What is sports psychology?
Sports psychology is a broad term that applies to many aspects of sports and playing sports. Many think it is directly dealing with learning how to enhance performance. however that is only one of many areas that sports psychology targets. Yes, it can be beneficial for increasing individual performance, but it also can target: anxiety, pre-game anxiety, team play and the interaction of what it means to be a “team,” muscle memory, visual imagery, meditation, and the psychology of competition as well as the winning losing concept.
Sports psychology can actually be traced back to historical wars centuries ago. Psychology was employed before it was coined psychology. Sporting events are unfortunately much like a war. There are two teams, competing for the win or monetary gain or prestige. In our Western society it has become an obsession with salaries becoming embarrassingly high. With the negative there is always the positive. The positive of how sports psychology can benefit the individual would be, aid in their self esteem, have reasonable healthy competition, better their physical condition,improve muscle memory, and good conduct towards others. If a coach is exceedingly adept he can parlay his coaching in the grade school level to spill onto one’s life experience and even over lay the team play with family and the child’s future.
A good sports psychologist can aid an individual directly and indirectly with all aspects of their life. The measurable achievement is in their productivity. The non-measurable is their increase in self-esteem, interaction with others, problem solving ability and even home life.
What is muscle memory?
Many believe “muscle memory” is the ability to increase strength and performance from a previous level to a higher level. Muscle memory in this context is the training of a set or group of muscles to increase your proficiency of a eye hand coordination. Physiologically there is a nerve that innervates each muscle or many nerves that innervate a group of muscles. There is a physiological pathway to the brain. When one repeats a specific movement over time, the muscle group memorizes that movement. It becomes physiologically conditioned, but also the brain remembers that movement. It does not matter if it is pitching a baseball, shooting a free throw, stroking a cue for the eight ball shot, pitching washers or pitching pennies. The muscle memory effect works and gives astounding results.
So how specifically is this accomplished? The dynamics, the proper technique must be implemented first. For example shooting a free throw for a right handed individual the right arm tucked in directly above the right foot, tuck in the elbow, ball on finger tips, not on palm, knees bent slightly, looking directly over the top of the ball at one to two inches over the front edge of the rim, breathe in let out your respiration and shoot. These are the basic dynamics. Now once your player has those down with minimal variations and there is some success they must start using two mechanisms of memorization. 1. Visualize the ball going through the hoop, one MUST see the shot before the shot is made. 2. Feel the strength needed to shoot the shot and memorize how your arm, forearm, hand, release all feel when going through the motions of a successful shot. When this is done repeatedly you will also know when one part is slightly off. It might be the release, maybe the knees did not bend, maybe you took your eye off the rim, but YOU WILL KNOW. This grossly repetitious task is the foundation for muscle memory. The same holds true for shooting a billiard ball, or any eye hand sport. This WILL work if done correctly and repetitiously. During my coaching years of grade school basketball I could see the marked improvement with those players that believed it and practiced it. Consecutive free throws made improved dramatically.
In working with a tennis player it markedly benefited her serve with increasing accuracy, once the accuracy was honed then speed ensued. Dedication, perseverance, learning from the mistakes, and learning from the positive will accentuate muscle memory.
What are the secondary benefits of sports psychology addressing the team approach?
Excluding sports such as golf, tennis, billiards and other solo participation sports many sports are that consisting of a team. A group of individuals working together as a unit, group or team for the common goal of winning. This concept addresses a multi-factorial array of psychological issues that coaches have challenged for years. Phil Jackson, coach of the L.A. Lakers was the guru of addressing indirectly and directly sports psychology. From the sublime message found deep within a novel, to Buddhism and paradoxical interventions.
The team approach is basically an educational stance that teaches the importance of how everyone plays an imperative role to achieve the end goal, “the win.” Ironically, the truth is, the “win” is NOT the end goal. The end goal is life’s lessons in giving, team work, the ugliness of greed and narcissism. Mike Ditka coined a great acronym for TEAM, Together Everyone Achieves More. In coaching grade school basketball my goal was to teach the importance of the assist and use analogies of giving in life and the secondary benefit. The “pick and roll” is another excellent example of working together for the team. This concept is well understood but many times hard to implement. I find it helps to use real life analogies with children and how all can benefit. The father working the higher income job is responsible for the income, that does NOT make the home, the property the vehicles his. Just because one player dominates the boards and scores the majority of points he or she would not be able to accomplish that if it wasn’t for the other players on the floor. This concept is imperative to understand to begin to squelch narcissism and arrogance.
Many teams will indirectly have a few personalties. The emotional leader, the talented one who needs the lime light, the over achiever, the under achiever, the introverted insecure one, and the arrogant one who has more attitude than talent. All of these can be targeted with success if the right team approach is presented.
Team sports are an awesome venue to learn about one’s self, life lessons, and team approach. The coach must take control in the beginning then slowly give away that control to the players. The players must learn the team is theirs and the coach becomes just a traffic cop. The accolades, and accomplishments are ALWAYS the players. If the coach takes that away then the coach needs to fired. His or her narcissism will hurt the team, the players, and result in many losses and resentment.
What is visual imagery in relation to sports psychology?
Earlier I discussed shooting free throws and imagining the ball going through the hoop, just inches over the front rim of the hoop. That is a very base form of visual imagery. A more advanced, borderline hypnosis visual imagery is more involved and encompasses all the senses. We salivate at the thought of deep dish pizza or our favorite food. We become excited over the sight of a beautiful sunset or a gentle kiss of a loved one. There are MEASURABLE physiologic changes. If this is true, does it not make sense for using these senses to increase our aptitude with eye hand coordination? When I have worked with athletes to increase their eye hand coordination, specifically with hitting a baseball or shooting a free throw I try to tap into all their senses. They must see, hear, smell, and feel the shot. They need to feel the bat hitting the ball, and watch the ball come all they way into their zone, imaging the bat making solid contact with the ball. They need to imagine the seems of the baseball being crushed against the wood of the bat. This procedure must be redundant, and practiced routinely. I have made audio tapes that athletes have listened to at bedtime while they literally sleep with the bat or basketball. Yes, they actually sleep with the item in question for the sport.
It is also important to chart their progress and failures to monitor their improvement. This reinforces that all is not lost, and confidence will slowly develop. Visual imagery has been used by many professional athletes from professional football players to improve their field goal prowess, baseball, basketball and tennis players.
For further reference on these areas please see “The Mental Edge” by Kenneth Baum.