Much of the work we do in Sport Psychology is focused on the cognitive – behavioral. These things involve how you think, how you make sense of things both in and out of competition, and especially to how you make adjustments in sizing up a situation or how you “respond” to them. Hence, your thinking leads to the subsequent actions you take at practice, games, the classroom – everywhere for that matter.
One way to determine your Cognitive process is to recognize how you are thinking. The focus there leads us to your self-talk. Self-talk shows us “how” you size up a situation or how you perceive what’s going on in that moment.
We would like to think that our self-talk is strictly engaged in the reality of what’s going on, however, most people have filters that effect “how” they perceive things. Sometimes people develop “Cognitive Distortions” in how they experience things. Our life circumstance and upbringing contributes to this. A person growing up in a foreign country, or a culture different from our own is likely to make sense of the same event in a way that seems unusual to us.
The life experience of a first born child to a family with 11 children raised on a dairy farm in Indiana – is likely to have a very different life experience and perception of the world from someone raised as an only child in New York City.
These different influences and the patterns of parenting we grow up with can contribute to “Cognitive Distortions” in the way we make sense of the world and any situation. The clues lie in our “self-talk”. A proper understanding and periodic revisions to the ways in which we talk to ourselves and respond to our world allows us to “keep it real” and make more productive decisions in how we behave in different cirsumstances.
Here is a common example.
I observed a goal keeper on the soccer pitch this afternoon who let in a goal, it was a good shot and a difficult one to block. Yet, the keeper’s posture changed immediately. Their head dropped, chin to chest and they looked down. Their shoulders drooped and it looked as if someone had died. Then the keeper got angry and started beating themselves up. It wasn’t pretty.
To an opponent, this is like throwing “chum” in shark infested waters. They grew more confident and played far more aggressively.
Maybe it wasn’t anything that the keeper noticed but everyone else on the pitch noticed it.
We respond behaviorally to what goes on in our thinking process. We can employ a couple of different methods as we begin this process of making better adjustments to the things that happen.
We can either shift our focus in “how” we’re thinking about these occurrences – or – we can shift our behavior and alter our posture “as if” we are unaffected by the goal.
One involves the cognitive – the way that you think about an event. Sometimes its important to look at our self-talk in terms of how “useful” it is. If we tend toward being a perfectionist and no mistake is to be tolerated, we can engage in a personal beat down – that helps no one. What’s worse is that the beat down attacks our confidence and can cause us to lose concentration because now “we are in our head – having a battle – rather than focusing on what’s happening on the field. These things are quite common, and must be corrected if we are to perform our personal best.
So, how are you reacting to those things?
Even though we may be upset with our own performance – our opponent should see none of that. Our behavior must maintain a posture that looks like we are unflappable and that nothing will shake our confidence. This requires practice, watching ourselves on video, and noticing “what we reveal to our opponents”. Then we can choose. The power of choice is key.
Dr. Stephen Walker is an award-winning sport & performance consultant whose clients have reached the Podium in world championships, the Olympics and, performed in the Kennedy Center Philharmonic, in their chosen endeavors.
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