Vail Daily health column: Athletes can benefit from sport psychology
Ryan Summerlin July 15, 2013
As a doctor of sport and exercise psychology in the Vail Valley, I knew I had to be part of the Vail Living Well Summit in September when I heard about the program. I am looking forward to speaking about one of my passions, which involves mental toughness techniques for all types of athletes. Some people may wonder what this entails, as athletes are taught to concentrate on their physical toughness more than any other aspect in the sport. I’d like to give you a few specific sport psychology tools you can use immediately to enhance your performance and explain why mental toughness is so important to both professional and amateur athletes.
Many athletes can benefit from sport psychology. Take, for example, a cyclist who’d like to learn how to push him or herself to avert physical fatigue and remain committed, confident and focused, from beginning to finish. There are three main sport psychology tools he or she can use: association, affirmation and body language.
With association, athletes “tune in” to the activity to increase work output. Examples of associations include focusing on power, breath and technique, setting a very short-term goal to keep yourself focused on the work. A lot of athletes may find distractions, such as music, beneficial to their routine, but for high intensity portions of the ride, association is recommended. In fact, research shows that when athletes need to work through pain and fatigue, performance increases when they can “tune in” to the work rather than trying to “tune out” the pain and fatigue they are feeling.
The second tool is affirmation. Choose affirmations that keep you committed, focused and confident during your workout. “Every day and every way, my body gets stronger and stronger,” is one of my personal favorites. I love this affirmation for cycling and endurance sports, especially because it also keeps your momentum and cadence consistent. There’s a rhythm to the affirmation and you can pedal to it.
Body language is the third important sport psychology tool. Athletes should look confident and in-charge during their fitness training. Little changes to your body language such as taking your shoulders up, back and down, along with smiling can go a long way. The take away is that positive body language creates positive energy; positive energy fuels positive performance and results.
Through these three techniques, athletes can find themselves completely devoted and confident through their workout. Whether it’s physical pain and fatigue, negativity and distractions such as unforgiving weather and conditions, or being confident even though today’s doesn’t feel as good as last week’s ride, practicing these techniques can make athletes more aware of their mental toughness, and improving on it can, and will, eventually lead to personal success.
Studies continue to prove that when you take 20 athletes of equal ability and give 10 of them mental training, the 10 with mental training will outperform the 10 who received no mental training every time. Whether you’re an athlete wanting to climb that mountain in record speed or a golf enthusiast looking to shave a few more strokes off your game, sport psychology will enable you to achieve peak results.
With a Ph.D. in sport psychology, M.S. in sport pedagogy, as well as numerous fitness and coach certifications, Haley Perlus is an expert at empowering individuals to achieve peak results in sport and health. She is a professor at the University of Colorado, three-time author and international speaker. For more information about the Vail Living Well Summit and the event’s format, speaker lineup or to register, visit www.vaillivingwell.org, Facebook or call Vail Living Well’s event concierge, Kaylee Brennand, at 970-343-9918.