A chat with Sports Psychologist Sanskriti Chhabra
Sanskriti Chhabra is a lecturer in Sport Psychology at University of Gloucestershire. Sanskriti has been a Sport Psychologist for International athletes performing at Mega Sport events ranging from young to professional levels. From her experience of being a former badminton player, she brings with her a wealth of knowledge of working with International players of India, England and the United States of America. She has a M.Sc. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from University of Portsmouth and has studied M.A. and B.A. Psychology (Hons.) from reputed Universities in India. Her research interests are in the fields of skill acquisition, decision making, athlete burnout and mental toughness in sport.
Lets get our questions about sports psychology answered by her!
What is sports psychology?
Sports psychology is the study of psychological factors that influence athletic performance and how participation in sports and exercise can affect the psychological and physical well-being of athletes. Researchers in this field explore how psychology can be used to optimize athletic performance and how exercise can be utilized to improve mood and lower stress levels.
Sports psychologists teach cognitive and behavioral strategies to help athletes improve their experiences, athletic performance, and mental wellness when participating in sports. They can assist with performance enhancement, motivation, stress management, anxiety control, or mental toughness. They also can help with injury rehabilitation, team building, burnout, or career transitioning.
Sports psychologists don't just work with athletes. They work with coaches, parents, administrators, fitness professionals, performers, organizations, or everyday exercises to demonstrate how we can utilize exercise, sport, and athletics to enhance our lives and psychological development.
Why it is important and what are the Benefits?
It is important for mental wellness and provides a competitive edge in achieving high performance. It helps in learning coping mechanisms, building resilience and handling competitive pressure. It also trains the athletes in building confidence, staying motivated, and improving concentration for achieving optimal performance.
How does sports psychology help athletes?
Sports psychology can help both athletes and non-athletes cope with the pressures of competition, enhance athletic performance, and achieve their goals. Mental training alongside physical training is more profitable than physical training alone. Athletes can learn to overcome pressures associated with sporting performance and develop more focus, commitment, and enjoyment.
What are the goals of sports psychologists?
Sports psychologists don't just focus on what happens on the field. They examine all of the factors affecting game-day performance and the athlete's well-being. Sports psychology programs often include skills training in the following areas:
-> Goal setting :
Setting and achieving goals both personally and as part of team goals are a constant areas of focus for athletes. It's not enough to just pick a goal and throw it out there, though.
-> Visualization :
Positive mental imagery has long been a key part of pre-game preparation for athletes. In fact, many elite players attribute their success to first visualizing a positive outcome.
Visualization activates many of the same parts of the brain and even the muscles associated with the successful action. It also boosts mindfulness and cognitive control, critical components of mental fitness.
-> Pressure and anxiety :
Athletes are under intense physical strain, both internal and external pressure, and can worry about losing their matches. Learning to deal effectively and still perform under this kind of stress is challenging for any athlete. Ultimately, this pressure can be the cause of both anxiety and depression.
-> Rehabilitation :
Injuries are hard enough to deal with when your entire career doesn't ride on your physical well-being. For athletes, they have to contend with the fear of potentially having to end their careers due to getting hurt.
Sport psychologists help athletes cultivate learned optimism and motivation as they recover. This not only aids rehabilitation but also ensures that they're less likely to re-injure themselves by rushing back to the field.
-> Attention and focus :
An athlete has to be able to tune out timers, teammates, the crowd, and their inner critic. They can't afford distractions, whether they're in practice or playing in the Superbowl. A lack of attention could cost them the game, the match, or even lead to injury.
-> Teamwork and motivation :
Many competitive sports involve playing as part of a team. So sports psychologists help athletes develop interpersonal relationships, increase energy and motivation, and mediate conflicts. Building these connections is an essential part of mental fitness.
WHAT IS MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN SIMPLE WORDS?
Mental toughness refers to a player's ability to persist in the face of mistakes, failures and challenges. As sport is a competitive domain, consistency and dealing with uncertainties with loads of challenges are required during the sporting journey. These psychological characteristics of persistence, resilience and rebound ability in different circumstances define an athlete's mentally tough mindset.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE MENTAL TOUGHNESS?
Improve Mental Toughness
Professional players like Tiger Woods, Sachin Tendulkar, and Roger Federer used sport psychology services, despite being legends in their fields. The goal of seeing a sport psychologist is to develop and practice the mental skills that athletes need in addition to the physical practice in order to succeed. Moreover, sport psychology is mostly used in the Army to improve mental toughness in the United States.
Why does a player perform better than the other when everyone is practicing as hard as they can in a group and has comparable physical abilities?
The answer to this is differences in their mental skills, such as self-confidence, focus, emotional control, the capacity to handle stress, the ability to bounce back from setbacks and injuries, the capacity to handle aggression while competing, and the athlete's level of motivation, are all elements that have a significant impact on an athlete's success and personal growth. Along with focus, determination, and the desire and ambition to be the best, a high level of self-awareness and comprehension are crucial.
Why is there less awareness about sports psychology in India according to you?
The field is still in its nascent stages in comparison to developed nations. The lack of availability of qualified professionals and scientific equipment is the major reason for the lack of awareness of this field. However, the benefits of using sport psychology is seen through athletic successes in the recent past which have raised awareness of the importance of this field.
At which stage of the player's career does he/she need a sports psychologist?
Sport psychology can begin from a very young age when an athlete starts playing the sport to their retirement from their sporting career. The use of the field ranges based on the sports requirements. For instance, early sports like gymnastics inculcate sport psychology from the beginning of their sport. Nevertheless, sports like golf, and target sports have a longer duration and different techniques practiced for sport psychology. Moreover, it also benefits in dealing with injuries, and transitioning from sports when retiring from the sporting endeavors.
Is there an Age Limit?
There is no age limit for the use of these services as they are beneficial in enhancing performance in other domains as well. Additionally, sport psychology techniques benefit in learning life skills and techniques which can be applied in various other domains. For instance, the US army employs sports psychologists for mental toughness training!
End of the day due to the abundance of world-class training facilities available everywhere and intense competition, a player's ability to effectively manage their current circumstances seems to be what ultimately determines success.