Thriving under pressure: Three ways ACT can support sports professionals

Can they really “bring it home”?

Euro 2024 is well underway with the competition heating up as that prestigious trophy inches closer. For the athletes, coaches and managers participating in this high-stakes tournament, the pressure to perform is immense. Not only are they representing their countries, but millions of passionate fans have been watching their every move. In this environment, it’s obviously crucial that they have all been taught the mental fortitude and psychological skills to thrive under such intense scrutiny.

This got us thinking about ACT and the different ways that acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) could make a significant difference. Psychological flexibility is imperative when navigating difficult thoughts, emotions, and situations with greater ease.

So here are three examples of how ACT could support the teams at Euro 2024 (and any other athletes performing in high profile competitions):

  1. Dealing with performance anxiety

    The prospect of competing in front of packed stadiums and a global audience could trigger debilitating performance anxiety in even the most seasoned athletes. ACT teaches techniques to accept these anxious feelings, rather than attempting to suppress or avoid them. By making room for anxiety, players can channel that nervous energy into optimal performance.

  2. Present-moment awareness

    ACT emphasises the importance of being fully present and engaged in the current moment. This mindfulness-based skill could help them stay focused on the task at hand, rather than getting caught up in worries about the past or future, the negative press or things going on in their personal lives. By anchoring themselves in the here and now they could make clearer decisions and execute with greater precision.

  3. Identifying and living by core values

    A central component of ACT is clarifying core values – the things that are most important and meaningful. For athletes, connecting to their deepest motivations and purpose could provide a reliable compass, especially when the pressure is at its highest. By competing in alignment with their values, players would be more likely to experience a profound sense of fulfilment, regardless of the outcome.

As the teams progress through the knockout stages, integrating ACT principles into their mental training regimen could help give certain players a crucial edge. Through greater psychological flexibility, they’ll be better equipped to handle the unique demands of the tournament and all the media furore, anticipation and expectation that goes along with it.

Ultimately, ACT isn’t just about managing difficult thoughts and emotions – it’s about thriving in the face of adversity and leaving it all on the field. For the athletes of Euro 2024, these skills could make the difference between triumph and defeat.

Join us and explore this further

A brand-new workshop has been added to our schedule “Thriving in sport: Using ACT to optimise athletic performance”, led by Dr. Alison Maitland and Jenna Ashford, who both have extensive experience of using ACT when working with elite athletes. They will draw insights from their book “Drop the Struggle” to illustrate the practical application of the ACT model in sporting scenarios.

This online training will be interactive and provide opportunities to learn and experience ACT techniques tailored for the sporting domain. The workshop is aimed at practitioners, coaches, and anyone involved in supporting athletes to achieve greater success. It is suitable for those new to ACT as well as those with prior knowledge, although if ACT is a completely new concept to you, you might like to try our free Introduction to ACT, an hour-long workshop that covers the basics.

 

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