For athletes who feel nervous, anxious, or fearful on or before a game, sports psychology can explain some the reasons why this may happen. For example, too much stress can lead an athlete to underperform. Many times their internal doubts and lack of confidence will control their behavior. On the positive note, it is easy to make an athlete aware of his destructive thoughts and coach him to adjust his thinking patterns. A sports psychologist does not necessarily have to get to the root of the problem- just create awareness for the athlete to overcome these feeling and thoughts.
Sports psychology is the understanding of mental preparation, motivation, and visualization regarding sports-related performance. Visualization is an interesting concept in that it teaches the performer to imagine winning in many possible situations. This helps the athlete still achieve and remain calm, confident, and focused despite adversity or less than perfect conditions. Many athletes replay the mistakes they may have made in the sport. These repetitive thoughts become a hindrance to achieving. Sports psychology will teach the athlete the importance of thinking about doing something right in order for the body to follow mental instructions. This thought process is evident is runners who come from behind to win a race. Athletes need to understand their thought process when someone has passed them or they are falling behind. It is important to know and understand the self-talk that occurs at this time to modify the behavior to help you perform your best.
Lastly, athletes who are too nervous or not mentally engaged will not perform well. An athlete needs to be able to identify the amount of adrenaline he needs to perform well. Too much energy or adrenaline is just as destructive as too little. A combination of mental and physical preparation will assist the athlete in improving his performance. A certain amount of adrenaline before a game is normal and should not be confused with fear. Positive self-talk and mental imagery is a good strategy in staying focused. While self-talk is a simple sports psychology concept, it is one of the hardest to master. For athletes, negative internal messages and thoughts act as the biggest contributors to low performance. Sport psychologists work with athletes to stop and listen to these messages and replace them with more positive self-talk. Many mindfulness-based programs are designed to help people identify these dialogues and make changes. They make the connections between words and thoughts and the belief that the ultimate goal and results will have a positive outcome.
After defeating the negative self talk, one must create and repeat a positive phrase. Repeating this phrase during a variety of scenarios can improve performance and sports success. Attaching a positive mental image to your words is a good way to connect your message to your belief. At times, athletes require sports psychology to fully recover from an injury. Mental strategies can help an athlete heal faster, stay motivated, and maintain confidence. Positive imagery is an important part of the recovery process. If an athlete can picture his end goal and maintain an optimistic outlook, he can also control the stress associated with the injury.
The usual breathing and relaxation techniques also apply to the athlete. The act of staying calm will eventually happen automatically and immediately. Focusing on positive actions, thoughts, and behavior is a form of mental rehearsal where you can practice skills that will help you achieve.
An adrenaline rush can be positive or negative. For some people, adrenaline makes them feel out of control and defeated. For those athletes who are able to transfer the adrenaline to the body and muscles, they gain a feeling of being powerful and strong. Acknowledging these feelings and thoughts can help an athlete react quickly and appropriately to challenges.
Tapping into this energy is one way to use your mind to improve your physical performance. This skill will require time and practice, however once it is mastered, adrenaline can be used to increase energy output during a competition.
Sports Psychology Programs
The field of sports psychology is offered by many schools. Sports psychology programs are provided across the country on campus and online. Although program names may differ, with some schools calling their program Exercise and Sport Science, Kinesiology, Sport Studies, Health Science in Human Movement, Psychological Studies, Psychology of Sport or Human Physiology, they all aim to educate the student to enhance performance. Students who enter this field may find work in a variety of settings. Employment may be obtained in athletic departments, private practice, coaching, education, or exercise and health occupations. Positions within these occupations could include researcher, health advisor, sports psychology consultant, or clinical/counseling psychologist. A student may have a dual major in sports psychology and a mental health counseling degree. Completion of this program usually takes about three years. Students who wish to pursue a doctorate may later apply to a PsyD clinical psychology program, and some schools may allow the student to transfer some of their credits earned in the master’s program of sport psychology to the doctorate.
Many schools base their program on standards set by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) curriculum which is rooted in a base of applied sports psychology, normal and abnormal psychological functioning, and topics in physiological, motor, and psychosocial aspects of sport behavior. In addition, students will develop knowledge in theoretical foundations, research and evaluation, diversity, professional identity, helping relationships, and individual and group skills. Some sports psychology programs are recognized for their teaching, research, and consulting to individuals, coaches, and team athletes. Research is conducted in a wide range of topics such as enhancing sports performance, exercise psychology, fitness, sports participation, and peak performance at different age levels. Sports psychologists work to help individuals and teams master the mental training or sports, exercise, rehabilitation, and competition. This professional also may be involved in evaluating developmental disabilities. Another area of work for sports psychologists is in sports management firm as a recruiting agent. The job for this professional is to research, develop, and contact potential candidates. They may also perform executive searches and cultivate new client relationships.
Many people enter this field by with a bachelor’s in psychology degree. If one’s school offers courses in sports psychology, an interested student should take as many of these courses as possible to learn about the profession. Many people are able to work as a sports psychologist with just a bachelor’s degree; however others decide to earn a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology or sports psychology. At this time, there are few advanced degrees that focus on sports psychology, so for those who desire this educational path, they may pursue a graduate level psychology degree combined with a sports psychology internship.
Upon completing a sport psychology program, students are eligible to work under a provisional status, which is equivalent to a certified consultant, AASP. The typical cost for a full-time sports psychology program is about $33,000 a year, which includes tuition, books, and program fees.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a sports psychologist ranges from $64,000 – $106,000 per year. Most professionals are self-employed and enjoy higher salaries with flexible schedules. Although some sports psychologists work full-time for a professional sports team or school, these positions are hard to find. Some sports psychologists have found work as motivational speakers for industries outside of sports. Some employers will contract with this type of motivational speaker to discuss the ways to build peak performance and remove barriers to performance in the workplace.
Work environments for sports psychologists will typically be in a less structured, relaxed environment, but depending on the clientele, the work may be challenging due to the competitive nature of sports.