A Traditional Sports Psychology Approach to Addressing Performance Issues is Ineffective

Traditional sports psychology tends to rely on the premise that athletes need to adjust their thinking, incorporate relaxation techniques, and use other strategies to repair performance problems. However, the root of many repetitive performance problems comes from physical and emotional traumas held in the brain, also known as Sports Trauma Stress Disorder. So, for example, positive self-talk, a staple of traditional sports psychology, is essentially ineffective in combating repetitive performance problems. The thinking and talking areas of the brain cannot reach or affect the deep survival areas of the brain that hold these traumas. No amount of positive self-talk or logical reasoning can override an athlete’s fight/flight/freeze response. This strategy makes it impossible for the athlete to regain top form and get away from the yips. It’s important to get to the core of the problem….not the symptoms.

Normal experiences are naturally processed to completion and stored in the deep recesses of the brain, while these sports traumas are frozen in their entirety. Months and years later, the vulnerable athlete experiences flashbacks, panic, avoidance and other confusing trauma symptoms that generate anxiety and undermine performance. More extreme problems include dissociation, blanking, body numbness, and athletes leaving their bodies. It is the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response that contributes to repetitive performance problems. Just as the freeze response occurs in the wild when prey animals can’t escape their predators, that same freeze response is seen on the field when the panicked athlete locks up and can’t perform. While assessing an athlete, it is not only important to explore traumatic sports memories, but to gain a whole understanding of the individual. Some emotional traumas could be non-sports related and even trace back to childhood. That’s why there should be no preordained rigid model utilized, as every individual is different. The assessment should be very thorough and exploratory in nature.

In seeing athletes, I realize the importance of needing to recognize the athlete as a person separate from his or her performance. Coaches, parents and sport psychologists often focus on “fixing” the athlete’s problem and neglect the athlete as person with unique sensitivities, feelings, and needs. The performance problem can’t be healed without also healing the athlete as an entire person!

If you are an athlete and you’re reading this, this is the perfect opportunity to arrange your history in chronological order as best you can, and be sure to note anything that still elicits and emotional and/or physical charge. Any past experience that elicits this kind of physical and emotional charge in the present is important in unraveling the mystery of your performance problem.

Try these 2 steps:

Step 1– Close your eyes and think about your current performance problem. Notice the associated feelings and where you feel them right now in your body. Allow yourself to see, hear, and feel the experience in the present.

Step 2– Keep your eyes closed and ask yourself, “What memory has to do with this?” Without consciously or deliberately trying to think of an answer to this question, notice the first thing that pops into your head. Even if the answer seems initially unrelated, do not dismiss it. Very often, your deeper brain will make the right connections by itself. The memory that pops up could have something important to do with your performance woes. Flag it for future exercises, and then simply allow your mind to relax and go anywhere it chooses. Follow your train of thought as long as it is moving. Do not judge or dismiss anything that comes up.

Once you are able to put together a list of memories, I can begin my work with you fairly quickly in resolving these memories that you came up with and get to the root of the problem, instead of simply fixing the symptoms. I hold the keys (through using EMDR) that have helped several athletes move pass these distressing events and become confident.

Speak Your Mind

*

Ryan Long, MSW, LICSW

ryan@ryanlonglicsw.com

202-875-1495

verified by Psychology Today

Featured Blog Article

A Traditional Sports Psychology Approach to Addressing Performance Issues is Ineffective

Traditional sports psychology tends to rely on the premise that athletes need to adjust their thinking, incorporate relaxation techniques, and use other strategies to repair performance problems. … [Read More...]

Send Me Your Questions