The use of psychological strategies to improve sports performance has increased significantly over the past few decades. Coaches have realised that, particularly at elite level psychology plays a key role in determining the level of performance. The ability of the mind to generate thought patterns, influence emotions, stimulate or diminish arousal and create images of a desired action is now better understood and has changed the way that many athletes approach their events.
The major aspects of psychology that affect performance are motivation and anxiety. Athletes need to be able to prepare for major competitions, reduce tension and stress that may have cause a decline in performance, and maintain high-level performances over a long period of time.
Motivation is what drives behaviour and is very important for athlete's to reach an optimal level of performance. Motivation significantly impacts on an individual's approach to training sessions, games and/or events. Motivation can be positive or negative, and intrinsic or extrinsic.
Anxiety and arousal
Anxiety is a state of being uneasy, apprehensive, or worried about what may happen during a performance. Anxiety usually involves an increase in the level of emotion; however, it is often accompanied by feelings such as worry, concern, negative thoughts and feelings. When discussing anxiety it is important to distinguish between trait and state anxiety, identify sources of stress, and recognise the link between optimum arousal levels and performance.
Psychological strategies to enhance motivation and manage anxiety
To ensure that anxiety does not have a negative impact on performance, an athlete needs to learn to manage their personal anxiety levels. A range of psychological strategies can be used to manage anxiety such as concentration/attention skills, mental rehearsal/visualisation, relaxation and goal setting.
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