We are more and more aware, that mental training for sports activities is essential for an optimum performance and that generally athletes, behave better with knowledge and application of psychological principles and strategies.
The main purposes of psychology in sports activities are to describe, explain and predict the attitudes, feelings and behavior of participants in sports; athletes, coaches and even spectators.
I will try to explain in a short version in my article the role of psychology in sport. Also, we will look closely to better understand, how Psychology can be used in sports activity, to improve the level of performance, also which are the main directions of using psychology in sport and especially the fundamental factors that lead to performance.
Main directions of use of psychology in sports:
- Preparing athletes for major competitions;
- Reducing tensions and stress that have caused a decrease in performance;
- Maintaining high-level performance over a long period of time;
The fundamental factors of sports performance:
- Anxiety and excitement.
Motivation can be defined as the one that causes a person to behave in a certain way. This behavior may be positive or negative. Motivation is unity for a purpose. Also it is very important both in improving and maintaining athletic performance in a individual.
Without motivation, athletes will not be as willing to attend all training sessions. They will not train with the same maximum intensity at all sessions, wich means that they will not work at the highest standards during competitions. For example; take swimmers, who need to attend training sessions in most of the morning of the week, and then again, after school or afternoon. Without an effective motivation, they will be less trained. Reduced frequency will lead to lack of training sessions, and this will lead to lower levels of tension and abilities, implicitly to a decrease in performance at future meetings.
Positive motivation is recognition, praise and, eventually, rewarding good performance. It is an important aspect of training. The athlete is motivated to reproduce the same show to receive the rewards.
The negative motivation is the feedback received by athletes when coaches, parents or friends consider that a particular aspect of their behavior is unacceptable or under-standard. This causes athletes to avoid this type of behavior from fear of their negative reactions. Although both forms of motivation are used in sports, coaches need to carefully evaluate all players and treat each individual player. Due to differences in personality, individual players respond in particular to positive and / or negative motivation.
If motivation techniques are used incorrectly, they may lead to a decrease in performance. Positive motivation is usually more acceptable to most athletes and is a more durable technique than negative motivation. It also has more success in improving and maintaining performance than negative approaches. Behavioral motivation may come from internal (intrinsic) or external (extrinsic) sources.
The intrinsic forms of motivation come from within the individual; that is the individual personally concerned about his performance and is motivated at higher levels by the need for satisfaction. Satisfaction can come from greater fun, joy or competence and is not necessarily linked to an external measurement factor, such as trophies or public recognition. Such intrinsic motivation it is a powerful motivating tool. An example, intrinsic motivation can be seen in the athlete who continues to compete in the race, despite the fact that there’s no chance of winning. Desire to meet a personal need. This self-satisfaction with performance is often referred to as internal reinforcement and ensures that this type of behavior will happen again.
Personality is a critical factor in performance. Different types of personality treat motivation, excitement, anxiety, setting goals and psychological techniques in different ways. Consequently, personality traits are closely related to excitement and performance. In recent years, particular attention has been paid to identifying specific personality traits that allow an athlete to work his best, either as an individual player or in a team.
Attention is the athlete’s aspiration. Aspiration is the ambition of the athlete to succeed. Therefore, it is a critical factor for success. Not all types of personalities are fit to achieve their goals. In many cases, aspiration generates high levels of anxiety. The terms “anxiety” and “excitement” are often used interchangeably. However, they are not synonyms. These are measured differently, and different techniques are used to regulate each.
Anxiety and excitement. Anxiety is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Excitement, on the other hand, can be defined as the emotional, mental or physiological activation needed to produce a response. Anxiety reflects a person’s feelings and a high level of emotion that causes physical and mental discomfort. A person who is worried about an exam might have trouble sleeping. An athlete might be afraid of failing or fear of being tried.
Features and anxiety. It is common to distinguish between “trait anxiety” and “state anxiety”. Feature anxiety (A-trait) is the general attitude of the athlete to perceive a situation as threatening or non-threatening. This is a personality trait. State Anxiety (“State A”) refers to the athlete’s emotional response to a particular situation. This response could be fear, worry, tension, nervousness. Anxiety as a condition can be controlled by managing the athlete’s situation, while anxiety as a feature must be controlled by the athlete as it exists within the athlete.
Two important variables in performance are:
• the importance of the individual’s situation
• the uncertainty of the outcome of the situation.
Both factors have a direct impact on anxiety status and anxiety as well as the trait.
The relationship between the individual and the situation – and their effects on anxiety and performance.
Athletes with a high characteristic “A” have a basic tendency to react in a certain way (with high levels of anxiety) when faced with stressful information. In contrast, a low-A-featured but high-A-athlete will assess the current state of play. The athlete will then decide if this particular situation involves a threat. A-high-trained Athlete will probably become more worried before a competition (and may have an acute illness) than will be a low-A-Athlete. High Feature “A” athlete will also have the tendency to demonstrate state “A” responses beyond what is necessary, given the nature of the situation. State “A”and character “A” can be measure using inventory or questionnaires.
Stress sources. We can describe it like a non-specific response that the body brings to the demands that are being addressed. It can be good or bad, but physiological reactions in the body are virtually the same. When athletes compete, they may feel too much stress, hypostress, stress or erection.
Stress is very closely related to anxiety. Stress can come from internal or external sources that may or may not be under the direct control of the athlete.
More experienced and skilled athletes, use techniques to cope with stress, before, during, and after events. The methods used by athletes to cope with stress include:
- controlling anxiety and excitation
- mental rehearsals.
Some of these abilities can also be transferred to everyday life, not only in optimal sports performance. The level of excitement can be measured by performance. Attempts have been made to explain in theory the relationship between excitement and performance.
The first theory was the engine theory of Clark Hull (1943). This theory implied a direct relationship between arousal and sport performance. This meant that the possibility of the desired response increased with the increase in the level of excitement. This theory is not viable for all sports and can only be applied to simple tasks, not to complex ones.
Excitation levels and performance are directly related to motivation. As far as sporting performances are concerned, excitement refers to the degree of energy release and the intensity of training of the athlete. The level of athletes’ excitement can be measured by heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, skin temperature, and brainwave activity.
Another suggested theory was the U Inverted Theory , according to this theory, for optimal performance, the individual must achieve a moderate level of excitement. Optim is not maximum; too little or too much excitement leads to a decrease in performance. This theory takes into account the complexity of the task and is useful in many situations. Many factors, other than anxiety, will inhibit performance, so decreasing anxiety will not always lead to better performance.
There are so many individual variations of anxiety level that measuring the optimal level of performance of the athlete is almost impossible, especially using only one theory (such as reversed U theory). Alternative theories require more research, but could provide an additional explanation for optimal levels of excitement.
Another theory is The Optimal Operation Area (ZOF), proposed by Yari Hanin in 1980, and it is an alternative theory. This suggests that a simple formula can be applied to measure the optimal level of excitement.
Catastrophic Theory, proposed by John Fazey and Lou Hardy in 1988, also casts doubt on U reversal theory, suggesting that the relationship between stress and performance is not symmetrical. That is, after an athlete reaches an optimal level of excitement, if the athlete continues to be anxious and wakes up his performance, it will decrease dramatically. The theory addresses how performance is determined by the physiological and cognitive factors of excitation. It also notes that performance in sports is rarely predictable.
Flow theory / Theory ow ( wich I’ve given my full attention in another article), presented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, suggests that optimal performance can be achieved when the mind of the executing person is totally absorbed by the task. Work experience is an interaction between skill and level of challenge. Experience with ow is more likely to occur when an athlete is highly qualified and personally challenged by the situation. Supporters of this theory use an inventory to determine the individual state scale (FSS). We have identified nine characteristics of the state of the state as well as the factors that facilitate its occurrence.