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Preparing Athletes for Competition

Preparing sportspersons for competition is a job with several subsets that range from physical to mental plane, where an intrinsic association between them makes the job of sports psychologists much more than it meets the eye. Apart from that, the specific needs of the specific disciplines commands thorough knowledge of that discipline. For example, the field of athletics involves thorough knowledge about developing specific muscles of the body parts according to the nature of its subsets that vary from one another – like the difference of needs between a sprinter and marathoner.

Accordingly, all other factors involved, like metabolism and nutrition, strength training or psychological conditionings vary to a great degree and make the entire process more complex. Therefore this paper looks at specific ways through which the coaches can use sports psychology to prepare their subjects to achieve the desired outcome, i. e. , game day success. Background: Breaking Down the Jobs at Hand

Considering that the athletes are under proper supervision in the section like food intake, which provides them the required nutrition and strength in their muscles with emphasis on the special ones related to their discipline of athletics, the coaches can start working with the elements of sports psychology, where they need to underpin the major sections of their jobs at hand, before creating the subsets. The entire process can be placed like below, which later can be customized according to the specific needs of the athletes.

However, the coaches should keep it in their mind that the above mentioned is just one part of the fundamentals that sportspersons cannot do without. Accordingly, their primary job should be to imbibe an appropriate mindset in their subjects, where they would be able to underpin all elements associated with their performance, like proper nutrition, strength and stretching training, maintaining appropriate level of hydration and rest, keeping a training log, attending to psychological factors that can enhance their mental condition, etc.

It is only after creating such a mindset in their subjects, the coach can apply the finer elements of sports psychology. A. Motivation: This factor is extremely important in any competitive situation and especially in the field of sports, where motivation can provide that much-needed winning edge in the real-time competition, all things being equal. On the other hand, in the absence of motivation, many athletes can choke on the day when their performance matter most.

Apart from the above two situation, motivation also work wonders in the process of healing. Therefore the coaches can avail various ways to motivate their subjects, ranging from vocal tonics to music, besides imbibing the habit of utilizing imaging techniques in them. The later can be more important on the game day, as it can be utilized in all three situations of the day, i. e. , before the event, during the event and after the event.

A brief take on how visualization technique (Quinn, 2008) can be exploited in such three situations can explain the process further. Before the event: The coaches can help their subjects to visualize their overall state as normal and they are accommodating the fact that nervous energy is actually an adrenaline rush, which is a part of their body’s natural preparation of competition. Thus here the coaches help their subjects to get rid of chocking syndrome, which can grip them via nervous energy.

During the event: Here the competitors can use the teaching of their coaches like acting on practiced imagery of focusing totally on the task at hand – in the process, they might even resort to self-talk, and work like a machine which is oblivious of the world except the task of running. It is now known through research that self-talk is a cognitive strategy to control or modify certain psychological states (Weinberg & Gould, 2003), and the coaches can influence their subjects to utilize its potential.

After the event: The competitors can go for introspection and find the positive sides of their performance and take mental notes on them, while admitting the faults, but not latching on them too much. In each of the above situations, positive imagery can be used and coaches have to resort to sports psychology to effective exploit this great tool for performance enhancement on the game day and continuous improvement throughout the season. Motivation is no less important than oxygen to the athletes, especially on the game day, when only the difference in the level of motivation can turn out as the winning factor.

In the case of team events, this is even more important to ensure that the entire team in finely mentally synchronized with high level of motivation. Again that commands a practiced application of positive imagery, which the coach can invent for their subjects and imbibe the same in them. Music can be a very good source of motivation, especially before the event on the game day and on the training sessions, as it can work in many ways, like soothing the nerves, aligning the activities with rhythm and in general creating a feel-good ambience around the athletes.

This idea is amply corroborated by the researchers, who observed that music affects arousal regulation (Lukas, n. d; Nilsson, Unosson, & Rawal, 2005), besides raising motivation (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997) and mood levels (Gfeller, 1988). Not only that, they are also convinced through experiments about the efficacy of music as a facilitator athletic performance (Dorney & Goh, 1992; Krumhansl, 2002). However, coaches have to underpin the type of music and quality of gadgets, or the technique to utilize music to exploit this wonderful tool (Quinn, 2007).

Goal-setting is another motivation tool which the coaches can do beforehand, and which can surely prove instrumental on the game day. In that case, achieving good result on the game day becomes just a component of the entire process of goal-setting, and frees the athletes from fear of failure. There are various methods of goal-setting, like S. M. A. R. T. approach (Quinn, 2004), which the coaches can adopt for their subjects, where the abbreviation of S. M. A. R. T. stands like below:

S: Specific goals: The coaches stresses on the fact that the level of tangibility of a goal raises its chance of meeting success – for example, if the coaches can convince their subjects about ability to achieve a certain level of performance, they too would look forward to achieve that level M: Measurable goals: Coaches can gather associated factors to take appropriate measures for the success of their subjects – for example, they can adopt vocal tonic for some and calculated explanation for some to bring out the best in their subjects, where in both cases the coaches would have a clear idea about the ability of their subjects.

A: Adjustable/action-oriented goals: This is about carrying a flexible mentality to adjust with situations by modifying the actions, where the actions would remain focused on the goal, and the flexibility would help to align the ability with the situation to earn maximum advantage. This too is needed, especially between the events of the game day. R: Realistic goals: Coaches can teach their subjects to self-assess in terms of calculating the feasibility of the goal. This will make them more confident and aggressive in chasing the goal.

T: Time-based goals: This helps greatly in achieving the goals if all things are in place, like a realistic goal with known appropriate measures, and therefore, the coaches can adopt this policy too, especially accommodating game-day performances as part of a long-term program. The coaches also need to take note of the athletes’ habit of using lucky charms to enhance their performance, and monitor that habit, so that it does not turn detrimental to the actual course of training and performance (Quinn, 2008a)

B. Concentration: Like motivation, the ability to concentrate is another important factor towards achieving the desired success in any field, and athletics is no exception. However, much like practicing the skills of athletics, the athletes have to learn the art of concentrating, and for that matter sports psychology can help them greatly with its array of tools like imaging, or audio files that contain either instrumental music or instructions on how to concentrate etc.

Apart from that, there are other methods like meditation and yoga, which too can be equally helpful to enhance concentration. Yoga is an ancient practice that is taken as a way to attain physical, mental and spiritual discipline, which in turn creates a sound mind in a sound body (Mohan, 2002). The modern researchers are providing more interesting qualities of yoga, as resent research has found that three certain postures of yoga can aid to short-term memory (Kimbrough, Balkin & Rancich, 2007).

However, care should be taken in practicing yoga, as it requires proper guidance. There are other techniques too, like audio files that contain instructions on how to raise the level of concentration, but such files should be verified in terms of their possible impact over the athletes, before letting them to be used. Here too the coaches can be instrumental in converting such practices of the athletes into habit, which would definitely reflect on the game day as like the days of training.

C. Establishing Routines: Though sports psychologists basically work on to prove that psychological attributes and mental skills too contribute to athletic success (Laguna & Ravizza, 2003; Smith, Schultz, Smoll, & Ptacek, 1995), yet that is just one part of the whole process and they have to consider the other part also, which contribute to the athletes’ well being and occupy a large part of the athletes’ routine.

An established routine is invaluable for the athletes not only to enhance their performance, but also to produce their best on the game day, as it is the routine that keeps the athletes in sound physical and mental condition, besides keeping them free from injuries. However, establishing routine is not an easy task, and the coaches have to cover all possible areas related to the performance of the athletes, and that invariably includes factors like proper nutrition, abundant energy to practice hard, quality training and relaxation, proper physical conditioning with appropriate hydration, adequate rest, meditation and relaxation sessions, etc.

Here lies the significance of maintaining logbooks of training, dieting or the history of injury or other issues that can impact the performance (Quinn, 2007a). Logbooks should serve as the guiding light in the formulation of all future programs associated with athletes’ performance. Understandably, routines can be of many types, like nutrition, warm up, general practice or game day routine, besides routines related to mental conditioning. It is pertinent to mention here that certain specific issues like coping with adversity or preparing from pressure situations etc.

, can always be a part of training and thus make their ways into the routines of the athletes. The above pack of jobs are not easy to master in short notice, as it involves proper education, quality life-skills and ability of application, which the coaches must possess before dealing with such intrinsic elements associated with sports psychology. Some discussion on what skills and abilities can enable the coaches to bring out the best from their subjects on the game day would explain their roles further.

Knowledge on imaging technique: The coaches should clearly understand the fundamental elements of imaging technique and should be able to generate faith on its efficacy in the minds of their subjects – like imaging technique can raise performance levels or speed up the healing process, besides keeping them free from fear of failure. The athletes’ should believe that what imaging technique can do in healing, it can do the same in performance enhancement, as it increases feelings of control, improves the mood and consequently, raises the quality of life.

Handling the issue of superstition: This is an extremely sensitive issue as it has its roots are as old as the early days of civilization, when human discovered the “luck” factor. Therefore it is understood that it would rather cause harm to the performance if one is denied to practice one’s superstition. On the other hand, there is always the chance of getting carried away by the lengthy and attention-diluting practice of superstition, which could prove as a roadblock to the performance itself.

This could be a catch-22 situation for the coaches, and they should be crafty enough to regulate such practices in a way that never hinders the progress or performance of their subjects. They should be able to convince their subjects that in the end it is the knowledge, skill and the ability to apply them matter the most. Ability to handle goals: The coaches should know how to handle the long-term goals by breaking them into parts, for example, they should be able to underpin the important elements of physical and mental development of the athletes and create specific goals for the development of each such element.

Goals can raise the level of motivation and thus can serve as a perfect tool for the coaches, if handled carefully. For example, if the coaches influence their subjects to create unrealistic goals, then the entire effort will go down drain. Thus, the coaches should know every detail regarding their subjects and should utilize that knowledge in formulating individual or team-goals. Equipping subjects to handle pressure situations: This is one of the major concerns for the coaches as the athletes’ can take the game day as a pressure situation and can suffer from fear of failure.

In that unfortunate state of affairs, the coaches stand to fail in their yearlong mission of making champion performers. Therefore, the coaches must know about the negative patterns of thoughts that can occur in the minds of their subjects and ruin the show on game day, and must know how to eliminate negative thoughts with positive ones. There are several ways of doing this, and not all of them are suited to anyone; therefore the coaches should be able to underpin the appropriate way for each of their subjects.

Knowledge of healing is a must: Apart from general know-how of dealing with injuries, the coaches should also know the other techniques of speeding up the healing process, like healing through imagery technique, which is now a bare essential for the modern sports psychologists. For that matter, the coaches should learn the process of such techniques thoroughly before exploiting them as their tool for healing. Knowledge of enhancing muscle power of the subjects: This is now an established fact that muscle strength too can be raised through the practice of appropriate visualization.

This is a revolutionary concept, which can be exploited by the coaches by learning proper techniques involved in it. This could also serve as a preventive shield for any muscle-related injury in the sportspersons, save the issue of fatigue. Thus the coaches too should learn about such techniques and exploit the same by influencing their subject to practice visualization technique to make their muscles stronger.

Knowledge of exploiting music as motivator: The coaches should know the mechanism involved in music-therapy for their subjects, like how to utilize music during the course of training, or when to raise or reduce the tempo of the music and when to use specific type of music. They should be able to customize this technique according to the specific need of any subject. And to do all this, the coaches themselves need to undergo such music therapies to earn first-hand knowledge about their efficacy.

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