Sports are a major part of human culture. Since the beginning of civilization, sports have been an important outlet for building and enhancing physical and mental fitness. To increase the lasting benefits of sport, special attention should be paid to making your efforts positive ones.
Defining the Role of Sport in Your Life
Sports serve as both a physical activity as well as a social activity. Be it a grade school basketball team or an adult, recreational softball league, the lure and attraction of these sports are the same for athletes at both levels.
For children, participation in sports helps to teach complicated motor skills, increase kinesthetic or body sense, and improve overall health by staving off the ills of childhood obesity and related illnesses. In addition to the physical benefits, sports also provide a necessary social component. Athletes are given the opportunity to meet new people, establish lasting friendship, and learn the principles of fair play and fairness.
Despite the benefits of sport, a climate of pressure and competition can allow athletes to be negatively impacted. Pressure brought to bear by coaches and parents can lead to unattainable expectations and ultimately anxiety.
Focus on “positive self-talk,” says Dr. Rick Maguire, former head track and field coach at the University of Missouri, and co-author of “Coaching Mental Excellence,” in order to enhance the confidence and positive nature of an athlete. Athletes cannot act without thinking first and Maguire argues that the thoughts prior to competition should focus on the positive. Negative thoughts that inevitably arise should be quickly replaced with positive ones, Maguire writes. Just as an athlete can choose to be negative, they also can choose to be positive, he said.
World class athletes attribute their ability to stay positive as the key to their success. Ralph Vernacchia, a sports psychologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, is a leading scholar in the effectiveness of positive visualization. His point of view is that winners have the ability to view their success prior to attaining it. After hours and hours of practice and training, a positive athlete can simply close their eyes and picture success. “What we see in our “mind’s eye” has a big impact on our motor responses and performance effectiveness,” Vernacchia writes.
Setting Benchmarks for Success
Success is built on competing for the right reasons, talking about and visualizing a positive outcome and, finally, by building a blueprint for that success by setting goals. Athletes who can see a clear path to success are more likely achieve it, Maguire writes. A simple guideline for setting goals is to set goals that focus on the process of achieving success rather than success itself. It is very hard to control the actions of others and the results in the end. Only the steps to get there can be controlled, so goals should focus on the training and preparation needed to compete, Maguire urges.
“Coaching Mental Excellence,” Vernacchia, R. A., McGuire, R. T., & Cook, D. L, 1996
“Inner Strength: The mental dynamics of athletic performance,” Vernacchia, R. A., 2003