One of the fundamental skills in sport psychology is the ability to control one's level of activation or arousal. Being able to 'calm down' or 'psych up' when required is an important life skill that goes beyond sporting performance.
For many sports people, relaxation skills to lower levels of activation and arousal in the body and mind are an essential part of their armoury, allowing them to focus on the key elements of performance and save them from expending unnecessary physical and mental effort.
Relaxation skills take many forms and the key is finding the right one for you. Remember, as with any skill, practice makes perfect so if the first time you feel more self-conscious than relaxed, persevere before moving on to other techniques. On with the techniques.
Progressive muscular relaxation
This approach is one of the best known and focuses on contrast between feelings of muscle tension and muscle relaxation. As it's impossible to feel both relaxation and tension in the same muscle at the same time, the principle is that by systematically contracting and relaxing the body's muscle groups in turn, a feeling of relaxation will spread throughout the body, in turn calming the mind.
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to practice
- Lie down: it immediately removes muscle tension
- Record the script below onto a tape, developing it for all the major muscle groups in the body
- Hold each tension phase for 5 to 7 seconds and repeat twice, then move onto the next muscle group
- As you get better, focus on just the relaxation phase and omit the tension. You may also find that you can concentrate on some key muscle groups rather than have to go through the whole body.
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly
Curl your toes and arch your feet. Feel the uncomfortable tension in your feet and toes. Hold for a count of five. Now let half the tension go and count to five again. Now relax your toes and feet. Notice the tension disappear and the feelings of comfortable relaxation flood in. Concentrate of the relaxation of your toes for a count of 10.
Then move on to other muscle groups progressively up through your body; calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach and lower back, hands and arms, shoulders and finishing with your jaw. For each group repeat the process described above and focus on the relaxation flooding in after you release the tension.