Psychophysiology is the science that looks to the interactions between the bodily and mental processes in conjunction with the environment. For example, if you are undertrained, and you need to compete today under challenging conditions (long match and against a strong opponent), of course, you are going to feel anxious and underconfident because your body is not trained for that demand, and there is no positive thinking that will help you to produce the physical strength for that moment. On the other hand, if you have all those well-trained skills, you are fit and prepared, and you worry too much about the outcome of the game to the point of draining all your mental energy, your performance will suffer.
When the athlete faces the stressors (e.g. strong opponents, physical harm, or intense practices), there is an association with past experiences and an emotional response is generated (good or bad emotional response), next the athlete check his abilities to cope with the stressor (perception of the demand), then the athlete experience the stress response (arousal, muscle tension, attentional changes, and state anxiety). The stress response (activation) does enhance performance and in the sports arena, it is interpreted as getting ready for the competition; however, if it causes too much activation, performance will decrease.
One way to lower the activation levels is to change your perception of the demand, and you can re-frame things a little bit (e.g., OMG! My opponent is stronger than I, but I only need to perform better than he/she in the next minutes). However, in sport, you cannot lie to yourself and it is true that some sports have a life-threatening risk, or the upcoming competition is the most important of your life. Then, Biofeedback comes as a tool to help athletes become aware and control bodily responses to allow maximum performance to occur.
Professionals who have training in Optimal Performance Psychophysiology and Sport apply the tools of stress management, muscle kinesiology, and biofeedback to reverse performance-related disorders and enhance athletic performance. The ultimate goal is to help athletes reach their highest level of performance and functioning. However, Biofeedback alone does not improve performance. Biofeedback is a skill that is used with different mental skills to help athletes perform at their best.
Even though many professionals advertise themselves as able to train the athlete’s brain waves or teach specific respiration techniques to improve performance; only sophisticated biofeedback technology, protocols developed to applications in sport, and a professional trained in sport psychophysiology can apply the procedures designed to enhance athletic performance.
In summary, worrying about the outcome of the game is part of human nature, but it can lead to too much activation which can be detrimental to performance. On the other hand, biofeedback training can help athletes manage the levels of activation and perform the best of their abilities. And as the athlete develops the skills to break free from things that cause fear and worry, they feel fulfilled and increase personal mastery.
Andrea C. Dias, MA, ABSP