During this time when sports are on pause for the foreseeable future, many athletes are wondering what they should be doing. They can work on building their physical strength and conditioning to ensure they are in shape and ready to hit the ground running when leagues and organized sport begins again. However, it is hard to know the timing of everything and no one wants to peak too early in physical training or burnout while they wait. While there may not be competitions at this time, I still believe this is the perfect opportunity to work on your mental game. Yes competitions bring about their own set of mental challenges and anxieties that working with a mental performance specialist can help with. However, like most aspects of wellness, it is often better to take a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. Why not take this extra time that we are away from competing, and put it to good use learning mental skills that can be employed when we return to our sport?
So let’s start with what Mental Performance training is.
Sport Psychology and mental performance training are basically two different ways of saying the same thing. The Canadian Sport Psychology Association defines applied sport psychology as the facilitation of the “development of mental and emotional skills, techniques, attitudes, perspectives, and processes that lead to performance enhancement and positive personal development” (www.cspa-acps.com). Basically, we work to help the individual achieve their optimal level of performance by helping them with the mental side of things.
What certain things can a mental performance specialist help you with?
There are many different aspects of performance that deal with the mental component. Below are some examples of what a mental performance specialist can help with:
– Improve concentration and focus
– Improve motivation and setting goals
– Enhance confidence and one’s belief in their ability to be successful
– Improve communication skills
– Improve recovery and regeneration
– Enhance leadership and decision-making processes
– Assist in the rehabilitation from an injury
– Create and maintain positive environments
– Planning and preparing for competitions, including pre-performance routines
– Regulate emotions, arousal, anxiety and stress
Below are some of the more common misconceptions regarding mental performance specialists and their work:
Many believe that sport psychologists or mental performance specialists work exclusively with athletes, and more specifically with only elite Olympic-level athletes. However, mental performance is not just specific to sport. If you review the list I presented above on the topics that are covered in mental performance work you will see that all of these can be applied to any aspect of life. A business executive for example, could work with a mental performance specialist on stress management, leadership and communication skills enhancement. A musician might work on their stage anxiety and performing in front of a large crowd. A school teacher might be interested in improving their confidence and learning how to create a positive environment for their students. There are endless possibilities of applications of this field of work and it is certainly not limited to just athletes.
There is also a myth that mental performance specialists are what people would consider traditional “therapists” and that people should only seek help when they have an issue or problem that needs to be fixed. This is just not the case. Sport psychology is more like strength and conditioning in that you don’t have to wait until a problem arises to work on your mental game. Many athletes work with a mental performance specialist year-round and take a proactive approach to learning how they can be better prepared if a problem does arise. It is important to note that in some provinces in Canada, including Alberta, the term “psychologist” is protected and can only be used by professionals with specialized training that are registered through a regulatory body such as the College of Alberta Psychologists. A sport psychologist then is a registered psychologist who specializes in sport enhancement but can also work with clients on clinical issues. Some other experts will use the term mental performance specialist/consultant/coach if they are not registered psychologists, and therefore their work will have a slightly different focus overall. It is important to be aware of this distinction however, and make sure that the person you are working with has the appropriate education and training for what you are looking for.
Another misconception about sport psychology is that coaches can do this work with their athletes and a sport psychology expert is not needed. While many coaches are very good at what they do and some would even have training in this area, it is always best to work with an expert who has extensive education and experience. Having a designated mental performance specialist to work with enhances the coach’s work and provides an outside relationship for the athletes. Some athletes may even have a concern they are uncomfortable discussing with a coach or someone they have a strong relationship with, but having another option for them who is separate from the team may be an asset. Sometimes it is difficult to separate a coaching role with a more helping role such as a sport psychologist and that is why it is important to have an independent mental performance specialist to work with.
Reaching out to a sport psychologist with your questions is the first step to achieving your full potential. We offer complimentary meet and greet sessions so you can find out if this is a good option for you.
East Meets West Inc. has a full staff of experts to help you live your best. Whether you have some aches to kick, or you want to start down a path of better health, let’s chat!