According to sport psychology studies, athletes are required to make immediate perceptions, appraisals and evaluations of sport situations all the time, including views on the competition, the play in front of them, and even their own abilities to compete successfully. A simpler, more common expression people often use when describing our subjective way of dealing with the world around us is “fight or flight,” meaning do we “fight” by having the confidence to experience success in the situation, or do we experience “flight” by succumbing to fear and pressure, often resulting in retreat and/or poor play.
Using a baseball example, when a hitter makes an appraisal of the pitcher he is about to face as someone he can hit, without even knowing it his mind and body begin to work in perfect synchrony by increasing self-confidence, sharpening focus, improving motivation, and strengthening resiliency. As the hitter says to himself “I can….” he automatically and subconsciously programs both his gross motor skills (directing his body to swing through the pitch) as well as his fine motor skills (the delicate way he grips the bat) so that both are working together.
On the other hand, when a hitter makes an initial appraisal that the pitcher is clearly better than him, his body immediately begins working against him experienced by increased fear, anxiety, stress, and fatigue. Instead of his mind and body working together, in this situation the anxiety he is experiencing will trigger all sorts of negative physiological reactions — including shallow breathing, rapid heart rate, and tight muscles. And, as you might expect, his gross and fine motor skills will be thrown off as a result.
The big point here is that the way we perceive situations makes all the differences with respect to the outcomes we experience. When we perceive situations as challenges, we end up being significantly more successful than when we see situations as threats. The good news is that the way we perceive situations is something that is 100% under our control, and “correcting” our thinking is really nothing more than prompting ourselves to do it.
When working with kids (as either a parent or coach) it is important to help them understand that while it might seem like taking an extra 100 swings in a batting cage will help a kid out of a slump, they might actually improve their hitting much faster by simply working on the courage and confidence to see opposing pitchers as challenges to overcome. Unfortunately, in many of the cases I deal with, I see youngsters want to go back to non-threatening situations (like hitting in a cage) and practice hour after hour yet completely disregard the confidence needed to succeed. In these situations the kid becomes a great practice player, yet never carries over this success into games.
Sport psychologists know the importance of mastering mental toughness, and so should you – start today by helping kids understand the importance of perception and sport success!
Get ready for fall sports by checking out our iphone sport performance apps – only at Advanced Human Performance Systems!