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What Sports Psychology is Teaching Us About Improving Performance

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, both the Huffington Post and New York Times  highlighted how sports psychologists have replaced disciplinarian coaches as the most effective ways for atheletes to hit their peak performance.   The techniques they employ are not just relevant for sports performance—it is equally relevant to enhancing academic or physical performance for non-atheletes.   Here are the five techniques coming out of sports psychology that you may find helpful to you personally as well as professionally.


“Mental imagery impacts many cognitive process in the brain; motor control, attention, perception, and memory,” researcher Angie LeVan wrote in “Psychology Today.”   A number of Solchi gold medalists have said that they visualize so intensely, they actually feel their coming performance down to the smallest sight and sound details.  The more intensely you can imagine your ideal performance, the more likely you will be able to reach a higher level of performance.


An increasing number of world class atheletes (like Kobe Bryant,  Tiger Woods, and LeBron James to name a few)  have all said that that meditation has helped their mental game by reducing stress, increasing focus, and boosting emotional well-being.   Modern mediation techniques are often called “mindfulness training” because, as the name implies, mental abilities can be trained just like physical ones.

Positive Thinking

Negative, fear-based thoughts diminish performance.   Learning the discipline of having positive thoughts block our negative ones is a prerequisite to having visualization and mediation take hold.

Set Smarter Goals

The more specific and actionable your goals are, the more you write them down and put them in places where you will see them every day, the more they will help you stay motivated to meet those goals.   The reason why New Year’s resolutions so rarely work is that they are too vague to be actionable and rarely end up as a Post-it on your bathroom mirror!

Go with the Flow

“Flow” is a mindset that is a subset of mediation.   It is best described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly,   author of Finding Flow.  Often described by top atheletes and surgeons as “in the zone,” where conscious thought has been replaced by a heightened state of concentration, calm, and confidence.   This “flow” state keeps outside pressures and distractions from creeping into the mind and undermining optimal performance.

The techniques developed by sports psychologists have proven so effective with atheletes that we need to explore ways to use those same techniques to improve performance for children and adults that have academic or physical issues to overcome.  We have students and clients that could benefit tremendously from the five techniques described here. 

By: Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.                                                                                                                                                                                           President Allied Health Professionals, LLC

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