Why we need more sport psychologists


Quite a lot of people just enjoy the thrill of the game, the dexterity displayed by athletes, and the trophies that come with winning a competition. Only a few people care about the mental health of athletes and their coaches when they are on the field of play or outside it. While one can explain the indifference of sports fans to the psychological health of their favorite teams and coaches, one struggles to find a compelling justification for athletes who disagree with the view that a team’s psychological state determines, to a large extent, how it will perform in a competition.

In this article, we shall explore some of the challenges athletes have to deal with behind the scene and what sports psychologists are trained to do or suggest about those challenges.

What does a sport psychologist do?

The main concern of a sports psychologist is to help athletes and teams improve their athletic performances by teaching them proven mental training strategies.

But the problem is a sizable number of athletes tend to believe that a visit to or a session with a sport psychologist is only necessary when they have big problems. But that’s only partially true. A sport psychologist will be open to helping athletes with big problems but that’s not all they have to offer. They can help with performance improvement, and since there’s always room for improvement in all human endeavors, a session with a sport psychologist ought to be an ongoing routine.

A sport psychologist is trained to teach team members the mental skills necessary for peak performance. He or she can also help athletes discover tricks and hacks they can deploy to get more positive results from their practice time.

A sport psychologist will find practical ways to teach athletes how to feel more confident, improve their focus, maintain calm under immense pressure, practice more efficiently, and how to develop effective pregame and game routines.

In sum, a sport psychologist helps athletes with improving their mind and game in competitive sporting events.

Fans, athletes, and coaches need to battle the stigma attached to consulting sport psychologist because no athlete has all it takes to stay in proper mental shape without an external support system. A sport psychologist is specifically trained to be part of that support system.

The real value of working with a sport psychologist is that athletes get the support necessary to reach their physical potential and deliver top notch performances during competitive games.

The fact that a sizable slice of sport psychologists were once athletes themselves means it’s easy for sports psychologists to empathize with the challenges being encountered by active athletes.

One cannot overstress the points stated in the preceding paragraphs especially when one realizes that many athletes perform poorly during competitive events while they perform better during practice.

If an athlete is in top shape during practice and goes on to perform below par during a competition, on many occasions, it’s not because the other side is superior, it’s because the athlete has certain psychological impediments to tackle. In fact, it’s like not a physical issue too.

It’s only unfortunate that despite how crucial psychological well-being is too competitive sports, a sizable number of athletes dread a visit to a sport psychologist owing to stigmatization informed by fallacies.

We need more sport psychologists, trained to bust these myths and help with improving the overall performance of athletes. The benefit of a visit to a sport psychologist has to be demonstrated in deeds and not just in words.

The problem with athletes

The fear of failure is the biggest reason why athletes choke under pressure; they obsess about the outcome of a game, especially on how such outcomes will affect their careers and reputation.

No athlete cherishes the thought of failing on the big stage, they don’t want to disappoint their teammates, fans, family members, coaches, management, to mention a few.

Researches in psychology have shown that athletes who choke under pressure don’t perform to the potential they’ve shown in fewer tenses scenarios.

The urge to play things safe makes athletes over-control their performance and by so doing, their performance becomes robotic and lacking in dynamism.

This state of affairs is made worse by the fact that most athletes fail to practice under competitive circumstances. As a result, they find the reality of competition overwhelming.

A sport psychologist’s advice to athletes

For athletes and coaches who worry about choking under competitive pressure, sports psychologists advise that there’s a need to close the gap between practice and the competitive environment.

In other words, athletes and coaches are expected to attempt a near simulation of what the real competition will feel like. This is because athletes will immensely benefit if they become familiar or used to the feelings native to competitions.

Closing the gap between practice camp and the actual competition also means athletes will understand that there will always be people watching and they may or may not have unsavory thoughts about their performances. And there’s little, if anything, they can do about it.

Sports psychologists also advise athletes to learn how to manage doubts and anxiety-provoking thoughts.

Worries about losing must be kept in check. Athletes also have to find a way to manage the high expectations they place on themselves. They should resist perfectionism as it is often the enemy of progress.

Meanwhile, on other occasions, athletes feel certain challenges are impossible to overcome and that failing leads to despondency or adversity.

Adversity, as felt by athletes, leads to anger, frustration, and feelings of dejection.

For example, the fact that a coach keeps a player on the bench for a long time, the reasons notwithstanding, can adversely affect such a player’s self-esteem and competitive drive.

Sport psychologists can help athletes overcome these feelings of adversity. To overcome adversity, an athlete needs to come to terms with the fact that no matter what he or she is going through, some athlete has faced similar ordeals in the past and if he or she chooses to be optimistic, there are examples of people who triumphed over those ordeals.

The awareness that others have experienced similar or worse ordeals in the past can buoy an initially intimidated athlete.

The key to triumphing over adversity, as an athlete, is by developing mental toughness. At least, a qualified sports psychologist will tell you that much.

Mental toughness is demonstrated in multifarious ways but it all boils down to knowing that there’s always a way out of difficulty, if one maintains the right course of action.

Wrapping Up

2020 was a tough year for athletes and coaches, and the whole sporting world, all over the globe. This is thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the adverse effect it had on athletes and their way of life.

The Pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for more sport psychologists. We need people who are well trained to help athletes deal with the realities of this era.

Ultimately, sport psychology is all about supporting athletes in the very essential ‘psychological department’ and even though there’s a lot of stigma around the services rendered by sports psychologists, there’s no better time than now to get more sport psychologists interfacing, routinely, with our athletes.