Sport Psychologists – Preventers or fixers1 Opinion
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About Rebecca Chidley
Sport and Exercise Psychologist. Currently working with Table Tennis Wales, Newport County Academy Football Club, Valleys Gymnastics Academy and individual athletes from various sports. Applied experience in Golf, Hockey, Triathlon, Rugby and Football. Player and coach for Cardiff and Met Hockey Club.
Sport Psychology is a growing discipline and one that I find myself privileged to be involved in. Despite this growth, I still wonder why it can often be viewed as a last resort for some. This was highlighted in a recent article on Laura Robson utilising Sport Psychology services to ‘revive’ her tennis career.
This bought me back to a sticking point that I frequently encounter, how can we encourage sport organisations and athletes to utilise Sport Psychology support on all levels before we hit a ‘crisis’ point and cling to the hope of it getting athletes out of trouble. Very rarely have I been approached by an athlete who says everything is going well, I want to ensure I have all the tools to maintain that success.
The article states that Robson does not lack talent but the mental side of her game often appears fragile. Could she have learnt valuable mental skills at a younger age to build upon and help her prepare for a career at the top level of her game? It also discusses the issue she has around double faults and having to repeat her throw up. If this is so commonly related to nerves could we arm young players with the strategies to understand their nerves and still perform effectively?
There is still an element of doubt and lack of commitment to Sport Psychology programmes in some environments. But, if athletes are reaching a stage in their career where they are ‘trying everything’ to rescue their chances, should we encourage a more structured process for young athletes so they have already explored the options available and understand what works for them.
I am yet to come across a sport organisation or athlete that does not understand the combination of technical, tactical, physical, nutritional and psychological elements that are required to compete at the top level in any sport. The struggle lies within the balance of time and understanding that is given to each area throughout the sporting career.
My purpose in writing this is not to direct every athlete towards regular contact with a sport psychologist, but to ensure that we all take time to contemplate what we could gain from understanding the mental side of our game in relation to performance and well-being. This may involve a discussion with your coach, fellow team mates or family about the positives of your performances or aspects you want to improve. Some may want to explore professional assistance to develop deeper level mental skills for performance or discuss how non-sport commitments impact your performances in a positive or negative way.
The well know phrase, ‘prevention is better than cure’ sums up how Sport Psychology is currently utilised in some environments. I’m not saying that Sport Psychologists cannot work after numerous setbacks or struggles to help athletes succeed. But, are there more effective ways to utilise the skill-set when things are going well and as a development tool for younger athletes.
Which is more effective –
Sessions to develop skills to help you understand when things are going well or not so well and how ‘you’ can do something to change or maintain it?
Sessions to unpick the difficulties you are having, followed by a process to build yourself back up?
My answer – Both have their place, but is prevention better than cure?
There has been a recent increase in the discussion of Sport Psychologists becoming embedded in sport environments and working closer with the team of support staff over several months and years to create an environment where the mental side of the game is on a par with other sport science disciplines. National Governing Bodies are utilising the support at the top end of their sports with multi-disciplinary teams. However, can we reduce the stigma of Sport Psychology, help younger athletes understand their ‘mental game’, and create environments where Sport Psychology is the ‘norm’, in the same way as pitch and gym sessions, are an integral part of competitive sport.