Greg Chertok, AASP – CC
Director, Sport & Exercise Psychology
The Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Center
Englewood, NJ 07631
The field of Sport Psychology, albeit young, is one that has gained increasing popularity since the 1980s. Now, if you were to hear the term ‘psychology’ – even in the context of athletics – and instinctually conjure images of Freud psychoanalyzing a troubled and unstable individual lying on a couch, you would not be alone. However neither tattered white beard nor dark leather couch is a prerequisite for those, like me, who are titled Sport Psychology Consultants. Simply, our role is to teach athletes mental skills that, in conjunction with physical training, can aid them in the following:
• overcoming anxiety
• enhancing motivation
• building self-confidence
• strengthening concentration skills
• increasing enjoyment while playing
I’ve emphasized ‘in conjunction with’ because we athletes cannot be considered creatures of strictly physical construction or strictly mental construction. We are, by nature, a multifaceted, dynamic, intricate species whose physical and mental faculties are powerfully interconnected. In other words, the ways we think and feel forcefully determine how we behave. Let’s take an athletic example. We’ve all at some point – most likely in our youth – entered a game, event, or competition just “feeling good”, with the sense that things will go our way. You may have been about to play in a season-defining playoff game or simply go out for a weekend run. Regardless of the event’s gravity, there was a confidence about you that had been seldom experienced (maybe, you thought, it was something you ate?); a manner of walking that just exuded optimism, or poise, or self-belief, or whatever you’d like to call it. Sure enough, you performed effortlessly and flawlessly during the event – all done practically thoughtlessly! Why is this? Is it mere coincidence that your positive pre-game thoughts and feelings determined the success of your play? Or are we more likely to perform at a higher level when we are in total control of our minds? A baseball player with great hands, a strong bat, and a powerful arm may play terribly if his focus isn’t sharp or his ability to relax and think helpfully during big situations is faulty or nonexistent. Similarly, a football quarterback with Namath-like skills may throw eight interceptions to the defensive unit of a team against whom he has insufficiently prepared.
Another function of sport psychology, then, is to develop the mind of an athlete to the degree that one consistently puts oneself in the best position to succeed. Development of the mind can be accomplished in a number of ways:
• Learning how to properly prepare for one’s sport
• Learning how to stay in control of one’s mind and body (through relaxation techniques, setting personal athletic goals, restructuring negative thoughts, refocusing attention, and visualizing success)
• Learning and building upon one’s strengths and weaknesses
• Constructing the ideal mindset that will ultimately help an athlete play at a peak level of performance.
With all this learning going on, I would be remiss to consider us Sport Psychology Consultants something other than general educators.
Think of your own sporting life. Ask yourself: what percentage of your game is mental? Perhaps your answer is typical of most athletes – between 40% and 90% – which indicates that your state of mind is, to say the least, rather important. Now ask yourself: what is the percentage of your practice time spent training mental skills? Most likely, this number is 0%, maybe 10%. It’s difficult not to wonder, if the mental game is so important, why we don’t spend time practicing it.
For more information about the field of sport psychology or to schedule an appointment, please contact Greg Chertok at The Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Center at 201-567-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Chertok, AASP – CC