Millions of people participate in competitive sports the world over. Sports psychology is a well-established field and a psychologist is part of the training squad in most professional teams.
Does understanding oneself and how one’s mind works have anything to contribute? All sports men and women accept that being physically fit is important for their sport and they train rigorously to be the best they can be. Sometimes they don’t realise that mental health is equally important, and perhaps they don’t give as much attention to that, unless they develop a problem. Mental illness is very common in sports, but people usually hide it because that would make them look ‘weak’ in the eyes of their coaches and peers. It is much better to prevent problems from occurring by understanding the cause of them in the first place.
Understanding ourselves and how our minds work brings wisdom, and that allows us to face the challenges that life and our sport will throw at us, and still remain mentally stable. For example understanding our self-images and the role they play in the hurt we feel when criticised may allow us to accept criticism with intelligence rather than just react with anger from the pain we feel. How we cope with failure is also important, because it is going to be part of every sports-person’s life. There is a natural anxiety that develops before sporting events and understanding that in ourselves would help people cope better with it. In some cases it can be paralysing and affect the performance on the day. Understanding that all anxiety is linked to thinking about the future and the consequences of failure, allows a person to meet it in a fresh way, neither suppressing it, nor escaping from it or judging it. If one can be with that feeling completely without even naming it as anxiety, it can dissolve. This does need a diligent study of the way our minds work.
Our hidden beliefs can get in the way of our performance in any sport. If we don’t believe we are good enough that that will feed into our performance, because it may stop us pushing ourselves beyond a certain limit. If you believe you can do something, you are half way there.
If we are involved in any sport we also have to question if we are just happy to play the sport, or do we want to be successful at it? What does success for us really mean? Why do we want to be successful? Usually because it boosts the ‘I’ and that brings us pleasure, which we love. Why are we so addicted to pleasure? Do we realise that the pursuit of success and pleasure can also lead to frustration, and mental health problems? Exploring these questions for oneself may allow us to find our own answers and have a healthy attitude to the sport we are involved in. It doesn’t at all mean that pleasure is ‘bad’, or that the pursuit of ‘success’ is unhealthy, but exploring and understanding the nature of pleasure, success, anxiety, fear and belief may allow us to approach our sport in an intelligent way, without experiencing the mental health challenges that are so common. This understanding would also contribute to our performance on the day.
This understanding is not complex, and is open to anyone who is willing to look within, accept what they see and question themselves. The book Understanding Me Understanding You is part of the non-profit Human Enquiry Project and enables everyone to understand themselves and how their minds work. You can find more details at humanenquiry.com, or on the Facebook page @humanenquiry. Please join us, to help make the world a better place.