Sport psychology is a branch that provides support for athletes, both professionals and amateurs, to help them achieve the best results and develop (and sometimes restore) mental toughness.
Sport psychology as an element of sports medicine involves observation of athlete’s behaviour and analysis of factors that affect their successes and failures. Sport psychologists plan the development of achievements and try to model them in cooperation with the athlete so that the best possible result is finally achieved.
Support that is provided as part of physical activity and sport psychology services involves regular and cyclical analysis of the athlete’s work, including their lifestyle, behaviour patterns (including thinking patterns) and daily habits. It may also include necessary psychological interventions resulting from practising sport and, if the sport psychologist has experience in sport, analysis of the technique used by the athlete.
When to visit a doctor?
The purpose of psychology in sport is to increase the mental strength of athletes. That is why an appointment with a sport psychologist should be arranged by professional athletes who:
- Have a specific career path planned and need to improve their mental toughness.
- Do very well as far as their physical activity is concerned and have documented results, but to feel successful, they want to strengthen hitherto neglected areas, such as family relations and love relationships.
- Need a sport psychologist, because they are too self-confident. Sometimes, halfway through their competition calendar, when they have achieved their first major successes, but still have a lot of work ahead of them, they need to redefine or revise their current action plan and discuss possible risks.
In addition, physical activity psychology specialist consultations are also intended for the following:
- Amateur athletes who are considering becoming professionals. Sport psychology makes it possible for a person wanting to become a professional athlete to see the factors that will affect their career and modify them in time.
- Athletes who had an injury and want to devote the time necessary for successful recovery to mental training and improvement of their sports discipline techniques.
Parents of young athletes, who often have to make difficult decisions about health and education of their children. When sports activity takes a huge amount of time, many doubts arise.
There are no contraindications when it comes to taking advantage of sport psychology. However, persons who practise sport, athletes and physical activity enthusiasts, and their relatives will benefit most.
Sport psychology – what does the visit look like
Sessions with a sport psychologist involve primarily long discussions on various topics – not only those directly related to sport. An experienced sport psychology specialist takes into account all elements of athlete’s lifestyle and together with them designs a psychological process which makes it possible to fully enjoy physical activity and performance. A sport psychologist also helps to observe possible outcomes – in different variants – and design behaviour which will make it easier to achieve the goal, taking into account the results achieved so far.
Sessions with a sport psychologist should be a pleasant experience which over time will become a wise and supportive relationship full of acceptance. Only in such conditions changes are possible. That is why it is good to work with an experienced sport psychologist who at the same time knows a given sports discipline also in terms of its specificity and subject their work to professional analysis.
Sport psychology – how to prepare for the visit?
The first session with a sport psychologist does not require special preparations. For it to be successful, you must first of all be interested in the change that will take place through cooperation and involvement in the process. Sport psychology starts from the assumption that ‘everything starts in your head’, so when receiving support, you have to be attentive to your thoughts and words. But not to correct your behaviour or to be ashamed, but to give yourself and the sport psychologist a chance to act on your sensitive mental substance.
Sport psychology – what about the follow-up?
The most important thing when working with a sport psychologist is ‘homework’. This ‘homework’, given in various forms, is not intended to overburden the athlete, who already lives under pressure, but to make them focus on matters important for their development and performance. It includes mainly implementation of agreed solutions and checking how they work – hence their importance for the success of the whole process.
Work with a sport psychologist takes time and can interfere with achieving results. How to plan work with a sport psychologist so as not to lose training hours?
Indeed, sport psychology means individual work and regular sessions. However, it is worth treating it as a symbolic saw sharpening. They are an excellent way to improve mental toughness and achieve the goal based on a system of own proven actions and the mechanics of the discipline – not on intuition and strenuous workouts. Hardly anyone knows that sport psychology is a branch intended for champions and championship is achieved not only through sporting activity, but also thanks to a strong head.
Sometimes the help of a sport psychologist is used by athletes during the period of convalescence due to an injury. The time that seems to be lost as far as workout sessions are concerned, can be used for mental training and to improve tactics and technique in a given sports discipline.
When can I expect to reach my goals when I start working with a sport psychologist?
It depends on the goal you want to achieve. However, before you start working with a sport psychologist, you have to establish realistic conditions of this work, including realistic goals you want to achieve. If everything is properly organised, the results are visible already after the first session with a sport psychologist.
Is it better to use the support of a sport psychologist before or after the competition?
Each athlete needs a different kind of support and its form depends on the stage of their development. The sport psychologist’s role before the competition is different from that after the competition. At each stage, however, they want to improve athlete’s mental toughness so that they can make best of their power and sporting activity.
Does it make sense to work with a sport psychologist when the athlete is very young?
Yes, it does. Working with a sport psychologist is also important for young athletes. Given the fact that the brain of a young athlete is plastic and requires training just like their muscles, starting working with a sport psychologist early in their life will make them more resistant. In sports, it is often not the best athletes who win, but those who know how to concentrate and summon their strength in demanding and exhausting situations. When the majority of athletes feel extreme pressure, the athlete who has been given support by a sport psychologist stays calm and concentrated.