Local News

Athletes Must Depend On A Strong Mind As Well As A Strong Body

Posted April 8, 2001 4:32 a.m. EDT

— The mental health of athletes plays as much a part of winning as their physical well-being.

Bill Chamberlain knows the psychology behind the pressure the teams in the Final Four are feeling. He played in the 1972 Final Four for UNC under coach Dean Smith.

"Coach Smith was a master at knowing each person's personality, and then blending them, probably the best ever in the history of the game of basketball," he says. "He knew all the things that were about you. He knew your family. He knew how you were off the court, so it wasn't that you were just a basketball player, you were a person to him first."

Even though Smith had a great grasp of the psychology of sports, being a sports psychologist is a medical specialty.

A doctoral degree in psychology, knowledge of exercise science and experience in applying psychological principles in sports settings are just a few of the qualifications needed to be a sports psychologist.

Sports psychologists help players learn to block out outside expectations, distractions and personal problems to get their head back in the game.

They also teach teams tactics for staying together through tough times and focusing on enjoying the game rather than the pressure. As a coach and player, Chamberlain knows it is the love of the game that drives the minds of great athletes.

"You play it for the love of the game. I don't know any guy, event players who make millions of dollars at the professional level, who does not still love the game," he says. "If you don't love the game, you are not going to play it at a high level."

Two important things great athletes do is set goals and use imagery to improve their game.

Goal setting provides long-term vision and short-term motivation. Imagery includes practicing the game in your mind to build confidence and gain focus.