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Posted: February 12, 2012  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Anna Weltman's Columns
As founder of Top Performance Consulting, my personal mission is to deliver honest and straight-forward service, encouraging healthy and sensible practices.
Having always been an athlete, I found that the "Mental Game" was the most important factor in creating performance success. Everything depends on how well you can control your mind. Your best game involves your head almost more than your body.
After a few years of teaching swing mechanics to golfers, I decided that it was time to pursue the mental aspects of the game and quickly began to set up clinics for them to work on "Mental Training". Response was huge and results spoke for themselves! Over 30 of my golf students signed up for the first clinic and they walked away feeling empowered and in control of their game!
I believe that we have a never-ending supply of what we need most -- brains! All we have to do is understand how to access our brain, learn to control our thoughts, our feelings, and our minds. That's why I say: "Your Brain...Your Greatest Natural Resource!"

Psychology: Problem Solving For Athletes Best Mode Of Attack: Help Yourself And Get Help!

Problems and the Search for Solutions

Athletes are constantly juggling both their personal lives and their sport lives, requiring increased bandwidth to solve problems and fulfill requirements from both sides.

Work, home, family, health, entertainment, and learning pursuits must be juggled with injury, rehabilitation, failure to perform, lack of motivation, difficulty with focus, or inability to access adequate and safe training. Competition creates an additional source of stress that has to be managed as well.

People in an athlete's life are sometimes helpful, and sometimes they hinder problem solving. Coaches, parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, and fellow competitors may often try to help but these well-meaning folks often make common mistakes, which interfere with the development of good solutions:

  • Using the one tool they have and approaching all problems from that solution: "If you have a hammer in your hand, everything begins to look like a nail."
  • Falling back on tried-and-true solutions that have worked in the past without viewing the present challenge through the eyes of the athlete currently having the problem.
  • Trying to "rush for a solution" (to prove their brilliance, meet their personal ego needs, feeling they are serving the athlete well and quickly, attempt to get the athlete over the hump as quickly as possible and back into action).

Getting the Right Help

Therefore, it is imperative that athletes find solutions that they need, and utilize the correct resources to do so.

They need a toolbox of problem-solving tools, and require an honest and comprehensive awareness of their own make-up, of their strengths, and of their relative weaknesses.

Additionally, they must resort to problem-solving strategies and techniques in a timely fashion, especially when in competition, yet not become hung up on whom to ask for support.

As an athlete, you may require some assistance with the following:

1. Improve your mental toughness and perform better under pressure.
2. Deal with harassment or disrespect from teammates or competitors.
3. Fine-tune your sport performance.
4. Avoid personal worries and keep your minds on the job.

Sounds stressful, right? Find solutions, find them fast, get the right people - AND perform better??! That is a lot to focus on. That is where a sport psychology consultant can come into the picture to really provide a lot of great assistance.

A good sport psychology consultant helps athletes with the aforementioned requirements and provides support in the following ways:

1. They serve as an alternate to the coach, in case there is a disconnect between coach and athlete.
2. They serve as an alternate to the athlete's family, in case there is a disconnect between family member(s) and athlete.
3. They help athletes to better understand themselves as athletes.
4. They help athletes with insecurities, emotional control, worries about sport performance, or other difficult and personal experiences.

As a sport psychology consultant, I tend to approach problems in a systematic fashion at first, in order to get a better idea of what is at stake. Athletes should use this strategy as well, and go through a sequence of steps in order to find solutions to problems.

Problem Solving for Athletes - Sample Problem

Here I will dissect a sample problem by indicating the steps I would follow in order to find a solution.

Problem: Athlete Unable To Perform Well In Competition

1. First - Gather Information

Athlete Info:  
Who is the athlete?
Experience in the sport (amount of practice vs. competition time)
History of nervousness (in athletic and non-athletic situations)
General maturity /development level 
What is athlete already doing to try to improve?
Other stressors in life that might be interfering (family, work, school, etc.)

Problem Info:
Length of time the problem has occurred
Pre-competition routines
Athlete's perception of the cause of the problem

Previous Experience: 
History of stress situations and their outcomes
History of relaxed situations where good performance took place
Previous struggles with performance anxiety

Other People Involved:
Is there a coach?  What are coach's expectations or plans?
Parents involved?  Any pressures?
Competitors -- problems with any competitors in particular?

2.	Second -- Attempt Further Troubleshooting

If there is cognitive and somatic anxiety, (use a heart rate monitor, check the food-log, etc.)
Is there chronic nervousness?
What alleviates nervousness or makes it worse?
Are goals realistic?
External pressures (parents, coach, desire to impress others, etc...) that can be alleviated or removed?
Injuries or other reasons for tentative action and bad focus.

3.	Third -- Entertain Possible Solutions

Strategies to learn:  
Anxiety Management (develop ‘worry-time')
Breathing, relaxation, self-talk, thought stopping
Cognitive restructuring
Attention control training

Goal Setting and Planning:  
Revision of goals
Redefine success
Pre-competition warm up and meditation

Additional Areas of Work:  
Mental toughness
Identification with the Sport
Reviewing Motivators

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