One mental skill that often is fundamental to developing further mental skills in sport, lies in the area of stress management. This include facets of emotional control. Participation in sport can lead to a a number of different emotional responses. One common response is the feeling of anxiety. Some athletes are aware when they feel stressed, feeling a rapid heartbeat, having butterflies in their stomach, and sweaty palms, while others are unaware of these signs. The first key to stress management/relaxation training is to help the athletes identify their emotional responses to stress.
Once they learn how they react to stress, they are prepared to regulate their emotion for optimal performance. When athletes learn how they typically respond to stress, they are better prepared to intervene proactively to reduce the effect stress may have on performance. This is often accomplish by teaching athletes various stress management techniques. The purpose of these stress management techniques is focused on educating the athlete to learn three things: Teaching the athlete to control their mental-emotional states associated with athletic performance; Helping them learn which emotional state are associated with superior performances, and then finally learning how to program future responses for performance.
The educational stage involves the use of various relaxation techniques. This can involve progressive relaxation, breath control, meditation, or imagery. All of which are designed to help an athlete learn to notice signs of tension within the muscle. Another area related to this topic is the teaching of excitation techniques, methods designed to help athletes bring out activating emotions for improved performance. Several methods can be taught to help accomplish this goal. These techniques include the use of cue words, or a phrase to remind athletes of the importance of the situation, or the importance of the practice. Imagery can also be used, imaging that you are about to perform in major competition.
Why the emphasis on getting the athlete into an optimal emotional state? Many sport psychology professionals believe that the odds of an athlete performing their best is greater when they are in this state than when they are not (Robazza, Bortoli, Zadro, & Nougier, 1998). Through observation, interviews and assessment, a sport psychology professional can identify an athletes optimal emotional state, then teach the athlete how to recreate this state during performance.
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