What is sports psychology? Let’s decode the speedy growing field of developing mental toughness in the athletic realm. Have you ever seen a kid bungee jumping? If so, have you seen him with a harness on or off? Mental training in sport is somewhat like the harness that we have seen on the kids’ bungee jumping. How? It is the external support that an athlete requires for performance enhancement, to build consistency in performance, and to be able to sustain the pressure that the elite sport demands. It adds a dimension to the training that binds the technical and physical preparation, streamlining the practice.
Sports psychology is the ‘scientific study of the psychological factors that are associated with participation and performance in sport, exercise, and other types of physical activity.’ In real life, it has various names like mental training, mind coaching, psychological skills training, etc. In India, the field of sport psychology is in its nascent stages and is thus, garnering a lot of attention with athletes all over the world talking about it. As we have popularly heard, ‘sport is 90% mental’, what separates a gold medalist from a silver medalist is the ability to hold nerves till the last point of the match is played!
The ongoing lockdown to help contain the spread of the pandemic is causing mental anguish, of this there is little doubt. There have already been several suicides reported across the country as people are struggling to come to terms with the new normal. Recently, A 17-years-old, Wrestler, Ritika Phogat, a cousin of superstar wrestlers Geeta Phogat&BabitaPhogat, Allegedly Committed suicide after losing a final.
Consider the following scenario – a highly talented player on whom rests a million hopes is well prepared physically and dreaming of gold. But then just at the start of the match, she realizes she hasn’t learned to deal with his nerves (and thoughts), which are essential to focus and perform. Now is it solely the player’s fault that she didn’t know how to manage the psychological aspects of the game? It is a well-established fact that mental skills training is an integral component to achieve peak performance.
Why then is sports psychology still in its infancy in India? Countries like Australia and the USA have a sport psychologist attached to every team. Why it is still not accepted in our country? One of the main reasons could be the negative perception of psychology. To date many of the players and coaches think going to a psychologist means there is a ‘problem’. Some of the other reasons are the lack of resource personnel, lack of awareness, following traditional methods of coaching with little emphasis on sports psychology and sports science. ‘Image Maintenance’ is also an issue, especially in a country like India where over a billion people glue their eye and throw high expectation which later on comes as a burden on these players and they feel the intensity and heat, fear of failure, and overthinking which later on, affects their mind and gameplay. Players maintain ‘I’m cool and have no problem attitude’ and in their mind, they fight every moment with billion expectation and feel horrified & let down by just the thought of failing to cope up with all the expectations which lie on their shoulder.
Mental skills training ought to be treated as a component of peak performance akin to physical training. Only, then can we think of achievement. What then is the solution? An integrative approach involving coaching with psychology and sports science is the ‘need of the hour’.