Sports: The power of the brain

As school ends and summer begins, many children and young adults are starting a new season of sports. Though some may play sports year-round, for many, summer is a time of exposure to different sports. This is a time for them to determine what works for them, related to both teamwork and athleticism.

If you have a child playing sports this summer, read on to learn about ways they can increase their performance and enjoyment through using nothing more than their mind and attitude.

Many people are introduced to sports in their childhood, either at school or through local organizations, and have the opportunity to try out a wide variety of different activities. Athletic skills and training certainly influence the success or struggles that players may have, but there are also underlying psychological factors that play a substantial role.

Matt Huston discusses how athletes and coaches are recognizing the work that has been done to maximize the physical skills and strength necessary to be successful in athletics and are now shifting to what cognitive skills they may be able to enhance and develop to supplement the physical skills.

He shared that, in baseball, batters have to determine the type of pitch in milliseconds and running pitch reading practice drills gives them more feedback about pitch determination and can help them make more accurate judgments about how they need to respond.

The following cognitive strategies have been shown to benefit strength and endurance:

  1. Motivational self-talk and simply believing in your skills and abilities can provide added confidence in your decision-making.
  2. Setting concrete goals for what you expect to accomplish and what is realistic can help you progress in your skill set.
  3. Mental imagery can help prepare your mind for what to expect and let your body practice how best to respond.
  4. Building emotional intelligence, like being able to identify and work with negative feelings, can also help athletes cope with stress and improve their performance.

Societal Issues in Athletics

The world of sports is also challenged with establishing rules and responsibilities of athletes, coaches and organizations that host sports activities. One of the most prominent headlines in the last several years has been the responsibility of the National Football League to educate and protect its’ players from the long-term effects of head injuries, like concussions and their contribution to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). 

John Heil, D.A., LCP, discusses the need for clear definition of responsible organizational practices to be sure that athletes are protected. Some of the issues that arise in sports include:

  1. Doping
  2. Athlete safety
  3. Gender equity
  4. Bullying
  5. Hazing
  6. Violence and abuse

Participation in sports to stay healthy and active, teaching concepts of teamwork, fairness, cooperation and having a sense of belonging are just a few of the many benefits. Setting groundwork for the rules of the game and the expectations for players are fundamental in sports. 

Guidelines and consequences for misconduct, and to provide safety and support, are also critically important in protecting well-being and providing long-term benefit to those involved in sports.

For Help:  

If you or someone you know might be struggling to find happiness or in general, utilize EAP benefits to seek services from highly qualified, licensed professionals.

If someone you know is experiencing difficulty let them know they are not alone and you are willing to assist them with finding the help they need. Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is powerful in helping others seek the help they need.

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, you can access a local crisis program, such as Lewis Gale Respond (540-776-1100), go to the nearest emergency room, or call 911.  

Remember, it’s better to get help for yourself or someone else if needed.  Getting help is better than the alternative.

Family Service of Roanoke Valley and Psychological Health Roanoke have qualified and experienced clinicians available to help you and your family.