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Reckon young athletes don’t feel down in the dumps? Think again.
To begin with, sport psychology is a developing field in India and currently attracting eyeballs of the sport fraternity. So, what is it?
Most of us have come across a quote which says “sport is 90 percent mental”, what does this actually hint at and if it is believed to be true, do we work hard enough towards the 90 percent? Before delving into what it means, lets understand what psychology is all about. So, in layman’s language, psychology is the study of human behaviour and understanding the mental processes that influence our behaviour. Applying this logic in the sport context is in its nascent stages in our country but at the same time, it is extremely important to understand and be aware of this dynamic.
Sport and exercise psychology is a newer field of psychology which includes understanding an athlete’s mindset, working on mental skills to enhance the sport performance, and at the same time this field also puts a lot of focus on the participation in sport or any physical activity and its effects on overall development of a child.
Sport psychologists predominantly work with athletes to help them develop mental skills and strategies to improve their athletic performance in the competitive set up and this process is called “Mental Training” or “Psychological Skills Training”.
How can the parents support this?
Parents are always the first point of contact for the child, they’re always the first safety net any child can rely on. Supportive parents enable the child athlete to achieve the sport dream and theirs is a huge contribution in any child’s sporting career. A supportive parent is a thinking parent, a parent who can stand back and look at their young athlete clearly and objectively and give them space to develop, to believe in the child and the child’s wellbeing. The sporting parent needs to provide the support structure and be a support for their child. Nowadays, with the advancement in sport science, there are several experts and specialists which help athletes better their sport performance – sport scientist, sport physiotherapists, sport nutritionists, exercise scientists, sport and exercise psychologists, etc. It’s understandable if parents are hesitant to approach a sport and exercise psychologist for their child because of the societal structure we are all a part of!
The good news about sport psychology is that an athlete doesn’t need to have ‘mental health issues’ to approach a sport psychology practitioner. Sport and exercise psychologists work with athletes to build mental toughness skills – self-confidence, motivation, pressure management, goal setting, recovery from injury, etc. – which are preventive in nature. An athlete who has exposure to mental fitness training will learn and practice these skills just as he/she practices the technical aspect of their sport. Sport psychologists work on a “one shoe does not fit all” approach and thus, the psychological skills training interventions are “made to fit” taking into consideration the athletes’ personality, psychological demands of the sport, level of competition, etc.
Youth sports are huge in today’s society. Parents have a tremendous impact on how children will engage in sports. It goes without saying that parents have an important role in the sporting development of their child. However, caution needs to be taken in their approach as parental behaviours can have both positive and negative effects on their child’s sporting experience.
Furthermore, in terms of child development, positive parental involvement can help develop important skills such as self-esteem, motivation and social skills. These valuable skills learned from sport have also been shown to transfer and facilitate development in other areas of life, such as school and extracurricular activities.
Though, as a science, sport and exercise psychology is developing in India, it has a huge impact on a young athlete’s sport performance. Parents can approach a sport and exercise psychology practitioner for their child and together help the young athlete to play better, enjoy the sport, and achieve the sport dream!
Sanika Divekar is a sport and exercise psychologist. Former National Table Tennis athlete. She is a member of the British Psychological Societies (BPS). Her aim is to support your psychological well-being and foster personal growth through an educational and humanistic client based approach, where your view as the choice is at the main focus of her work. Sanika's motivation to work as a sport psychologist with predominantly young athletes, has much to do with her passion in seeing them take their sporting performance to the highest level.