Sports Psychology
The PsychoDynamic Model

    The name of any model helps us attach meaning to the method, but this name says more than most.  The prefix psycho- means "mind", and the suffix -dynamic means "action".  This literally is the study of the actions of the mind.  Sometimes we don't see our mind as an active agent in the experiences of our lives, but proponents of this theory teach us that the mind not only plays an important and active role in everything we do consciously, it also has a significant role in things we do unconsciously.

    This model originated with Sigmund Freud, and has been expanded upon and modified by Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Helene Deutsch, Karen Horney, and Eric Berne.  It is sometimes called "the grandfather of models", because it is the first organized way of studying the actions of the mind, and all other models owe some concepts and principles to this model.  Even though the ancient Egyptians and Greeks speculated on the mind as an active agent in our lives, Freud and the other psychodynamic theorists were the first to explore the process in a systematic and scientific way.  Each man who followed Freud altered some concepts into what he personally considered a more accurate explanation of the process.  For instance, Freud attributed a great deal of our dysfunctions to sexual conflicts within our personality, but Adler chalked them up more to our need to establish superiority over others.

    Some primary terms associated with this model are: Inner Conflict, Unconscious Mind, Defense Mechanism, Transference, Repression, Sublimation, Analysis, Free Association, Projective Testing, Dream Analysis, and Case Study.

    The most basic theory at the heart of psychodynamics is that your personality and motivations are based on the interactions between three elements of your mind that were first identified by Freud.  The Id is a childish aspect of us that wants only two things: Sensual Gratification (this is pleasure for any of our 5 senses) and Aggression Release.  Early in our lives, these two desires occupy most of our sensations.  We are happy when we get to eat, touch a soft teddy bear, or poop our pants.  If we don't get our way, we scream and cry until our needs are met (don't let that diaper be dirty for too long).  Football players are trying to bring out their Id when they pound their thighpads and yell, "kill, kill, kill!"  Obviously, if we were dominated by our all day, every day, we'd get into lots of trouble with adults and other authorities.  Our Ego is like our personal referee.  It tries to keep the Id out of trouble by using a variety of techniques known as defense mechanisms.  By sublimation, for example, the Ego turns the Id's desires into socially acceptable or valuable outcomes.  You love Reese's Cups, but your Ego gets you to ask "Please" or buy them from the store, where your Id would just snatch up every one you saw.  By repression, as another example, the Ego "holds down" the Id, basically saying, "You can't have what you want right now, so shut up!"  You can see a chart that shows many common real-life examples of defense mechanisms if you click HERE.  The third element is the Superego.  This aspect judges the struggles between your Id and Ego, and decides whether your Ego is doing a good job keeping the Id under control.  The Superego is a harsh judge, and the Id is a devious and powerful force, so the Ego is constantly "under fire" from both sides.  This is a losing proposition, so even when the Ego overcomes the Id, the Superego usually judges that the Ego did not do well enough, and we end up with a guilty conscience, or feeling like a failure.  It may seem astounding to imagine all this going on inside your head, but the structure does help us understand why we sometimes feel "conflicted".  [As an example of how these concepts have changed over time, Eric Berne, the developer of Transactional Analysis, labels these aspects with more "user friendly" terms: "Child" for Id, "Adult" for Ego, and "Parent" for Superego.]

    The second major element of psychodynamics is the action of our unconscious mind.  The theory is that most of the conflict noted above goes on in a place where we cannot (or choose not to) follow it closely.  [You should be able to imagine the sorts of odd behavior that a person struggling openly with those conflicts might exhibit.  We've all seen sitcoms in which some character's Id, Ego, and Superego argue out loud, and it seems pretty funny.]  In addition, many of the feelings that get repressed become trapped down in the unconscious.  Since these feelings can be very strong, it seems likely that under the proper conditions, these conflicts and feelings will eventually resurface, causing us much more pain and anxiety.  For Freud and other psychodynamic therapists, these conflicts and feelings could reappear in dreams, mispoken phrases ("Freudian slips"), and unusual behaviors.  While these actions might seem humorous on a TV show, if we were experiencing them personally, they would be very dreadful.

    The therapeutic process most commonly used in psychodynamics is called "analysis".  Through this process, the Analyst looks at the person's behavior patterns, to try to discover how past experiences have led to the current dysfunctions.  If they are having problems, it is because they either misinterpreted our past experiences, or they chose the wrong defense mechanisms, which haven't worked.  It is important to the Analyst that the person know themself well, so the source and effects of the dysfunction will be accurate.  The Analyst may use free association, dream analysis, or projective testing to help identify the source of these dysfunctions.  The Analyst must be very careful not to imagine that every problem the person is having is part of some deepseated and metaphoric cause.  A tennis player who always beats the females they play against, but never defeats a male opponent does not necessarily have some inner hatred of women or irrational fear of men.  Psychodynamics is a personal therapy, and each individual's behaviors must be looked at as a very unique set of causes and effects.  In order to be effective, it requires a patient who is introspective, can face themselves honestly, and truly wants to change.

    Psychodynamics is not very popular as a sports psychology for several reasons: it usually requires a long time for the intervention process to be worked out and implemented, and athletes are usually seeking more immediate results; processes in the unconscious mind are not cause-effect relationships, and almost all athletics is; it is not very good for predicting the future for athletic performances; there is not a lot of agreement on what a healthy sports mind really looks like, since some sports require superior Ego control and other require a relatively unleashed Id; and it carries the weight of a public opinion that thinks it works great for sick people, but not so well for healthy ones.
    In spite of all that, Psychodynamics has led us to understand some important "truths" about athletics and competition: they give us a very wide range of emotions to experience; they satisfy inner needs that are not met by other activities; they open us to insights that can be applied to daily life; they increase our self-sufficiency, allowing us to depend upon ourselves for resources rather than always relying on others; and they help us find a role in society.  Perhaps best of all, sports is an antidepressant.  It relieves our aggressive impulses in an acceptable way; we can use it to exchange mild physical pain for our emotional pains; and it helps us recognize that no failure is ever a total loss.  These are insights that can certainly help us lead a healthier, more balanced life.

    By using the principles of PsychoDynamics to work through our past conflicts, we can actually relieve ourselves of much of the guilt we carry around, and come to feel much better about ourselves and our activities.  Just as we would practice our golf swing more precisely if we recognized a flaw that was leading to bad shots, we must practice strategies that will help us improve our mental state if we recognize flaws in our inner dynamics.

    Write a journal that answers each of these PsychoDynamic-related questions regarding your own athletic life, and put it in your notebook:
~   What "internal conflicts" do I have relative to my sport and/or my performance in it?
~   What mental attitudes do I carry with me that are not helpful to my athletic performance?
~   How do these mental attitudes and conflicts effect my ability to achieve my goals?
~   How can I improve my play if I improve my strategy for dealing with my attitudes and conflicts?

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