Optimal Performance and Sports Psychology

The field of optimal performance draws its knowledge base heavily from the field of sports psychology. If you think about it, there is much in common. Athletes are not alone in desiring to perform at their peak level. Many business people, musicians, and performers desire to be at the 'top of their game' in their respective fields and thus, would seek out the services of a psychologist.

Sports psychologists assist both professional and amateur athletes as they attempt to improve their performance, overcome restrictive issues, and reach their athletic goals. This field combines the disciplines of psychology, the study of the mind, and kinesiology, the study of human movement. Your Thousand Oaks sports psychologist, Laura Thomas, Ph.D., delves deeply into these sciences, studying how psychological factors can impact performance, as well as how sport and exercise can impact physical and psychological wellbeing.

Athletes consult with sports psychologists for a variety of reasons. However, it is often competitive difficulties that are the main motivation. Athletes may struggle to communicate with teammates, control their temper, or maintain the motivation required to train. They may also find it difficult to maintain their focus during competition, control their anxiety, or keep from buckling under pressure.

Parents of athletes must face some challenges of their own. While watching a child perform can be exciting and rewarding, many parents are left frustrated and disappointed. These reactions can have an especially great impact on younger athletes and ultimately play a major role in their enjoyment of sports. One need only refer to the many disturbing incidents at youth sporting events to see the challenges of raising an athlete. While a father may have the best intentions for his daughter at heart during his sideline argument with the soccer referee, he also fails to realize the impact such actions can have on the children participating. To combat these incidents, sports psychologists can help parents learn to deal with the pressures they face, as well as foster the confidence, enjoyment, skill development, and cooperation sports teach children. Furthermore, parents can also learn to help young athletes cope with the disappointment of a loss to ensure negative events do not permanently impact their child’s enjoyment of sports.

However, the benefits of sports psychology are not limited to the playing field. The sports psychologist in Thousand Oaks equips athletes of all ages with techniques and strategies that extend to other settings, like the workplace and school. With today's heavy emphasis on the external side of sports, psychological considerations often suffer. However, maintaining internal composure is one of the greatest determinants in performance quality, both on the field and off. The Thousand Oaks sports psychologist will help athletes develop the inner calm needed to reach their potential and overcome the challenges of competitive athletics.

The Mindful Athlete

Have you ever been 'that' athlete that can't sleep the night before a big event; or get's so amped up by the 'out of control energy' at the start of the race that they can't adhere to their anticipated strategies at the onset of the event?  Have you ever been that athlete that says:  "I have to....".  Or "I can't..."  Or "I better...." .  The constant barrage of self-talk like this does not motivate the athlete to perform better but instead detracts from their ability to do well.  Perhaps the practice of mindfulness can augment your skills and performance on race day.

A mindful athlete brings 'awareness' to their athleticism.  Awareness has numerous appearances or manifestations; none of which are either right or wrong.  Awareness is not a magical nor a mystical process.  It begins with merely 'noticing what is.'   Perhaps it is most notable on race day when the first waves of excitement (or dread) become a bare whisper in the background of the athlete.  The mindful athlete 'notices' their inner state.  In the midst of this subtle awareness, a breath is taken, and space is given to the subtle sensations that may be barely forming.

The mindful athlete continues in their awareness.  Their senses take in the sounds, the odors, the sights and kinesthetic experiences available to them.  Without judgment they observe the 'self' in response to the stimuli; both inner and outer.  Again, the breath is emitted with a simultaneous allowing of space to surround the sensory experiences.  And another breath ensues with a gentle softening around thoughts and judgments of responses to the sensory stimuli.

All of this occurs in an instant.  The observation, the unfolding awareness that comes, the constant shifting that occurs, the breathing, the giving space, the softening.  Nothing is forced.  All is allowed.  Even what the mind believes is unwanted; undesirable; even detrimental, is allowed.  Because what is 'allowed' existence does not have to be any more than what it is.  If it is a whisper, it can remain a whisper.  It needn't become a shout; because you have noticed the whisper. When the mind becomes aware of an unwelcome thought, that same mind 'notices' the effects on the self, and compassionately softens where it can; letting go of the tensions of self-judgment, pressure, and comparison, where it can.  Detaching from the thought itself while still holding it in awareness.  Breathing; always breathing.  It takes on its own rhythm; the breathing; the noticing; the giving of space; the allowing of what is.

Micro-adjustments are constant in the mind and body of the athlete serving to support the physical training that has primed them for race day.  Knowing that the mind's 'best thoughts' may actually serve to undermine the performance of the athlete, they observe the chatter of the mind, the tendency to apply pressure, to label, or compare.  When observed in the consciousness of the athlete, they then bring awareness, breath, softening, and the gentle allowing of space to exist, which paradoxically allows space to change.  Thoughts come into awareness ('this is hard') and thoughts recede much like the constantly shifting terrain through which you may be riding or running.  With awareness, we realize we can no more hold onto thought than our breath if we tune into the natural rhythm of things.  Detaching from thoughts while acknowledging their existence through mindful awareness allows the mental transformation to occur which supports optimal performance.

The mindful athlete aspires to be in the flow, in the zone, of the moment that is; not the moment that isn't.  There is less resistance and more effortlessness which in turn supports the athlete to perform optimally on race day.

L. Thomas, Ph.D.
April 2014