When you hear the words sport psychology or sport psychologist, what comes to mind?
If you asked this question to the next 10 people you saw, you’d likely get a lot of varied responses. That’s because sport psychology and the work of sport psychologists isn’t as well-known as say, a physical therapist, nutritionist, or sports coach, for example.
It’s time to dispel some common myths about sport psychology to give you the real deal about the field of sport psychology and its objectives. You’ll see that athletes, coaches, and any high performers can benefit from working with a sport psychology professional and the work they do is often quite hands-on and practical.
By the time you finish reading, you might even want to try it yourself…!
1. I Met with a Sport Psych Once, and It Didn’t Work.
Myth: Mental skills training can give you a quick fix.
Truth: Perfecting mental skills takes time and commitment, just like perfecting physical skills.
If you want to improve your free throw percentage from 50% to 80%, you have to practice. One shoot-around in the gym isn’t going to get you to your goal consistently. Sport psychology is the same way. It takes time and practice to see improvement. The more you commit to training your brain, the more results you’ll see.
Sessions with sport psychology consultants can be anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour, depending on what you need and the circumstances. They can be held on the field, in an office, or on the bus traveling to a game. The point is – it’s very flexible. So, making some time to work on your mental game with a sport psych doesn’t have to feel daunting. In fact, if you start little by little, before you know it, you’ll likely start seeing the payoff from working on your mental game, which is great motivation to keep at it. Just like physical training, you’ll see that this commitment yields results.
2. You’re a Head Case. Go See the Sport Psych.
Myth: Sport psych is for “problem” athletes.
Truth: Sport psychology consultants help good athletes become great.
We’re not here to fix problem athletes. If you’re seeing a sport psych, it’s because you’re committed to gaining a competitive edge; it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.
More and more, athletics programs and coaches embrace the value of sport psychology. It’s becoming more ingrained in programs, which helps players see sport psychology services as an added, valuable resource, rather than a stigma.
3. Lie Down on the Couch.
Myth: Sport psych is just like therapy; all you do is talk in a room.
Truth: Sport psych work is hands-on, engaging, and flexible.
Sport psychology might not be the kind of psychological therapy you’re picturing. There aren’t necessarily couches involved, and it’s likely a lot more engaging than you think.
A lot of sport psychology practitioners like to do their work in the athlete’s natural environment. So, replace that image of lying on a couch with your eyes closed with an image of a soccer field, a basketball court, or a pool. If they’re not at the field, sessions might be held via video chat, phone, or in an office (and yes, there might be a couch, but you don’t have to lie down if you don’t want to!).
4. Close Your Eyes.
Myth: It’s just boring.
Truth: Sport psych work focuses on competition, performance, and sports. How is that boring?!
Unless you’re doing visualization (which some athletes keep their eyes open for, anyway), there is no need to close your eyes in a sport psych session.
Sport psychology sessions are very engaging. You’ll be asked to recall your best games, your worst games, and anything in between. You’ll be asked what triggers you to lose your composure or how you plan to stay focused under pressure. You’ll discuss things like what you want to think about, focus on, tell yourself, and feel in order to perform your best consistently. Often, you’ll work through a performance notebook or journal to track your progress, or watch film of your own competitions or those of athletes you emulate.
You might see your sport psych on the sidelines of your practices or games, observing how you do in action. A lot of athletes even stop over for a quick check-in with their sport psych during breaks in practice or after practices and games.
Nothing boring here.
Now that you have a better idea of what sport psychology is (and better yet, what it isn’t), you can see that the goal of the field is to help good performers become great, and consistently great.
There is nothing boring about. It takes time and dedication to see the fruits of your labor, but the reward is sweet when you notice you feel confident and composed under pressure, you know how to stay focused on the task, and you know what to say to yourself to push through the final five minutes.
Time to get started.