Why You May Need a Sport Psychologist

Why You May Need a Sport Psychologist

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Why You May Need a Sport Psychologist
Photo credit to Chicago Tribune

An athlete, who I will call Tom, seeks a sports psychologist (SP) to improve his basketball game. Some of the dialogue goes like this:
Tom: I’m having problems focusing and feel too anxious while I’m playing (basketball).
SP: Take a moment to recall a game when the problem of focusing and anxiety happened. I’m going to line up 7 small cups. I want you to put the problem thoughts on separate pieces of paper and put one in a cup until all the cups are full.
Tom: I have more than 7.
SP: That’s okay. We can start with the first 7 thoughts that come to mind. I am going to lay two pieces of paper on the floor. One will say “I have control of these” and the other paper will say “I do not have control of these.” I want you to read each statement aloud and then place the cup with that thought on one of the two sheets that it best matches.IMG_9317
Tell me what each one says.

  1. I worry what coach is thinking
  2. I hope I don’t miss an easy shot.
  3. My teammate looks made. I’m worried I screwed up the play.
  4. I have to make more precise cuts.
  5. The ref is really not making good calls.
  6. I hope my parents are not embarrassed about watching me play.
  7. My dad gets mad at me when I make mistakes

SP: Let’s talk about each one and where you put them on these two sheets and figure out how to focus on what matters.
As you can imagine, the majority of the cups were on the page titled “I do not have control of these.” The above is a short window into how a sports psychologist might begin to work with an athlete to build focus into his mental game.

What Is a Sports Psychologist?

A sports psychologist is a professional that helps athletes develop the mental tools to improve their overall performance. This person can also assist with helping athletes know here to put their focus during with rigorous training and when competing. Sports psychologists can also help athletes work through coach and teammate conflicts as well as figure out how best to balance sport and other life demands.
There are many services a sports psychologist can offer depending on their training. Examples include helping athletes deal with the psychological and social aspects of injury rehabilitation, coping with disordered eating patterns and performance anxiety. Athletes can also get help for off-the-field problems like career transitions out of the sport. Finally, some sports psychologists focus more on teamwork and helping teams with chemistry, group dynamics or improving communication skills.
brainlifttingThese trained professionals can also help athletes improve their performance. There are several ways in which psychologists can contribute:

  • They can assist athletes with learning to cope with high-pressure situations. Taking part in sports competitions can be stressful. Coaches and family members can put pressure on athletes to succeed. Psychologists can help athletes cope with this pressure, thus helping them thrive despite the increased stress of competitions.
  • They can provide individual counseling sessions during physical recovery and therapy. Recovering from an injury can be a painful and daunting time for athletes. Psychologists can encourage them to stick to the prescribed physical therapy regimen and help them develop coping skills, like a mental rehearsal, to mentally prepare for pain the in the process as well as the return to sport.
  • They can encourage athletes to improve their performance. There are many mental techniques that can prompt anyone to overcome obstacles. Breathing and focus exercises help athletes push through difficult situations.
  • They can educate coaches, parents, and teachers. It is vital to remember that there are fun and enjoyment in sports. Regular physical activity is essential to good health. Helping coaches and parents know how to best support athletes can be vital to good mental health.

What Does a Sports Psychologist Study?

Sports psychologists are usually hired by clubs, universities, and teams. Clinical psychology programs usually offer sport psychology courses. Applied psychology students take courses on cognitive-affective and social causes of behavior. Students can choose to concentrate on sports psychology during counseling or clinical psychology programs. Graduates will have knowledge of treating psychological disturbances. They will also be trained on how to use psychology methodologies and uphold professional standards.
A sports psychology program will also provide information about sport-related issues.  This means some courses should address the physiological bases of the sport.

What Qualifications Does a Sports Psychologist Need?

Sports psychologists are usually clinical or counseling psychologists that specialize in sports psychology. They can choose to take specific sport psychology classes during their studies or after they graduate. They must be licensed in order to practice sports psychology and therapy. If they do not specialize in this subject during their studies they can obtain these courses or experiences though ongoing coursework after their degree is finished. Some professional organizations offer certifications in sports psychology, such as the Association for Applied Sports Psychology (AASP).
The Association for Applied Sports Psychology is an organization that certifies exercise and sports professionals. Students interested in becoming certified sports professionals can do so via this association. The American Psychological Association (APA) also provides programs for sports psychology certification.
Not all sports and exercise professionals are psychologists or therapists. Psychologists that take part in specialized post-doctoral training are the only ones allowed to provide counseling and therapy sessions to athletes. Often these individuals must be licensed by the state where they practice as the term “psychologist” is considered a protected term meaning that in order to use the title certain standards of training have to be met. These professionals learn how to help athletes improve their well-being and performance levels. They receive special training and pass comprehensive exams before being licensed.
If you are looking for a sports psychologist to help you ask for names of people. Athletes and coaches may know qualified professionals that you can contact. Always ask about a person’s qualifications before requesting their services.
If a sports and exercise professional is accredited by a trusted organization, it’s safer to employ his or her services. The American Psychological Association or the Association for Applied Sports Psychology are reliable organizations that provide accreditation for sports psychologists.
runner smiling

Why Work With a Sports Psychologist?

If you are training for a competition or working out, a sport psychologist could help you.
Remember sport psychologists can do more than discuss and treat problems. They can help good athletes improve aspects of their mental game. Some of the things that they can help you work on even if you are not a professional athlete:

  • Improve your mental readiness and endurance during workouts.
  • Learn mental exercises to help you push through the physical pain that comes with a workout.
  • Stay motivated and fulfill your goals. Commit to a regular exercise routine.
  • Improve your self-esteem and general well-being.


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