Your star player has hit every free throw in the first half with ease, but when the score is tied, the game is on the line, and their shot determines the fate of the entire team, will they make the shot? Speed, strength, agility, and endurance are often considered the key components of an athlete. However, there is another essential aspect of sport: psychology.
How a player can handle their emotions, approach a challenge, bounce back after failure, and deal with pain can separate a sporty person from a true athlete. In the words of Senior Girls volleyball coach Mr. Neil, “At the end of the day, the strength of the athlete comes from the mind and not from the muscles.”
As competition increases in sports and you approach high-performance athletics, the gap between the physical capabilities of athletes reduces to a mere fraction of what it was at a young age. Natural talent can no longer carry a soccer player to a hat-trick or a swimmer to the finish line; at this level, everyone is phenomenal. When competing at the World Championships or Olympics, the psychological component of sport is crucial and “when you combine that with muscle strength or endurance, it can be the difference between first and second,” says Mr. Neil.
In spite of this, a high level of mental toughness does not have to be saved for the world stage. High school athletes and coaches alike can benefit immensely from developing a positive mindset in sport. Southridge’s head athletics director, Mr. Smith, recognizes the value of working on your mental game, and it can be as simple as setting aside ten minutes a day to practice visualizing or reflecting on a game. “We can get caught up in a big speech at half-time,” said Mr. Smith. “You have to find the time to [reflect] on your own or at practice.”
If the athletic benefits are not a big enough motivator, meditating, visualization, and having a handle on your thoughts is advantageous in the classroom too. “Even beyond the realm of sports, understanding why the brain does what it does can have an influential impact on your performance at an academic level,” said Mr. Neil. When faced with a challenging test, nerve-wracking presentation, or lengthy assignment, keeping your head in the right state makes all the difference.
Ultimately sport, and life in general, is filled with stressful circumstances and requires a lot of your mind, but, as Mr. Neil said, “your ability to manage that stress allows you to perform at a higher level.” So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get your head in the game.
Submitted by Maya K., Grade 12