by Rachel Jones, Sport & Exercise Psychologist
Sport and performance psychology is all about maximising your mental game, whatever your area of performance might be.
I believe that everyone is a performer, whether it be in sport, business, performing arts, school, work, parenting or everyday life.
Performance is about how you perform any task, and as humans, we never reach perfection, which is a blessing because we can always improve! Your brain is your biggest asset when it comes to performance. You might be thinking that I’m overstating the obvious, however, how often do you actually dedicate time to maximising your biggest asset? It makes good business sense to invest where you can get the biggest return and therefore, a practical understanding of how your brain works can be a great way to get a performance advantage.
Psychology is known as the study of the soul, and, combined with the latest in neuroscience research, gives us great insight and practical strategies that can be incredibly useful in sport, performing arts, academics, business, etc, because of its implications for both mental health and performance. Sport and performance psychology focuses on the interaction between thoughts, feelings, behaviours and the environment and is an important part of physical and mental performance.
Here are 3 things you need to know about Sport and Performance Psychology and how it might apply to you:
1- Sport and performance psychology is about training your brain. The same principles apply to training your brain as apply to training your body. You need consistent, targeted training with high volume and repetition. The equivalent of muscle fibres in the brain are neural pathways and creating new ones are like creating pathways in the bush. The more traffic you send down a particular pathway, the more it clears and becomes established. Finding ways to daily practice good patterns of thinking and behaviour will help to create healthy mindsets and habits. Creating a routine, for example, something as simple as identifying 3 things you did well everyday, will help you to make it easy for your brain to reinforce new habits, similar to having a regular physical training time and focus. A sport and performance psychologist will help you to set brain training goals and implement strategies consistently
to create the change you are looking for.
2- Sport psychologists work with mental illness as well as performance and proactive mental health. Sport psychologists in Australia have the same base training as other psychologists, including general and clinical psychologists, which means that I am trained to work with managing mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. To become an endorsed sport psychologist I had to do additional training via postgraduate study as well as a registrar program specialising in working with teams and individuals and understanding high performance demands and populations. As a result, I work with a combination of teams and individuals on a variety of performance issues and challenges as well as putting proactive strategies in place to gain an extra edge in performance or to maintain positive mental health.
3- Children, young people and adults can all benefit from sport and performance psychology. Did you know I work with people as young as 10 years old? Sport and performance psychology is very practical with strategies that can be applied across all areas of life. The skills that are worked on and put in place at a young age can create healthy patterns that build resilience and can reduce the risk of mental illness later in life. Older, more experienced adults can also benefit from sport and performance psychology, again by learning new skills and strategies that challenge existing and inhibiting beliefs that may be limiting performance.