Nurturing Talent: Psychological Training for the Youth
Ask yourself, “what is the most important thing required to win?” Most people when asked this question answer focus, self- confidence, team spirit, discipline, motivation, willpower, and so on. And yet, it’s curious that while budding athletes spend hours on end working on their technique, hardly any time is spent actually working to strengthen these psychological attributes that are core to winning any competition.
There’s a widely believed misconception that you’re either born confident or you’re not. You either have it in you to face challenges or you don’t. And with this belief follows a dangerous approach to training – throw the child in the deep end, if they can swim, great! If not, just go ahead and find the next one who can.
The good news, however, is that coping with pressure is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be learnt given the right training. The same applies to one’s ability to focus, be confident, inculcate discipline and so on. The important thing to keep in mind is that mental training should go hand in hand with technical training – it’s not about fixing problems, but rather, tapping into your fullest potential.
Here is a brief overview to the sport psychologist’s toolbox for mental training:
1. Biofeedback and Neurofeedback – Using technology, psychologists help athletes strengthen the mind-body connection. We do this by exploring and subsequently controlling how thoughts and feelings can affect one’ heart rate, fatigue and brain waves
2. Imagery Training – If I ask you to think of a tree or the sound of a bell, you’ll realize it’s easier and faster to think in terms of images and sound as compared to thinking in words. Athletes can enhance this ability to think in images in order to enhance self-confidence and feel relaxed. More importantly, imagery is also extensively used to improve technique as well.
3. Attention Control – Focus is something like a spotlight. The problem usually isn’t that the power is out, but rather that the spotlight is pointed in the wrong direction. Every sport has its unique demands on our attention –, and it’s important to train your mind to focus on the right thing at the right time. Several drills, both on and off the field can help with this kind of attentional training.
4. Relaxation Training – From simulating competition stress in practice situations to breathing exercises, guided imagery and muscle relaxation, one needn’t feel helpless in the face of anxiety. The key is to ensure that athletes are formally given relaxation training during practice sessions.
5. Self – Talk – While it’s normal to feel arousal during critical moments in competition, how we experience and control those physiological sensations matters – this is what makes all the difference between looking forward to a match with excitement and feeling anxiety and dread. The things we say to ourselves can also go a long way in determining how we feel about ourselves.
6. Goal Setting – While every player has goals they aspire towards, no one ever really talks about what a goal should look like or how it should be set. The most effective goals aren’t meant to be the finish line, but rather, the signboards that lead us there. How an athlete sets goals has the biggest impact on discipline, motivation and most importantly, their self-confidence.
Remember, no one is born a champion – but given the right support at the right time, each of us have it in us to become a winner.