“No one formula can provide effective and meaningful interventions for all athletes and teams in all situations” (Anderson, 2002). It is critically important to keep individual differences in mind when considering sport psychology interventions. Research in the field of sport psychology has been able to examine techniques and reveal what is most helpful for performance enhancement. For example, much research has shown that the use of positive self-talk is more beneficial for an athlete’s performance than the use of negative self-talk. This is very useful information and the science behind this claim is thorough and sound. However, we must be careful to not jump to a conclusion that this holds true for all athletes in all situations. There may be an athlete who positive self-talk may not work for. They may not believe what they are saying to themselves or feel cheesy saying such positive things. They may say negative things to motivate themselves or want to “prove themselves wrong” so to speak. Another example would be the use of imagery. Imagery has been shown to be beneficial for athletes and to help increase self-awareness, build self-confidence, facilitate skill acquisition and maintenance, control emotions and regulate arousal, reduce pain, and enhance preparation strategies (Martin, Moritz, & Hall, 1999; Murphy & Jowdy, 1992). Imagery is a key component of psychological skills training. However, again, we must not assume it will benefit all athletes in all situations. An athlete may struggle controlling the pictures in their mind or they may not be able to see pictures in their mind at all. Research on sport psychology interventions are valid, useful, and should guide the applied work in sport psychology. However, when it comes to implementing an intervention, it must be individualized.
With all sport psychology interventions, it is crucial to understand what works for you and what doesn’t. I would encourage you to meet with a sport psychology consultant to receive individualized treatment. You can also try some strategies out in a practice setting and then utilize only what helps you. I would not recommend trying a new strategy or technique for the first time during an important game or competition. Remember: one thing may work for one athlete, while it may throw another athlete completely off his/her game. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to enhancing your performance; there is only your way.
As coaches, you are aware of the individual differences of your players. You know that some may need different things from you at different times. Keep this knowledge in mind when considering sport psychology services. Requiring the whole team to visualize or do a relaxation exercise before a competition may not be beneficial. Some athletes may like relaxing prior to a competition and some may need to run around and get their energy up. Blanket interventions like that can be problematic. I would encourage you to seek out a sport psychology consultant to work with your team to understand which psychological skills may work best for your individual athletes.
For sport psychology consultants, it is crucial to keep individual differences in mind when working with an athlete. We must be informed and up-to-date on the current research in the field. Research on sport psychology techniques should guide our applied practice. However, at no means should it supplant the uniqueness of the individual we are working with. If research shows that 99% of athletes respond to a specific intervention, we should always be aware that we could potentially be working with an athlete in that 1%. This is why it is so crucial to build rapport and get to know your athlete before handing out techniques and strategies to try. We will be most beneficial if we can fully step into our athletes’ shoes and get a thorough understanding of who they are and how they view the world.