Using Sport Psychology to Help my Performance in Volleyball

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Sports Psychology is the study of the psychological and mental factors that influence and are influenced by participation and performance in sport, exercise, and physical activity (Dr. Arvid J. Bloom at West Chester University). This is especially important for elite athletes, as mental preparation is capable of giving them the edge over physically equal opponents. The hypothesis that has been tested and evaluated was that a combination of both Imagery and physical practices was more effective than either imagery or practice alone.

Throughout this essay the topics, goals setting, relaxation techniques, imagery, self talk, arousal, motivation levels and physical performance as a result of the imagery training undertaken, will be highlighted and evaluated as being key components of the imagery program. Goal setting has to main uses in terms of sporting context. One is to serve as a reference standard for comparative purposes e. g. moods and performances as well as serving as a focal point for athletes to determine pre-competition, and competition strategies (Pyke, F).

The goal setting concept was divided into three types of goals, outcome, and performance and process goals. Outcome goals also comically labelled ego goals, (Wilson, G) and are goals that are not generally determined by the athletes’ personal preparation but instead by the amount of perpetration the athlete’s opposition has had (Wilson, G). Therefore this type of goal is inaccurate and should not be the main goal. However as part of the program 2 outcome goals had to be selected. For this program the two outcome goals selected were, to achieve a VHA in volleyball and to gain a sense of fluency when playing the game of volleyball.

Performance goals are targets that are directed toward achieving individual skills or behaviours, and tend to be the most effective type of goal because they involve “learning at the risk of making mistakes, they improve problem-solving, and they encourage the athlete to work harder” (Dr. Stavrou, N). In this course the eight performance goals were based on achieving a percentage, and that were in direct accordance with Pyke, F statement of using the five point method, Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed.

Process goals or as Pyke, f refers to them as specific goals, this type of goal is set with the intention on finetuning minor details for example two hand blocks and two footed take off. In the program that was tested the process goals were intentionally set to match the performance goals, in a attempt to further aid the process of developing the skills of volleyball quicker. Relaxation is used to reduce all tension on the body and increase the effectiveness of the imagery process (….. ). The two methods I used to enter the relaxed state were listening to music and rhythmic breathing as suggested by Williams, J.

I found rhythmic breathing to be effective to a certain point. In the opening week of the imagery rhythmic breathing was taking more than the allowed time to be engulfed in the relaxed state and as a result my imagery time was being cut back. Thought in the second week of practice rhythmic breathing became more fluent as I was starting to become familiar with the idea of relaxation in conjunction to breathing patterns. On the 5th of March (see appendix 1) I attempted relaxation with soothing oriental music playing.

This proved to be significantly more effective than rhythmic breathing. Although still not content with the amount of time that relaxation was being achieved in I chose to combine both listening to music with rhythmic breathing. This combination achieved its intended purpose and was the most effective form of relaxation. Imagery is the process of mentally re-living/ reconstructing an image of an event or activity, without making any physical movements that involves all sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and movement (Australian Institute Of Sport).

Having created a program in class it was then put into practice, however the class was instructed to perform the relaxation and imagery before any physical activity due to time constraints. This effectively decreased the overall effectiveness of the session, as Williams, J states that it is best to do the imagery training after a workout as it is easier to let go after having had some exercise. The imagery and relaxation was to be completed in ten minutes. Four minutes to achieve a relaxed state and six minutes to complete the imagery processed that were repeated ten times each.

The process of replaying the images was hindered by many factors varying from the cold hard floor that was used, the constant humming of the lights to the noise of the groundsmen tractors and construction noise that was occurring just outside the gymnasium. At first the environment played a large role in my inability to maintain focus, which ultimately in conjunction with my inexperience on the topic resulted in an inconsistent level of imagery. Focus levels and imagery quality were generally average for the first week of practice.

I was able to vaguely hear the sounds of the player’s shoes squeaking to a stop in the background whilst my imagery was occurring. The sound of the referees whistle was quite distinct and was able to picture teammate’s faces and uniforms. However the images that were being played came in both internal and external views. The setting that I was using was that of the various GPS volleyball situations that had occurred to me in the season playing for the school volleyball side. However I was unable to maintain the images of the different patterns of play for a prolonged amount of time.

Throughout the course my ability to hold game play situations mentally became more fluent and more detailed. On the final imagery session of the program I was able to see the colour of my teammate’s singlets, the sweat patches that were on the singlets and the actual spin that the ball had while travelling through the air. However the detailed pictures came at a cost, as the sounds of the centre faded away and throbbing feeling of my heart rate disappeared. The imagery was important that it was finished on a high intensity note, as directly after the imagery the class was expected to stand up and play a game of volleyball.

This became apparent in the first session where my imagery finished on a relatively low arousal level and was expected to play a game of volleyball. This resulted in my first serve hitting the bottom of the net, and failed at returning severe. However once arousal levels normalised my general volleyball game play increased accordingly. In times of underachieving or underperforming I implemented mental worded phrases and statements, in a positive attempt to increase arousal levels and self belief.

This form of self talk was use to help increase motivation levels , errors, regain/retain focus , encourage better performance with consistency and keep self confidence at a high. My physical performance from the start of the year to this point in time has significantly increased. This can be attributed to 3 main factors, game experience both during class and for the IGS 2nd VI, the coaching tips and instructions given at various points in the season and finally a combination of the mental imagery practice and the self talk that the sport psychology program incorporated.

My level of volleyball has increased by such a significant margin due to the extra amount of practice that I have undertaken, four class sessions a week, two training sessions and an official match week in and week out. This has increased the amount of confidence and self believe I have in myself to achieve as well as have a large amount of volleyball time to correct any technical details.

However this can only be accredit for so much of an improvement, the coaches both Coach Walsh and Coach Strathdee proved vital instruments in my development as a volleyball player, giving their experience and insight to various characteristics of volleyball. although it must be said that the mental imagery produces the least amount of visual results but nevertheless proved to have assisted me in developing a sense of fluency whilst playing volleyball as well as proving vital in increasing the effectiveness of myself talk method, allowing me to bounce back on several occasions where my performance has been less than impressive.

The imagery was hindered by the appalling conditions that were present and the time constraints that effectively ended any chances of improving my ability to process images several times in my mind. Considering all factors in which the program was run and external factors that contributed to the overall result, my volleyball level is substantially higher that what it was at the start of the season.

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