Managing expectations: the challenges in sport psychology

Sport psychology specializes in the study of human conduct regarding activity in any area of sports, both individual or a team. Among other areas of research, this discipline has a fascinating field ahead of it in terms of mental health care for athletes. One of the factors which can boycott the optimal status of athletes’ well-being, especially those who do it professionally, is the way they manage the expectations and standards to be met

Being self-demanding or receive demands from other people isn’t always bad, as it’s part of life itself. 

We all have goals we want to achieve, and, usually, we are all subject to responsibilities and missions we are assigned to in our professional context. 

If self-demand or others’ demands didn’t exist, then there wouldn’t be any motivation or progress. We would stay sat still without trying to improve or change. However, athletes’ mental health highly depends on getting the hang of their world of expectations, especially if, they are dedicated to high competition and are considered elite athletes.

Therefore, the problem appears when the expectations come from within and those that come from the people around us becomes tiresome. This is well-known by those who specialize in sport psychology.  These messages can indeed motivate us for a while and lead us to overcome barriers, standards, and goals achieved in the past by others or by ourselves. However, they also leave an impact on our psychological well-being that is not sustainable in the long term, but rather puts the athlete’s mental health who suffers from this overwhelming situation at serious risk. 

sport psychology

This imprint, which we call “wear and tear” or “saturation”, is what we denominate in psychology as anxiety, stress, and depression among other things. They are the different ways our mental and emotional balance can crash. 

Expectations in the world of sport psychology

Well, more like psychology, although it is much easier to see it in the world of sports when we seriously analyze the protective factors and risk factors regarding athletes’ mental health. 

Self-demanding nature of elite athletes 

It is the result of what I expect of myself based on my standards of what is an appropriate outcome. It also includes others’ expectations (family, friends, managers, the public, brands that sponsor) which I have internalized and turned into my own, meaning I have embedded it into my internal voice, which can’t differentiate between what I want and what others want me to do. These voices turn into mine, creating pressure and tension, going a step further from what my mental health can tolerate. 

Others expectations over athletes

This can be direct or indirect. The direct come in an explicit form, normally expressed as an indication of an objective that needs to be fulfilled no matter what happens. The indirect doesn’t have such an imperative structure, it’s more of an insinuation: “It would be good if you…”, “It would be convenient to achieve…”, “We can’t fail right now…”, “We must at least reach…”.

They can also be admirable comments: “You’re the best”, “You can do it”, “We believe in you”, “We know you’re going to win”, “Someone like you will get it for sure”. 

That’s quite a lot of pressure, isn’t it? This way, if the athlete in question doesn’t have the psychological support needed, snowball inside them can build up based on beliefs in the form of an order that can short-circuit their well-being and performance. Let’s take a look at some examples of what we work with daily in sport psychology:  

1. I have been training a lot and for a long time to achieve this goal.

2. I have given up a lot of things to dedicate my time to training and competitions. 

3. My team’s results depend on my results. 

4. Many people have rallied to support me, accompany me, sustain me, and empower me. 

5. I can’t lose sight of my competitors for a second: knowing what they do and how they do is crucial to beat them

6. If I don’t get a good result in this race, my sponsorship will be in danger and all the sacrifices I have invested will be useless. 

7. There is nothing I can do in life apart from competing: this is the only thing I know how to do, this is what I was born to do and what I have prepared myself for. Out there, there is only emptiness.

8. There is only one chance to win. There is only one first place. To win or be defeated is a matter of do or die. 

9. If I don’t win, everyone will think I’ve failed, I won’t be worth anything to them or myself. 

10. This is my last chance: my last world cup, my last Olympics, the last championship. My life depends on what I can achieve in one go. 

sport psychology

Excessive expectations in the corporate world

The sports environment is prone to these types of situations, both individually and in teams. However, we can also extrapolate what we’ve said about sport psychology to any other professional environment where achievements, goals, and reputation play such a prominent role that they take over enjoyment, personal fulfillment, or the satisfaction of contributing to a meaningful mission. 

In these cases, the whole assembly line of competitiveness, the desire to excel, toxic relationships among peers, and an enormous amount of suffering, which goes beyond natural frustration, is set in motion. 

To avoid it, it is crucial to take care of the messages which are involved in corporate culture, and of course, maintain coherence with the methodology each employee should carry in their day-to-day. 

Overcoming the successes already achieved is vital for the progress of any company, but it is not good to do so at the expense of the psychological health of its “athletes”. Fostering team cohesion, stimulating a culture of cooperation over competitiveness, implementing a good strategy of reinforcement and rewards, diversifying and humanizing shared values, and leaving room for error and imperfection is key to improving productivity

Those responsible for managing the company’s human capital must take them into account to be able to manage healthily the inevitable influx of their own and other people’s demands that put pressure on each employee.

Ifeel has created an emotional wellbeing program for companies, designed by its team of expert psychologists to help companies place the development of their employees’ mental health at the center of their corporate culture and key to high but sustainable productivity

Thanks to this partnership, HR managers are provided with personalized, data-driven advice on how to take care of their elite athletes: the people in their care. This protects workers’ mental health while ensuring good conditions for maximum productivity. 

In addition, ifeel‘s emotional well-being program for companies provides employees with a mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs at any given time through ifeel‘s app. They can also receive emotional support through a chat with one of our platform’s licensed psychologists. If additional help is required, they can access the third level of the program: online psychological therapy with a psychologist specializing in the issue the employee is going through.

Sign up today to our platform and request more information about our emotional well-being program for companies. It’s not a demand, but it is a good idea. 

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