Sports Psychology: Fluke or Real?


Have you ever wondered if your favorite players improved performance was actually attributed to their sports psychologist? Whether or not he show "Necessary Roughness" was actually truthful? Or whether or not a mental state matters when it comes down to athletic performance? If so, then this is the blog for you.

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First of all, the question of 'what are sports psychologists?' must be answered.  According to the British Physiological Society, sports psychologists are psychologists who aim to help athletes prepare mentally for competition, training, and all of the psychological demands that come with sports. Their job is to be concerned with behaviors, well being, and the mental process of teams, individuals, or organizations involved in high intensity training according to Prospects, a graduate career website for the United Kingdom and Livestrong.


Whether they are helping an individual or a team, a pro athlete or a novice, they are able to help with injury recovery (allowing for players stress levels to remain low), coaches (in order to give them tactical advice as to how to handle their team and prepare themselves for victory), and they are even able to help referees cope with stressed based decision making.


The next question that has to be answered is where do sports psychologists work? Most sports psychologists tend to work as private practitioners, teachers, lecturers, or as full-time professional sports team members and work with a broad range of clients equipping them with mental strategies which prepare them with coping mechanisms for setbacks, injuries, etc.


Given this, is sports psychology important and does it actually work, or is it just a fluke? According to an article on sports medicine and psychology, UW Health, it is essential for athletes who want to achieve "peak athletic performance" and want to better their emotional and mental skills. The article also states that competition can cause some athletes to suffer from strong physical and mental reactions in ways that can hurt their performance. It also says that sports psychologists are also able to improve athletes' focus, confidence, optimal performance rate, etc. by using imagery (visualization of performance), attentional focus (a way to get athletes to minimize distractions), motivation (by analyzing both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators), and self-regulation (which enables athletes to control their thoughts, feeling, exertion, and performance outcome).  With all of this being said, it is not clear as to whether or not sports psychology actually works.



For Yankee's Third Baseman, Alex Rodriquez, he and his teammates both say it does an that it has improved his self talk and has helped him overcome tough games. But in an article from Slate News, it has been said that despite scientific sounding rhetoric that surrounds sports psychology, it still remains a qualitative science. However, the article continues to say that we have anecdotal proof that it works for players on the baseball field but no hard data yet.


Personally, I think the mental aspect of sports is huge, even greater than the physical aspect. A fellow student in our class discussed this topic about how much the mental game can really affect professional athletes. Obviously I am no division one or professional athlete, but growing up, I did play three sports, and as I got older, I definitely saw the affect that my mental outlook had on my game. Like many, if I missed a free throw or struck out, I would get down on myself and would continue to have that error replaying in my head, which then affected my next play. We hear the saying all the time, sports are 10% physical and 90% mental, a saying that I believe to be true. If an athlete doesn't have the right mind set, then they are not going to perform well, pure talent won't get them by. Sports psychologists, in my opinion have become more important and more well known in recent years because of the pressures that athletes of today are under. In your post, you described how these psychologists help improve emotional and mental skills, something that I believe can definitely be affected by the amount of technology in our society today. You used Alex Rodriguez as an example. Imagine all the scrutiny he is under and the amount of his life that is in the public eye, it doesn't matter that he is a superstar, it has to have an effect on him. I think sports psychologies can help in that regards as to calming the athlete's mind and making them completely focused on the task in front of them. Towards the end of your article, you mentioned that there are not many studies accessible today that can give us data as to a relationship between positive results of an athlete's on field performance after seeing a sports psychologist. I think it would be hard to actually do a study just because there are so many other factors and one athlete who saw a sports psychologist might be affected in a completely different way compared to another athlete. Also, there is always that idea of "chance" or luck that goes into a sporting event that could flaw the results. I do think this profession could really help an athlete, but this doctor can only do so much, the athlete has to put in the effort to want to get mentally stronger as well.

Thanks for your points Kelly! Currently I row for Penn State (and have played numerous sports in middle school and high school on top of rowing) and realize that the mental aspect really is what can help or hurt your game. I used to horse back ride competitively for 10 years and throughout that period of time I learned that the mental state in which I was in during my courses would usually change the outcome of how I placed. The mental aspect is a huge part of any sport. Thanks again for your feedback!

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