Sports and Performance Psychology: The relationship between self-awareness and effective performance.

The J&R Clinical Psychologists teamBlog, Performance Psychology

Sports and Performance Psychology

Author: Paul Jeffery, Clinical Psychologist
First published: 03-07-2024

When working with clients looking to harness psychology to optimise their performance, we often focus on skills to develop self-awareness. Self-awareness plays a pivotal role in achieving high performance across various domains of life. It’s the ability to recognize, understand, and respond to your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses. By cultivating self-awareness, you’re in the best position to work towards your full potential. 

What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness encompasses two distinct aspects: internal and external self-awareness. 

  • Internal self-awareness involves understanding your values, motivations, emotions, and thought patterns. It enables individuals to gain insight into their decision-making processes, emotional triggers, and personal biases. 
  • External self-awareness refers to understanding how others perceive us and how our actions and behaviours impact those around us.

Self-Awareness and High Performance

The connection between self-awareness and peak performance is firmly established. When you’re self-aware, you gain a strategic advantage: leveraging your strengths, managing weaknesses, and navigating through unpredictable situations with finesse. Self-awareness empowers you to respond thoughtfully instead of merely reacting impulsively. By embracing and understanding emotions like fear, shame, uncertainty, or frustration, you position yourself to make informed and sound judgments.

For example a tennis player might show anger when losing points and making mistakes, and be tempted to reactively increase their effort which leads to tighten up further. However it might be fear (of failure) that is driving their anger and what is really needed is to accept the mistakes (and the fear), to re-focus on certain basics and to try to continue to play with courage and flow. 

Moreover, self-awareness fosters emotional intelligence, a critical component of effective leadership and interpersonal relationships. By recognizing and regulating emotions, self-aware individuals can navigate challenging situations with composure and empathy, fostering trust and collaboration within teams.

Maximizing Potential through Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the catalyst for setting meaningful goals that resonate with personal values and aspirations. When you grasp your motivations and acknowledge limitations, you can chart realistic paths forward and maintain sharp focus on your objectives. This clarity of purpose is indispensable for achieving peak performance and surmounting obstacles along the journey.

Crucially, self-awareness fosters a growth mindset, where individuals believe that skills and abilities can evolve through dedication and perseverance. Those who are self-aware are receptive to feedback and perceive challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. This mindset fuels continuous learning, adaptation, and enhancement, ultimately paving the way for sustained high performance.

A recreational marathon runner who values overcoming a challenge, is really starting to suffer towards the end of the race. Serious doubts are entering their mind. Do they slow down and just try to finish, or do they doggedly try to stick to their goal race time but risk “blowing up”. Understanding your values and WHY you are engaged in this activity will strongly influence how you choose to face that challenge at that moment. 

Cultivating Self-Awareness

Developing self-awareness is an ongoing process that requires intentional effort and practice. Here are some effective strategies to cultivate self-awareness:

  1. Seek feedback: Actively solicit feedback from trusted sources, such as colleagues, mentors, or coaches. This external perspective can shed light on blind spots and areas for improvement.
  1. Be clear on your reason ‘why’: What drives you? Why is your passion important to you? Also, what does failure mean to you and what does your response to failure tell you about your vulnerabilities? How do you even define failure? 
  1. Develop and practice mindfulness skills: Engage in mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or journaling, to cultivate present-moment awareness and observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment.
  1. Reflect on experiences: Regularly reflect on your experiences, both successes and failures, to gain insights into your thought processes, behaviors, and emotional responses. Ask yourself how you, others, and the circumstances at the time, might have contributed to an outcome. 
  1. Identify triggers: Observe patterns and triggers that elicit specific emotional or behavioral responses (helpful of unhelpful), and develop strategies (that are aligned to your values) to manage them effectively. 
  1. Embrace vulnerability: Instead of being avoidant of failure, cultivate openness towards your weaknesses and mistakes, as this creates opportunities for growth and self-improvement.

At J&R Psychology, we often work with individual sports people and teams (at the community and elite level), as well as people in the performing arts and executives. If you’d like to better understand and optimise your performance, get in touch!

Paul Jeffery, Director and Senior Clinical Psychologist

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