Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cognitive Coordinating

The New York Times recently reported that sport psychology is a thriving business. Now, more than ever, athletes of all ages (as young as seven years old) are using various professionals and educational materials in order to enhance their performances. As a sport consultant for the better part of a decade, I work with youth, college, and professional athletes who present similar issues, habits, and pressures mentioned in the media. However, one concept continues to clog my own head: for all of the mental game emphasis, the ratio of actual work time on mind skills is far below the recommended duration cited by coaches and athletic professionals. Even A-Rod’s unearthly contract hasn’t belittled his belief that “…it really comes down to 90% mental.” (60 Minutes, 12/16/07).

How often have we heard coaches and athletes on television use the words “focus”, “relax”, “confidence” and “pressure”? These terms have served as significant ingredients in sustained mental stamina for as long as athletic competition has existed. Couple those components with the emphasis on strength and conditioning (all natural, that is) and the 21st century elite athlete is a machine born of the ultimate mental and physical units (ever witnessed Roger Federer?). Does a less experienced athlete, especially one younger than 22, really know how to employ cerebral tactics? Sport psychology no longer entails solely sitting and tinkering with negative thoughts over a bowl of Wheaties; the field now envelops the mental energy necessary to train comprehensively. Easy for the best athlete in town who hasn’t seen ten candles on her cake yet, right?

Sport psychology is not exclusive to problem solving. The discipline functions as an all-around prototype for performing more effectively, no matter a person’s goal or occupation. Whether an attempt to boost self-efficacy, react without thinking, delete past failures, or strengthen group cohesiveness, understanding the thought-emotion-behavior connection is vital. For all of the chatter about becoming sound students, athletes, or professionals (leadership, well-being, stress levels), techniques based on substantiated research should be conceived and utilized… easier said than put into cognitive-behavioral motion.


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