Sports psychology in Addiction treatment

Logging Elephants in the Gym

How can sports psychology help Addicts?

The days of “show me a good loser and I will show you a loser”…are gone

The popularity of sport psychology, both as an academic subject and an applied intervention, has grown over recent times, for good reason…it works. Sports psychology is now more sophisticated and also encompasses many core elements of a good addiction treatment program like CBT, Mindfulness, healthy life style etc.

Think about it? Drugs are performance enhancing, even when self medicating social anxiety, sleep or energy levels. And of course some athletes cheat by using performance enhancing drugs, however the genuine sportsman use psychological techniques to increase performance.

Sport psychology is performance enhancing

For over 80 years now many addicts and treatment centers have been using the 12 step recovery program which seems like an extreme psychology but “extreme” is necessary to deal with Addiction, its a very powerful illness. Over time more and more new therapies have been introduced to help addicts recover, such as mindfulness, and PTSD treatments.

Sport and fitness therapies have long been used to develop wellness and assist those recovering from both mental and physical injury or those suffering from chronic disease. Also sport psychology is closely related to “positive psychology” like affirmations, CBT an visualization work. Positive psychology concentrates on building clients strengths and the overall goal is usually to create happiness and joy in life.

Do we perform to our capability in life?

For many client’s their addiction and low self-esteem have held them back in life. Maybe early experience in life has also created a block to reaching “true potential” core beliefs such as;

  • I will never be good enough
  • I must be perfect its no good
  • No one cares anyway

Sports psychologists work to instill a healthy belief system and change irrational thoughts that block people from succeeding, using CBT. Below is a list of just some of the benefits and elements clients can expect from a sport psychology program, many apply to addicts in recovery…

Learn how to manage pain
Increase motivation to achieve
Promotes health and fitness
Increases self-esteem
Celebrate natural rewards from achievements 
Confidence building
Managing performance anxiety
Develop a strong work ethic
Meaningful and fulfilling life purpose 
Effective goal setting systems
How to achieve and set targets
Boundary setting

So mainstream psychological treatments and therapy focusses on clients dysfunction and issues. Sports psychology and positive psychology focusses on how ordinary people can achieve goals, cultivate optimal human functioning and become happier and more fulfilled.

While training coaches focus on the physical side of a sport, the sport psychologists focus on athletes mental capacity. A basic sport psychology program known as the 4C's, address 4 main elements that help improve performance;

  1. Concentration - ability to maintain focus
  2. Confidence - believe in one's abilities
  3. Control - ability to maintain emotional control
  4. Commitment - ability to work to agreed goals

“On your marks, set, go!”

Fitness at Hope

Enhance performance can be achieved with various mental strategies such as;

  • Positive visualization
  • Negative self-talk
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Centering
  • Physical training
  • Stress busting

All of these skills are valuable in any setting including family, school and work situations. Being a good team player will really help you get on in life.

Psychology skills training

Athletes aim to improve their mental skills, such as self-confidence, learn, motivation, the ability to relax under great pressure, and the ability to concentrate

Managing performance anxiety is like managing social anxiety

Focus on the Present Task: When nervous focus on a process, ritual or routine, take a deep breath. Playing tennis “look at your target and serve” Whatever your routine, always do the same thing as your brain and body will recognize the routine and automatically reduce your performance anxiety.

“learn how to be both a good winner in life and a good loser in life”

Accept what the day brings: allow yourself to fail and don't beat yourself up for making mistakes - it may seem counterintuitive but being willing to mess up is the best attitude to take. Most fear in sports comes from being unwilling to fail, or make a mistake. 

Learn to deal with pain

Everyone encounters pain so it helps addicts to be able to tolerate and manage pain without using drugs or alcohol. Pain can be both physical and emotional and can cause crisis and distress. Remember it is often pain that convinces people to give up and possibly relapse.

Trust it Will Pass: There was a research study with former Olympic cyclists that set out to explore the cognitive strategies used to deal with pain of exertion during training. One of the strategies used to manage the pain was to establish an end to the pain; the point at which the pain they were experiencing would stop.

Practice makes perfect: Practice is important in competitive sports and in addiction-recovery too, that is why many recovering addicts have a routine program involving daily rituals and regular meetings. This is a form of practice that keeps their recovery strong enough to resist relapse and stay clean and sober.

Concentration: A sustained concentration technique is very helpful to achieve short term goals. For each goal an athlete uses a trigger word (a word which instantly refocuses on the goal) This strategy transfers into anyone’s wish to achieve there ideas and dreams.

Self-confidence

“if you believe you can achieve your goal – you will”

To improve self-confidence, an athlete uses mental imagery or visualization techniques, visualizing previous good performance to remind them of the look and feel of success. Also talk to yourself positively, affirmations or a mantra, It’s should be a word that you can repeat consistently, Try out different ones and see which works best for you.