Some athletes are very religious, others are superstitious, some chose to believe in research based training strategies and nothing else, but which is the best route to go? Is there a correct answer or is it solely based off preference? I believe there has to be more extensive research on this topic to make a clear-cut informed decision. I also believe that spirituality involves a more integrated model, rather than putting faith in only one body of thought. Based on my experience, it is important to put your faith in a higher power that you genuinely believe in, as well as the hard work you put in for yourself. I personally have thrived on partaking in team implemented or self implemented superstition beliefs. Among these superstition driven beliefs, I have developed a routine, which has increased my sense of consistency, further improving my mental ability to perform well on a repeated basis. I do not necessarily think that the superstitions themselves carry real weight unless the athlete genuinely believes in it.
Athletes from a religious background have been known to say quick prayers before games, before plays, after good plays, and after the performance to name a few. This may help them keep a calm, regulated mind and avoid being over-aroused. The belief in a higher power may motivate athletes to “control the controllable” aspects of the sport and not stress too much over things that are beyond their influence. On the other side of this way of thinking there is believing in yourself and your own preparation. It is vital for athletes to put in work to improve their athleticism and skills, thus earning the right to be confident. Combining both of these aspects of spirituality is important in obtaining the mental skills necessary to perform at a high level. A quote that I heard from my parents quite a bit while growing up that embodies this way of thinking is:
“Control what you cannot accept, accept what you cannot control”
In an interview with 14 time billiards world champion, Pankaj Advani, he speaks about the factors that play a role in his confidence and spirituality when approaching his game. The mental side of Advani’s pool shooting clearly plays a huge role in his success due to the nature of the game. In the interview he mentions that he has won many of his world championships on holidays or days that are important to him, including Diwali, Eid Mubarak, his mother’s birthday, Independence Day, and Children’s Day (Satya, 2015). These occurrence have led him to believe in superstition to a certain extent, but not put all of his faith in the day his competitions fall on. After this part of the interview, Advani was asked to elaborate on how much weight he currently puts on superstition such as lucky charms and spirituality such as religion or separate personal beliefs. He replied with the following comment:
“I am spiritual in my faith and believe in a superior force. I used to be superstitious but then realized that I was placing my faith in things that really had little or no relevance to my performance. I’ve started to believe more in my own ability and of course something far greater out there that is looking after us, (Satya, 2015).”
In a literature review on the topic of spirituality in sport performance, sport psychologists looked at a wide array of articles in order to see the effect of four key areas that have been thought to play a key component in how athletes execute their game plan in real game situations. The four categories looked at include
- How spirituality may be reconciled into the athlete-centered model
- The integration of spirituality and religious observances into mental skills training
- The relationship between spirituality and positive psychological states such as flow and peak experiences
- The role of spirituality in counseling
Spirituality in sport psychology has been a slowly developing topic in the field that does not have enough in depth research to understand holistically. Most of the progress in topics relating to spirituality have come from standard psychology, not sport psychology. The applications of the literature that was reviewed primarily supports its importance in being integrated into research and consultancy work (Watson and Nesti, 2007). Limitations in this review that were addressed include both performance enhancement and life skills development. These areas both lacked the research necessary to have sufficient evidence to implement these strategies consistently in practice. It is alright to use these strategies if you are an athlete and they are in line with your beliefs, but in terms of sport psychologists, other methods should be used to increase confidence and self-efficacy in clients. If more research is done directly applying spirituality beliefs to sport psychology, then i believe it will be a very useful tool to use to optimize sport performance from a mental aspect.
Satya, R. (2015). My big wins usually happen on auspicious days: Pankaj Advani. The Times of India, Retrieved from: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/snooker/billiards/My-big-wins-usually-happen-on-auspicious-days-Pankaj-Advani/articleshow/49167132.cms
Watson, N.J., Nesti, M. (2005). The role of spirituality in sport psychology consulting: an analysis and integrative review of literature, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 17(3), 228-239, doi: 10.1080/10413200591010102