THE IMPORTANCE OF PSYCHOLOGY IN SPORTS - A coach's perspective
Smita Kamble is a marksman and shooting coach at Lakshya Shooting Club. In this article, she shares the ways in which mental training has helped her as an athlete and a coach. She also spotlights the ways in sports psychology can help athletes and coaches with mental training and, in consequence, improve their performance on the field. Smita was part of the inaugural edition of the High Performance Coach Development Program conducted by ELMS Sports Foundation from July 2022 to February 2023
“I say put mental health first because if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” Simone Biles
There are crucial pillars beyond technical coaching that hold the structure of a successful game in any sport. Playing a sport reflects the athlete's behaviour, mindset, thoughts and perspective, irrespective of whether it’s an individual or team sport. I work with shooters, and in my observation, a shooter's psychology plays a vital role in the way they conduct themselves on the lane.
But what does psychology mean?
Technically psychology is defined as the science of mind and behaviour. The myth is that psychology is nothing but mental illness. This is one of the reasons why psychology is still looked down upon in India. Working with a psychologist or trying to seek help from a psychologist is considered taboo. This way of thinking does not just end here but it is seen in overall fields of work where individuals are not seeking help even if they wish to. However, in our time, there are a few organisations and passionate coaches that are understanding the importance of sports psychology.
My introduction to sports psychology
Initially while working as a coach, we would motivate and encourage our shooters in whichever way possible, not only because such facilities were not available but also because we thought this was about sports psychology. The organization that I work for started off as a small club and later developed into a high-performance center for all our shooters. Over this period of time, our understanding of psychology also evolved.
In the beginning, the club provided a basic sports psychology facility which catered to the needs of our shooters. However, since it’s grown to become a high-performance center training elite international shooters, the management and head coach decided to get a sports psychologist on board to not only cater to shooters’ needs but also help them with mental training.
The objective of sports psychology
While personally working with a sports psychologist, I understood the nitty gritty of this field and how coaches can benefit from sport psychology while working with their athletes. My understanding of psychology taught me that psychology or mindset plays an important role in factors such as motivation, recovery from an injury, confidence building, self-belief, understanding emotions and performance enhancement.
The coach's role now is to make the athlete understand the importance of the psychology behind these factors. In sports, not just game-related factors but biological, social and cultural variables have an impact on athletes' performance. Different age groups experience these impacts but the most fragile ones are adolescents.
Teenagers are going through various hormonal changes, growth spurts, social life changes and responsibilities, cultural changes, financial background and family involvement; this period is usually the time when they start playing the sport seriously. Here, the help of a sports psychologist here can be beneficial for them to deal with their emotions and these above-mentioned adversities. They will learn to manage their mental health well with the help of the objectives of sports psychology.
In sports, not just game-related factors but biological, social and cultural variables have an impact on athletes' performance. Different age groups experience these impacts but the most fragile ones are adolescents.
Role of sports psychology in coaching
Not all athletes are the same, nor can one coaching philosophy be applied to all athletes. Each athlete is different, their age, grasping power, category of play, strengths, and mindset varies.
So to create an individualistic holistic plan, data and information from departments such as psychology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, physiotherapy and technical coaching are required. Therefore, data received from the psychologist helps to understand the motivation, self-reflection ability, awareness, focusing ability, pressure handling skills, solution-oriented mindset, mental recovery, self-belief, learning from mistakes, constructive criticism and confidence level of the particular athlete.
ELMS High Performance Coach Development Program introduced us to the 5 C's model which spoke about similar values from the criteria mentioned above, such as Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration and Control. Apart from analysis and therapy sessions, a psychologist while working with an athlete, based on the individual's need, suggests psychological skills such as visualisation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Goal Setting strategies, the art of Self Talk and breathing techniques to help with performance enhancement.
Since I have been playing the sport for 16 years while I also have accepted the role of a coach for 9 years, the adversities while executing both these roles have been challenging. Challenges such as experiencing irritation as a shooter while on the lane, managing overwhelming emotions, doubts of self-belief, balancing responsibility and maintaining the performance, motivating the shooters, pushing them to their fullest ability, understanding their thought process and trust building.
As an athlete and as a coach, my mentor is Suma Shirur, high-performance coach at Lakshya Shooting Club, whose support and guidance has always helped me to manage these adversities. From her, we’ve learnt the art of believing in oneself, staying motivated and communicating positively with oneself. She was our guiding light while we were manoeuvring ourselves through these challenges. Her abundance of knowledge and support have always motivated the shooters and the coaches to upgrade their skill sets from time to time. Hers and the management's decisions such as getting a sports psychologist on board, and encouraging the coaches to attend informative and beneficial courses such as ELMS Sports Foundation’s High Performance Coach Development Program have always aided the development of coaches and shooters of Lakshya Shooting Club.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my organisation, Lakshya Shooting Club, the management, my mentor Suma Shirur, ELMS Sports and Imran Nadaph for providing us with the opportunity to learn and grow. The HPCP has been a wonderful, informative and knowledgeable experience which has definitely widened my horizons as a coach and added value to my abilities as a coach.