Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Should Fighters Care About Sport Psychology?: Part II

Why Should Fighters Care About Sport Psychology?: Part II

By Dr. Randy Borum

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In my last Bulletin I discussed how thoughts, emotions, and physical condition all affect competitive performance and all affect each other. I suggested that being proactive or getting "in front of" the problem were keys to promoting a positive – rather than negative – training effect. I referred to the process of doing this as one of developing and using "mutually incompatible responses." Let me explain.

When you *direct* your thoughts, feelings, and physical condition – and you definitely can learn to do that – you are less vulnerable to negative influence than if you are just reacting. Strategically, it's like setting the pace or making an opponent fight your fight. If you are actively engaging in positive self talk, it is difficult to simultaneously entertain thoughts of losing. If you are feeling confident, it is difficult to simultaneously feel anxious. If your muscles are relaxed, they cannot also be tense. And because we know the three components are inter-related, if you have positive control over one, you can often influence the others. Psychologist Edmund Jacobson once said: "An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body."

Self-Monitoring Skills

If the fighter's goal is to control his thinking, emotions and physical state, he must first learn to be aware of them. You have to know how each component is operating before you can effectively change it. There are a couple of ways get started.

Some sport psychologists recommend that you vividly recall an episode of "best" and "worst" performance (obviously, not at the same time) and begin to "get inside" those sensations and the differences between them. How well this will work for you depends a bit on how well you can do guided imagery (I will do a post on sports imagery and visualization as we go along). The exercise would go something like this:

Recall a period of peak performance, preferably one from competition, but otherwise you can use a specific sparring or training session. This should be a time when you were at the top of your game, everything was flowing naturally, and you were feeling "in the zone." Close your eyes, take three of four deep breaths from your abdomen, relax, then begin to imagine the scene.

When the images first come to mind, you might be watching it from the outside – as if watching someone else or watching yourself on a video screen. You want to work toward stepping inside yourself so that you are experiencing the scene from the inside – as if you were re-living it. Once you have set a vivid scene – noticing the details of how things look, the sounds, and the environment, begin shift your focus internally.

First, notice how your body feels. Check your muscles – where they are tense and where they are relaxed. Check your overall energy level, heartbeat and how your are breathing. Think about whether - and the extent to which - your performance felt arduous, forced, or effortful, rather than natural, effortless, and flowing.

Next, get inside your head. Assess your level of concentration and ability to focus. Also, listen to your self-talk – Be aware of the nature of what you are saying to yourself and the thoughts that are coming into your head.

Finally, check your mood – emotions – how you are feeling. Think about what word best captures your mood – elated, proud, excited, etc. Assess your confidence level – how strong is your belief in you're your skills and abilities. Also think about whether – and the extent to which – you feel in control of your thoughts, body, emotions and overall performance.

Spend about 5-10 minutes doing this exercise with a best performance scenario. Make notes to yourself on the specifics and perhaps even use some checklist or rating sheet like the one below to record you peak performance observations. Then repeat the exercise and evaluation with a worst performance scenario. Compare the differences.

Checklist of Performance States

Fought extremely well 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fought extremely poorly
Felt extremely relaxed 1 2 3 4 5 6 Felt extremely anxious
Felt extremely confident 1 2 3 4 5 6 Felt extremely unconfident
Felt in complete control 1 2 3 4 5 6 Had no control at all
Muscles were relaxed 1 2 3 4 5 6 Muscles were tense
Felt extremely energetic 1 2 3 4 5 6 Felt extremely fatigued
Self-talk was positive 1 2 3 4 5 6 Self-talk was negative
Felt extremely focused 1 2 3 4 5 6 Felt extremely unfocused
Felt effortless 1 2 3 4 5 6 Felt great effort


The point of doing this exercise is to get you notice how your body feels, how you are thinking, what you are thinking, and how you are feeling at different points in time. It is called self-monitoring, and it is a skill that can be acquired with practice. You can also begin to monitor and record these things during training so that you can identify relevant triggers or cues that affect your performance. You might keep a log that you write in briefly after every practice to describe your thoughts, feelings, and physical states what happened immediately before they occurred, how you responded, and how they affected your performance. Self awareness will help you to identify positive psychological states that you can create, develop and build and to recognize negative thoughts, feelings and states that may interfere with your performance, so that you can develop a plan to correct them.

1 comment:

michael john said...

I must tell you that your blog is very informative and taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful and beneficial to your readers
Sports Psychologist