Top Sports Psychology Questions Answered

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Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

By Maggie Lasto, Swimming World College Intern.

Have you ever experienced the pre-race jitters or the meet-day butterflies that make your stomach feel uneasy? What about the, “I just want to get this over with” attitude when the negative thoughts start creeping in? Have you felt sweaty palms, a racing heart and dry mouth just before your heat steps up to the blocks. Maybe you don’t feel anything at all and instead you’re laser focused. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to know that nervousness and anxiousness happens to the best of us.

Swimming is an intense sport, and it’s a natural reaction to feel symptoms like these. It only becomes a problem when these feelings restrict us from reaching our full potentials in the water and influence our ability to perform under pressure. Sports psychologists work with athletes, providing them tools to help them become more confident, relaxed and positive when the time counts. Below, Meghan Krasnow, Sport Psychology Doctoral Trainee, answers some top field related questions. Currently working with collegiate athletes, her information may help you see the ways in which sports psychology can help you.

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Photo Courtesy: Amy Golas

Swimming World: What is the main focus of sports psychology?

Krasnow: The main focus of sport psychology is working towards the optimal performance and well-being of athletes.

SW: How can swimmers benefit from sports psychology?

Krasnow: Swimmers can benefit from sport psychology by learning and implementing mental skill techniques, such as goal setting, imagery, confidence, concentration, and relaxation, to increase swimming performance. Additionally, these mental skills are transferable and applicable to school and life performance as well.

SW: What are some signs that it might be time to see a sports psychologist?

Krasnow: Sport psychology is a resource that can be valuable for everyone. Athletes who may be struggling with performance and/or well-being, athletes who are performing well and want to achieve an even higher level, or any area in between are all acceptable reasons to work with a sport psychologist. If you feel that you could use a little extra support in a safe, unbiased, and confidential space with a professional who can help you grow and achieve your goals, a sport psychologist may be a helpful and effective resource for you.

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

SW: What is sports anxiety?

Krasnow: Sport anxiety, also referred to as performance anxiety, is the amount of perceived stress that impacts performance. Athletes mays feel somatic symptoms of sport anxiety, such as sweaty palms, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles, and nausea, as well as cognitive symptoms such as racing thoughts, negative thought patterns, and feelings of nervousness related to performance.

SW: Can a sports psychologist help someone with regular anxiety?

Krasnow: Sport psychologists are professionals that have an educational background in sport & performance psychology and are a doctoral level licensed clinical or counseling psychologist. Sport psychologists, therefore, are ethically able to address mental health concerns, such as anxiety.

SW: Can anxiousness and nerves ever be beneficial in swimming?

Krasnow: Yes! According to the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) model developed by Juri Hanin, the “optimal” amount of arousal (which can include anxiousness and nervousness) will produce an optimal performance, and each individual’s optimal level of arousal varies based on how they respond to anxiety. Anxiousness and nervousness become problematic when the feelings and sensations become overly strong and impair performance. Practicing sport psychology techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and self-talk, can help adjust anxiety levels for a more optimal arousal level, and therefore, contribute to a more optimal performance.

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Swimming is just as much a mental sport as it is physical. Think about all the time you spend practicing the physical aspects of the sport. If you took the time to practice these mental skills equally, imagine how much stronger your mind would be. By working with a sports psychologist, and applying the given knowledge, you may see improvements in your swimming you never imagined. If you want to start the process today, you can begin by focusing your energy on controlling the factors that you can and letting go of the things you can’t. Its time to let your hard work pay off!

All interviews and research are conducted by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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3 years ago

Josh Barila

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maureen fahey
3 years ago

Nice article Maggie! Impacts so many athletes!