Kara Goucher, bronze medalist of the 2006 World Championship in Athens (3000 m) and 2007 World Championship in Osaka (10,000 m), has struggled for a long time with an internal demon- her lack of self-confidence (Barcott, 2010). Several times in her life, she has lost her motivation to join contests and win, because she has felt that she is never good enough to compete with the best (Barcott, 2010, p. 62). In an interview, Goucher revealed her view of herself: “Everyone has their weakness. Mine is confidence. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years” (Barcott, 2010, p. 62). Several references showed that motivation is critical to engaging in sports and exercise (Barcott, 2010; Crust, 2006).
Perceptions of oneself, according to a study of exercising females, also impact motivation (Sabiston et. al, 2005). Even athletes like Goucher are also demotivated, although her case illustrated that winning her mental game helped her win her actual games (Barcott, 2010; Crust, 2006). Mastering the mental game serves as positive reinforcement and links with sound motivation theories (Barcott, 2010; Crust, 2006; Peak Performance, 2007; Sabiston et al. , 2005; Weinberg & Gould, 2007).
This paper argues that sports psychologists should use the mental game in influencing athletes’ motivation, because it can be an effective motivator for sports and exercise. Winning the mental game is an effective motivator for sports and exercise, because it presents opportunities for positive reinforcement (Barcott, 2010; Sabiston et al. , 2005). Positive reinforcement, according to a number of articles, is positively related to motivation, because it is a stimulus for reinforcing good behavior and reducing negative behavior (Crust, 2006; Peak Performance, 2007).
Sport psychology research provided a bulk of evidence for the effectiveness of the positive approach (Smith, 2001 as cited in Crust, 2006), especially when punishment is minimized (Braslau-Schneck as cited in Crust, 2006). Lee Crust (2006) admitted that he was greatly motivated to improve his performance, under a coach that uses positive reinforcement strategy. Behavioral modification techniques that employ positive reinforcements also showed positive improvements in training sessions, performance, and reduction of errors (Crust, 2006).
Thus, being triumphant in handling the mental game can shape positive behavior and decrease negative behavior (Crust, 2006). In addition, the mental game links with sound motivation theories and case studies, which provides it a strong theoretical and empirical perspective (Barcott, 2010; Crust, 2006; Weinberg & Gould, 2007). The notion of a mental game can be connected with the Self-Determination Theory (Crust, 2006; Peak Performance, 2007). Self-determined athletes often have high intrinsic motivation (Peak Performance, 2007).
The Hungarian psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1975, 1990) stated that “the highest level of intrinsic motivation is flow state” (as cited in Peak Performance, 2007). Flow refers to the feeling of absolute immersion in what one is doing, wherein everything else becomes a background (Peak Performance, 2007). The mental game depicts that component of the flow, when the “perceived demands of an activity and an athlete’s perceived ability or skills” have finally been aligned (Peak Performance, 2007).
When athletes have won the mental game, they easily feel at one with their performance (Peak Performance, 2007). An example is a world champion canoeist, who describes the paddle as part of herself (Peak Performance, 2007). Mental conditioning is also like that. It is about preparing people to be what they are doing, so that they would forget their worries and troubles (Peak Performance, 2007; Barcott, 2010). The mental game also interrelates with the Competence Motivation Theory. Developmental psychologist Susan Harter (1988) provided the foundation for this theory.
This theory asserts that people are motivated to feel valuable or competent (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 67). This theory also contends that the perceptions of people on their sense of control also improve their evaluations of self-worth and competence (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 67). These feelings of self-control, however, do not directly impact motivation, but affect emotional states of anxiety, pride, and shame, which shape motivation (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 67). A concrete connection of the mental game to the Competence Motivation Theory can be verified through Groucher’s case.
Sports psychologist Darren Treasure helped Groucher battle her inner demons, by assisting her in re-establishing her confidence in her competence. Through mental conditioning, Treasure helped Groucher believe that she is worthy to be part of large competitions, and that she can win, if she believes enough in it (Barcott, 2010). Thus, this case demonstrated the connection between the mental game and competence, and competence and motivation. This part of the essay discusses the motivational techniques that fuel the mental game.
Sports psychologists can help people master the mental game through considering the situations and traits in determining the motivation plan (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 55). Low motivation can be a product of traits and situational factors (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 55). For instance, a study showed that perceptions of body size and appearance increase social physique anxiety (SPA) (Sabiston et. al, 2005). SPA, in turn, can demotivate or motivate athletes, depending on how others also perceive their body size and appearance (Sabiston et. al, 2005).
This study can help sports psychologists to understand how different factors impact the motivation of athletes. Sports psychologists can help people overcome their mental anxieties by understanding their multiple motives of sports and exercise involvement (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 56). People are motivated to engage in physical activity for diverse and sometimes, even conflicting reasons (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 56). Monitoring these motives can help identify the drives that influence the direction and power of motivation (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 56).
Moreover, sports psychologists can also help people improve their mental game by changing the environment (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 57). The environment can be restructured to meet the innermost motives of people (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 57). Combining recreation and competition in the training sessions can improve the motivation to enhance performance (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 57). The environment should also be changed to respond to the multiple needs of the athletes (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 57). For instance, Groucher needed to believe that she could run again, even after her injuries.
Her coach, Alberto Salazar, motivated her to try the local tracks first, so that she could once more feel how it is to run long distances (Barcott, 2010, p. 65). After seeing that she could beat other runners, she regained her self-confidence slowly (Barcott, 2010, p. 65). Finally, sports psychologists can also use concepts and principles of the mental game to shape the behavior and motivation of their athletes (Weinberg & Gould, 2007, p. 59).
The concept of mind over matter is not new, and sports psychologists can help athletes identify their personal “key words” that they can use to remain motivated in sports and exercise (Barcott, 2010, p. 67). Sports psychologists should also help athletes believe that they have “competitors” not opponents (Barcott, 2010, p. 67). The term “competitors” reinforces the idea of competing with the best, which is more positive than seeing others as enemies; the term “opponent,” on the other hand, can increase competition anxiety, which Groucher felt before (Barcott, 2010, p. 67). Finally, the athletes’ success should also be measured through a evaluating their daily progress (Barcott, 2010, p. 67). Everyday victories are measurable and concrete milestones that help motivate athletes (Barcott, 2010, p. 67).
Motivation is all in the mind- that is already a cliche. The mental game understands that this cliche has scientific and pragmatic foundations. Sports psychologists will benefit a great deal in training athletes by ensuring that they have won the mental game first, so that winning the actual game can flow more naturally. References Barcott, B. (2010, March). Mind gains. Runners World, 60-69,104,106,109. Crust, Lee. (2006, February 18). Sport motivation. Peak Performance. Retrieved from http://www. pponline. co. uk/encyc/sport-motivation. htm Peak Performance. (2007, May 4).
The motivational dynamics of sport. Retrieved from http://www. pponline. co. uk/encyc/sports-psychology-the-science-and-practice-of-sports-motivation-33614 Sabiston, C. M. , Crocker, P. R. E. , & Munroe-Chandler, K. J. (2005). Examining current-ideal discrepancy scores and exercise motivations as predictors of social physique anxiety in exercising females. Journal of Sport Behavior, 28(1), 68-85. Retrieved from Research Library. (Document ID: 795393001). Weinberg, R. S. W. , & Gould, D. G. (2007). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.