Recognizing the Need for Psychological Training with Athletes

Although it is important to recognize and practice the physical and technical aspects of any sport, once that has been accomplished (with constant “fine tuning”), athletes need to begin to attend to how their minds, thoughts and emotions affect their performance. The ultimate goal is to perform “without thinking” … that is to say in an automatic, natural, fluid manner resulting from consistent repetitious practice. That level, when achieved, separates the amateur from the professional … the beginner from the more experienced athlete. This level allows the stress of competition to be dealt with most effectively as the athlete develops and maintains focusand then goes into his/her own zone in order to compete successfully.

The human element is always operating despite how well-versed an athlete might become. That human element is comprised of thoughts and feelings that tend to interferewith performance that are usually a result of unreasonable expectations and personality traits. If asked to choose the most prevalent of these, they would be the “carryover effect” and an athlete’s expectations of self and others. The carryover effect deals with the relationship between the balance of one’s personal life as it carries over into the athletic role. Our expectations of ourselves and others play a huge role and can make-or-break the final outcome of an athletic competition. No one … even the athlete … is aware of this interference in that it might assume the role of “hidden agenda” and can only be ferreted out by a trained professional.

Competition in any sport is centered on the need to win but the result can often fall short of the desired goal. This article examines some of the elements affecting that goal both positively and negatively. My consulting with athletes in most sports would show that there are certain elements pertaining to mental and emotional states that can help explain success or failure.

Perfection vs. Excellence:

It is not possible to achieve perfection in this life … and especially in sports’ arenas. Besides, perfection does not allow for making any mistakes so that athletes who believe they must perform “perfectly” every time usually become discouraged so that their performance becomes limited thus making more mistakes and unable to rebound. Substituting the “perfect” mode with “excellence” allows for mistakes, learning from them and improving performance.

Losing focus / Staying in the Zone:

No matter which sport, athletes must be able to establish and maintain focus in order to remain in their zones. Their focus must be on playing “their game” instead of being distracted with the opposition’s play, the score or anticipating something that hasn’t occurred. They must “live in the moment” to accomplish the end result for which they were trained physically and mentally in order to succeed.

Preoccupation with Opponents’ Performance:

A favorite ploy on the parts of competitors is “trash talking” or gloating over their scoring to upend their opponent’s emotional balance giving them an edge in the competition. Maintaining focus in order to shut down any of these negative effects that stand in the way of success is essential.

Emotional Interference / Tensing Up:

Is it possible for adrenaline to flow while remaining relaxed and in control? Yes! If thoughts and feelings begin to creep in that interfere with a players’ performance that distracts or creates tension, performance will be affected accordingly. Training with amateur and professional athletes alike limiting such interference has shown a demonstrable positive outcome. Tense athletes are more prone to make mistakes, lose focus and even move into a “slump-like” mode. A “slump” is not believing that we can do something that we’ve already accomplished. It is a mental-emotional condition that no amount of practice that can correct it unless those features are addressed through special training methods.

“The Carryover Effect”:

We’re all human and there can be carryover effects from our personal lives into our athletic roles and vice-versa tending to interfere with performance. The ability to manage those effects so that interference is minimized requires specialized training for most athletes in order to create a new “mind set” that places priorities in their proper perspective.

Unreasonable Expectations:

Our expectations for ourselves and others as well as the expectations that others have of us plays a major role in success or failure. Although coaches should have a reading as to what can be expected from an athlete, they are not always accurate. Athletes themselves often push to exceed previous levels of performance which may harm rather than hinder their progress. A clear assessment on the parts of both athletes and coaches should be made in order to insure both the safety and well-being of the athlete as well as a gauge that allows for a successful process of training and improvement.

Using Anger as Motivation:

Many athletes depend on anger as a motivation for their doing well. Although becoming angry or at least frustrated over making a mistake occurs, using anger as a primary motivation for achievement usually creates tension interfering with successful performance. Contrariwise, moving into a relaxed, controlled state achieves the desired effect much more readily and effectively.

Need to Win or Fear of Losing?

Many athletes can’t distinguish whether they feel the need to win or whether they are really afraid of losing. The motivation behind winning can be as important as winning itself. Remember, “Excitement is only fear that we choose to challenge.”

(27 September 2014)


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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