As society becomes more complex each day, so do the factors that impact mental health. More specifically, in the sports world, athletes must endure a rigorous, intense, and competitive environment. However, it doesn’t stop there. Because athletes are seen as more than just a source of entertainment, but also a public figures, they must be aware of, and able to comment on, cultural, social, and political occurrences at any given time. It is inevitable to conclude that all these added stresses take a toll on an athlete’s performance and mental health.
In fact, over the past 10 years, athletes’ mental health has been a topic with increasing priority and interest worldwide. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Suicide represented 7.3% (35/477) of all-cause mortality among NCAA student-athletes.” This research primarily revealed that added stress interfered with mental health and detrimentally led to a great amount of suicide-related deaths among all levels of athletics.
Taking other factors into consideration, 7.3% is a significant percentage attributed to suicides as the cause of mortality, and this is at a lower division of athletics. At a greater scope, it is unimaginable the amount of pressure and stress that professional athletes face on a daily basis.
As a result of these types of data collected, a wide search for resolutions began, and thus the widespread interest in sports psychology.
In order to truly understand the importance of mental health in the sports world one question must be asked: What is a sports psychologist? In simple terms, a sports psychologist uses proficiencies in psychological knowledge to achieve the optimal performance and well-being of athletes ranging from recreational to Olympic needs.
Here are 6 of the most common things sports psychologists do:
(1) Help Athletes Cope with Performance Fears
Sports psychologists can help athletes overcome fears, such as fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, and general anxiety. This is common among athletes who are perfectionists or highly dedicated athletes that worry too much about what other people think in terms of their performance.
(2) Help Athletes Improve Mental Skills for Performance
The most common role of a sports psychologist is to teach mental skills for enhanced performance. A mental game expert can help you improve confidence, focus, composure, intensity, and trust in athletic performance. These mental skills help athletes improve performance and can help in other areas of an athlete’s life.
(3) Help Athlete Mentally Prepare for the Competition
Another common role of a sports psychologist is to help athletes mentally prepare for competition and practice. This includes many of the mental skills mentioned above but is applied to specific situations on the athletic field. For instance, in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, international guests were not allowed and the number of spectators per discipline was diminished from previous years. As a result, psychologists had to help Olympians prepare for an environment where cheers and distractions would not be in abundance.
(4) Help Athletes Return After Injury
Returning to play after an injury can sometimes be difficult for many athletes depending on the nature of the injury. Athletes are often left with “mental scars” long after an injury is physically healed. A sports psychologist can help injured athletes cope better with the pressures associated with returning to a prior level of performance–pre-injury.
(5) Help Athlete Develop Pregame Routine
As part of mental preparation, the role of a sports psychologist includes helping athletes develop mental skills used during pregame or prerace routines. Athletes learn how to focus on the process instead of results and be more proactive with their confidence prior to competition.
(6) Help Athletes Improve Practice Efficiency
Another common role of a sports psychologist is to help athletes improve the quality or efficiency of their practice. Many athletes, such as collegiate athletes, have limited practice time. Coaches want to help these athletes get the most out of their practice time by understanding the principles of motor learning and performance.
Clearly, sports psychologists work with athletes to help them develop an array of skills that help them manage their busy agendas. Therefore, it can be said that sports psychology is one of the industries within the sports world that is rapidly growing both in demand and insignificance.
Sports psychology is also a fascinating field to explore which combines a passion for the sports industry with an interest in human behavior and the mind. Although more on the STEM side of the spectrum, it is important to keep in mind that physical aspects of athletics such as strength, speed, and stamina are equally as crucial as psychological aspects because after all, sports are mental games, making sports psychology the key to victory.