Akshat Jain is a research scholar at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, who is pursuing his research studies in the field of psychology and neuroscience.
All achievements in life necessitate motivation. For instance, the willingness to execute a task requires motivation to ignite initiative. And, in sports, maintaining balanced motivation is key to completing tasks to create a successful result. The operative word, here, is ‘balanced’ motivation. High levels of motivation may become the reason for anxiety and stress, while low motivation levels may render a person completely hopeless and inactive.
Athletes are nurtured by clear goal setting. A façade is usually created by social media that only shows athletes’ winning moments that are full of motivation and excitement. It fails to throw light on their concerted efforts and struggle to surpass training to get to where they are. It also fails to show the low moments, with lack of motivation, withering confidence, and the insane amount of pressure. As in a recent interview with Forbes India, Virat Kohli, mentioned, “Everyone feels pressure and feels nervous, because your mind is playing tricks on you. If anyone can claim that he or she has never been under pressure then it would be a lie.”
Although, most athletes possess natural talents, certain motivating factors drive them to success. From a psychological perspective, humans possess the need for competence, autonomy, and connection. This grows from positive substantiation. To satisfy these needs, athletes diligently work hard and succeed. Moreover, other motivating factors that may drive athletic action are intrinsic and extrinsic in nature. That means, motivation comes from inside a person or from outside—the environment. Intrinsic factors include sense of achievement and success, pleasure or joy; while extrinsic factors include ego-satisfaction, winning a reward, or forcefully completing a target.
Athletes are motivated to develop and enhance superior skills intrinsic to wins. There can be many reasons when a dip in motivation occurs and anxiety creeps in, such as, when a younger athlete faces an older and well-practiced athlete, or when one is not fully confident of achieving success. Here, health issues and diet and practice are essential. Sports psychologists recommend mental exercises are as important for success as physical fitness.
Therefore, practicing relaxation techniques, rhythmic breathing, visualisation techniques with diligence in pre-performance routine are essential to become mentally tough and face a challenge right at the moment.
Athletes dedicate much of their time and energy to maximise their physical fitness and technical skills. Winners also keep their mental fitness in check, states Jeremy Sutton, a psychologist and a researcher in the area of human capacity on mental and physical limits. Psychological variables are factors for ceasing limits or pushing through them. Therefore, psychological variables must be in tune of physical variables. As told by sports psychologist Aidan Moran, “Sports are played by the body and won in the mind.”
Gary Kristen, former South African cricketer and Indian cricket team coach in his recent interview with The Cricket Couch, brought up the significance of mental toughness in winning a game. He said, “What you do is try and prepare the players as well as you can mentally for the competition, prepare them as well as you can physically for the competition. A lot of it comes in the nets, they hit lots of balls, they do a lot of tangible physical training and effort and focus is put on the mental training. So, we did spend time on that.”
Some widely considered sports psychological factors that affect the athlete’s performance are:
(1) Mental endurance: Mentally tough athletes can persevere through setback, difficulties and stressful situations. They remain unshakable in self-belief. The number of failures only galvanises more spirit to rise despite obstacles to perform—they always get back stronger. Virat Kohli, in his interview with Forbes India, also mentions his strong belief system while taking risks. “You have to take a leap of faith and take risks to succeed. If you don’t, then you might still do well but would be confined in a circle. Then you stop learning and growing,” said Kohli.
(2) Commitment: Athletes as high achievers stay committed to their goals and agendas. Any emotional downturn or setback is not able to stir them from their goals.
(3) Goal setting and focus: Goal setting directs attention to actions and brings maximum outcomes. This map is the potential an athlete navigates effectively to align themselves with improved actions. Consequently, it also creates a sense of satisfaction. Michael Sheard, a senior lecturer in sports and exercise psychology at Teesside and York St John University elicits in his book, Mental Toughness, “Goal setting is associated with increased wellbeing—it represents an individual’s striving to achieve personal self-change, enhanced meaning, and purpose in life.” A realistic goal enables a positive strategy as thinking about it should make one feel that they can do it. It maintains high levels of focus and motivation as one sees actions as tiny doable components.
(4) Anxiety and motivation: Athletes feel anxious when facing pressure from multiple sides—their opponents, coaches, team members, the pressure to perform better, and so on. Sports psychologists suggest numerous mental exercises to ward off anxiety to be better prepared for every game. Visualising oneself playing the game and planning every move in the mind ahead of field play is said to increase real time performance. Moreover, positive self-talk is capable of boosting one’s belief and confidence in oneself. Besides, meditation techniques such as slowing down, relaxing, and breathing in critical moments can increase focus and enhance performance when necessary.
To conclude, principles of sports psychology not only helps improve athletic performance, but it is also useful in real life. One may need to ponder upon these factors in continuing their goals and plans because in real life too, we are always competing and striving to achieve something. As an academic philosopher David Papineau elicits, “Sporting prowess has much to teach us about the workings of our minds.” In short, reaching the top requires a series of smaller goals and actions being performed on a regular basis. Along with that, psychological tools such as right mindset, motivation, self-confidence, and “can-do” mindset can mould the tides of athletic performance.
The writer is research scholar at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, who is pursuing his research studies in the field of psychology and neuroscience.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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