People often question the value, methods and merits of a sport psychologist. In fact this area of sporting expertise still remains taboo for an awful lot of sports people including some professionals. When broaching this subject with a PGA golf European Tour professional golfer recently, he revealed that it was an area he had yet to engage in.

Many coaches use a pep talk from motivational speakers or former “greats” to give their players a “lift” or a “boost” before they play a big game. Many coaches also equate sport psychologists to such motivational speakers and many would look for a former great to boost their team over a qualified sport psychologist.

While a motivational speaker can lift morale to a certain extent with what is often their own personal “good news story”, their long term effect is more often than not negligible. Players walk out the door on a high but a week later will have forgotten what was said with the initial boost disappeared. Very rarely would an athlete leave such a talk with a clear plan or mental strategies or skills to improve their performance. A sport psychologist on the other hand uses applied psychological scientific research to inform their actions and interventions to solve or improve actual performances issues. Most sport psychologists would be capable of offering services in and around the areas of
(1) Motivation for sport and exercise,
(2) Anxiety, performance stress & motor control
(3) Relaxation & deep breathing
(4) Effective goal setting
(5) Mental Skills Training (visualisation / imagery / self-talk)
(6) Team building & group cohesion.
(7) Injury and Rehabilitation.
(8) Post Career Transition.
(9) Leadership behaviour

If, for example, a player had issues with performing on the big day, a sport psychologist could implement strategies to alleviate nervousness and relieve the feelings of tension and anxiety in a players performance. If a player was not getting the most out of themselves on the pitch it could be through lack of motivation or focus, an effective goal setting or attentional focus strategy could be implemented to address these issues. Likewise, if a player was having issues with a closed skill task in high pressure situations (golf, rugby place kick, GAA free kick, basketball free throw etc), a sport psychologist might implement a “self talk” strategy to improve attentional focus, increasing percentage success, confidence and performance.

All of these areas are grossly ignored by the many “inspiring” motivational speakers on the circuit who often have little more than a feelgood story to tell. As you part with your cash, there may be feelings of good things ahead, but with no implemented strategy behind the motivational jargon, there is rarely a tangible benefit to an athlete’s or team’s performance. In essence, you wont get much “bang” for your “buck”.

So before clubs go spending good hard earned cash on a motivational speaker that will “get the lads psyched”, consider these questions;

What exactly is the team going to get from the talk?

Will it help the team to better deal with feelings of anxiety during performance?

How is it going to improve the team on the field of play?

How is it going to improve team cohesion and/or attentional focus?

Are the team members leaving the session with clear goals of what they need to do to win impending game?

If the answer to these questions is an unequivocal support for the merits of a motivational speaker, then go ahead and spend your hard earned money. If not, try somebody who is qualified and knows what they are talking about.