Regardless of the outcome of the NBA finals this year, one team had to go home empty handed. It’s difficult to fathom how athletes immediately get back on their feet and start training for the next round of emotionally tortuous ups and downs. Even though they’re getting paid an absurd amount of money to play the game that they love, there must be some emotional consequences, right? On the surface, viewers can clearly see the bond a sports team has as evidenced by their chest bumps, high-fives, “OH YEAH”s, and less-than-tender slaps on the butt, but there must be another aspect of these superficial rituals that isn’t seen.
So, here comes sports psychology, which aims to improve performance by mediating the psychological effects of injury and loss. Naturally, sports psychology began as a way to increase positive attitudes in individual athletes, as well as entire teams. Later, this branch of psychology went from questioning how to instill positive attitudes in athletes, to wondering what relationship psychological well-being had to strenuous physical activity.
In 1975, the neurological world discovered compounds now known as endorphins – endogenous opioid polypeptides released during exercise, excitement, and orgasm, and known to produce analgesia. But what happens when outside stressors, like losing and injury, interfere with the natural high created by exercise? This connection between brain psychology and kinesiology has recently been researched with the development of the field of psychophysiology, which attempts to solidify the link between psychology and physiology. With the advent of multiple neuroimagery techniques, such as MRI, fMRI, and PET, psychophysiologists have been able to move on from exploring organ systems innervated by the autonomic nervous system, to examining the central nervous system and monitoring brain activity. The illumination of the relationship between stress, physical activity, competition, recovery from an injury, and the underlying cognitive processes could have great implications for the future of professional sports.
More advanced technology has provided insight into the relationship between body and mind. A biofeedback loop can be utilized to facilitate awareness between physiological functions and their activities. Using a variety of precise instruments and an integrating computer system, the user can measure brain waves, skin conductance, muscle tone, and heart rate, just to name a few. Once this information reaches the user, he or she can consciously manipulate the activities of these processes. These changes can be used to heighten performance and boost health. Eventually, the user can learn to manipulate these activities without using these devices.
The fourth quarter of game seven was obviously not the best quarter the Celtics have ever played. What if the field of sports psychology, in combination with psychophysiology, found a way to allow each player to consistently perform to his or her best ability? Then, would the real competition begin? Or would this take the excitement out of the game?
Watch a video on biofeedback here: