Embracing Cognitive Flexibility through ACT

Athletes in training, embracing the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for enhanced performance.

In the realm of sports science, there’s growing chatter about decision-making speed and rapid adaptability. Essentially, the conversation centers around Cognitive Flexibility. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) emerges as a novel approach to bolster this crucial mental agility in athletes.

Read more: Embracing Cognitive Flexibility through ACT

The Role of Thought in Athletic Performance

Statements like “It’ll be okay,” “Don’t overthink it,” “Chin up, there’s always next time,” and “Everyone makes mistakes” are often employed to counteract the mental distress many athletes face. These moments of anguish usually arise from errors made during matches or training sessions. Additionally, expectations from coaches, media, or fans can further intensify these burdensome thoughts.

Redefining Positive Thinking with ACT

Unlike conventional methods, ACT isn’t about mere positive thinking. Solely focusing on optimism and denying the existence of persistent issues isn’t productive. Instead, ACT encourages athletes to acknowledge their challenges, without immediately seeking solutions.

The Roots and Recognition of ACT

Developed in the 1990s by renowned professionals like Professor Steven C. Hayes, Dr. Kelly Wilson, and Dr. Kirk Strosahl, ACT’s prominence surged post their seminal 1999 publication. To date, over 100 studies on ACT have been conducted. Notably, in 2010, the U.S. government (NREPP) recognized ACT with an evidence-based status. It has also earned commendation from the international psychologists’ association (APA) as a supported treatment for various conditions, including Chronic Pain and Depression.

Control in ACT: Embracing the Peaks and Troughs of Life

Arguably, control is central to ACT. Life is replete with highs and lows, making negative thoughts inevitable. Regrettably, humans tend to suppress or camouflage these negative introspections, often intensifying them. An apt metaphor is attempting to submerge a beach ball underwater; it inevitably pops up, often with more vigor. ACT’s strategy is to shift focus, playing mental gymnastics to alter perceptions. For instance, reminiscing the sensation of a sour candy can almost bring back its tangy taste. Similarly, words like “panic” or doubts like “I can’t do it” can feel overwhelmingly real.

At its core, ACT emphasizes enhancing psychological flexibility. This enables athletes to channel their focus on their core values and aspirations. Battling against external conditions can sometimes detract from a meaningful and vibrant life. The following video offers a glimpse into how negative thoughts can sway choices.

Personal Journey with ACT

I embarked on a transformative three-day ACT course at the High Performance Academy spearheaded by sports psychologist, Kelly Dekker. Highly recommended for sports enthusiasts and coaches keen on delving into sports psychology and cognitive flexibility. Recently, in an interview with “De Voetbaltrainer”, she opined, “Many coaches overestimate the ease of altering thoughts and their influence on performance. They frequently seek control, assuming confidence guarantees excellence. However, accolades aren’t bestowed for supreme confidence but on-field actions. Performance isn’t a product of thoughts but deeds.” Stay updated with her insights on @KellyDekker_.

The Dynamic Nature of Soccer and Cognitive Flexibility

Soccer epitomizes dynamism. Every scenario is unique, conditions constantly evolve, and while coaches strive to control myriad elements, the onus of execution rests on players. Perhaps, cognitive flexibility is the linchpin in navigating this ever-shifting landscape. In my upcoming extensive blog, I’ll delve into the correlation between players’ rapidly alternating thoughts, coaches’ strategies, and the intrinsic chaos of the game.

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