It takes more than physical prowess to become a great athlete; they need help from coaches, managers, and others to make success a reality. Many pro athletes and teams employ sports psychologists, who can help athletes focus their mind and leverage greater results.
The best part? Many sports psychologists tips work just as well for those of us who prefer watching sports at home. Let’s break down five sports psychology secrets that help athletes and regular people alike.
1. Focus on the process instead of the outcome
Anybody with a focused mindset and healthy body can make a free throw. In the NBA, however, consistently making these shots requires elite skills. The issue is more psychological than anything. The simplicity of a free throw becomes something else during a live game where every point matters.
Athletes benefit greatly from learning to push out external factors and focus entirely on the mechanics of a repetitive task. This works great for regular folks, too. Rushing through work tasks causes errors you wouldn’t normally make. Stick to the process, and you’ll get things done efficiently and correctly. After all, LeBron James only has a 67% free-throw average. Even the best can heed this advice.
2. Support your teammates through thick and thin
Speaking of free throws, nothing helps athletes focus on individual mechanics more than knowing their teammates have got their backs. That’s why NBA players give high fives after every single free-throw attempt. This ritual serves as a mental reset. It implies, “We’ve got your back regardless. Just do your thing.”
At home or in the workplace, similar rituals boost morale and productivity. NFL wide receiver Steve Smith brought incredible athleticism within a small frame. But could his teams have performed even better without the stress of Smith’s habit of fistfights with his teammates?
3. Breathe consistently during all actions
During fight-or-flight responses, breathing becomes short. Most people don’t realize it even though it contributes to a feeling of stress. Athletes, in particular, must be wary of this natural reaction. Shallow or irregular breathing lowers oxygen levels to vital organs. So, athletes who consciously intervene with breathing can raise oxygen levels and lower automatic stress responses.
This applies outside of athletics. Anxiety and stress cause the same physical response wherever you are. Full, measured breathing manages anxiety and helps people get through tough situations.
4. Journal off the field to develop smart reactions on it
Coaches increasingly encourage players to keep sports journals. The goal is to reflect on recent practices and games. For many athletes, this helps internalize key lessons.
Consider players like Addison Russell, who returned to the minor leagues over mental miscues. Despite racking up years of experience, he struggles to remember signs and field routine plays. A journal could help him — and you — develop more intuitive reactions to situations.
5. Motivate with activities unrelated to sports
Cubs skipper Joe Maddon couldn’t figure out how to help Russell play better baseball. But he does know how to keep team morale high even at the worst of times. A great way to mentally reset is planning an activity completely unrelated to the task at hand. Being around your teammates — or co-workers or family — as human beings is key for building solidarity.
Perhaps if ex-Nationals manager Matt Williams worked this way, he could’ve kept his job. Instead, teammates Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon came to blows on national TV before losing the game 12-5.