Sports Sophrology: A Mindset, an Attitude, Techniques
Article written by Eric Medaets, physiotherapist and sports sophrologist. Eric, who has been collaborating with Psychosport since its inception, is one of the leading experts in sports sophrology and has been a mental trainer for over 45 years.
What is Sophrology?
It was in 1960 that Professor Alfonso Caycedo, a Spanish neuropsychiatrist of Colombian origin, founded his method which he named sophrology.
This neologism comes from Greek:
- SOS: harmony, balance
- PHREN: consciousness, mind
- LOGOS: study, science
Influenced by hypnosis, Schultz’s autogenic training, his travels in the East, and phenomenological philosophy, Caycedo blended several complementary approaches to create his body-mediated method.
For Caycedo, sophrology is “the study of all modifications of consciousness, achieved through psychological, physical, or chemical means, as well as the study of their application possibilities in therapy, prophylaxis, pedagogy…”
Consciousness is the keyword in sophrology!
Initially aimed solely at the medical field, sophrology later extended to paramedical professions and eventually encompassed various domains: prophylactic, pedagogical, sports-related…
It comprises a set of techniques and a way of life based on four principles and Husserl’s phenomenological reduction: non-judgment accompanies the entire sophrological process.
Sophrology in Sports: Basic Principles
The sophrological attitude allows us to avoid preconceptions and remain non-judgmental.
There are four key principles in sports sophrology.
1. Principle of Positive Action in Sports Sophrology
“Any positive action directed towards consciousness has a positive impact on all psychic elements.” Alfonso Caycedo
Positive bodily attitude can positively influence the state of mind and vice versa:
the “psychological” and the “physical” are inseparable, in constant interaction.
Negativity is put aside to become aware of all positive elements and their impact on us, both physically and mentally… Emphasis is always on what is going well, what is working, and on progress made.
How much time does a coach spend developing the abilities, strengths of their athlete or team?
Aren’t they too focused on corrections, the athlete’s weaknesses… striving for improvement?
Ask the athlete to list their strengths and weaknesses in two columns… see which one gets filled…
Awareness and development of strengths contribute to enhancing the athlete’s self-esteem and self-confidence!
Self-confidence, one of the essential mental skills for performance!
2. Principle of Integration of Body Schema as Experienced Reality in Sports Sophrology
The body schema is a more or less conscious representation of the body, the body’s position in space, as well as the position of different body segments.
This integration contributes to executing a coordinated sports gesture as well as orienting oneself in space to find one’s place in the team, in a game plan: in tactics.
It’s a physiological notion that contributes to the formation of the body image, a psychological aspect that’s both unified and diversified, synthetic and analytical: it’s the representation we have of our body.
The various sensory, exteroceptive (visual, tactile, and auditory), and interoceptive, proprioceptive (kinesthetic and proprioceptive) information, especially vestibular, muscular, articular, tendinous, will develop body awareness at rest and in motion.
Perceiving bodily sensations in action and during recovery will bring greater control over sports gestures, making them more effective and efficient.
Integrating the athlete’s “tool” into their body schema will be facilitated. The racket, the stick, skis, motorcycle, car… are extensions of the athlete’s body.
“The concept of ‘body’ inherently includes psychic phenomena since the body and mind are inseparable, and the body cannot be conceived as not being inhabited.” Dr. H. Boon
3. Principle of Objective Reality in Sports Sophrology
It allows one to get as close as possible to reality as it is, in relation to oneself, others, the environment, the situation, the overall context.
This awareness facilitates stepping back from things, events, competitions, others’ expectations and helps bring them back to their proper proportions…
Self-assessing the performance achieved, compared to the coach’s debriefing, will align perception with the analysis of reality.
For the athlete, objective reality also means knowing their current potential in the overall context of their competition, allowing them to adapt to new situations.
To put the impact of a performance in perspective: “separating what I do from who I am.”
Sophrology is practiced without artifice, in the reality of the environment, context, situation, present moment.
4. Principle of Adaptability in Sports Sophrology
Complementary to the principle of objective reality, it reinforces the alliance with the athlete to align with their expectations.
The “sophrologist,” free from rigid protocols, adapts to the athlete (or group of athletes), according to their request when they arrive.
The practiced technique is always adapted to the situation, the overall context, here and now.
Integrated by the athlete, adaptability will help them immediately adjust to different situations experienced in competition, in relation to opponents, environmental conditions, contexts… The intuition that allows a player to immediately adapt to a new situation will be liberated, inhibiting overthinking that would paralyze action.
- Avoid preconceptions, prejudices, certain limiting beliefs: “it’s my weak point…” “We never win on this field.”
- Experience events as if it were the first time: set aside preconceptions!
- Evaluate a performance rather than judging the athlete: return to rational thinking as soon as possible.
Techniques in Sports Sophrology
The techniques in sports sophrology contribute to developing and anchoring the sophrological attitude.
They are static techniques inspired by the West and dynamic techniques inspired by the East.
Main Western Influences
E. Jacobson’s progressive and differential relaxation (physiological) and J.H. Schultz’s autogenic training (psychological) form the basis of current relaxation methods.
These two essential approaches will be updated and adapted in our practices with the spirit of sophrology.
Caycedo’s dynamic relaxation:
o Yoga for the RDC I, concentrative. It activates awareness of the body in motion and the sensations of recovery. The alternation between action and recovery is the foundation of all physical performance. The kinesthetic sense is fully awakened!
o Tibetan Buddhism for RDC II, contemplative. It activates awareness of the relationship between the athlete and the external world through the activation of the five senses. The sixth sense, proprioception, is developed through slow movements performed with full awareness of the body’s position in space…
o Japanese Zen for RDC III, meditative. It’s meditation in sophrology.
The athlete can meditate on a theme of their choice: a skill or any other meditation subject.
RDC IV, a synthesis of the first three degrees with the awareness and activation of personal values. The athlete’s awareness and activation of their own values in sports and life.
The first three degrees of Caycedo’s Dynamic Relaxation are an evolution that progresses from concentration to meditation through contemplation.
The Temporal Tridimension
Numerous practices, combining relaxation and mental imagery, address the past, the present, and the future.
- The past: to relive competitions, particularly well-played game sequences…
- The present: to activate the positive experience of the present moment, to manage recovery times. To facilitate overall recovery: physical and mental.
- The future: to prepare for upcoming competitions, game sequences.
Mental Imagery Practiced in Sophrology
o External, dissociated visualizations: seeing oneself in action, being a spectator of the action.
o Internal, associated visualizations: acting, being an actor in the action.
o Motor simulations: kinesthetic, proprioceptive, feeling the movements.
o Motor rehearsals: mentally rehearsing movements, game patterns…
These are used in all forms during injury management:
The past: to anchor the level of play before the injury.
The present: to accompany potential rehabilitation.
The future: to prepare for a return to training, competition after an injury.
Sophrological Training with Athletes
Sophrological Training with Athletes
Sophrology is lived and trained, especially with athletes in individual or collective training.
Individual Sophrological Training in Sports: Specific Work
• To address a specific athlete’s need: for example, a goalkeeper.
• To resolve a situation.
• Facilitate learning, development, or modification of a technical gesture.
• To automate a tactic, through mental imagery, for individual or team sports.
• To assimilate and integrate a tactical pattern based on the opponent.
Collective Sophrological Training in Sports: Foundational Work
• Allows experimenting with the basic practices of sophrology that can be used more specifically if needed.
• The group, with its own dynamics, is very supportive and holds a special place in individual sports.
• Individual athletes in a group can share their experiences and put things into perspective… They realize that others often experience the same feelings!
• Awareness is reinforced by verbalizing participants’ experiences: “Oh, I also perceived that, but I hadn’t realized it.”
• Speaking freely without fear of judgment from others strengthens self-confidence: it’s existing as an individual, unique, within a group!
• Using “I” instead of “we” to express one’s experience.
• Moving from a fragile “seeming” to a solid “being.”
• Automating team tactics and game systems.
• Training for relaxation response using relaxation techniques.
• Developing and training mental imagery, motor rehearsals.
• The coach’s participation is a plus. It enhances mental training on a daily basis: their participation adds value.
ð Group work doesn’t exclude individual work and vice versa: they complement each other.
The Approach of Sophrology in Sports Contact
Far from being a universal panacea, sophrology remains an interesting approach, complementary to the basic skills of the “sophrologist.”
The sophrologist must know their own limits well and remain in the objective reality of their role and place within the team that supports the athlete.
The ideal is to work in perfect symbiosis with coaches who can integrate sophrological practices into situations, on the field.
Fundamental sophrology, which stops at the first four degrees of Dynamic Relaxation, is a fantastic toolbox and a mindset open to sports practice… and to everyday life.
Sophrological training in no way excludes psychological support for the athlete.
This bodily approach to mental training resonates with athletes; their body is their tool!
By listening to their bodies, by embracing sensations, they can better manage their physical foundation and thus avoid being in the “red zone.”
Sophrological training greatly complements a psychological approach:
the body and mind are inseparable.
Fundamental sophrology is an attitude toward life, a mindset, and a set of relaxation and mental imagery techniques.
A sophrologist isn’t a philosopher, a psychologist, a therapist, a coach, a mental trainer, a teacher, an artist, a closed individual, a “judge,” a person of power, a holder of truth, a provider of beliefs, a guru, a manipulator…
But any of these can be sophrologists!
It’s up to you to experiment without preconceptions!
Article written by Eric MEDAETS, physiotherapist and Sophrologist.
Eric has 45 years of experience as a sophrologist in high-level sports. A trainer at the Belgian School of Sophrology, he regularly collaborates with Psychosport. Author of several books, here’s the latest, written in collaboration with Prof. Henri Boon: Sophrology and Sports Training. Editions Soteca 2021.