Mental strength also a weapon athletes can wield to devastating effect in competitions
KUCHING: Having the physical build and skills are not enough for an athlete to compete well or become a champion.
It also takes mental acumen and toughness because in sports, the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand is vital for producing winners.
Sharing this view are sports psychologists Nurulisa Poli, Rejina Gasin and Chong Siew Kian from the National Sports Institute’s Sarawak Satellite Centre.
According to Nurulisa, who holds a bachelor’s degree (honours) in psychology (youth and community development) from University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), an athlete who wants to go far needs to have seven mental skills – imagery and visualisation, attention control, self-confidence, motivation, positive energy control and negative energy control.
“Our main job is to educate the athletes on mental skills application during both training and competition, and do research,” she said.
Nurulisa pointed out that mental training differed according to the demands of each sport because different sports required different training regimes.
“The three of us are assigned to different sports. I take care of lawn bowls, cycling, archery, silat, shooting, golf, football and women’s hockey; Rejina looks after tenpin bowling, taekwondo, karate-do, petanque, athletics, netball, boxing and women’s sepak takraw while Chong is in charge of wushu, swimming, basketball, table tennis, diving, weightlifting, gymnastics, gymrama and badminton,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Chong said athletes not mentally tough tended to get distracted very easily, especially against stronger opponents.
“They lack confidence and get nervous which cause them to lose concentration and make mistakes, especially in sports like bowling, archery and petanque,” she added.
Considering the number of sports, athletes and coaches to take care of, Chong said it was a big challenge for the three of them.
“Apart from us, there is only one sports psychologist in Sabah, two in Johor and six at the ISN headquarters at Bukit Jalil,” she disclosed.
For the time being, their focus is on preparing Sarawak’s athletes for the Sukma XIII in Melaka from May 29 to June 8 next year.
According to Chong, there is also the geographical factor to overcome as athletes in the state are spread all over the place and sports psychologists have to travel extensively to conduct their programmes ahead of centralised training for the athletes.
“We got to know the athletes and coaches at the motivation camp in Sematan in June and a coaches camp in Miri in July. We also go to various venues to build up rapport with them, understand them and their problems and find ways to overcome those problems,” she added.
Chong, who graduated from University Malaysia Sabah with a bachelor’s degree (honours) in psychology (counselling), said certain coaches emphasised more on physical conditions and skills but to sports psychologists, mental skills were equally important.
“Presently, we are concentrating more on the basics like educating and creating awareness among the athletes, imparting to them the necessary knowledge but later during the centralised camp, we come up with a more intensive programme,” she said.
Rejina revealed that between October and December, they would be going down to the tournament venues to observe how the athletes performed mentally and identify their strengths and weaknesses.
“Then we come up with solutions by giving them counselling one to one,” she said.
Rejina, who also holds a bachelor’s (honours) degree in psychology (youth and community development) from University Malaysia Sabah, noted the coaches and athletes were quite receptive to the mental toughness programmes, especially those trained in sports science.
“Sports science is still quite new to most of our athletes but they are finding it really helps them a lot in terms of nutrition, mental toughness and physical conditioning.” Rejina hoped the athletes would take mental training seriously and apply what they had learnt.
“We train the athletes mentally not only to become champions but also to cope with defeats. When they lose, they can learn from their mistakes and become better athletes,” she said.