This is a modern day age old question on which I hope to shine a little light. There is no trickery or magic applied by sport psychologists when working with sports people. As with all skill development, hard work and commitment are key to progression. Essentially, sport psychologists remove barriers that prevent a sports person’s development and progress within their sport – irrespective of skill level. The means by which they do this are varied and qualified sport psychologists have commonly spent between 6 and 8 years learning rigorous techniques to achieve this end. That means they have spent 6-8 years studying how the mind works most effectively in sporting situations, how the mind influences performance and how skill is developed. In addition, they have been continuously supervised and scrutinised throughout their training.
There are lots of well written, informative posts about the techniques used by sport psychologists and I do not seek to reiterate them here. The list would be too long. Fundamentally, sportspeople (or their support network) ask themselves ‘what would a sport psychologist do for me?’ And the answer is that we would enhance and increase your existing skill set to ultimately ensure that you reach your goals. Then, once you have reached your goals, we help you identify what you want to achieve next and, crucially, how you want to achieve it.
The role of the sport psychologist can be singular or as part of a sportsperson’s team. If appropriate, he/she will work with your coaches, your support network and your colleagues/friends to ensure that his/her techniques enhance the coaching and practice you are receiving already.
But surely my coach knows this stuff already?
So why bother going to a sport psychologist if it sounds so easy? The simple answer is because he/she is the expert in the mental approach to the game – that is what all those years of study are for. Coaches in all sports have some understanding of mental skills but the sport psychologist has access to skills that enable you to take your game to another level – whether that be of performance or enjoyment.
Sport psychology is not something that anyone need be unclear about. It is true that, as an industry it is poor at marketing itself, but after decades of continuous research into how the mind works optimally in performance and practice settings, it certainly knows how to develop your game and you, irrespective of the sport. Most sport coaches I have met have a voracious appetite for understanding the mental side of the game which is why good sport coaches have a strong referral network of additional assistance to develop a player (sport psychologist; physical trainer; strength and conditioning coach). A sport psychologist will develop a harmonious relationship with your other coaches where everyone’s aim is the achievement of the ultimate goals of the sports person. This is most efficiently achieved when experts in the different skill areas work together. If you ever wonder why your game has plateaued, a very good starting point is the extent to which you have worked on the mental side of your game.
So how long does it take?
Depending on their aims, most sports people start to see and, crucially, feel improvements to their mental game within the first three sessions (with sufficient focussed practice at the relevant mental skills), usually conducted in your training environment. Consideration is then given to which coach is best placed to develop the individual further (see my previous post on this point). In this way, the harmonious relationship between coaches operates in order to achieve the maximum development for the sports person as quickly as possible.