When to turn to eSport psychology?
There is a stigma that psychology is all about treating problems by laying back on a couch and talking about experiences of your childhood. Going by that logic a sport psychologist would maybe make you lay down in a court and talk about experiences of your past sports teams.
What sport psychologists actually do is focus on enhancing performance by training mental skills. Mental skills, akin to physical skills, can be easily improved with practice. That means that things like concentration, controlling your emotions, and forgetting about mistakes can be pretty easily worked on, even by oneself if given a few worksheets.
As a player you should turn to sport psychology before you have a problem with your play. Yes, of course, mental skills training can help with problems in your play like choking and setting goals. However, if you face off against an opponent who is equally skilled on the field, it’s the athlete with greater mental toughness that is going to come out on top. Therefore it’s never too early to start training your mental toughness so that you know you can always rely on yourself to perform.
The biggest desire from most athletes is to be consistently good. Performing consistently means not choking, or throwing. Sport psychology trains mental toughness so when plan A fails, you don’t lose the momentum and fail to perform alongside your plan. Instead you are able to maintain calm emotions and strong fundamentals that give you a good chance of getting back in the game. ~pre-performance ~self-talk
As equally bad as choking after a mistake is losing the momentum when you are already winning. Sport psychology helps an athlete understand how throws occur and to avoid both the mindset and the emotions that lead up to it. That way you can close out games cleanly by relying on your strategically superior position and not hope and pray that you don’t make a mistake big enough for the opponent to capitalize. ~focus ~relaxation ~momentum
In episode 25 of Summoning Insight, Thorin and Monte talk about how intense training regimes can be in Korea, and how hard it is to maintain concentration and to train, to actually train, for 10 hours at a stretch. Sport psychology can help improve your efficiency in training so that you are both able to train longer periods and also so that the time you actually spend training is effective. All to often a player will train for a 4 hour stretch, and end up at the end engraining more bad habits into their play than good ones! ~goal-setting ~pre-performance ~focus
Learning new skills
There is no clear-cut path to picking up a new skill, or even worse, fixing an old skill to improve it. Most times athletes simply try to practice the new skill over and over until it is mastered or remastered. Then a big pressure situation comes up in a key match and the player forgets everything they trained and goes right back to their old habit, style, or movement. It can be beyond frustrating. Sport psychology attempts to understand the processes by which a new skill is learned, and also to control the game situation so it’s harder to sink back into bad habits. ~multi-action-plan ~goal-setting ~pre-performance ~focus ~relaxation
Motivation and Burnout
It happens to the best athletes. Eventually they burn out and lose the desire to keep striving to be the best. This kind of insidious feeling can infect an athlete like a disease and all too often it can end careers and lead to changes in lineups. Sport psychology can tackle this problem from both the individual and team aspect, and the more approaches the better! ~goal-setting
But what about?
Popular culture thinks that a sport psychologists main role in a team is to manage the egos and conflicts that go along with a teams internal dynamics. Interestingly enough most sport psychology as a field has not done a lot of research in cross-cultural conflicts, or communication in sport. Luckily there is a wealth of material from the business and educational sectors on effective communication and multicultural working environments. ~leadership ~team cohesion ~Thomas Gordon training
While there is research in sport psychology about team cohesion and how it plays into a group’s performance, a lot of the ways to actually improve a team’s togetherness is common sense. Do activities together, have fun together, bond, handle conflicts and don’t let them fester. A sport psychologist can work with captains, coaches, and managers to drastically improve a team’s atmosphere if necessary. The most important thing is to build an atmosphere of professionalism and approach training deliberately. ~team atmosphere
How to train your mental toughness?
The best way to improve your mental skills is to start off by cataloging your strengths and weaknesses using a performance profile. Once you have a handle on your weak areas and your strong areas, you can look at your past matches and see if it would be better to shore up the deficiencies or to build your mental toughness on what you are already good at. Then simply peruse this site for articles related to your preferred mental skills and go at it!
When to ask an expert?
If you feel like you need expert advice or if your motivation is ebbing dangerously low, it’s probably best to pay attention to your impulses and make a thorough plan with a sport psychologist. Personally I use a combination of mental skills training with Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment training or the multi-action plan to handle long-term skill development combined with growing mental toughness.
Another good reason to ask an expert is if you just have a single focus or problem you want to work with and need to know how to most efficiently or effectively deal with it. Choking in high pressure matches is a good example of this.
Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment
Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment [MAC] training is an intervention system put forth recently by Gardner and Moore (2006), leading experts in sport psychology. The MAC is built on years of previous work in the clinical psychology sector with Acceptance Commitment Therapy. After noting how powerful a counseling technique it was for work with addictions, they had the bright idea of seeing what happened if the same style of training was adapted for elite athletes. The results were astounding, with a verifiable increase in performance ability from most people who undergo the training. The basic idea is that one plays “in the zone” no matter what their internal state may be. That requires the ability to disconnect ones actions and behaviors from how they feel at a given moment. The typical training time for the standard MAC program is 4-6 months. There is a lot of individual work on practicing how to act according to your goals versus your emotions. However, it is guaranteed to pay off in the long run, unlike more traditional methods which do not always work even after investing a lot of time in them.
The multi-action plan [MAP] is an intervention system put forth recently by Bortoli et al. (2012) along with Yuri Hanin, a leading expert on emotions in sport. The MAP is built upon Hanin’s previous work on Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning [IZOF], which has proven very successful in enhancing elite athlete performance. The MAP takes the emotional controlling aspects of IZOF and combines them with action-oriented coping mechanisms to create a holistic approach to helping an athlete handle their performance while in-game. The basic idea is that an athlete has a plan B to fall back on when plan A, being in-the-zone, doesn’t happen. Elite athlete’s play in this plan B situation almost all the time, but in-game pressure can force an athlete into bad habits and serious mistakes that are not easily recovered from. MAP builds a recovery system, through intervention during training over an extended period of time, and brings it to a conscious level so that an athlete can play at a consistent high level regardless of the situation with in-game momentum or recent mistakes. See here for more detailed information.