What would you be thinking?
Imagine you have been leading the Olympic triathlon since the start of the race, only to find another athlete arriving at your shoulder 5 km from the finish. This situation could stimulate two possible lines of thought that would result in quite different outcomes in the race. Clearly, the athlete who thinks, This year I really thought I had it.
I have worked so hard and now I have blown it. I really am a loser . . . will drop off the pace and fall back. However, there is a far greater chance of success for the athlete who thinks, Well, here she is. The woman they call the best triathlete ever. And she has only been able to catch me with 5 km to go. I will just tuck in behind the soon to be ex-number one, let her do the work for a change, and see if I can break her later. After all, my 10 km time is as good as hers, and in a close finish I will have the crowds behind me as they always back the underdog.
It is in situations such as this that sports psychology becomes so important. Champion athletes commonly exhibit a high degree of: motivation, commitment, positive thinking, focus, and mental toughness, among other factors (Gould, 2001).
Psychology is the study of how we think and behave. Sport psychology is a science in which the principles of psychology are applied in a sport setting (Cox, 1990). Issues Sport Psychologists are interested in include, but are not limited to; what motivates an athlete, how athletes regulate their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and how they manage anxiety and arousal states in order to maximise performance (Parker, 2000). The principles involved in Sport Psychology are usually applied to enhance performance. The field embraces many concerns and concepts, such as motivation, arousal, reinforcement, psychological preparation, attitudes, attention, emotional health, and stress management (Davies, 1989). Rushall, 1995, proposed that sport psychology could assist athletes in the following ways:
a) The actual words an athlete uses in self-talk have an effect on the quality of performance,
b) It is possible to increase performance levels in elite athletes through thought processes alone,
c) Mental imagery is important for enhancing performance.
Sport Psychologists assist people by helping them to develop the skills necessary to become mentally strong, and prevent them from choking in key situations.
Motivation is a particularly relevant issue in the field of Sport Psychology. Motivation can be defined as being aroused to action, to directed purposeful behaviour, although this may not always be either efficient or effective (Davies, 1989).