What is Sport Psychology?

When I ask new athlete clients what they know about sport psychology, they usually say something along the lines of “I know it’s about the mental game” or “I’m just hoping it will help me get out of my head.”

When I was a professor, I would ask my undergrad sport psychology students the same question. The answers were similar.

  • “It’s about getting into an athlete’s head.”
  • “You do imagery and confidence techniques.”
  • “I just know a lot of Olympic athletes see a sport psychologist.”
  • “Hello, it’s sports and psych.” College students are hilarious. 🙂

It’s understandable to not know. Sport psychology is a new(ish) field. Most people haven’t been in a sport psychology session so they have no idea what to expect when seeing a sport psychologist or sport counselor. Sometimes coaches and athletic staff don’t even really know.

At an event supporting student-athlete mental health a coach said to me, “You run a sport psychology practice?! Well, you’re a rare bird.” I prefer unicorn, but compliment accepted.

It’s become clear that people aren’t clear on what exactly we do in this field, so I thought I’d give a bit of an overview of applied sport psychology.

According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), the goal of sport psychology is to “facilitate optimal involvement, performance, and enjoyment in sport and exercise.”

Sport Psychology: ESPN Style

First there’s the SportsCenter Top 10 side of sport psychology. This is geared towards getting your best performance, every performance. It’s where sport psychologists help develop your mental game plan. Your work with a sport psychologist or mental performance consultant would cover topics like confidencecomposure, imagery, focus, goal setting (and getting), pre-performance routines, mindfulness, and even recovering from burnout.

Well-meaning individuals will tell you to “focus!” but they don’t tell you HOW to focus. That’s what sport psychologists do. How to focus. How to get and stay confident. How to maintain composure…even when the ref blows the call. How to lessen the nerves but maintain game time intensity.

Next there’s the E:60, Outside the Lines, 30 for 30 side of sport psychology. This is about you as a person: being your best off the court and navigating the pressure and emotional challenges that come with being an athlete. Sport psychologists cover topics like communicating with teammates, coaches, and professors, working through the mental side of injury and career transition, and developing an identity outside of sport.

When you get hurt, have a changing role on the team, become overwhelmed with the juggling of responsibilities, it changes more than the game. Sport psychologists and sport counselors get this and help you deal.

Let’s talk about what happens in sport psychology/mental performance sessions.

Sport Psychology Sessions

Your sessions will look different depending on the sport psychologist or mental performance professional you work with, but I can tell you what mental performance training looks like for athletes at Sterling Sport Mindset.

Our approach is part Top 10 and part Outside the Lines. Part mental performance on the field and part life off the field.

We know the importance of going for your goals AND we want you to love life along the way.

To begin, we’ll evaluate your current mental skills and explore what you’ve tried up to this point. You’ve obviously experienced some success and you’re dedicated to your sport. I know this because you’re here.

Some of the mental skills we’ll look at include:

We’ll look at your strengths and what you’d like to be different. Maybe you’ve got great focus, but your self-talk could use some work. It’s possible that you are pretty confident once the competition starts, but you are super nervous before a game.

We’ll build on where you are. We’ll talk about what’s working, what’s not, and how life is beyond sport.

Once we know where our start line is, we’ll put a game plan together.

Will we first focus on imagery? Maybe confidence? Possibly calming nerves? We’ll decide together on which skills we’ll cover and when it will fit in your gameday plan.

Sport Psychology Game Plan

When we begin developing your Complete Mental Game Plan, you’ll learn techniques you can implement immediately. We’ll do this through our signature process including sport related mindset exercises. You’ll be developing your own playbook with the information we cover.

For example: Did you know your imagery script should be present tense, positive, and in real time? Do you have a go-to phrase to go with your re-focus routine? Did you know that sometimes neutral thoughts are more effective than positive thoughts?

You’ll be a true student of the game.

Next we implement. You know from your sport that practice leads to success. The same goes for mental training, but there are always ups and downs, of course. We recognize this and we’ll be there for support and troubleshooting when you experience adversity. That’s part of the process; it’s what will strengthen your mental game.

Along with your sessions, we even include outside of session support like gameday texts, because we know just how important it is to have someone in your corner.

Navigating life as an athlete has its own set of challenges, but you’re here for it and our team is here for you.

If you’d like to get an idea of what working together will be like, read about our initial consultation option. If you know you’re ready to improve your mental game, let’s get a time on the calendar.