Delving Into The Sportsman’s Mind

sports psychology

With the craze about sports in the masses increasing exponentially, the need for sports psychologists is rising. Meera Jakkli brings to you the lowdown on this up-and coming branch of sports psychology

What is it?
Sports Psychology is a branch of psychology which applies components across sports and physiology, and aims to understand the relationships between sports and the mind. It also studies the effect of sports and physical activity on the physiology. It involves not only research about the different techniques to improve performance but also advice to players and coaches alike on how to better their game by altering the mindset.
Sports Psychology is a relatively new field in the country and not many people are aware of what it entails and how to begin pursuing it.
Bachelor’s Degree in General Psychology/Sports Psychology (As offered by some colleges) Masters’ Degree in Sports Psychology PhD in a particular avenue within sports psychology Generally, one has to get a PhD in order to establish  themselves in the field.

Colleges offering courses in Sports Psychology in India:
Jain University, Bangalore
Amity School of Physical studies and Sports Sciences, Uttar Pradesh
– Justice Bahseer Womens’ College, Tamil Nadu Colleges abroad, offering Sports Psychology as a degree:
– University of Denver
– West Virginia University
– Purdue University
– Oregon State University
– University of North Texas
A number of great courses can also be found over the internet.

Shayamal Vallabhjee - use this image
Career Paths

As a graduate in Sports Psychology, you can pursue:
1) Research – A lot of research is conducted on the effect of sports exercise on the body. The relationship between personality, mindset and performance is one that is examined in detail. Some areas of research currently are the effects of participation in sports by the youth, how teams can perform better using personalities and other psychological techniques. Evolutionary perspectives are also being taken into consideration in recent research. Observation of teams, players and their trends and successful conversions of those inferences into theories and practical plans are also being researched upon.
2) Applied/Clinical Sports Psychology – Applied sports psychology is the practical application of the research being conducted. The work involves coaching, mentoring and counselling sports players, coaches and teams on the importance of psychological factors during the game. They use techniques like Goal Setting, Imagery, Pre-performance routines to boost the team or individual’s performance. Different aspects like pressure, social situation, team mates and their personalities are taken into consideration while counselling.
It also includes following up with the rehabilitation process of any player that has undergone a major injury or is going through mental stress. A school or a university may also hire a sports psychologist to encourage and help the competitive players.
3) Academic Psychology – These either work in colleges or universities as professors for sports psychology and its various sub-fields. Alternatively, they advise coaches on the best way to go about bettering their team’s performance by using psychometric techniques.

Tell us a little more about yourself.
I’m a sports scientist and an EQ consultant; EQ’s aspect is sports psychology. Sports science is the study of the physiological parameters that give an athlete a performance advantage. So I look at all the variables, be it physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, training methodology, psychology, sports vision, nutrition; all those aspects and I map it together to see what would give an athlete a 0.5% advantage. In my field, I’ve spent 15 years in professional sport. I travelled a little bit for the ATP tour, the EA Sports PGA tour, the Asian games, the Commonwealth games, and then about 8-9 years ago I also started delving into the psychology aspect in order to understand the role of emotions in stabilising performance. My job as a sports scientist is not to answer questions, but is in fact to question the answers. My job is to take the existing science and question it, and dissect it, and keep digging deeper and deeper. It is to always play the Devil’s advocate to the science, to understand if we are thinking in the right direction or not.
As a sports psychologist, which are the areas you tend to focus on while you’re training with a sportsperson?
There are various aspects, but if you want to stick predominately to the EQ aspect, then what happens is that you have a thought, and that thought triggers an emotion, and it’s the emotion that triggers off an action. Whether you’re on the field or whether you’re off the field, you need to know the emotional state that you perform best at in. For this, you need to have a lot of mental resilience. Mental resilience is the ability to stick to your game plan irrespective of the outstanding circumstances. Now, mental resilience is superimposed with certain emotional patterns as well. When things are not going your way, your emotion is going to change, because you’re going to be upset, you’re going to be angry, but your mental resilience will come in to sticking to that plan. So that is what I teach athletes.
Do you think the youth can benefit from this in their daily lives?
I don’t think just the youth; I think everyone can benefit from this. My advice to any young person starting off is irrespective of what field you’re in, irrespective of how good you are, people would invest in you as a person. So my question is what are you investing in making the person you are, better? And it starts of by doing a SWOT analysis of the person. Reflections of this SWOT analysis need to happen periodically, because we are constantly evolving, every cell in our body is changing every single second. And even our minds are changing. So the answers of last time are not going to remain relevant forever. There’s a beautiful study that came out of the Stanford University that says that your success is about the ability to be adapting to the changing environments. If someone is putting so much emphasis on your ability to adapt that means that they are putting emphasis on the fact that everything is ever-changing.
You have worked with both the South African cricket team as well as the Indian cricket team. What were the major differences you noticed between them with respect to their strengths and weaknesses?
I’ve worked with our Indian athletes for the past 8 years now, and one of the characteristics is that in India, we don’t work hard enough on our physical attributes. I’ve had numerous athletes, whether you’re a batter, baller, badminton player, or a squash player; an Indian athlete will come and tell me you know what I’m on the tennis court or the squash court for 4 hours, and he thinks he’s done work. A South African would have to be in the gym for 4 hours to earn the right to get on the court to practise. So that’s the difference in our thinking. South Africans look at play as a privilege. So they do the hard yards first, which literally gets you into the area to play. Whereas in India, we look at play as our form of practice. And that’s been the most distinguishing difference.
What was the inspiration behind H.E.A.L Institute?
H.E.A.L is a sports medicine and high-performance centre. I set it up because the country has a very dire need to raise the standards of non-surgical care in the count r y. If our athletes and our children or anyone has a hope in hell, then we need doctors and practitioners and nurses who understand how to look after them. We need to create an ecosystem of people who understand that pain. H.E.A.L was set up to educate the country on non-surgical care. We’re also building a tech platform currently so that we can disseminate information quicker.

We talk to Shayamal Vallabhjee, Sports Scientist and EQ expert on what sports psychology is all about


Volume 5 Issue 8


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