    There is a self-development mission in sports.  It enables us to become whole in ways that other daily activities cannot.  There is a complex relationship between the thoughts our Mind creates, the structure and abilities of our Body, the emotions and feelings we hold in our Heart, and the transcendent, indomitable truth in our Spirit.  The more avidly we study this relationship, and the more intently we work to improve that relationship, the more likely we are to achieve our fullest potential.  By now, you should have experienced at least one moment in your life when these four aspects were in perfect harmony.  Can you recall now how incredible that felt?  Our goal is to make it more possible for you to experience that synergy on a regular basis.

    What is it that you really want out of life, and how do you expect sports to enhance that?  The answer to this question is essential to the extent of your motivation to make changes in your life.  No matter how much we would like to, we cannot change the behavior of others, only they can change themselves.  We can change how we are affected by their behaviors.   Making the right changes will make us more productive, and generally happier about our lives.  That seems like a worthy goal to accomplish.  That is one of the main goals of Sports Psychology.

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