Sport and Performance Psychology
Dr Denise Bouah
3x National Women's Chess Champion
BPsych; MA Counselling Psychology; DPhil Human Movement Science
As a competitive athlete I know full well the highs and lows of winning and losing. Athletes experience sport participation on different levels. Some participate for recreational purposes, others take it a bit more serious and aim to represent their province whilst others aim for national and elite level participation. No matter the level, as athletes we need to take care of our mental states.
Sport participation is a lifelong pursuit for many people, especially with people becoming more active and appreciating the value of being fit and healthy. Athletes are constantly setting and adjusting goals. We need to be able to focus and be disciplined so we can do what is necessary to achieve our goals. All athletes make mistakes, experience setbacks from time to time and it is important to deal with these in a constructive manner. Coping skills are needed to deal with pressure situations. Then there is the importance of awareness. Being aware of aspects about ourselves, our needs, our surroundings and the influence of our surroundings on us can enhance performance. We all have habits and values. Some of our habits can be destructive to our performance, others can have a positive effect. Sometimes we do not function in accordance with the values we hold dear and that can have an impact on our performance and quality of life. It is important to be aware of our behaviour and what motivates us to behave in certain ways.
The importance of striking a balance between participating to perform and participating to have fun is important. Sport provides opportunities in which we get to challenge ourselves and get to learn how strong we really are when we feel like giving up but then decide to get back up again and give it one more try. It is all there in the mix!
I am in a privileged position to work with athletes on achieving their dreams and goals. I get to see athletes at their best and at their worst. Some of my work entails working with teams and then I also work with individuals. It is important to look at the needs of teams or individuals and work according to that. It is a dynamic process and always interesting!
I believe good mental preparation starts with our youth and that it is important for them to learn about mental skills. So I wrote a book that covers the "what we wish we knew as young, aspiring athletes." Just without all the frills and complicated academic jargon.
It is written for children who want to learn more about the mental side of performance. It is also a useful guide for parents, teachers and coaches who at times must play sport psychologist! Lessons learned in this book are not restricted to just sport, they can be used in other areas of a child's life.
The stories have been written and structured in such a way that children will find valuable information throughout. Opportunities are given for children to reflect on the principles and concepts discussed in this book. They get to answer important questions relating to the application of the concepts in their own lives. Sport Psychology for Children is not a one-time read.
It is a manual designed in such a way that children can benefit from it throughout their sporting careers, no matter their level of participation. It aims at empowering children with the mental skills that can contribute to having a successful and enjoyable journey in sport.
It is written in everyday language and makes the daunting mental concepts accessible to the young mind. Children get to journey with Jad, Xena, Chika and other characters through their sport adventures and experiences as they come to learn that there is more to sport performance than just the physical component. In this book children get to join the cast in their adventures as Bob learns about dealing with a loss, Chika overcomes her pre-game anxiety and Xena learns to control her breathing. Not only can children relate to the stories in this book, but they will also learn about the basics of Sport Psychology which include values in sport, dealing with setbacks, goal setting, developing productive habits and so much more.
By reading this book, children will be able to learn about sport psychology in a fun way. It is a 214 page, A4 book with colour illustrations. Children can relate to the different characters in the book and learn from their experiences.
It has always bothered me that children have to depend on coaches, teachers or parents to first of all make sense of sport psychology principles (obtained from good academic type sport psych books) and then having to relate it to them in a way that they can understand. This book is putting sport psychology into the hands of children. It is written in easy, everyday language.
My hope is that the lessons learned in this book will assist children in having successful and enjoyable journeys in sport.
The book addresses 10 main mental concepts and especially how it works in the sport or other performance contexts. Children will learn what Sport Psychology is and what is meant with mental toughness and mental skills. They will also explore the concepts of mindfulness, anxiety (especially pre-game anxiety), the habit of being disciplined, values in sport, habits and how it works, leadership, goal setting in sport, focussing, how to deal with a loss/mistake. All set in a sport context.
We need to give attention to the mental development of our young athletes. Doing so can enable them to be prepared for the emotional challenges that they will face in their sport careers and other life areas. It is important that they learn how to self-motivate, be disciplined, to keep going when things are tough, to get up after making a mistake, etc. Mental skills learned in the sport environment can be used in any other performance domain of a person's life. It is important to invest in our young athletes, not only on a physical level, but also on a mental level. Reading this book is a good place to start!
Putting experience into practice
How being an athlete shapes my role as psychologist