Bridge and Sports Pyschology
I am working on a talk on sports psychology. It has three parts to represent the three activities I participate in: Bridge, Running and Tennis. My expertise in each of them is in that order. I consider myself a bridge expert, a running advanced and an intermediate tennis player (although some might argue that I am being too generous in the latter two designations.)
What I have noticed is that many of the psychological issues are consistent in all three of these activities.
The first one may be called things like pregame jitters or performance anxiety or stage fright. It is the feelings you get when you are waiting to begin an important match. These are based on the human “flight or flee” response. In short when humans feel “threatened”, the pitituary gland secrets ACTH and the adrenal gland secretes epinephrine. This is to prime you to either face the enemy or run away (Fight or flee). The body releases glucose and also starts the production of addition energy to prepare muscles for action. Blood is diverted to the muscles, and all parts of your body work to supply extra energy.The heart beats faster, you breath faster, you may start to shake, and so on.
In sports (and here bridge is a sport) performance anxiety is often worse when the game seems important. It may relate to having an audience (you should have seen me play when I was first on Vugraph or on the Internet – no its best not to!).
If the bridge player lacks confidence than it will be tough for self talk or other similar techniques to help them to do their best. I remember once when I was playing in the World Championships I met Bob Hamman in the elevator. We were in the quarterfinals I think and I was nervous because we were up against a good team. Bob told me that they put their pants on one foot at a time to reassure me. I have never forgotten his attempt at relaxing me but it really didn’t help. I knew they were better than our team.
Instead of fighting the pregame jitters, better advice is probably to accept it as normal and as part of the natural preparation for competition. Once the game starts you feel better. I think we all have pregame routines. What I have learned in all the games/sports I play is that the pregame routine can calm me and get me ready for the start. Other ideas might be using positive self-talk. “I am going to do my best.”, to smile and try to separate the outcome from just bidding and playing each hand.
Most people have running dialogues with themselves. If you have make a bad bid or play do you shoot yourself down? (I do!) The goal is to replace negative messages with positive ones. “I am going to figure out the right line of play.”
One thing that I do when I run and play tennis is use mantras: short positive statements that are encouraging or provide focus.” In tennis I use one word: “Ball” to remind myself to focus on the ball. In bridge I might use the one word on play: “Count” to remind myself to work and count out the hand. In running as I get tired I use: “You can do it!”