When Physical Training is Not Enough
There comes a point in your life when you've done everything right but it just doesn't seem like enough. You may have spent countless hours in the weightroom, on the court/field, studying film, or even working with a professional trainer of some kind, but nothing seems to get you to where you want to be. This is when you may want to pursue something known as performance psychology. Not sports psychology, PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY. According to Division 47 of the American Psychological Association (as cited in Aoyagi, Portenga, Poczwardowski, Cohen, & Statler, 2012), performance psychology is focused on the understanding and improvement of the human experience in any performance domain. To put it simply, it is about developing a better a you.
THINK PROACTIVELY AND NOT REACTIVELY
It is worth clarifying that some of what you may have learned in that sports psychology class you took in high school/college does apply to performance psychology. However, there is a very distinct difference between what many see as sports psychology and the very unique discipline of performance psychology. For starters, performance psychology is generally proactive and always performance based. Whether you are preparing yourself for an upcoming competition or you are trying to mentally ready yourself for a job interview, you can use performance psychology to maximize your experience. Sports psychology on the contrary, is often the term associated with mental health professionals who work with athletes. Counseling for mental health issues is NOT at the root of performance psychology. Performance psychology can help you overcome mental hurdles but mental health issues should be left to mental health professionals. A performance consultant practicing performance psychology is trained to recognize and refer mental health issues out as necessary.
When you think performance psychology, think proactive instead of reactive. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This age old saying can be applicable to all areas of life and when we are talking about performance, it can be the margin between league MVP and bench warmer. Being proactive in your mental approach helps you manage your emotions. It can help you avoid the pitfalls of excessive anxiety. It prepares you for setbacks. It can even be the means by which you tune out distractions before they become distractions. Take action and develop your mental skills before you have to react and fix something that never should've been broken in the first place.
YOUR GAME IS 90% MENTAL
If you have ever performed at any level, doing anything, you know that there is more to success than physical skill. You know that practice and physical preparation are only a part of the equation. It is commonly argued that 90% of any performance is mental. Consider that for a moment and then think about how much time you dedicate to the mental side of your performances.
I once read about a study of basketball players that got split into three groups. One group practiced their free-throws physically. In other words, they actually shot free-throws. A second group practiced them mentally. This group visualized shooting free-throws but never actually touched a ball. The third group did nothing. Unsurprisingly, the group that did nothing did not improve. However, those conducting the study discovered something very interesting. The mental only practice group improved nearly as much as the physical only practice group! That is one great example of how performance psychology can improve performance and why mental training should be a part of everyone's repertoire.
To sum things up, performance psychology uses many techniques to develop the best in you. It makes your strengths stronger while acknowledging ways to work on your weaknesses. It's also great for eliminating that mental funk you may occasionally find yourself in. Resting on a strong foundation of researched principles, it can help you develop and master mental tools, as well as create habits that set you up for success in all that you do.
Aoyagi, M. W., Portenga, S. T., Poczwardowski, A., Cohen, A. B., & Statler, T. (2012). Reflections and Directions: The Profession of Sport Psychology Past, Present, and Future. Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, 43(1), 32-38.