Elite athletes are special individuals with exceptional skill sets. Each athlete is from a different background and had access to different resources growing up. Most student-athletes have trained all their lives for this moment, but when the best of the best come together to compete in Division One Athletics, everyone starts fresh.
The Human Performance Team is comprised of athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, massage therapists and coaches, to name a few, all play a role in the success of a student-athlete and the team as a whole.
Harris College reached out to these sports medicine team members within TCU to share how they prep student-athletes for the football season, especially as the the team heads to the national championship.
Sport psychology is about student-athletes understanding how they respond in sport situations. As student-athletes, what their minds focus on is key to their success on the field. TCU mental performance consultants educate TCU student-athletes about how their brain works in competitive situations and teach them the mental strategies to respond successfully to those situations to enhance their confidence and performance.
In terms of competitive pressure, one of the first things I ask is, “What is pressure?” Most say, “Needing to do well in a big game.”
Then I ask, “What is a big game?” Their response is usually, “One that is really important”.
I then ask, “Which games are not important?” And they say, “All games are important”.
Finally, I say, “If all games are important, then there really aren’t any big games. There are just games. What are you trying to do in a ‘big game’ that you aren’t trying to do in a ‘regular game’? Aren’t you still trying to block, tackle, complete passes and play tight coverage successfully regardless of the competition?”
We then discuss how the concept of “pressure,” or “big games,” is when their mind gets focused on things that don’t have to do with playing football. Some of these include what the media is saying about the game or what others will think if the team wins or losses.
After discussing the concept of pressure, we then teach them how their brain works when they feel “pressure,” so they have knowledge and certainty about why their mind and body are responding the way they are. With that knowledge, they become more empowered and better able to identify what situations trigger their brain into “pressure mode” and distract their focus.
One of the most common distractions is making a mistake. No player wants to make a mistake, so it’s very common for players to worry about not making mistakes. As a result, they can naturally start thinking about the “don’ts:” “Don’t miss a tackle,” “Don’t make a bad pass,” “Don’t get beat,” or, in general, “Don’t mess up.” The problem with “don’t” self-talk thoughts is that our mind focuses on the object of the “don’t” thought.
For example, one of the most common distractions is making a mistake, No player wants to make a mistake, so it’s very common for players to worry about not making mistakes. As a result, they can naturally start thinking about the “don’ts”: “Don’t miss a tackle,” “Don’t make a bad pass,” “Don’t get beat,” or, in general, “Don’t mess up.” The problem with “don’t” self-talk thoughts is that our mind focuses on the object of the “don’t” thought.
For example, if I tell you “Don’t think about pink elephants with big pink ears,” you will be thinking about pink elephants with big pink ears. When I do the pink elephant exercise with them, there is an “Ah-ha” moment where they instantly realize they need to shift their focus to the process of what they “do want to do,” like close on the hip, read the coverage and fire, stay on back shoulder, etc. As they begin to become aware of what pulls their mind away and learn mental strategies to help them refocus, their focus, confidence and performance improve.
Harris College discusses how Athletic Training and Team Physicians help student-athletes keep not only their physical health but their mental health in check during football season, especially as the head to the national championship.
Learn more about the programs within Harris College in these sports medicine and health fields:
- Undergraduate programs:
- Movement Science
- Health & Fitness
- Physical Education with a Strength & Conditioning emphasis
- Graduate programs:
- Athletic Training
- Social Work with Health and Mental Health emphases
For the programs that currently don’t exist, Harris College offers courses that provide students with foundational knowledge and research experience specific to these areas so they can successfully pursue graduate work in those professions.
Contributors: Matt Johnson, Ph.D., LPC, CMPC, TCU Mental Performance Consultant & Licensed Professional Counselor and Ashlyne Elliott, PhD, LAT, ATC , Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in TCU Department of Kinesiology