Since success in sports is often based on an athlete’s mindset, a sports psychologist focuses on creating the right feelings, beliefs, habits, and perspectives about sports. In fact, the more elite an athlete, the more pressure they face. Working with an amateur, a sports psychologist can help them improve their game. Working with a professional, a sports psychologist can help them be the best in their game, since they may already have considerable physical talent. In other words, a sports psychologist can make an average athlete good, and a good athlete exceptional.
No doubt, a coach often helps an athlete develop the mental focus and toughness that they need, but sometimes the psychological help a coach offers is not enough. Speaking broadly, a coach helps an athlete develop strength, endurance, and attitude, but a sports psychologist helps an athlete develop the will to win, overcome setbacks, and make comebacks.
Helping Sports Players Overcome Psychological Problems
The essential work of a sports psychologist is to help athletes overcome psychological problems that arise from their sports. The more elite an athlete and the higher their level of professionalism, the more psychological problems they face, due to the pressure to perform. These psychological problems range from depression over an unexpected defeat to anxiety about upcoming games. It might even include a loss of focus, because the athlete is dealing with troubles at home or at work, that interfere with their game. Sometimes, these psychological problems may be due to difficulties in getting along with teammates, feeling tongue-tied, when dealing with reporters after a game, and moodiness and temper tantrum due to stress and fatigue. An athlete, dealing with these psychological problems, often feels a lack of motivation.
Generally speaking, there are three classes of psychological challenges that sports psychologists are particularly good at handling: motivation, pressure, and discouragement.
Motivation: Mental Techniques To Enhance Performance
A sports psychologist is trained in a variety of motivational strategies that will help an athlete. These mental enhancement techniques include hypnosis, visualization, self-talk, and deep relaxation. By using these and other techniques, a sports player is able to envision their goal more clearly, believe in themselves, and resolutely overcome hardships along the way.
Pressure: Teaching Athletes To Put Things In Perspective
Sports, by nature, are competitive events, and pressure arises from all sides. There is the pressure from coaches and teammates, there is the pressure from fans and the press, and there is the pressure of dealing with family relationships, friendships, and working relationships, while trying to excel as an athlete. Additionally, there are the psychological and physical pressures that arise from strenuous training, which causes fatigue, injuries, and mood swings. Finally, there is the pressure of performance – playing the big game in an arena, stadium, or court. A sports psychologist helps identify the pressures and teaches ways to help athletes cope with them.
Discouragement: Assisting Athletes In Overcoming Hardships & Challenges
There are many reasons why athletes may not be able to continue in their sports. Sometimes, the reason is obvious – an injury, inflammation, or sheer fatigue. Sometimes, the reasons are subtle, like an inability to stay motivated after a string of defeats. And sometimes, the reasons are temperamental – a loss of interest, distraction, a family crisis, a loss of enjoyment. A sports psychologist helps the athlete put their mental, emotional, physical, and social challenges in perspective, get a grip on themselves, and stay on track with their big goals.
A sports psychologist is someone who has a clinical, scientific, and applied knowledge of exercise and sports. This academic and experiential knowledge is used to help athletes recover their motivation, enhance their performance, and improve their mental toughness and sense of general well-being.