What is Sports Psychology?
Playing sports is a popular lifestyle choice in the United States. Every day, people throughout the nation are hitting the gym, running through their neighborhoods, climbing rock walls and keeping in shape in order to tackle their sport. People will go to great lengths in order to be the best athlete possible.
Increasingly, sports psychology is a vital part of keeping the athletic lifestyle intact. Sports psychology involves a variety of areas, such as: motivation (i.e. the ability to persevere and accomplish goals), counseling services with athletes and their families, assessing mental health and well-being, following a sport’s injury, and the subsequent rehabilitative process, along with talent evaluations, self-perceptions, in regards to excelling in life and at sports, self-regulatory behaviors, athletic performances, and exercise protocols.
Sports psychology consists of a broad range of topics such as: motivation, persistence, achievement and psychological factors, in relation to sport injuries and rehabilitation.
Sports psychology also involves counseling and coaching athletes (assessing their psychological and emotional well-being, examining their exercise regimen, understanding their self-perceptions, in regards to winning and losing, and improving their self-control when participating in sports).
In other words, sports psychology focuses on the mental and psychological factors associated with sports performance. Sports psychologists motivate athletes so that they can improve their athletic performance.
Sports psychology is intensely focused on the relationship between the mind and the body, particularly concerned with things particular to athletic competition like motivation to train harder and perform better during competition and team dynamics.
These concepts are often related to ideas talked about in behavioral psychology and other sub-fields within the overarching field of psychology; sports psychology simply applies them directly to athletes in great detail in order to get at a deeper and more helpful understanding of the role that an athlete’s mind plays in her successes.
What is the Role of a Sports Psychologist?
Sports psychologists counsel clients in order to enhance physical performance, focusing on the mental factors that contribute to better athleticism including subjects like team communication, toughness, coaching methods. With background in kinesiology as well as psychology, sports psychologists are experts in mental strategies and methods that improve athletes.
Both professional and non-professional athletes have big demands being placed on them in all directions. Day in and day out, they need to deal with a rigorous schedule that requires concentration, motivation, and commitment. At the same time, they are only human. Added pressures from such sources as personal or family problems, academic work if they are still in school, and poor team morale can make it hard for an athlete to focus despite knowing how important it is to do so.
Sports psychologists are specially trained to help athletes at all levels put the various obstacles they are facing in perspective so they can go out on the playing field with the confidence and determination to put forth their best effort. The following are some of the specific ways a competent sports psychologist can help athletes:
- Offer practical strategies like visualization, self-talk, and relaxation techniques.
- Help injured athletes set realistic goals, better tolerate pain, and motivate them to follow the recommended course of physical therapy or other regimen prescribed for them. If their injury forces them to be sidelined, help them deal with the setback and understand it is only temporary.
- In theory, every game on a team’s schedule is important, but it is only natural for teams to be more “up” for certain opponents than others. Not just at the high school and college level, but in major professional sports, too, this phenomenon happens frequently. A team can be looking past a relatively weak opponent with a bigger game on the horizon, or following an intensely fought game against a long-standing rival, it can have a subpar performance in the next game. The sports psychologist can help the players stay more consistently focused.
- Some sports organizations hire a sports psychologist to encourage youngsters to participate in competitive sports, not only because it is fun, but to build their self-esteem.
What Does It Take to Become a Sports Psychologist?
It is important to genuinely enjoy athletics before pursuing sports psychology. The profession is perfect for those who played sports throughout their formative years – cheerleaders, little leaguers, pop warner football players and high school athletes. Those with a love of sports as well as the human mind can thrive in this field.
How can one begin down the path towards the sports psychology profession? Like any psychologist, a Ph.D. is necessary. Because of this, becoming a sports psychologist takes years of challenging course work as well as hands-on learning experience. But with the correct attitude, the right academic learning and doctoral training, the goal is within reach.
The first step towards any type professional psychology is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A degree in psychology is ideal, although any degree is acceptable as long as a student can gain entry to a graduate school with the chosen major. A degree in Kinesiology would be an amazing asset if the student’s goal is to be a sports psychologist.
Picking a grad school is an important step for those who wish to be sports psychologists. Universities and colleges often specialize in certain programs – some specialize in school psychology, clinical psychology, child psychology, etc. It is important to do research when choosing where to pursue an advanced degree.
Talk to professors or professionals: Asking favorite professors where they gained an advanced degree is an easy way to get started. Professors can offer advice based on personal experience and insider knowledge, especially if familiar with sports psychology. Professionals who are already in the field can offer information concerning their own schooling and career.
Search the internet: Find out which schools offer specialized doctorate programs for sports psychology. Online degrees will be common in search results, but try to focus on traditional graduate schools as they offer more individual attention and a better learning environment.
Talk to admissions counselors: Once good schools with sports psychology programs have been identified, make contact with admissions counselors or professors at the school. They can offer information about letters of reference, GRE scores and other information that could give certain students an edge.Internships
Programs that help place students in internships may benefit the student greatly – many students that are pursuing clinical psychology, such as sports psychology doctorates, find it challenging to procure an internship.
Internships seem to be few and far between – you must use appic.org to find an internship– the recovering economy still allows little room for the hiring of interns and there are usually more candidates than there are internships. Internships can be found at non-profit agencies, research agencies, schools, community organizations and hospitals.
Licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, generally, to become a fully licensed, a sports psychologist must eventually complete 3,000 supervised hours of practice. Graduated doctoral students gain these hours through a combination of internships and entry level positions.
Training and Self-Development
Even after completing all the elements – degrees, internships, entry level jobs – sports psychologists should continue the trend of self-improvement.
According to the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, continued self-improvement or “sharpening the saw,” is an important practice. Attending professional trainings, symposiums and conventions are great ways to continue learning. Likewise, continuing physical activity or playing sports on community teams are both great ways to stay connected to the lifestyle of potential clients.