This article is written by one of our former players, Unai Arrieta, who still collaborates with us, and it will be focused on sports psychology.
In the following lines, I will try to clarify one of the less developed components of competitive sport: the psychological component. However, everything that will be written here will be supported by the knowledge accepted by the Psychology of Sport.
According to the experts in human behavior, our success in life and our happiness are both influenced by three factors: biology (which is genetically inherited), the social circumstances (economic level, marriage, health or work) and our “ME” (our personality or deliberate activity). We can’t change our biological constitution, and we often have little control over external circumstances. However, we can work on our personality (on our deliberate activity), since we can improve our way of thinking, feeling and acting, with the ultimate goal of achieving a more fulfilling life. The way we think, feel and act are three closely related factors, and all three have a great impact on our successes, in our ability to be effective in life and sports. Just as physical training influences performance-relevant variables, such as endurance, strength, flexibility or speed, the psychological work is focused on the manipulation of psychological variables that are relevant to sports: motivation, competitive stress, self-confidence, mood, level of activation, attention, decision making, stability or persistence, interpersonal relationships and team cohesion.
Nowadays, we are certain that muscles and brain, the mind and the body, work in an integrated way, not only in sports performance but also in the daily activities of our life. “As we think, we do.” The association between what athletes think they can do and what they are actually capable of doing is a fact proven by the Psychology of Sport. Thought has a huge impact on the athletes behavior, and since thoughts can determine what we feel and, consequently, what we do, we must be capable to control what goes through our minds. Sometimes, competition can cause high levels of emotional tension and this may negatively influence, for example, the speed of reaction and the motor execution. Today, we know that affectivity can be developed.; people can learn to be active, courageous, confident, motivated, creative, etc.
On the other hand, players need to strengthen their ability to concentrate. Our attention must be placed on the relevant tasks of the moment (in the present), and we should avoid putting our focus on what has already happened (in the past) or in what may probably happen (in the future).
Just as it’s important to dedicate training time for the physical, technical and tactical components, it is also necessary to assign some time for the psychological skills that effectively optimize the performance levels. It has been shown that setting goals, working on imagery, focusing attention, mental activation and relaxation, cognitive control, etc, have a great impact on the performance both in training and in competition.
There are more and more sports professionals who incorporate psychological techniques into their training programs, and more and more athletes and teams believe that psychological training is critical to optimize sports performance. Unfortunately, in Handball, there are few works and investigations dedicated to the psychological component. I know very well the economic and structural difficulties that go through our sport, and that does not help at all. However, the truth is that there is a problem of belief in the background. We continue to believe that this problem will be automatically solved without an intervention, as an inevitable consequence of hard work, maturity and the habit of competing. But we need to do something about it!
I think Handball has a great challenge ahead in this matter, and there is still a long way to go. The psychological needs of athletes are not an “invention” of psychologists, but are instead an inherent reality of people, who must never stop working to overcome their own limits and demonstrate their full potential, even (and especially) in the stressful context of the competition.