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  • Writer's pictureDarren Britton

Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) in Sport and Performance Psychology

Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) presents a transformative approach for athletes seeking to enhance their mental resilience and performance. Rooted in mindfulness and psychological flexibility, ACT empowers athletes to navigate challenges, remain present-focused, and align their actions with their core values and goals.

Understanding ACT:

ACT revolves around three key principles: Making Room, Being Present, and Doing What Matters. These principles collectively form the foundation for athletes to cultivate psychological skills and thrive in their athletic endeavours.

1. Making Room:

Athletes learn to make room for their thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgement or resistance. Instead of getting entangled in unproductive thoughts or emotions, athletes acknowledge their presence and allow them to come and go freely. By making room for internal experiences, athletes can cultivate mental flexibility and resilience, enabling them to adapt more effectively to the demands of competition.

One way an athlete can practise making room is by using the "Leaves on a Stream" technique. In this exercise, the athlete imagines themselves sitting beside a gently flowing stream. As thoughts arise, they visualise each thought as a leaf floating down the stream. Instead of getting caught up in the content of the thoughts or trying to push them away, the athlete simply observes each thought as it passes by, allowing it to come and go without attachment. This practice helps the athlete develop the skill of observing their thoughts with acceptance and non-judgment, rather than getting entangled in them.

2. Being Present:

Athletes practise being fully present and engaged in the here and now, moment by moment. Through mindfulness techniques and sensory awareness exercises, athletes develop the capacity to anchor their attention to the present moment, thereby optimising their focus, concentration, and performance. Being present enables athletes to immerse themselves fully in their athletic endeavours, maximising their potential and performance outcomes.

One way an athlete can practise being present is through mindful breathing. The athlete can take a few minutes to focus solely on their breath, paying attention to the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. They can do this by sitting comfortably, closing their eyes, and bringing their awareness to the rise and fall of their breath. Whenever their mind starts to wander, they gently bring their focus back to the breath. This practice helps the athlete cultivate mindfulness and bring their attention fully to the present moment, enhancing their ability to stay focused and engaged during training or competition.

3. Doing What Matters:

Athletes clarify their core values and identify what truly matters to them in sport and life. By aligning their actions with their values, athletes cultivate a sense of purpose and direction, fueling their motivation and commitment to excellence. Doing what matters entails setting meaningful goals, making intentional choices, and taking committed action steps towards their aspirations. By prioritising actions that are in alignment with their values, athletes can navigate setbacks and obstacles with resilience, persistence, and determination.

One way an athlete can practise doing what matters is by setting and prioritising goals aligned with their core values. They can start by identifying their values, such as dedication, teamwork, or growth, and then setting specific goals that reflect those values. For example, if teamwork is a core value, the athlete might set a goal to support their teammates during practice sessions by offering encouragement and assistance. By consistently taking actions that align with their values, the athlete can cultivate a sense of purpose and fulfilment in their athletic pursuits.

Working with a Sport Psychologist Using ACT:

When working with a sport psychologist who utilises ACT, athletes can expect a collaborative and empowering process aimed at enhancing their mental skills and performance mindset. Sessions typically involve experiential exercises, mindfulness practices, and value-driven goal-setting strategies tailored to the unique needs and goals of each athlete.

In conclusion, Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) offers athletes a holistic approach to mental skills training, enabling them to cultivate resilience, presence, and purpose in their athletic pursuits. Through the principles of Making Room, Being Present, and Doing What Matters, athletes can harness the power of their minds and elevate their performance to new heights.

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