A sport psychologist is trained to use specific techniques in order to help the athlete become successful at their sport: biofeedback, self-talk, imagery, relaxation training, motivation and goal setting. Each individual session is one-on-one 50 minutes. During the first session, you and I will set the goals for the session. For many, the desire to win and do well in competition becomes so overwhelming that it begins to interfere with performance. Sports psychologists help athletes perform at peak levels. They may function as trainers, consultants, or therapists. Most athletes train extensively to improve their physical skills and strategies, but the mental skills training needed for optimal performance is mostly neglected.
Biofeedback involves using sensors to get a window on what is going on in the body. Very often an athlete is unaware of how their body is responding to stress, to the challenge of competition. How is this done? Here are some examples: 1. By providing relaxation with heart rate biofeedback, long-distance runners are able to lower their heart rate, ventilation and oxygen consumption in a manner that was not due to training. 2. Heart rate variability biofeedback, which is the amount of time between heartbeats, helps wrestlers improve reaction time and relaxation in wrestlers, batting performance in baseball players and improved golfer’s scores. 3. Surface electromyography (SEMG) uses sensors on the skin to measure muscle activity. A typical session would use one channel to measure activity on the shoulders and another on the forehead to measure overall face/neck tension. For an athlete, typical levels are below 3 millivolts, with higher levels suggestive of unnecessary shoulder contractions. Many athletes are unaware of this high muscle activity and when runners reduce this tension it can increase their leg speed.
I don’t just talk sport psychology…I live it. As of this date my ranking in Towerrunning USA is 167 of 13,000, #12 of 600 in my age group. For those not familiar with towerrunning it is what it appears to be…running up the steps of “towers” (skyscrapers) to benefit some worthy cause. It is by some estimates the most grueling sport there is with only rowing coming close as to the level of pain and effort required. You run up the steps covering two at a time. Do you want to work with someone with book knowledge of the sport or someone that has learned to use the book knowledge and put it in action? Believe me, I know what it is like during those few seconds before competition. You typically get 16 seconds between stair runners in a towerrunning race so the stairway doesn’t get congested. As you stand with your foot inches from the timing mat hearing the 16 seconds beep down all kinds of things can enter your thoughts. Can your mind really make a difference? You bet it can. In one study a group of bicyclists were given a drink they were told increases the ability to tolerate lactic acid buildup while the other group was given the usual Gatorade type drink. Those drinking the special drink performed significantly better than the other group. But there was actually no difference in the two drinks. The better performance had nothing to do with physical ability; it had everything to do with what the person believed at the time!