PSYCHsources introduces a different topic from psychology every month. It offers a list of resources that are useful to anyone who wants to learn more about it. In this issue, we introduce Sport Psychology.
In a nutshell, sports psychology seeks to understand the interaction between physical activity and mental well-being, often focusing on how psychological factors influence sports, athletic performance and physical mobility.
Sport psychology can cater to various sub-areas within the discipline, such as attention, stress, sleep quality, mentality training (mindset), drive (motivation, ambition, goal-setting, discipline), self-efficacy and even in some cases employing behavioural psychology. Thus, contrary to popular belief, sports psychology isn’t limited to athletes. The positive impact of it can benefit mundane everyday exercisers like you and I, by either aiding us in the physical aspects of sports such as performance, or by training our mindset and mental drive.
What Do Sports Psychologists Do?
Most commonly, sports psychologists work with schools, athletes, and sports teams, but can also work closely with coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and physicians to help with:
- Assessing physical performance and determining which techniques can enhance it
- Addressing psychological issues, such as performance anxiety, substance use, or imposter syndrome
- Identifying individual and team dynamics and using those insights to help athletes work as part of a team
- Using mind-body techniques, such as biofeedback, mindfulness, and visualisation
- Career transition counselling related to retirement or injury
If you are interested in becoming a sport psychologist, it is worth considering what differentiates the different types of sport psychologists:
- Clinical sports psychologists are licensed psychologists who diagnose and treat psychological conditions. Their work involves using strategies from both sports psychology and psychotherapy, helping athletes to improve both their mental health and their sports performance.
- Educational sports psychologists do not necessarily have to be licensed psychologists and can function more like trainers or advisors. Work includes teaching them how to use certain techniques such as imagery, goal setting, or self-talk to perform better.
- Exercise psychologists work with non-athlete clients to help them learn how to enjoy sport and make working out a habit. This can include some of the same techniques used by other sports psychologists, such as goal setting, practising mindfulness, and the use of motivational techniques.
How to become a sport psychologist
If you aspire to become a professional in this field, you would ideally complete a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology or psychology followed by a masters and post-masters in clinical, counselling or sports psychology Depending on the country you plan to practice in and specialisation you choose (listed below), there will be extra qualifications and/or licences you will need to obtain.
- Applied sport psychology (teaching skills to enhance athletic performance such as goal-setting and imagery)
- Clinical sport psychology (combining mental training strategies from sport psychology with psychotherapy to help clients with mental health problems)
- Academic sport psychology (teaching at colleges and universities and conducting research).
Available masters program in The Netherlands:
“Dan Abrahams – a Sport Psychologist himself – demystifies sport psychology for players, coaches and parents through conversing with some of the most influential people in sport.”
“Join two aspiring sports psychologists in their journey to unravel the crucial role the mind plays in sport.”
“A sports psychology, mental toughness, and mental training radio show that seeks to help athletes, coaches and sports parents reach peak performance.”
- The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow
“Raw athletic ability doesn’t necessarily translate to a superior on-field experience—it’s the mental game that matters most.”
- Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
“How high or far or fast can humans go? Hutchinson presents an overview of science’s search for understanding physical and psychological limits of humans.”
- Mind Games by Annie Vernon
“Delve into the mind of some of the world’s best athletes to gain an insight into how they have dealt with issues such as pressure, success, failure and injury…”