Five Sport Psych Myths: Part 1

The scene is likely something along these lines:

A pitcher can’t get the ball over the plate. A basketball player can’t find her rhythm. A golfer can’t make the big puts. A track athlete can’t get psyched up enough to go for the win.

You get the idea.

An athlete faces adversity and then (sometimes reluctantly) seeks out a solution. In each situation, the athlete is underperforming.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Sport psych isn’t just for when things go wrong, it’s great when things go right too! In today’s post, I’ll cover this and other sport psych myths.

Myth #1. Sport psych is a hoax.

Would you eat nothing but junk food and expect to perform well? How about 4 hours of sleep per night? Would you still be functioning at the top of your game? What about that nagging ankle injury? Skip the wrap and the post-practice ice? Not work out a day and then expect to be game ready?

You know what you need to perform from a physical perspective. Why wouldn’t you train your brain too?

I’ve come across skeptics throughout my sport psych consulting journey. Some claim not to believe in the mental game…well that is until there’s a loss. Pay attention the next time you’re watching a sporting event. You’ll hear it from the stands, the announcer’s booth, and in the post-game interviews. The mental game often takes the blame.

“They weren’t mentally ready. Lots of mental errors out there today. They need to stay focused. He let the fans get in his head.”

Thankfully, we have a lot of research to back us up. If you’re more into celebrity endorsements, the field has that too. You don’t have to look far to find a famous athlete embracing the role of mindset. In fact, most Olympic athletes work with a sport psych consultant. There has to be some truth to it. ?

Myth #2. You’re either born with mental toughness or you’re not.

“Champions are made not born. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

We all know stories of athletes who weren’t naturally gifted but put in the work to level up their game. Same goes for mental toughness. While of course it’s great when you don’t have to work at it; it isn’t a you either have it or you don’t situation.

You may have teammates that always seem upbeat. They can laugh and be relaxed before the game and then be fierce on the field. They take challenges in stride. A strike-out doesn’t phase them. They know they’ll get the next one.  Sometimes you’re envious of how easy it seems for them. I’ve got good news! You don’t have to be born with it or taught at an early age. All athletes, at all levels, can do this.

“Mental toughness” is actually a skill. With training, you can pick it up. Some sport psych professionals, myself included, prefer the term “mental skills” to “mental toughness” for that very reason. I’ve known recruiters and coaches to pass on an athlete because they didn’t think the player had the mental toughness it takes for the next level. This is such a missed opportunity. Just as you can develop your fundamental sport skills, you can improve your mental game. Lucky for you, this is what we do!

Myth #3. Sport psych is only for “problem” or struggling athletes.

Maybe you’re already bringing it. You’re throwing a respectable distance. You even hit a PR this season. Wouldn’t it be great if you could best that PR by the conference meet?

Maybe your game is on point, but you are a little frustrated at your roommates/siblings for not respecting your sleep schedule and need for quiet while you work on homework.

When the competition is fierce your mental game is the game changer. Sport psych skills can elevate an already great game. It helps you take things up a notch. Working on your mental skills allows you to bring your best performance to every performance no matter the conditions or the competition, because you’re prepared to handle whatever comes your way. In addition, we provide support for off-the-court concerns that may keep you from competing at the level you know you’re capable of.

Of course, we can still help when things go wrong, but it’s actually better when implemented BEFORE you’re facing difficulty. While we can start sessions at any point, the ideal time is off-season/pre-season where there’s time to practice the skills before implementing them in game situations. Just like you practice your sport before a game, it’s ideal when you practice your mental skills before a game too.

Let’s wrap up 5 Sport Psych Myths: Part 1 by looking at that beginning scenario again.

Maybe there is a struggle or concern, but maybe there isn’t.

Maybe…

A pitcher is playing well. Has a great ERA. A basketball player has found her rhythm. A swimmer gets pre-race jitters before every race, but knows it means she’s ready. A golfer is making the big puts. A track athlete is psyched and ready to go for the win.

They just want to keep it that way.

Athlete consults with a sport psych coach during the season through sessions, check-ins, and game day texts to get support as she implements the mental skills of successful athletes.

Athlete stays consistently great and can bounce back from any challenge. There is no slump, no need to “get out of her head.” Season is a success. Life is good.

If you’re intrigued and ready to get these results in your performance, sign up for a free mini session!

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!