By AmyAnn Rupp
College athletes across the nation are hit on all sides by pressure.
Pressure to win the national championship, perform well in school, have a social life, represent their school and maintain their scholarships.
The sports psychology program, started at BYU in 1996, exists to help student-athletes deal with the stress and pressure of it all. Techniques have been developed to help them relive their anxiety and tension in order for them to perform better.
But the program techniques are not just for student-athletes – they are designed to help everyone interested in performing better.
“So yeah, the dumb jock theory does exist,” said BYU sport psychologist Ron Chamberlain. “But you only have a few who are really here just for the athletics. Then you have 600 other athletes who care about athletics and having a well rounded lifestyle. Trying to do that while pursuing a high level of athletics is incredibly challenging.”
The program is a support role for the athletes.
“I don”t feel that I am a direct part of any team,” Chamberlain said, “but I am a part of the athletic department support staff so everyone can focus more on what they need to do.”
Chamberlain said every day of work is different for him. He spends only half of his time counseling students in academics and for different disorders such as anxiety problems, depression and eating disorders. The other half of his day is spent focusing specifically on performance counseling.
“When I work, each person is different,” Chamberlain said. “Everyone has their own issues. It is all about listening to the athletes, asking them good questions and learning how they are feeling and what their focus is. Then we can see what they need. It is all about getting athletes ready to play. If athletes feel good emotionally then they perform better.”
Self-talk and imagery are the two traditional tactics typically used in sports psychology.
“There is always the things that are kind of out there and new and innovative,” Chamberlain said. “It all keeps going back to the same basic thing. Self-talk is one of the foundations of field – being able to really monitor it and keep it positive and upbeat – along with imagery. With athletes we will focus on how they would like to perform, creating their environment, seeing the crowd, the field, athletes in their brightly colored uniforms, their warm-up routine, and performing like they would like to perform.”
Kassi Andersen, the Mountain West cross-country athlete of the year, agrees.
“What you do with Ron really helps to give you a focus on how you perform,” Andersen said. “He helped the cross-country team at nationals to not be distracted by all the stress and factors of being there, but just work on what we needed to do. Because we have imagined it all so many times it felt like we had done it so many times. It helped us to be comfortable when the times got tough.”
Chamberlain”s sports psychology theory works well for hundreds of athletes like Andersen, but it also holds true for all 30,000 students on BYU”s campus, he said.
“For people that use it regularly, it is one of the most powerful tools-but it isn”t just for sports,” Chamberlain said. “Heck, I think it should be used in a lot of areas of life. I tell my sports psychology classes that there are times when I get up in the morning and think about what I have to do that day. I rehearse it in my mind doing it and doing it well. Then I get up and go live it.”
As finals have approached, Chamberlain said now is the time to use his techniques so that one can perform to the best of their ability.
“This is where there is a nice tie with all students,” Chamberlain said. “Your confidence comes from good preparation. If they have prepared themselves well then they have a right to be confident, and so that is where you get ready for finals.”
Senior captain of the men”s swimming and diving team Chris Johnson says he uses imagery techniques not only in his swimming, but also in his personal life.
“I am a gospel doctrine teacher in my ward here at BYU,” Johnson said. “If I am going to public speak or when I prepare my lessons I visualize myself teaching the lessons or performing as I have prepared. I don”t stress out about tests, but I do think Chamberlain”s techniques should be used for anything you stress out about or worry excessively over.”
Chamberlain said he encourages people to use a lot of positive self-talk going into finals.
By repeating phrases such as “I have prepared well, I am ready, I have had a good semester, Buck up and finish strong because finals are important, Go all the way to the finish,” then students feel more confident that they will do well, he said.
“If you haven”t prepared yourself well then you can”t fool yourself,” Chamberlain said. You have earned the right to be anxious. However, if you do feel anxious, which tends to be the case with finals, and then there are some exercises you can go through to relax.”
Posted on www.byucougars.com/student_athlete_center/sports_psychology/index.html are some deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises that can be done to help calm the stress.
Chamberlain is also a firm believer that there is no need to cram all the information in within the last few minutes before a test, he said.
“Right before you go into a test you don”t need to continue looking at your notes furiously while you are standing in line at the Testing Center,” he said. “To me, by keeping the study sheet in your backpack and standing in line saying to yourself that you have studied well and are prepared, you are then prepared to nail the test.”
There are a lot more important things than a frenzied study. Chamberlain said the moment you take a step to go take a test wherever it may be, that is the time that everyone should use to actually get in the test- taking mindset.
“It is a lot like an athlete,” Chamberlain said. “When they step on the line that is the time their thinking should be the simplest. They shouldn”t have a hundred thousand things going through their mind but are just focusing on saying that they are ready to go. That shows a sign of trust that relieves anxiety.”
Chamberlain has a phrase which athletes who visit with him all know: “Be where you are.”
“When you are in the classroom be there,” Chamberlain said. “When you are out on the practice field or taking a test, then be there too. When you start to have different areas of your daily tasks bleed over, pretty soon you are not focused on anything and then everything suffers and you don”t enjoy it anymore.
“It is hard to prepare for finals and keep up the motivation for school day in and day out,” Chamberlain said. “By using the techniques, then you are able to calm it down so that you can perform as you deserve.”