Welcome to the third and final post of our introductory course to Sport Psychology. On our first article of this series, we discussed the idea that Sport Psychology it’s only for crazy people. In that blog post we commented on some of the possible origins of the idea that psychology is only for the crazy ones, and we encouraged readers to seek help from a sport psychologist when needed. Making that move won’t be a sign of your weakness, on the contrary, it would be a sign of your motivation and desire of improving yourself.
On our last blog post we talked about the idea that Sport Psychology is only for professional and elite athletes. Far from that, we revealed that although some work is done with the highest level of skill, most of our work is with developmental athletes and just “Sunday players” who want to enhance their performance. Therefore, you don’t need to be a superstar to benefit from our field, on the contrary, it would work best for you since there’s much more room for improvement.
This time we’ll look into the following questions: “Sport psychology it’s like magic, right?” The short answer, as it was for our two previous lesson, is NO… Unfortunately (or fortunately?) we are not magicians and we can’t make you an exceptional performer overnight.
One of the first things we say when we start working with any athlete is telling them that our relationship with them is like a mental training or a mental coach. As any physical training it’s not only a matter of going to one class or lifting some weight on a day. It takes time, effort and a lot of motivation to accomplish the goals you set. “Mental” training is not different from any other kind of training – it requires a constant and determined commitment to work on you. Furthermore, it means to work harder on certain areas that you have tried to avoid or are difficult to change. Which take us to our second point.
The second reason on why working with a sport psychologist it’s not a quick fix, it’s because even when we want to take out the concept (and taboo) of psychology, it’s still the science of the mind, and definitely this is not an easy fix. Our jobs are mainly with emotions, thoughts and behaviors, all of which usually take some time to change, especially the last one. Often times, our work is trying to change behaviors of athletes that are not beneficial for them, but that may have become habits already. And this is not an easy job because “unlearning” it’s probably one of the most difficult things humans can do.
Why am I saying that “unlearning” is hard? Let do a simple experiment; try to remember the phone number of your house when you were a kid or the phone number of your childhood’s best friend… You can remember it, right? Probably you have not used it for several years, but it’s still there, in your mind. That’s the way our brain works. We don’t forget, we just learn new material, but the old one is still there, not as prevalent (with less neurological connections), but always there. This means that the new behavior – call it positive thinking, withholding from smashing the racket or keeping your cool on the critical moments- are skills that not only must be learned, but also, they must be “stronger” (neurologically speaking) than previous behaviors. If that’s not the case, on moments of high arousal, your brain will automatically go to what it knows best (just like you start using words on your mother tongue when learning a new language). And yes, all this process takes time.
You have done it before; you have learned that excellence takes effort and time. The road that took you to the level of expertise where you are right now was not a matter of a few repetitions, it took time. The motto “practice, practice, practice” is not only a matter of physical or skills training, it’s also the way you get better on your mind game.
This is how we end our series of ‘Introduction to Sport Psychology’, and we truly hope that you have a better knowledge of our field and we debunked some myths around the idea of psychology in sports. Finally we hopefully sparked your interest to do whatever it takes to gain the winning edge by constantly improving not only your body, but your mind as well.