Health column: Athletes must look after their brains
I believe the modern day pressures of sport make it very difficult for athletes to perform consistently, which at certain levels directly affects funding.
Modern day athletes need to understand how to prepare professionally, with clear and precise decision-making.
If key psychological elements such as anxiety, confidence or concentration are lost, this will have a direct negative impact on how well the athlete performs.
Part of my role is to provide athletes with tools and skills to strengthen, mange and cope with the psychological demands of modern day sport, which is the same for both amateur and elite athletes.
An elite athlete I have been working with recently, (for the purposes of confidentiality is called Tom), was affected so much by the pressure of competition it created self-doubt and negative thoughts, which severely affected his confidence and performance levels.
Part of the work that I’ve done with Tom has aimed at helping him understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Tom now understands how to control his emotions, which have positively influenced his thoughts about himself, which in turn has raised his confidence and performance levels.
A key to helping Tom perform consistently in the future was to help him change is thinking towards pressure and learn to enjoy pressurised situations and environments.
One of the tools provided to Tom was to control his thoughts, and use positive self-talk to counter the negative thoughts.
From these sessions, there were clear positive outcomes.
Tom is now confident and positive about himself, which has made a real difference to how he feels when competing.
I believe that athletes of all levels should have clear and precise thinking when performing.
There are multiple reasons why athletes don’t have this mindset, but usually only one outcome – not performing well.
In this example, Tom seeked out support as he knew the implications of his thinking.
Unfortunately not all athletes are like Tom.
Some need encouragement, others are ambivalent towards how they think or feel.
If you can take one thing from this short success story – take your mental health seriously.
If you feel you are not performing well because of how you think, whether you doubt yourself or become nervous before performing, do something about it.
If you pull a muscle, you see a physiotherapist.
Your brain also needs maintaining from time to time. So seek out a qualified, HCPC registered Sport Psychologist and make those psychological improvements to become the athlete you know you can be.
n Dean Watson is a a Sport and Exercise Psychologist, working at Sheffield Hallam University.