I am often asked by people “what is sport psychology?” Well I could give you the definition that is given in an academic setting, however, I feel it is better to try and expand upon it and give an example or two of what is actually being done during a session. Every one who does sport psychology will do things slightly different, and so while the definition is the same, the approach a sport psychologist takes becomes a big part of that definition.
Growing up playing as many sports as I could, I was taught that to become better you had to train hard and master the physical side of the sport. While this is true, one very important piece was left out of this equation, and that was as much as you train the body you have to also train the mind. You might ask what exactly has to be trained? Well, just like the muscles in your body have to be trained your mind has to be trained to help it with maintaining focus, staying adaptable, increasing confidence, not letting others get in your head, dealing with pressure, performance anxiety, nerves, breathing, visualization, etc. Your mind has to be trained so that it can withstand the demands of your sport just like your body. This is especially true once you get to a certain level and age, as the physical side becomes less of the determining factor for who succeeds and who doesn’t. At the highest levels of sports, it is the person with the best mental muscles who will be more successful.
So how do I go about helping a client with training their mind. Well just like the mind itself, it can be difficult to describe, so I am going to take one topic I do a lot of work with and share a trick that can be used to help. Confidence, is one of the most common topics someone will come to see me for, and while what is going on in ones head is important and will be worked on, there is one thing that someone can instantly start to change that will lead to more confidence! That one things is posture! How we carry ourselves plays a huge role in how we will feel and what we will believe. To help in understanding this I want to direct you to watch this video by Amy Cuddy. She did a TedTalk on it and it is a great starting point for understanding this simple, yet very effective technique.
Another area I work on with clients is identifying optimal performance habits and then helping them be more consistent with them. Optimal performance behaviors (habits) are things an athlete does either within the sport itself or away from the athletic endeavor that helps them to mentally be at their best when it matters most. Here are some examples:
- Mindfulness practice
- Watching funny movies
- Staying off of social media
- 9 hours of sleep
- visualization 5 mins each night
- Watch video of myself
- Self reflection practice
As you can see from the list these behaviors can cover a wide range of things. The idea is thinking for your self certain things you need to do daily, or during the week to be mentally strong, confident, happy, focused, calm, energized, and ready for whatever comes your way. For most athletes they usually include things that directly impact the main areas they struggle with the most. For example, I have had a lot of athletes who are always comparing themselves to others, so staying off of social media is probably a big one for them. There is no limit or right or wrong way to do this, but if you write them out, and then track them each day (not all will be done on a daily basis), you will start to see that your performance level correlates with how well and how many on the list you did. It also makes it more obvious when you have stopped doing something and helps to motivate you to get back on track. All athletes want consistency, well the key to consistency in your performance relates to the consistency of the behaviors you need to do in order to be at your best.
These are just two examples of what goes on during a session, and the areas that I work with. There is no limit, really anything that is not tangible that impacts the tangible aspects of an athletes performance falls under sport psychology (unless it is a severe condition, like addiction, eating disorders etc.).
If you wish to go deeper and unpack what you need to do on the mental side to be the athlete you know you can be, contact us today.