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What is Sport Psychology?



My journey in Sport Psychology began 13 years ago. My discussions around this career path have had reactions of curiosity and intrigue. 9 times out of 10, the response would be a version of “That sounds interesting… but what is it?”


There is a chance that you too will be wondering the same. By the end of this blog, I hope to have put across my interpretation of what Sport Psychology is all about; and how it can be used to understand and improve both mentality and performance.



Sport Psychology


If you google Sport Psychology, you will find various definitions of differing detail and complexity. My philosophy as a coach is not to overcomplicate and to keep things simple. For me, Sport Psychology is...


Understanding and applying mental skills to help improve mindset, preparation and performance.


Let’s break this down: firstly, what is a mental skill?


Mental skills are tools that can allow you to understand, influence and control your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. In any walk of life that requires consistently high performance in a pressurised environment, such as sport, medicine, music or the performing arts, being able to control what you're thinking and how you are feeling to allow for consistently high performance is what separates the best from the rest.


In sport, athletes spend the majority of their training improving physical skills (e.g., strength or endurance) and technical skills (e.g., a footballer practising free kicks or a golfer working on their putting). All athletes and coaches acknowledge the importance of mental skills. When being interviewed after scoring a hat-trick, a footballer will declare how confident, relaxed and focused they feel in front of goal. After a defeat in a major final, a coach will explain how their players struggled to handle the situation and couldn’t perform to their potential in the highly pressurised situation.


There is a reason the most successful sporting organisations, clubs and athletes employ or regularly use a Sport Psychology professional. Being a great athlete not only requires great physical and technical attributes, but also a mastery of the mental game. As the most successful Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, once said...


“ Everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. Your mind controls everything. ”


Next, what is mindset?


Mindset


Your mindset is how you view yourself and the world around you. This can influence how you feel, think and behave in situations, either positively or negatively. Your mindset is also heavily connected to another vital part of sport - your preparation. A positive and healthy mindset allows for optimum preparation, giving you the opportunity to deliver your best performance.


There are two types of mindset: fixed and growth. In a sport setting, an athlete with a fixed mindset believes that talent and ability are innate and unchangeable, where an athlete with a growth mindset believes that talent can be developed through effort and practice. Below are examples of an athlete with each of these mindsets…

Athlete 1 = Fixed Mindset

Athlete 2 = Growth Mindset

I’m either good at something or I’m not

I can improve my skills with effort and practice

I’m already really good at this. I don’t need to get any better.

There’s always room for improvement.

People who are naturally good at my sport don’t need to try hard to succeed.

No one is born good at sport. We can all improve with time, effort and practice.

Successful people have never experienced failure.

Failure is part of success. Most successful people have failed many times, but they succeeded because they didn’t quit.

If I don’t try new or difficult things, then I won’t fail.

I have to try new and challenging things in order to grow, even if I fail at first.

When I fail, I get frustrated and give up.

When I fail, I try again using the lessons I’ve learned.

Which mindset do you think the best sportsmen and women in the world possess? Which is more likely to lead to success in a competitive and demanding sporting environment? I know which athlete I would back!


As a coach, it is clear which mindset I promote in my athletes. The question is, are people capable of changing from a fixed to a growth mindset? The answer, is yes!

When an athlete has hit a challenging moment in their career and has requested my support and coaching, it is often because fixed mindset philosophies like those in the table above have begun to develop in their beliefs. The majority of athletes will have a growth mindset - it is very difficult to succeed in sport without one! However, a decline in confidence or other mental skills can allow for fixed mindset beliefs to emerge. Through Sport Psychology and Mindset Coaching, we can work to unfix these beliefs before they become permanent in an athlete’s mindset.



Quality Practice


In my first consultation with athletes/parents, they are always keen to find out how Sport Psychology, Mindset and Performance Coaching can help them. There is usually a ‘problem’ that they have identified and want ‘fixing’.


The first thing I stress to all my athletes is that I am not a ‘mental magician’. Just because we begin working together does not guarantee improvement and future success. As with physical and technical skills, improvement in mentality requires practice - quality practice. I can provide them with the knowledge and techniques to improve their mental skills. However, this improvement is reliant on the hard work and dedication of the athlete. We may work together for 1 hour a week - it is up to them how productively they use the other 167 hours in the week to give themselves the best chance for mindset and performance improvements.



How Sport Psychology can help you...


What mental skills can Sport Psychology coaching help you with? Here's 12 to start:


  • Improve Preparation

  • Help Manage Emotions

  • Improve and Maintain Confidence

  • Increase Motivation

  • Improve Mental Well-Being

  • Help Manage Stress & Anxiety

  • Develop Positive Beliefs

  • Improve Focus & Concentration

  • Develop Resilience & Mental Toughness

  • Learn Relaxation Techniques

  • Increase Self-Awareness

  • Develop Leadership


Every athlete is different. Each individual athlete has their own story, their own challenges, their own strengths, improvement areas, motivations and goals for their career.

Sport Psychology can help understand the above and more to help unlock your sporting potential.


I finish with a quote from philosopher Sam Harris, which I believe sums up the importance and need for Sport Psychology coaching perfectly…


" Your mind is the basis of everything that you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it. "

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