What is Sports Psychology?
Sport Psychology, Defined
The study of behavior factors that influence and are influenced by active participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity is called sports psychology.
Psychology in sport works with the mental aspects of sport performance such as improving mental toughness, regaining composure, increasing confidence or refining focus. Coaches focus on the strategic and physical components of competition through skill development and routine practice. However, sports psychology professionals strive to enhance the minds of athletes to help them identify the internal and external triggers that impact performance. As a result of mental game coaching, athletes are more mentally equipped to handle the pressures of competition, overcome negative thoughts or beliefs, enter the zone more quickly and remain focused for longer periods of time. All of these skills lead to improved performance and a stronger, champion mindset!
When is Sports Psychology Helpful to Athletes?
Athletes, parents and coaches look to sports psychology professionals to assist in the development of a strong, athletic mindset. Psychology in sport can:
- Improve Performance
When an athlete or team practices hard, knows the physical aspects of the sport, but his or her performance seems to have reached a plateau, a sports psychology professional can help to identify any mental obstacles that might be hinder the athlete from reaching their full performance potential. It can also improve performance if an athlete seems to perform well in practice, but their performance declines during competition.
- Develop Mechanisms to Better Cope with Competitive Pressure
Athletes of all levels feel varying degrees of pressure/anxiety during competition. Such pressures may stem from external expectations (such as approval from a parent, teammate or coach) as well as the athlete’s own expectations regarding performance. Sport psychology professionals provide athletes with strategies and tools to overcome pressure and anxiety that often is associated with performance.
- Provide Motivation and Inspiration for Youth Sport Participants
Young athletes, parents and coaches in youth athletics may consult a sport psychology professional for education about improving the joy and satisfaction gained from competition. They may also consult a sport psychology professional to learn how to incorporate positive and inspirational role models designed to promote development of healthy self-esteem associated with athletic success.
- Assist with Injury Rehabilitation
After injury, many athletes must adjust to temporary non-participant status, experience challenges with self-efficacy, adhere to often-rigorous physical therapy, tolerate pain, or other issues. In some cases, an injury may bring up fears of re-injury that may cause an athlete to play more conservatively than normal which adversely impacts performance. Sport psychology professionals can provide guidance and support as well as address mental obstacles such as fear during this often challenging rehabilitation process.
- Boost Motivation in Exercise Programs
Making time for exercise, or even keeping up with a regular exercise routine can be challenging, especially when there are both life and athletic demands. Sports psychology professionals can help provide the needed motivational boost to help athletes with issues that get in the way of achieving exercise, fitness, health and/or weight management goals. A sport psychology professional may address issues such as self-image and self-esteem, setting realistic goals and so forth.
- Ease the Transition from Participatory to Non-Participatory Athletic Status
Serious athletes invest a lot of time, energy and physical equity in the pursuit of sport enjoyment. Often, an identity or way of life is attached to the participation in athletics. When faced with the reality that sports participation is no longer possible due to injury, age, health or other issues, coping with this life event can be difficult. A sport psychology professional can help by guiding and counseling participates through this transition process.
- Bring Life Balance into Perspective
Personal problems or concerns can adversely influence exercise and athletic performance. For example, the athlete who is worried about relationship or financial issues may have difficulty focusing during competition. Athletes often find that mental game coaching or sports psychology counseling helps to put things in perspective and allows for greater satisfaction in life, career transition, and time management. Professionals who are trained in these specific areas can often provide this often overlooked yet much needed support.
What services are provided by a sport psychology professional?
Sport psychology professionals work with individuals, groups and organizations in the psychological factors which affect sport, exercise and physical activity such as:
- Confidence Development
- Focus/Concentration Skills
- Composure in Competitive Environments
- Goal Setting
- Pre-Game Routine Development
- Positive Self Talk
- Distraction Control
- Tool for Relaxation
- Solutions to Burnout
- Parent Education
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Is sports psychology right for me?
Sports psychology is most effective for serious athletes and sports enthusiasts who are able to:
- Demonstrate passion for their sport/activity
- Receive unbiased feedback regarding performance
- Learn and focus on change (both thoughts and behaviors)
- Focus on results rather than on expectations
- Seek confidential, responsible assistance on an individual level
What results are produced as a result of receiving sports psychology services?
Results vary from athlete to athlete, much like physical talent can vary between athletes. How well sports psychology will work for you will largely depend on your acceptance, implementation and dedication to sports psychology techniques and principles. The most common outcomes or results of mental toughness training are:
- Increased passion and enthusiasm for sport participation
- Increased performance through goal setting
- Improved ability to focus and concentrate
- Reduction in injury recuperation time
- Reduction in fatigue while competing
- Improved performance during pressure situations