Train Your Brain for the Game: A Sport Psychology Overview

When I ask athletes what they know about sport psych, they usually say something along the lines of, “Not much, just that it’s about the mental game.”

When I was a professor, on the first day of class I would ask my undergraduate Sport Psychology students the same question. The answers were similar. “I’m not really sure. It’s about getting into an athlete’s head.” Every semester there was always one student who would say, “Um, it’s sports and psych,” because college students are funny.  😊  I actually do miss them!

I asked my teenage son (also an athlete) and he said (not super enthusiastically, I might add) “You do something with mindset.”

It’s understandable to not know. It’s a new(ish) field. Most people haven’t been in a sport psych/mental skills session and have no idea what to expect. Sometimes athletes are even fearful about a session. They may have a negative view of “psych” or feel like they’ve been called to the principal’s office.

At a coach’s event for student-athlete mental health one of the speakers said, “Sport psych! You’re a rare bird.” I’ll take it!

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

First there’s the SportsCenter Top 10 side. This is geared at getting you your best performance, every performance. It’s where we develop your mental game plan. We’ll cover topics like confidence, composure, imagery, focus, goal setting (and getting), and pre-performance routines. Well meaning individuals will tell you to “focus!” but they don’t tell you HOW to focus. That’s what we do.

Next there’s the E:60, Outside the Lines, 30 for 30 side. 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. 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, it changes more than the game. We get this and we help you deal.

It’ll look different depending on the sport psych/mental skills professional you work with, but I can tell you what it looks like with me.

My approach is part Top 10 and part Outside the Lines. Part mental performance coach and part life coach. I know the importance of going for your goals AND I want you to love life along the way.

We’re going to evaluate your current mental skills and what you’ve tried up to this point. You’ve obviously experienced some success, because you’re here.

We’ll talk about what’s working, what’s not, and how life beyond sport is going.

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

Will we first focus on imagery? Confidence? Calming nerves? We’ll decide together.

Then we’ll start on techniques. 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?

Next we practice. You know that practice leads to success, but there are always up and downs.

I’ll be there for support and troubleshooting. To be a sounding board when things are tough and a coach when challenges arise. I even include gameday texts, because it’s that important.

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

If you’d like to get an idea of what working together will be like, sign up for a free mini session!