Top athletes can experience mental blocks which hamper sports performance, often in technical sports such as diving. Mental blocks can arise in the high-pressure environment of sports competitions where large crowds, constant and close media scrutiny, and seeing the performance of rivals can raise anxiety levels and increase pressure.
Some athletes thrive under pressure, performing at their best and even breaking records. Others may underperform due to pressure and other distractions. Managing mental blocks is vital during high-profile events such as the Olympics and sports psychologists can help athletes through techniques such as imagery.
What causes mental blocks?
Bad experience: A well-learned skill is the result of long periods of training and practice and is executed automatically with very little conscious thought – just like walking or dancing. A previous experience that resulted in failure can lead to overthinking a well-learned skill as the athlete reviews the causes of failure.
Anxiety: Anxiety can be a mental block when it interferes with automatic processes perfected through constant practice or use. An athlete can experience anxiety about his ability to perform a skill quite well. Anxiety can also lead to conscious effort, blocking autonomous performance as the athlete tries to avoid making mistakes and turning the athlete’s fears into a reality.
What is imagery?
Sports psychology is based on the underlying principle that mental discipline is as important as physical training in sports competition. In the Olympics, where participants are a chosen elite whose physical skills and training are almost the same, the mental strength of an athlete can spell the difference between a winner.
Specific strategies during training and competition can promote calm, focus, concentration, discipline, confidence and physical expertise. An effective sports strategy involves imagery where the athlete plays a mental film of playing a game, performing in an event and overcoming challenges.
Many athletes who participate in the Olympics conjure clear images of swimming laps, running around a track effortlessly or sinking a putt. With constant mental rehearsal of a problematic move, a previously learned skill is reinforced and its autonomy is restored. Similarly, imagery can help rebuild confidence that may have been lost due to a previous bad experience.
Imagery can be used together with other psychological factors such as motivation, mindset, and positive self-talk to boost sporting performance.
A mind coach specialising in sports psychology can walk athletes through visualisation, teach them how to visualise before an event or competition, handle stress and immense pressure during competition, practise being in the moment without overthinking every move and other mental strategies for superior performance.