When you hear sport, the immediate associations that we have in our heads is about the athlete being physically superior to the average human and of them training regularly. What is often not given importance in an athlete’s life is the emphasis on mental strength. It is this reason that led to Lazarus placing extraordinary focus on sports psychology in all our programs. We believe that it not only plays a pivotal role in enhancing performance, but it also the integration of physical activity with society.
But let’s understand what psychology is in the context of sport. It is an interdisciplinary science that tries to track human behaviour, actions, and experiences, be it individuals or groups.
Sports psychology continues under two major objectives. First, how do psychological factors affect an individual’s performance? Does anxiety affect a basketball player’s accuracy in free-throw shooting? Or does a lack of self-confidence influence a child’s ability to learn to swim?
The other objective throws light upon understanding how participating in sports and exercise affects a person’s psychological development, health and well-being. For instance, does running reduce anxiety and depression? Do young athletes learn to be overly aggressive by participating in sport? Sports psychologists tackle these kinds of questions regularly.
The concept of sports psychology and mental health is slowly evolving with time. The notion that the mind is an equally important cog in the performance of an athlete and requires care is something that has still not percolated to the lowest levels of sport.
One of the primary reasons for this is the taboo attached to mental health. As a result, it is very unlikely that one would come out to admit there is something that hampers their performance and wanting to meet a psychologist. Diagnosing mental health is relatively a slower process compared to physical ailments and is a test of the individual’s patience. In the long run, this investment of time in diagnosing any mental health issue is crucial rather than resorting to temporary solutions.
This is true for both amateur or elite athletes who are in extremely competitive environments and under the spotlight. In such a scenario, they could be hesitant in revealing that something is hampering their performance. It would be easier to explain a physical reason being the cause for lower performances rather than an issue of the mind.
It is essential for everyone involved in the training of an athlete that there is a lot going on in their minds which can have a direct effect on their performance. Amateur athletes could benefit immensely from techniques like resilience training under the supervision of sports psychologists. A sports science backed program with a high emphasis on mental health at every step of the development of an athlete is the Lazarus way.
The attitudes towards mental health in sport is changing over time and there is growing acceptance towards the need to seek professional help for diagnosing mental health issues. Famous names such as Muhammad Ali, Virat Kohli, Kevin Love and Michael Phelps have all spoken about their battles against mental health and how it affected their performance. Ample amount of research has been published, multiple assessment scales tailored for athletes are being made and techniques to help them in their game have been curated.
It is important that mental health in sport becomes normalised and becomes a way of life rather than it being treated as taboo. This can only happen when there is acceptance in the sporting institutions around us.
Bengaluru Football Club (BFC) have recently announced that they would be recruiting psychologists for the team. And sports psychologists for cricket matches - be it IPL or International games, have become a staple feature.
This is something that we at Lazarus also hope to change with our training programs where we combine both sports science and mental health techniques to give our athletes the strongest possible platform for success and high performance in their sport.
Education about mental health is crucial. However very few colleges in India offer sports psychology courses. Despite this, we do see the stigma around mental health eroding slowly and it is important that all stakeholders involved with athlete training – parents, coaches, friends etc have to constantly keep fighting the good fight in giving our athletes the safest environment, physically and mentally, for them to thrive.