‘Berg athletes get their head in the game

An inside look into sports psychology and healthy mentalities for athletes concerning the 400 at Muhlenberg College

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Injury is devastating for an athlete to go through, but often easy to fix. Rehab then ice, rehab, ice and you are back playing. A hand or foot injury is easy to understand because you can see it and feel it and you know that the only thing stopping you from playing is the boot on your foot or the cast on your wrist. If an athlete gets injured, trainers are there to provide rehab and help them heal so they can get back on the court or field.

Muhlenberg has 22 sports teams with over 400 athletes who are playing to win. However, some athletes suffer from an invisible injury that affects their game – their mind. The mind is a tricky thing because it is something you can’t see. If one cannot see it, who is there to help them? How do you rehabilitate your mind?

Sports Psychology is the study of people and their behaviors in sports and it strives to understand how psychological factors affect an individual’s physical performance. For example, how does anxiety affect a basketball player’s accuracy in free-throw shooting? How does a coach’s reinforcement and punishment influence a team’s cohesion? Thanks to Logan Stano, a Masters Clinical counseling intern, Muhlenberg athletes will now have access to brain training. He is offering counseling services to teach a wide range of skills including imagery, focus control, managing emotions and concentration in sports. As Stano explains, his role is to “provide training in psychological skills and introduce it in a way that makes sense to athletes, which ultimately increases their performance.”

Athletes at Muhlenberg train for sports year-round no matter when their sports season falls. Practices, lifting, conditioning, etc. are part of athlete’s everyday lives. All of that work takes a toll, not only on their bodies physically, but their mentality as well. “When you look at performance, not even in an athletic setting, we put pressure on ourselves,” explains Stano. “In a school setting, if your head isn’t clear and you are stressed about things, you aren’t able to perform well. And some of those same stressors exist in the competitive field of sports as well.” The focus is on being the best, being faster, shooting better, lifting more, etc. Yes, muscles get sore, but they heal, but the mind doesn’t get a break to heal. “When we start thinking about performing badly, we start to perform badly,” said Stano. “When we start thinking about it, it starts to affect our parasympathetic system. We start getting stressed and in turn, that affects our breathing. When we start getting stressed, our flee response kicks in and we aren’t able to perform as well; we aren’t present.”

Stano explains how important language is and its affect on the mind on performance. As an athlete, how many times have you told yourself, “I really hope I don’t do badly,” and “I hope we win today.” Stano emphasizes how those few words imply failure. “When we imply failure,” he explains, “we start to create a story in our head of already doing badly in the game.” All of the “I hopes” turn into “I can’ts.” Focus control and imagery are tools that work with the mental block that language creates.

Focus control is a tool an athlete can use, if say a basketball player is struggling on the free throw line because their focus is on themselves rather than shooting or the crowd is distracting them. “With focus control, we teach someone, who is distracted and nervous, to focus in and calm themselves,” said Stano. “With someone who is too self-conscious, we teach them to broaden their focus.” Every athlete’s mind works differently so there are different modes they can use to benefit an aspect of their game. Another mode an athlete can use is imagery, which, in the case of the basketball player, takes them through the process of shooting a foul shot step by step.

“We want them, in their mind, to be there as present as possible, you know, holding the basketball, feeling the basketball, look down, see your feet on the free throw line, arm is up, feeling the ball leave your fingers,” explains Stano. “Through imagery, they can practice free throws as many times as they can, not only adding reps, but adding positive reps on whatever they are working on.” Using these tools can have a huge impact on an athlete’s performance.

If anyone is interested in learning more, you can attend Logan Stano’s workshop every Tuesday at noon in the Life Sports Center Room 200. You can also contact Logan Stano at loganstano@muhlenberg.edu for any further information or questions.

“As a college athlete, how hard do you work in the summer or spring? You put in weekly workouts, watch the foods you eat, and we never skip lifting,” said Stano. “Why not put the time in the mental training side?”

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