Multidisciplinary Approach To Sports

Table of contents

With recent advances in science and modern challenges in sports, it has become important for athletes to incorporate breakthroughs and principles from different areas into sports to achieve maximum performance. According to Freisen & Orlick (2010), there is indeed a need, due to recent evidence to involve the expertise of different professionals from fields into sports by introducing elements of nutrition and diet, physiology, psychology as well as biomechanics to help in the optimal training of sport men and women in order to achieve maximal output.

Dietary management is important for every individual to remain fit and healthy and it is much more important for anyone that engages in sports. The knowledge of the body physiology cannot be overemphasized in maximizing the body. The mental state of an athlete is also in fact as important as the physical state and an understanding of biomechanics is needful to be able to maximize the body system in sports performance.

According to Kentta & Hassmen (2002), optimum sports performance integrates different components including the physiological, technical, dietary and tactical aspects and it can be concluded from this that an athlete is ultimately a “Psychosociophyiological System”.

There have been different authors and researches that have documented the relationship between different components (such as psychology, physiology, nutrition and biomechanics) and optimal performance of athletes and there is a need to examine the validity of these claims in the face of recent evidences and researches.

The role of psychology in performance of athletes

It has become common knowledge that psychological skills are important as they influence the performance of any athlete or team. This has over time led to the evolvement of the field of sports psychology which is aimed at ensuring that the right and optimal mental attitude is inculcated in sport persons. Many teams involved in competitive sports have therefore seen a need to include sports psychologists in their coaching crew. Psychological training and exercise have been used in a wide range of sporting activities to improve the performance of athletes.

According to Cox et al (2010), there are some specific parameters that can be used to measure an athlete’s mental or psychological strength and they include the ability to cope with adversity, the ability to be coached, concentration, confidence, goal setting skill, ability to work effectively under pressure and the capacity to deal with worry or stress.

Taking baseball for example, Karl & Dorfman (2002) observed that when league baseball players, managers and coaches were asked about the quality that sets a great player apart from the rest, they will almost all unanimously affirm that it is the mental aspect of the game that makes the difference. In such a league as the baseball league, many players are at par in their physical abilities but what makes the difference between the winning side and the losing side has been recognized to be the mental attitude. Many successful athletes have been known to often consult personal sport psychologists to help them cope with the stressors and anxiety that accompany the preparation process and influence performance (Jones, 1995).

Some studies have been done to validate the influence of psychology in sports performance. Smith & Christensen (1995) for example, found a significant relationship between psychological skills and performance in position players and pitchers in the NCAA baseball minor league. They concluded from the study that confidence and achievement under pressure are two potent indicators of batting performance and that climaxing under pressure and boldness can be used to predict the earn run average (ERA) of pitchers.

In addition, an investigation was conducted to look into the use of mental training by NCAA division 1 baseball coaches (Clement, 2004). All the coaches that were interviewed agreed that psychological drills and training had positive roles they played on the teams and these coaches adopted some common mental techniques and exercises which include mental meetings, coaching staff modeling excellence, developing routines, specific goal setting and visualization, and relaxation techniques (Clement, 2004). “Most importantly, this study suggested that sports psychology and mental training might be the difference between success and failure at the collegiate and professional level of sport” (Bronson, 2010).

Another recent study by Cox et al (2010) examined the link between psychological strength and performance and it was asserted that psychological skills such as confidence and ability to cope with worry and stress could be predictors of subjective performance of any athlete. Cox et al (2010) also compared their study with similar ones and found related conclusions.

There is therefore sufficient evidence to back up Kentta and Hassman (2002) assertion in the psychological aspect of optimal performance because the field of sports psychology has continued to receive acceptance in different sporting activities because of the scientific basis of the benefits that such fields offer young and successful athletes. It will therefore be safe to assert that an athlete that takes time to develop psychological skills and can match such skills with his physical abilities will invariably stand out and show excellence in performance all other things being equal.

Sports psychologists have taken time to map out some basic psychological skills that an athlete must be determined to acquire that will amount to a better performance and these skills have been used in different sports with documented results.

Goal setting: This is one of the primary mental skills used by athletes (Carr 2006). According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), goal setting is important in achieving a “flow” experience which is the experience where an athlete achieves optimal performance.
Arousal Control: This is the psychological skill that an athlete will need in order to combat the anxiety that often comes with the game. According to Carr (2006), there are different ways to regulate arousal which are:
Breathing: This is useful in stressful situations. The athlete breaths in and out slowly which helps with oxygen intake and accelerates recovery. This is a practice that can help any athlete in times of pressure or dissatisfaction.

Muscle relaxation: Anxiety often causes muscles to be tense and tight. Muscle relaxation however helps to reduce this tension. An athlete should therefore learn to control anxiety by learning the technique of muscle relaxation whenever there is a stressful event or situation such as an injury or a loss. A tensed muscle will always inhibit performance because a relaxed muscle is important for physical activity especially for an athlete.

Positive Self Talk: This is another important psychological concept that can be used in the field of sport. Hardy et al (2001) tried to look into the what, where, why and when of self talk among athletes and it was observed that self talk is used during practice and competition. They further asserted that self talk can be used positively to increase motivation as well as self confidence in order to enhance performance. Here, the athlete encourages himself by using positive words and this has been shown to cause enough motivation to increase performance in sport.

Concentration and focus: It is important that an athlete concentrates and keeps his focus on the things that matter to his performance. There are different factors or issues that can come into play in sports and distract an athlete from his main goal. The uproar from spectators can get some athletes distracted so much that they may find it difficult to perform some easy tasks in a competition that they find easy to do on their own or in training. According to (Carr 2006), there are different mental skills that can be used to keep off such distractions and enhance performance and they include:

Mental Imagery: In this, an athlete creates and stores experiences in memory and is able to recall them. The memories are stored through all his senses including the senses of touch, sound and movement. The athlete can imagine pleasant situations that can motivate him to action and enhance his performance.

Cognitive Strategies: This involves the modification of the thought pattern of the athlete and involves strategies such as self talk that has been mentioned earlier.

Sports psychology has come a long way to become a vital aspect of different sporting activities and there is a need for athletes to maximize the benefits of psychological training in their respective sports because there seems to be an agreement by varying authors on the positive influence of psychology.

The role of nutrition is sports performance

Sports nutrition is another discipline that can be used to verify the statement of Kentta & Hassman (2002) about the multidisciplinary approach to the performance of athletes. There is a need to examine different literatures that have attempted to establish the relationship between nutrition and performance of athletes.

It is a common assumption that because an athlete is meant to be a quintessence of physical fitness, his nutritional status must be superior to the general population though this may not always be true (Grandjeur 1997). According to Grandjean (1997), proper nutrition is needed and essential for normal development and the maintenance of optimal health: nutrition can make the difference in performance for an excellent athlete assuming that all other factors are favorable.

There are documented researches that have been made on the positive influence of nutrition on the performance of athletes and it can be concluded that what athletes eat and drink can affect their health, body weight and composition, availability of substrate during exercise, duration of recovery after activity, and exercise performance (Joint Position 2000).Energy is usually needed for physical activity and the availability of this energy in adequate proportion and form will always invariably determine the performance of any athlete. “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine that physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition” (Joint Position 2000)

It should be the goal of an athlete to obtain sufficient amount of energy from food because achieving energy balance will increase performance. “Energy balance is defined as a state when energy intake (the sum of energy from food, fluids, and supplement products) equals energy expenditure (the sum of energy expended as basal metabolism, the thermic effect of food, and any voluntary physical activity)” (Swinburn & Ravussin 1993). From this, it can be elicited that any deficit in energy balance will invariably have a negative effect on performance.

In a study done to examine the influence of calorie intake pre-exercise on exercise performance, athletes were required to bike for 45 minutes and then sprint hard for another 15 minutes. It was found that when they were given 180 to 270 calorie snack about 5 minutes before the exercise, there was a noticeable improvement of up to 10% in the last 5 minutes and there was 20% improvement when they ate 4 hours before the exercise and then took snack 5 minutes before the exercise (Neufer 1987). This goes a long way to prove that the need for adequate calorie intake for an athlete cannot be overemphasized because it may be the singular factor that distinguishes a winning athlete from a talented one.

It is also important to note that the level of activity of any athlete at a given time should influence his/her diet because sports differ in the intensity of activity. It is imperative that an athlete understands the intensity of his activity and the diet that will provide him with the best nutrition for his activity level.

Macronutrient requirement

For an athlete to get the best nutrition, it is important that there is an understanding of the different nutrients and how they contribute to optimal performance.

“Data from the IOC-funded study showed an average energy intake for all athletes of various winter sports of approximately 2800 kcal with 61% being supplied by carbohydrates, 16 to 17% by protein, and 23 to 24% by fat” (Meyer & Simmons 2003). In a particular study done, it was found that in cross-country skiers, a high energy intake is required during training and competition with contributions of at least 60% from carbohydrates, 12 to 15% from protein and about 20-25% from fat (Meyer & Simmons 2003).


Carbohydrate provides a rich source of energy for everyone and athletes can depend on it for optimal performance. When there is an increase in the intensity of exercise, there is usually an associated increase in the input of carbohydrate to the energy pool (Brooks & Mercier 1994).

Carbohydrates are usually stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen which can be mobilized when there is energy need. The glycogen stored in the muscle is the primary source of energy during exercise while the pool in the liver provides energy for the brain. However, glycogen stores in the muscle (which is around 200 – 600g) and the liver (about 80 – 120g) including blood glucose are usually limited, and thus, require daily repletion through dietary means because in addition to the energy supply, carbohydrate has been shown to be useful in attenuating the stress-related immune response that occurs during and after intense exercise (Meyer & Simmons 2003).


Protein is also part of the energy store which means that an adequate intake will influence performance. Protein metabolism during exercise is usually multi-factorial because it is influenced by factors such as the intensity, duration and type of exercise, training environment, dietary protein and energy, and the age and sex of the individual (Butterfield 1987).

While carbohydrates remain the major nutrient that provides energy during intense activity, protein is the major nutrient important for adaptations in training and they are essential components of the muscle, cell membranes, hormones, antibodies, enzymes and other body components (Campbell nd).According to ISSN, any actively exercising person needs about 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (Kreider et al 2010).


“Fat contributes to the energy pool over a wide range of exercise intensities, being metabolized at somewhat the same absolute rate throughout the range; however, the proportion of energy contributed by fat decreases as exercise intensity increases because the contribution of carbohydrate increases” (Bergman et al 1999). Even though some fats are not beneficial, an athlete must identify the beneficial sources and use them to complement the needed calories.

“Research has clearly shown that not ingesting a sufficient amount of calories and/or enough of the right type of macronutrients may impede an athlete’s training adaptations while athletes who consume a balanced diet that meets energy needs can augment physiological training adaptations” (Kreider et al 2010). Any athlete that takes a diet that is energy deficient during training stands the risk of losing muscle mass as strength and becomes susceptible to illness (Kreider et al 2010)

Part b case study

Mr. Kuyt is a Professional Basket Ball player and a regime has been designed for him and his fellow team mates that incorporate the use of tested and trusted techniques in strengthening and maintaining performance in the game. The regime is based on a weekly plan that takes into consideration two different fields that have been shown to be important in enhancing performance of athletes.

Mr. Kuyt will have to observe all these techniques on a daily basis for a week and then continue with it every week. The training will be classified into two based on the fields which are Psychology and Nutrition.

Weekly Psychological Training Pattern

  • Day 1 Goal Setting

It is important that any high aiming athlete just like Mr. Kuyt begins the week by setting specific and practical goals that he intends to achieve. “Setting goals can help athletes focus on what’s most important, increase their effort and motivation to stick with their plan, consider new strategies regarding how to accomplish their goals and help them track their progress” (Blackmer n.d).

According to Pritchard (2000), the advantages of setting challenging but realistic goals are that the athlete gets motivated to try hard and his success at this will motivate him further and since the athlete can control his effort at maintaining the challenging goals, there is a reduction in goal-related stress.

Mr. Kuyt writes down his goal for the week which can include his training targets and his resolves.

  • Day 2 Positive self talk

Different studies have shown the effect of what we say on our outcomes. It is therefore important that Mr. Kuyt also recognizes this fact and uses self talk to his advantage. According to Blackmer (n.d), the key to using self talk as a tool for improving performance is for Mr. Kuyt to be able to carefully monitor what he says to himself so that he is able to leverage on this for a better performance. Mr. Kuyt begins this on the second day and evaluates himself every other second day of the following week on how he has been able to successfully apply this principle.

  • Day 3 Arousal Control

This is the factor that Mr. Kuyt needs to be able to make a free throw or last second shot with thousands of people shouting and millions watching in the television (Carr 2006). Here Mr, Kuyt learns to remain cool and calm during periods of anxiety and pressure and still try to bring out the best in him. According to Harris (1986), the simplest yet most central way for Mr. Kuyt to control anxiety is through breathing. He must learn to do this whenever he confronts any stressful event like the anticipation of a loss or injury.

Anxiety can also be the culprit of muscle tension. Mr. Kuyt must therefore also learn muscle relaxation as a way of battling anxiety because it can cause his muscles to be tight and rigid (Carr 2006)

  • Day 4 Concentration and focus

Some extremely talented athletes have failed to achieve their best not just because they do not have the skills but because they fail to focus on the “cues” that are important for an excellent performance (Carr 2006). Thus, Mr. Kuyt must take time to attain concentration and put his focus off the things around him that may distract him from achieving optimal performance.

  • Day 5 Imagery

“Imagery has long been associated with mental preparation in sport psychology and for good reason, as plenty of research demonstrates its potential value” ( Friesen & Orlick 2011). Imagery is the process through which sensory experiences are kept in memory and are recalled effortlessly without any external stimuli (Murphy 1996). It is therefore helpful that Mr. Kuyt follows up on his training by creating mental pictures of success to be able to motivate him to action.

  • Day 6 Break

This day, Mr. Kuyt takes a break from all the training. This is the day where he reflects on all he has been able to learn from the previous day and assesses himself on how far he has been able to keep up with his training.

  • Day 7 Meeting

According to Stavrou (n.d), athletes should meet with their team mates and coach at least once in a week and each meeting should have a specific content. Since the success of an athlete rests on the performance of his team, it is important that Mr. Kuyt meets with his team mates and coach and that they discuss issues that will further strengthen their psychological approach to the game.

Weekly Nutritional Training

It takes a lot of discipline and self control for an athlete to eat what he needs and not just what he wants or desires. It will therefore take Mr. Kuyt to be determined to monitor his diet everyday and take only things that will contribute to optimal performance.

Research over the last decade has indicated that athletes engaged in intense training need to ingest about two times the RDA of protein in their diet (1.5 to 2.0 g/kg/d) in order to maintain protein balance and 8-10g/kg/day of carbohydrate and the fat in the diet should not be more that 30% of the daily calorie intake (Joint Position 2000).

Mr. Kuyt who is 70kg will therefore need about 105-140 g of protein and about 560-700g of carbohydrate everyday to keep up with his calorie need and will then add the appropriate amount of fat. On days when Mr. Kuyt will have heavy trainings, he can take some snacks about 5 minutes before the exercise to supply him with enough calories to aid the exercise because as shown earlier, this has been proven to aid in performance.

In conclusion, consistent psychological training and a well informed nutritional plan are important in optimizing the performance of athletes across different sporting disciplines irrespective of the level of talent or physical activity. It can therefore be concluded that the approach of Kentta & Hassman (2002) as athletes being a “Psychosociophyiological System” has been validated by other authors and researches and there is therefore a need to establish these other disciplines as important tools in sports.


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