The Sport Information Resource Centre
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The Sport Information Resource Centre

Today’s athletes experience a variety of pressures and stress when it comes to sport performance. Many athletes, teams and coaches are taking advantage of sport psychology professionals to aid them in achieving their performance goals. As such sport psychologists are becoming more and more accepted as a regular part of the coaching and support staff for teams and individual athletes. It is recognized that the mind needs to work as optimally as the body for successful performance.

Ideally the sport psychologist works in concert with the coach. Integrating sport psychology into the coaching aspect means both the coach and athlete are trained and aligned in the skills being taught. Sport psychology supports athletes from two main perspectives: (1) to provide assistance in mental skills training for performance success; and (2) to provide psychological therapy to deal with underlying issues that affect the athlete or team. On the mental skills side of the equation, the sport psychologist works to help athletes overcome pressures (from coach, parent or themselves) and to teach techniques and strategies to improve performance. From the therapy perspective the sport psychologist uses behavioural therapies to address the emotional well-being of the athlete and provide coping strategies.

The goals of Mental Skills training are to help athletes:

  • Improve the mental side of performance – confidence, focus, composure, intensity, and trust in performance preparation.
  • Mentally prepare for competition – these are many of the areas mentioned above, but focusing explicitly on their relation to a specific event/competition/situation.
  • Develop pregame routines – skills or routines to be used to centre the athlete before competition, focus on the process rather than the outcome, and to be proactive in their confidence.
  • Improve practice efficiency – for athletes with limited practice time, being able to understand the principles of learning and performance will help them get the most out of training sessions.

Mental skills may involve exercises around mental imagery, goal development, concentration skills, anxiety and arousal control, and/or relaxation techniques.

Psychological Therapy can help with:

  • Coping with performance fears – fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, performance slumps, and general performance anxiety.
  • Team building – analysing how the team works together, develops team cohesion, develops team spirit, communicates, and/or develops leadership.
  • Mental health – depression, anxiety, perfectionism, self-image, resilience etc.
  • Lifestyle management – eating, sleeping, relaxing, socializing and relationships can all be stressful areas.
  • Return from injury – shock and/or depression about the injury itself, stress of not returning to pre-injury performance levels, fear of re-injury, remaining part of the team even though not competing, etc.
  • Comebacks – return to sport after a life event, a retirement or at the beginning of a new competition cycle.

The goal of sport psychology is to help the athlete understand that sport performance involves a process and, initially, to focus on getting the process right rather than focusing on the result. When high level performance is achieved, then more of a balance should exist between focusing on process as on results. There are many pressures that come with all levels of sport. Sport psychologists can assess, manage, and teach athletes, teams, coaches, and families how to develop strategies and skills to cope with the variety of mind-related areas of sport.

References

Chapman, L. (2015). The Roles of a Sports Psychologist. Prezi retrieved from the Internet October 6, 2016.

Common Psychological Skills in the Field of Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology. Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Retrieved from the Internet October 6, 2016.

Sport Psychologists. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from the Internet October 6, 2016.

What Do Sports Psychologists Do? Peak Performance Sports. Retrieved from the Internet October 4, 2016.

What sports psychologists do for Olympic athletes that coaches can’t. Quartz. Retrieved from the Internet October 6, 2016.



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