The Importance of Performance Psychology

MindAs dancers and performers we know the importance of maintaining an optimum level of physical health and fitness to ensure we obtain and maintain peak performance. We can follow a nutritious diet, rehearse numerous amounts of times, spend time in Pilates classes working on our core strength and flexibility and enlist the services of an expert masseur and physiotherapist. All of this is done to ensure our competitiveness and longevity in the industry. However, we have a tendency to overlook a very important aspect of our training and performance, something that is vitally critical and that has direct impact on the success of our performance and physical capabilities: our mind.

Can you remember a time when you genuinely struggled in dance class or rehearsals and started comparing yourself to another person who seemed to be getting it right all the time? The feelings of frustration and anger you had towards yourself and jealously towards the other person? Or a time when everything went your way – your technique was perfect, you remembered the choreography without any complications and your performance was effortless? These are a couple of very common scenarios for dancers and performers and these experiences are largely due to the result of how our mind functions.
The brain is an extremely fascinating and intricately complicated organ that governs human functioning, cognition (or thought) and emotion. Electrical impulses, chemicals and neurons all interact to produce the actions, thoughts and feelings that flow through us. Through advancement in technology, neuroscience and psychology, the brain and explanations of how it operates can now be understood and its processes demystified. The more we understand about the brain and mind, the more we are able to become conscious of the seemingly unconscious processes that take place. This means that we have the capacity to be more in control of our mind, the more we know about how it works.
What is performance psychology?
Performance psychology is the educational, scientific and professional contributions of psychology to the promotion, maintenance, and enhancement of performance related behaviour.
Why bother with performance psychology?
Numerous psychological studies have proven that elite performers have been consistently shown to make greater use of psychological skills and strategies than their non-elite counterparts.
What does this mean?
It means that when it comes to success in any performance related activity, the mind is what matters most.
Over the next four blogs we will be examining a series of basic psychological skills that are paramount in establishing and building a foundation for further advanced psychological skills to use whilst training and performing. Although the word ‘basic’ is used, it is far from that. These mental skills require constant rehearsal, refining and practice in order that they may be developed and strengthened. Just like any muscle or dance technique that requires frequent repetition for strength, growth and to gain mastery over, so too must the application of psychological skills to the dance and performance experience. These skills are applicable to any performance related function – dancing, singing, acting, and business related activities such as management.
The basic psychological skills that will be examined individually are:
• Relaxation
• Goal-setting
• Imagery and mental rehearsal
• Self-talk
Our aim is to build a solid foundation of basic and advanced psychological skills that may be used, mastered and increased, that it may positively benefit your performance experience. The saying ‘mind over matter’ has a tendency to be over used and has become a cliché, however in the case of performance psychology, nothing could be further from the truth.
By Warren Roma
Contact Warren with your questions and thoughts:
Hardy L., Jones G., and Gould D. (2003) Understanding Psychological Preparation for Sport – Theory and Practice of Elite Performers, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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