Fair question. Why would (should?) you be interested in sport psychology? Because you have seen the signs that indicate someone is struggling with performing. It may be you, a child, an athlete you coach, or anyone you have witnessed who has struggled to perform when it matters.
Here is a common scenario I hear from parents when they decide to contact me. They have reached a point of frustration and worry about their child. The kid is showing signs that he isn’t “having fun” anymore; he hesitates in key moments, gets angry easily during practices and games, or may even act like he just doesn’t care anymore – he’s just going through the motions. Often times the parents will also tell me that the coach has approached them with concerns and that she is contemplating restricting playing time, implies the athlete is “hurting the team”, or she is simply tired of the athlete not doing what is expected. This situation may sound all too familiar, and many people who seek my expertise are curious to know what I think is happening. In my experience, three key issues are likely at hand in some fashion or another.
For one, many athletes, regardless of age, have a deep-rooted fear of failure. While this may strike you as a “no duh”, the reality is that some of us become more afraid of a bad outcome than we anticipate being successful. This can be inhibiting in a way that an athlete begins to hold back, making the worry a self-fulfilling prophecy. The causes for this type of inner scenario can vary, but the fix is usually consistent. Developing greater self-confidence in one’s abilities to respond to the stressful elements of performing. However, turning this around can be almost impossible without guidance and coaching.
A second explanation for the situation outlined above may be that the athlete is a “perfectionist”. While this may seem like a positive early in childhood, as it often appears to adults as a keen interest in learning, winning, etc., the reality is that mistakes are viewed as the enemy of growth instead of being a part of the process. Again, the causes can vary, but the reality is that an adolescent (or adult) athlete may become so fixated on the worry of not being perfect, that she may seem to “lock up” in critical situations. Meanwhile, the internal reality is that she may instead be overcome by a focus on the outcome or result; or perhaps she has tied her self-worth to results and cannot handle anything less than perfection; or alternatively she may get lost in the details of the action, also known as “paralysis by analysis”. Working with a sport psychologist will likley help this athlete learn to manage the negative emotions, develop acceptance of herself, and to refocus on “being in the moment”.
A third possibility is one that eludes many adults who interact with adolescent athletes. The issue often is a lack of autonomy, or a perception that he has lost control over his involvement and progress in the sport. Without a sense of autonomy, even the most talented athletes can begin to lose interest and motivation. Instead, athletes in these situations begin to rebel or seek ways to “escape” the competitive environment. However, if an athlete is empowered with choices, and begins to feel a sense of ownership about his participation in training and competition, the level of commitment typically returns. Work with a sport psychology expert helps an athlete regain an understanding of their own autonomy through various activities that involve reflection, communication, and challenge.
So why work with a sport psychology professional? Because we have the unique ability to merge counseling strategies with coaching techniques. With an underlying theme of athlete-wellness, sport psychology experts are equipped with a scientific understanding of factors that influence performance, as well as methods to help an athlete make adjustments in dealing with the pressures of competing. So why wait? Make the call, bring in an expert.