Anxiety, Confidence, And Motivation That Make An Athlete Elite
Sports psychology has been a hot topic among researchers for some time. And a recent study by Dr. Michael Young, co-owner of Human Performance Consulting and Athletic Lab in Cary, N.C., stated that the true difference between a “good” athlete and the “elite” is quite simply the mental qualities of that competitor.
Let’s start with just three: anxiety, confidence, and motivation.
We know that most athletes struggle with anxiety during intense training and competition. In fact, more than 50% of contenders sought consultation at an Olympic festival due to stress or anxiety related problems, reported Young. That is one reason why anxiety in athletes is one of the most researched topics among sports psychologists.
And so, the concept of Individualized Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) was born. The idea is that when an athlete is in this ideal anxiety zone, he or she will produce peak performances.
“Stories abound of athletes or teams that performed poorly because they underestimated their opponent (below optimum anxiety levels) or worried themselves out of the game (above optimum anxiety levels),” Young reported.
It becomes essential for an athlete to determine whether their pre-performance mood fits within that optimal zone. “Luckily, research has shown anxiety can be reduced through mental imagery, relaxation, and cognitive intervention,” Young said.
Young referenced a study of world champions and elite athletes that showed 90% of the sample had “a very high level of self-confidence.”
So, how do athletes build this characteristic of gold? “Confidence is usually a result of an athlete anticipating success in their upcoming event.” In fact, that anticipated outcome is “the greatest indicator of confidence,” Young shared.
Jimmy Connors, former World No. 1 tennis champion, shared his opinion in that study. “The whole thing is never to get negative about yourself. Sure, it’s possible that the other guy you’re playing is tough, and that he may have beaten you the last time you played…But the minute you start thinking about these things, you’re dead. I go out to every match convinced that I’m going to win. That is all there is to it.”
Young explained that another key element to build their confidence is to act confident even if they aren’t. “An athlete should always act as if they are confident even if they are not. In doing so, the athlete does not let on any weaknesses to opponents and can even build up their own confidence.”
Building confidence is a great tool for an athlete. In order to reach the very top of a sport, an athlete must have a high level of confidence in their abilities. In turn, once an athlete climbs that ladder, his or her successes then produce confidence.
Oh, the unicorn of sports psychology. Let’s start by breaking down the two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Young defined intrinsic motivation as, “….an athletes’ personal drive to achieve their goal. This may be setting a school record, winning a race, or defeating a particular opponent.”
In turn, “Extrinsic motivation is the resulting motivation from an outside source such as parents, coaches, or teammates.”
“There are many people out there who have the talent to succeed, but very few who have the motivational drive to do what it takes to succeed,” Young described.
True champions feel a strong need to “….demonstrate their personal competence and self-determination. As a result, they commit themselves to difficult and demanding goals. When these goals are achieved, the athletes’ feelings of self-competence are confirmed and their intrinsic motivation enhanced,” stated in Young’s study.
Overall, elite athletes exhibit extreme self-confidence, optimal performance anxiety, and high motivation during their training and competitions. When these characteristics work together, they form a strong, determined, clear-headed, and disciplined athlete.
We can all learn something from Young’s research, whether we’re professional athletes or just starting out on a new fitness journey. Conquering anxiety, confidence, and motivation can be beneficial to anyone who is looking to improve themself physically and mentally.
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