Why Are Some Athletes Reluctant To Use Sports Psychologists?
Discover Who Uses Sports Psychologists,
What Happens In A Sport Psychology Session,
And The Many Benefits Of Sports Psychology
Bill Cole, MS, MA
"Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist oughta
have their head examined."
This classic joke underscores the unfortunate, still-alive
social stigma that people who seek mental help must either
be inept, inherently mentally weak or just plain crazy. Athletes
who see sports psychologists are sometimes ridiculed and are
thought to lack the proper innate mental capabilities -- the
"right stuff". In some sports, athletes who use sports psychologists
are actually ostracized.
This negative, critical approach is incredibly sad. It's also
incorrect and ignorant.
It shows an amazing lack of knowledge about the wide-ranging
extent sports psychologists are embraced by many, many athletes
-- from beginners to champions -- in almost every sport in
the world. It also maintains age-old destructive myths and
misunderstandings about the value and workings of the sport
This article's purpose is to help athletes, parents and coaches
understand and come to terms with their reluctance to utilize
the services of sports psychologists. It dispels many of the
myths that surround what happens in a sports psychology coaching
session and explains the benefits of working with a sports
Let's first look at the wide array of sports that use sports
psychologists as trusted and valued members of their coaching
Uses Sports Psychologists?
Sports psychology is no longer a well-kept
secret. It seems everyone in sports uses this mind coach,
at the very minimum, to not fall behind their competitors.
Indeed, working with a sports psychologist can give you the
winning edge. Virtually every college, university, national
team, Olympic team, and pro team has a sport psychologist
on staff. Look at the representation of sports psychologists
being utilized across the entire range of sport:
- Major league professional sports teams.
- Minor league professional sports teams.
- Individual professional athletes in every sport.
- Olympic teams in every sport.
- National coaching associations.
- National teams in every sport.
- University and college athletic departments.
- University and college athletic teams.
- Individual college athletes in every sport.
- Coaches in every sport.
- Parents in every sport.
- Individual recreational athletes in every sport.
High Profile Championship Teams Who Use
The top teams in sport regularly use sports
psychologists to maintain the sharp edge of focus, determination
and a winning mind set. Here are five well-known superstar
teams that have sports psychologists on their coaching staffs:
- Baseball World Series Champions New York Yankees
- Basketball NBA World Champions San Antonio Spurs
- NFL Football Superbowl Champions Dallas Cowboys
- NCAA National Football Champions University of Nebraska
- Baseball College World Series Champions Stanford University
There is one man who is probably the biggest
devotee of mind training in all of sports. Superstar pro basketball
coach Phil Jackson is a Zen master extraordinaire. During
his tenure as head Coach for both the Chicago Bulls and Los
Angeles Lakers he brought home the goods -- two NBA world
championship trophies. Jackson is a firm believer of sports
psychology, with a Zen twist. He meditates regularly and tells
his players, "players can be stars, but only teams win". Jackson
is considered one of the smartest coaches in basketball history
and he uses sports psychology to get the winning edge.
Which Sports Most Often Use Sports Psychologists?
This is difficult to determine exactly,
but based on the sports psychology literature, and other evidence,
it is probably safe to say that golf is #1 and tennis is #2.
There are no other sports that come close to these two in
the volume of books and articles that are written on the mental
game each year. Indeed, top pro golf stars like Ernie Els,
Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Mark O'Meara, Greg Norman,
David Duval, Vijay Singh and Jack Nicklaus all have used,
or are currently using sports psychologists on their coaching
Look at the big names in pro golf who have used sports psychology
consultants. It's estimated that well over 300 of the pro
game's players regularly use sports psychologists:
Steve Elkington, Denis Watson, Kirk Triplett, Dave Stockton,
Lee Janzen, Cameron Beckman, Brandie Burton, Stephen Ames,
Chip Beck, Davis Love III, Nick Price, Brad Faxon, John Daly,
Brian Barnes, Christian Cevaer, Hollis Stacy, Beth Daniel,
Woody Austin, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington, Michael Campbell,
Frank Lickliter II, Fred Funk, E.J. Pfister, Kirk Triplett,
Scott McCarron, Payne Stewart, Corey Pavin, Ben Crenshaw,
Bob Estes, Donna Andrews, Justin Leonard, Hank Kuehne, Michelle
McCann, Brandi Burton, Mark McCumber, Rachael Teske, Ju-Yun
Kim, Nancy Scranton, Bill Glasson, Brian Gay, Charles Howell
III, Ty Tryon, Luke Donald, Jim Carter, Frank Nobilo, David
Morland IV, John Cook, David Frost, Mike Grob, David Ogrin,
Matt Weibring, Gary Nicklaus, Billy Andrade and Stewart Cink.
Do these 65 golf pros convince you that sports psychology
is a must to get the mental edge? They play golf for a living
and want every edge possible. They are already strong mentally,
but want to continue to improve and so seek the services of
a sports psychologist. Why not you?
Are There Any Sports That Don't Use Sports
It's difficult to think of a sport that
does not use sports psychologists. These are just a few that
use mental training as part of their regular practice regimens:
National and international teams in rugby, soccer/football,
yachting, Formula One racing, martial arts, hockey, gymnastics,
cheerleading, rowing, swimming and diving, track and field,
distance running, triathlon, weight and power lifting, badminton,
racquetball, ice skating, dance, lacrosse and field hockey.
Even the so-called "minor sports" such as darts, bowling,
rifle and handgun shooting, archery and billiards have an
extensive sports psychology literature. We at mentalgamecoach.com
can help athletes, parents and coaches in any sport maximize
their performances with our extensive collection of articles
on peak performance.
Why Do Some Athletes Resist Seeing A Sports
Even knowing about the huge number of top
college teams, pro teams, Olympic teams and individuals that
utilize sports psychology services, how is it that some athletes,
coaches and parents are still quite reluctant to hire a sports
First, many people are very hesitant to see a counselor, psychologist,
psychiatrist and psychotherapist for non-sport issues, so
it should be no surprise that they are also leery of seeking
the services of a sports psychologist. Their concerns and
fears are so strong, that many people who would definitely
benefit from these psychological services never receive them.
We each know people who should go to their family physicians,
but who avoid medical care due to a fear of hearing bad news,
being asked to make lifestyle changes, fear of being asked
to undergo surgery, the inconvenience or dislike of having
to take medication, and a number of other factors. The lifelong
smoker who fears hearing the inevitable when the cough won't
leave them and the over-eater who does not want to be told
they must cut back come to mind. They both know what they
will hear, and at the same time, they fear it.
People typically do not go to a physician unless it is their
annual checkup or they have a medical problem. In contrast,
people do not go to a clinical psychologist for an annual
checkup, but only when they have a problem. This accounts,
in large part, for the negative public image of sports psychologists.
The public views athletes who go to sports psychologists as
"having mental problems", rather than wanting educational
assistance with their mental game. The public would be well
advised to consult their physicians, clinical psychologists
and other professionals on an annual or semi-annual basis,
or more frequently, for routine maintenance checkups. Athletes
are equally advised to have regular tune-ups for their mental
It's unfortunate that people do not avail themselves of health,
medical and other services that can greatly benefit them,
but that's human nature. Athletes are human too, and they
naturally become afraid when confronted with their own frailties
and shortcomings, even though these may not be life-threatening.
This reluctance to seek help is termed resistance in the professional
Historical Antecedents Of Clinical Resistance
Resistance is a long studied clinical phenomenon
in the counseling and psychotherapy fields. It address why
clients are reluctant to come to therapy in the first place,
why they miss appointments, why they tend to want to cut therapy
short, why they are not compliant with therapist-indicated
modalities, and why they tend to be obstructionist with regard
to discussing difficult psychological material in sessions.
Fear is the operable word here.
The phenomenon of clinical resistance has been written about
using a variety of terms. It has been referred to as "precontemplation"
(Prochaska, Di Clemente and Norcross, 1992), "amenability"
(Palmer, 1994), "resistance" (Rothschild, 1995), "denial"
(Rothschild, 1995), "reluctance" (Cullari, 1996) and "responsibility"
(Serin and Kennedy, 1997).
Resistance exists in all helping professions. Sports is no
different. Ask any group of athletes and coaches this question.
"Who here would say that the mental game is very important?"
Probably most all hands would go up. Ask them, "At the higher
levels of sports, is it fair to say that the mental game makes
the difference in playing well and in winning?" ALL hands
would go up. Then ask them, "How many of you here practice
the mental game on a regular basis?" Very few hands will rise.
Why this paradoxical discrepancy? Here is at least one answer.
In the October 2003 issue of the journal Athletic Insight
Thomas Ferraro, Ph.D. and Shannon Rush, M.A. published their
study, named Why Athletes Resist Sport Psychology.
In it they make the argument related in the question and answer
scenario related above, that there is a disconnect between
the desire athletes and coaches have to succeed, and their
discomfort with using sports psychologists. Ferraro and Rush
"The question that emerges from this is as follows. If
so many athletes need psychological support and are aware
that they have this need why don't they seek treatment more
often? Further if they do come to our office, why do more
than 50% drop out within four sessions, well before they are
Indeed, Ferraro and Rush point out that many athletes suffer
from drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other
psychological maladies, including some even more serious disorders.
Clearly, many athletes suffer in silence, not knowing that
help is only a phone call away. They relate that it has been
postulated that narcissism is prevalent in sports, and athletes
who have this affliction are particularly reluctant to work
with a sports psychologist because of their fear of becoming
dependent on others.
In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Counseling
Psychology (Vol. 50, No. 3) by Iowa State University assistant
psychology professor David Vogel, PhD, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
assistant educational psychology professor Stephen Wester,
PhD, it was suggested that mental health professionals need
to better anticipate the reluctance potential patients have
about the counseling process. They stated that "only one-third
of people who could likely benefit from psychological treatment
seek help." The authors suggest that engaging in therapy
is a risky endeavor for most people, and that mental health
professionals should help people manage this risk.
We can now begin to see the reasons athletes tend to be reluctant
to see sports psychologists. Before we delve into the 72 resistances,
here's a snapshot of who the mental game helpers are. Sports
professionals who assist athletes, coaches and parents in
maximizing their mental sports performances are known by a
variety of names and titles:
- Sports Psychologist
- Sport Psychology Consultant
- Mental Training Coach
- Mental Game Coach
- Mind Coach
- Sports Performance Counselor
- Performance Enhancement Consultant
- Sports Psychiatrist
For a deeper understanding of the mental
training process and the various types of practitioners who
offer these services, please see our article, What's
a Mental Game Coach?
We now shall consider the very real concept of resistance
that exists in sports psychology, and for simplicity, consistency
and clarity, for the rest of this article, will frame this
concept using the terms "sports psychology", "sports psychologists"
and "sports psychology coaching".
The Top Fears Athletes Have About Seeing
A Sports Psychologist
Athletes have a cluster of fears that hold
them back from seeking sports psychology services. At the
heart of this is the fear of the unknown, the fear of change,
feelings of vulnerability and the fear of the psychological.
Specifically, athletes tend to have major trepidations about
undertaking sports psychology coaching around these seven
- A fear that they will be asked to change, or be made
to change. Change itself can be intimidating.
- A fear that talking about their mental processes will
cause them to lose their natural mind-body powers and automaticity.
Many don't want to tempt fate. As the legendary tennis coach
Vic Braden says, "Pros don't do as they say, or say as they
do." They often don't know why or how they do what they
do. They simply want to be able to continue doing it. They
fear that sports psychology coaching may tamper with this
- A fear of being asked potentially embarrassing, personal
or "nosy" questions. This can be off-putting to anyone.
Personal disclosure, especially about so-called "mental
weaknesses" is not something that is highly valued in the
- A fear of being called "mental" or a basket case. Athletes
are looked down upon if they regularly publicly complain
about or obsess about the details of their mental game.
Players who do this are labeled fuss-budgets, whiny or sadly,
- A fear of becoming dependent on the sports psychologist.
- A fear of loss of confidentiality. A fear that what they
say will leak out to their team, parents, coaching staff
or others. In any type of counseling and consulting, this
is a major concern.
- A lack of comfort with talking about feelings and psychological
issues. Athletes are creatures of comfort. Their comfort
zone is action, physicality and results, not talking about
feelings, process or results.
72 Reasons Athletes Are Sometimes Reluctant
To See A Sports Psychologist
Let's now examine the many reasons athletes,
parents and coaches give for being reluctant to engage the
services of a sports psychologist. Each reason is followed
by comments that explain why the concern should not be an
issue that would prevent an athlete from seeing a sports psychologist.
- I Don't Have A Psychology Background, So How Can They
Help Me? Anyone can benefit from sports psychology training,
even with no psychology background. The sports psychologist
will guide you step by step, making the concepts easy to
understand and implement.
- I Don't Want To Be Interrogated Or Pumped For Information.
You will be respected and made to feel comfortable, and
will never have to answer any question you don't want to
- I Don't Know What To Expect, And That Makes Me Uncomfortable.
After reading this article you will have a very good idea
what to expect in your session. A sports psychology session
should be fun, interesting and educational.
- If Certain Information About Abuse Is Uncovered, Will
The Sports Psychologist "Turn Me In" To The Medical Authorities?
Unless the sports psychologist is also a licensed mental
health professional or states they are a "mandated reporter"
at the outset, this will not happen. Some licensed mental
health professionals also provide sports psychology services,
but do not disclose that they are mandated reporters. This
is a tricky ethical area, one that you should be absolutely
clear about before you begin sessions.
- If I Have Some Legal Difficulties, Will The Sports
Psychologist Turn Me In To The Law? You are correct
in knowing that licensed mental health professionals are
mandated by law to notify law enforcement and other governmental
agencies if they believe you intend to harm yourself or
others (including issues about physical abuse or suspicion
of sexual abuse to a minor or elder), but sports psychologists
are usually not licensed mental health professionals, in
most cases, and are not bound by these mandates. You should
discuss this with your sports psychologist at the outset
of coaching to determine the sports psychologist's licensure
- I Don't Like Being Asked Questions I Don't Know The
Answers To. You won't be pressured or intimidated. The
session is a collegial exchange of information.
- I Don't Want To Look Incompetent In The Eyes Of A
Total Stranger. The sports psychologist is there to
help you. They don't see you as being weak, but as being
brave for taking the risk to do the work.
- If My Coach Learns I Am Seeing A Sports Psychologist,
He/She May Be Insulted. Smart coaches know their limits.
They also know that two heads are better than one when it
comes to coaching. Most coaches are happy to either bring
in an expert in the mind game or have you consult one. In
an extreme case, your coach does not even need to know what
you do away from practice.
- I Have A Fear Of Becoming Dependent On The Sports
Psychologist. While there is a small chance of this
happening short-term, the goal is to make you independent
and excellent at self-coaching. Long term, this should not
- I Don't Want To Be Analyzed Or Have My Weaknesses
Exposed. While a major benefit of sports psychology
work is the assessment and analysis of your mental skills,
your confidentiality is guaranteed.
- Talking About My Mental Issues Will Make Me Too Self-Conscious
About Them, And Only Make Them Worse. Initially, this
sometimes briefly happens, but quickly, your over-analysis
will go away and be replaced by solid, automatic mental
systems that will help you perform well under pressure.
- Is It Possible I May Be Secretly Hypnotized? This
will not happen without your knowledge or authorization.
- Sports Psychology Coaching May Take My Killer Instinct
Away. On the contrary, your will to win and your mental
toughness will be enhanced.
- Will I Be Tricked Into Doing Or Saying Something I
Don't Want To Say Or Do? There are no tricks, no unethical
moves. The sports psychologist is dedicated to your safety,
well-being and advancement.
- Will I Be Asked To Use My Mind In Ways I Can't Succeed?
You will be challenged, and amazed at your new mental powers,
but you won't be asked to do anything at which you can't
- Will I Be Blamed, Shamed And Labeled A Loser Because
I Am Admitting Mental Weakness? Sports psychologists
don't consider your asking for help a mental weakness. They
view it as an intelligent request for help and give you
a lot of credit and respect for doing so. There is no blaming,
just support and encouragement.
- Sports Psychology Concepts And Approaches Are Too
Complex And Difficult To Understand. Sports psychologists
make the content you learn easily digestible, practical
and straightforward. Countless athletes of all ages and
skills have learned sports psychology concepts and integrated
them into their sports performances.
- Being Mentally Tough And Being A Winner Are Inborn
Qualities, So Seeing A Sport Psychologist Simply Won't Make
A Difference In These Arenas. Anyone, with the proper
desire, can become mentally tough and win more than they
ever dreamed possible.
- I'm Afraid I'll Be Asked To Change My Entire Sports
Training Program To Add Endless Hours Of Mental Training
And Homework. You may be able to efficiently adjust
your current training regimen, or add some time to your
schedule, but it will be very manageable. You will see the
value of the mental training and will gladly make time for
- My Mental Issues Are Unique, So I Probably Won't Be
Helped By A Sports Psychologist. Experienced sports
psychologists have helped many athletes with all sorts of
issues in many sports. Even though your situation is new
to you, they have the experience to help you.
- Sports Psychology Won't Help An Athlete Of My Skill
Level. Any skill level can improve through mental training.
- Will I Be Asked To Take Any Medications? It would
be highly unlikely. Only physicians prescribe and dispense
medications. For athletes needing help beyond traditional
educational sports psychology training, there are sports
psychiatrists, MD's who are licensed to diagnose and dispense
medications. The vast majority of sports psychologists do
not prescribe or dispense medication.
- Will My Neuroses Be Discussed? This is a term
generally found in psychoanalysis. You can find sports psychologists
using this orientation, but typically, most practitioners
are cognitive-behaviorally based. Your mental obstacles
will be discussed. and a plan will be advanced to handle
- Can't I Just Avoid Talking About Emotions And Mental
Stuff And Just Get A Pep Talk? Some sessions may seem
like a pep talk, but if that's all you needed, your coach
and friends could do that for you. Most sports psychology
sessions discuss a combination of easy to use techniques
and deeper, more interior-focused interventions looking
at your motivations, attitudes and beliefs.
- I Think I May Be Depressed As Well. Is Sports Psychology
A Good Fit For Me? It depends on the extent and type
of your depression. That is something that only a licensed
mental health professional or medical doctor should diagnose.
You may be able to continue sports participation and working
with the sports psychologist if your depression is correctly
diagnosed and the proper treatment regimen is directed.
- I've Had Performance Problems A Long, Long Time. Can
I Be Helped In A Couple Of Quick Sessions? Typically,
long-standing problems take time to resolve. If they are
deeper, this requires substantial time. Your sports psychologist
should be able to estimate the length of work in the first
- I Don't Like To Spend Much Time Reading And Writing,
And I Hear They Make You Do A Lot Of Both Of These In Mental
Training. You can customize mental training to your
preferences, but to gain maximum benefit, some writing in
a journal and some reading is quite helpful.
- I Hear Sports Psychology Uses Zen And Far Eastern
Mystical Voodoo Techniques, And I Don't Want Any Of That.
Though many sports psychology approaches and techniques
have come out of Eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism,
you do not need to be an adherent of these disciplines or
believe in them to use them to full effect.
- Will I Have To Change My Personality Or Temperament
To Do Mental Training? Sports Psychology does not ask
you to change how you are as a person, including your personality,
temperament and taste for vanilla ice cream.
- Will I Be Hooked Up To A Biofeedback Machine?
Biofeedback is a potent tool in performance enhancement
and stress management. This is something you could utilize
if you want.
- It's Easier To Stay Out Of Something Than To Get Out
Of Something. I Don't Want To Be Pressured Into Signing
Up For A Series Of Sessions That I May Not Want. An
ethical sports psychologist should not pressure you to do
anything, including signing on for a long contract.
- Going To A Shrink Shows You Can't Handle Your Own
Problems, That You Are Weak. I suppose we could say
that about anyone going to any professional or expert for
help, but we don't believe that to be true. Clearly, people
in the helping professions are there to do just that--help
you overcome obstacles you can't yet handle on your own.
They want to teach you how to be your own best coach.
- I Tried Counseling Before And It Didn't Work, So Why
Should Sports Psychology Work? Sports psychology is
not counseling, although some of the elements are similar.
While the thrust of counseling is therapeutic, the purpose
of sports psychology is an educational one.
- Is Sports Psychology Compatible With The Medications
I Take? It depends on what you are taking, and, except
for extreme medication cases, a sports psychologist should
be able to work with your medications and still help you.
- I Have Some Secrets I Don't Want Anyone To Know About.
Is There A Chance The Sports Psychologist Would Try To Get
Them Out Of Me? Your secrets can stay with you as long
as you like. No one will attempt to make you say anything
you don't want to say.
- I Might Begin Talking About Some Very Emotional Issues,
Possibly Lose Emotional Control And Even Begin To Cry, And
That Would Be Embarrassing. Sports psychology coaching
is a safe place where you can express all sorts of thoughts
and feelings, so you shouldn't feel self-conscious about
any emotions you display.
- They May Make Me Take Some Psychological Test.
You only take the tests and assessments you want to take.
You may find though, that some tests give you a very quick
and accurate insight into yourself as a person and a performer.
- Will They Tape Record The Sessions? I Want Privacy.
Sessions are recorded only if you agree to that. Sometimes
you may want to be videotaped so you and your sports psychologist
can analyze your performance and make recommendations.
- Who Else Will Be There? Anyone you want can be
in your sessions, whether its in person or on the phone.
Often people bring in their parents, coaches and team mates
to gain additional insight into their performances.
- Will The Sports Psychologist Contact Anyone Else I
Know And Ask Them Questions About Me? Not without your
permission. You may consider this though, as an adjunct
for the sports psychologist to gain additional helpful perspectives
- Will The Therapist Try To Drag My Other Family Members
Into Sessions? Only the people you approve come into
your sessions. Your family in particular know you well and
could provide insightful information that could help you
improve your situation.
- My Friend Had A Bad Experience With A Sports Psychologist
Once And I Don't Want That To Happen To Me. You have
to evaluate every experience from your own perspective,
and perhaps you will have more success than your friend
- I Hear That Sports Psychologists Just Give You A Pep
Talk And Tell You To Think Positive. Sports psychologists
definitely help you think positive and maintain healthy,
winning attitudes and beliefs, and they sometimes give you
a pep talk, but they go far beyond that to give you assessment,
structure, guidance, advice, perspective, confidence and
proper mental performance techniques.
- I Don't Want Anyone Tinkering With My Physical Technique
To Improve My Mental Game. For the most part, sports
psychologists do not focus on your physical technique or
your physical conditioning, but they first seek to rule
out that your performance deficits are from non-mental causes.
- Sports Psychology Sounds Negative Because All You
Do Is Talk About Problems. All counseling and therapy
systems focus on discovering your problems and concerns
and then ameliorating them. Sports psychology also focuses
on removing the obstacles that stand in your way of sports
success. That's a positive process to get rid of the negativity
that holds you back.
- No One Could Possibly Help Me With The Problems I
Have. It may seem like your problems are extreme and
insurmountable, but there is hope. Many athletes have come
to sports psychologists and have been delighted when they
learned that there is help for virtually any kind of sports
- I Heard They Make You Talk About Your Parents, And
I Don't Want To Get Into That. It is fairly rare for
sports psychologists to get into your parental issues unless
there are some deeper obstacles holding you back. You talk
only about the things you want to discuss.
- I Hear Sports Psychologists Make You Talk About Your
Childhood, And I Don't Want To Do That. This is not
a standard topic you would be asked to discuss unless you
have long-standing, deeper issues that are blocking you,
and you and the sports psychologist thought that looking
at some of your childhood issues were relevant.
- I Went To A Psychotherapist Once And I Don't Want
Any More Therapy. Sports psychologists do not deliver
therapeutic services. They do use some of the modalities,
approaches and tools of counseling and therapy, but their
focus is on performance enhancement, not therapeutic outcomes.
- I Read A Book On Sports Psychology That Didn't Help
Me, So How Can A Sports Psychologist Help Me? Reading
psychology books can be helpful for some people, but nothing
can take the place of a sports psychologist who will help
you with your specific performance issues in a timely, accurate
and personalized manner.
- I'm Afraid The Sports Psychologist Will Ask Me To
Make A Commitment To A Series Of Sessions, And I Don't Like
Being Sold And Pressured. No one should pressure you
to purchase something you don't want, but being asked to
make a commitment is quite reasonable, especially if your
problems have been long-standing or your goals are high.
- Going To A Sports Psychologist May Conflict With My
Religious Beliefs. The approaches and modalities used
by sports psychologists are not connected with any religion,
church or belief system. The techniques they use require
no religious affiliation or practice to work.
- Having To Seek Sports Psychology Help Shows My Faith
In God Is Weak. Many athletes make religion and their
faith in God part of their sports experience, but asking
for help from a sports psychologist does not mean you have
a lack of faith.
- My Image Of A Sports Psychologist Is Them Sitting
There Stone-Silent, Making You Do All The Talking. This
is a popular image taken from countless movies and cartoons
of the old-style Freudian therapist sitting silently while
the patient free associates from the couch. We don't do
that in sports psychology, but we do ask that you talk so
we can help you figure out what is happening with you.
- I Don't Want To Have To Lie Down On A Couch And Be
"Psychoanalyzed". You will not be asked to get on a
couch. And Freudian psychology is not the favorite approach
used by most sports psychologists.
- I Don't Know Anyone Who Was Helped By Sports Psychology.
Please refer to the lists of the thousands of athletes,
teams and coaches who have used and who currently use sports
psychologists at the national, international and professional
levels, posted at the top
of this article.
- How Would I Tell The Sports Psychologist I Want To
Stop Sessions Without Making Them Feel Rejected? You
can do this at any time, and you don't have to take care
of them emotionally or worry about their reaction to this.
They understand that sometimes you need a break or a different
- I Don't Want To Be Rejected Or Disliked By A Someone
I Don't Know. It does seem like a scary proposition,
talking about personal matters with someone you don't know
all that well, but you have to start somewhere. They won't
reject you or dislike you. They want you to succeed.
- Talking To A Sports Psychologist Is Admitting That
Deep Down Inside, You Are A Very Flawed Person. Seeing
a sports psychologist is an act of courage that shows you
are intelligently seeking assistance in an area in which
you are not an expert. If you believe you are flawed, that
is an area that will greatly affect your sports performances
as well as your life, and is one that you should discuss.
- What If They Can't Help Me? You have to find the
right person who you can really connect with and who can
genuinely assist you in your specific situation. Be patient
and find the right person who can help.
- What If They Label Me Mentally Ill? That won't
happen. sports psychologists don't use those terms or see
people in those ways. They view people as having great potential,
and as simply having difficulties in their sports performances.
- I Don't Want To Be Placed Into A Little Box Where
They "Diagnose You" And Name Your "Mental Disorder".
Sports psychologists don't do this. Counselors, clinical
psychologists and psychiatrists must submit an "official
diagnosis" to insurance companies, but we in the sport world
assess you without "labeling or diagnosing" you.
- I Don't Want To Deal With Lots Of Details And Minutiae.
Details are what success is all about. They are important
details, or the sports psychologist would not bring them
up. Just as a physician is precise and specific in laying
out a treatment plan for you, the sports psychologist is
very careful about helping you create a success plan, that
of necessity, has details about nuanced adjustments you
will be making in your thinking, emotions and behavior.
- They May Pressure Me To Make Changes I Don't Want
To Make. No one will pressure you to do anything, particularly
changes you prefer not to make. You are in the driver's
seat every step of the way.
- I Don't Like Strangers Telling Me What To Do.
Your sports psychologist will give you some advice and counsel,
but the decisions you make are up to you.
- My Parents Said Don't Talk To Strangers, And Now They
Want Me To Open Up To A Stranger? It does seem odd to
be telling personal things to someone you don't yet know
very well, but sports psychologists are professionals, trained
to make you feel comfortable and able to share important
details that they can then use to help you maximize your
- Will They Make Me Stop My Superstitions Or Habits
That Make Me Play Well? Many athletes have superstitions
or rituals that make them play better. You can keep these
if they help you.
- I Don't Want Anyone Judging Me. Experienced sports
psychologists will never pass judgment on you or blame you.
They are there to help you and make you feel comfortable
so you can move ahead in your sport performance.
- I Don't Want Someone I Don't Know Telling Me How To
Live My Life. You won't be directed or controlled, and
further, you can have a dialogue about how you can improve
your sports performances, but you make the final decisions.
- If I Act Crazy Or I Am Diagnosed A Certain Way, Can
They Hospitalize Me Against My Will? No, this will not
happen. Sports psychologists don't do those things. They
don't call anyone crazy and they don't diagnose, using the
medical taxonomies and protocols that clinical psychologists
and psychiatrists use.
- My Parents/Spouse/Coach Is "Making Me"Go To The Sports
Psychologist And I Resent That. It is common that someone
strongly encourages you to go a sports psychologist, but
you should have the final say in the matter. Starting coaching
under duress doesn't make much sense, or go very well.
- I Am Concerned That The Advice I Get From The Sports
Psychologist Will Conflict With What My Sports Coaches Tells
Me. This is a very common concern, and it is easily
overcome by working with your coaches and anyone else who
helps you, or by asking you what they are teaching you.
The sports psychologist will balance and manage his or her
advice and interventions around the approaches your other
coaches are using with you. There should be no conflicts.
So there you have it, 72 common concerns
athletes have that make them reluctant to see a sports psychologist.
Perhaps you found some of your concerns in this list, and
you are now more open to seeing a sports psychologist.
What Happens In A Sport Psychology Session?
Sports psychology coaching is a process,
a learning experience. It's an opportunity to grow as an athlete
and as a person. It's an enlightening growth process, and
a very interesting one. You will learn more about yourself
as an athlete, and as a person.
It's a special time that is all yours, for you to use any
way that you see fit. It's your own personal mental training
class and consulting session. It's a chance to receive personalized
teaching from an expert in the mental game. It's a custom
coaching class that focuses on your mind.
Here is what takes place during a sports psychology coaching
session. This list demystifies the sports psychology coaching
process and gives you confidence that your sports psychologist
has your best interests and well-being in mind at all times.
In the sports psychology coaching session you will be able
- Discuss any performance issues that trouble you or concern
- Talk about any emotional obstacles holding you back.
- Explore any technical issues that affect your mental
- Engage in creative exploration of how to resolve these
- Understand the mind-body connection and how to make it
work for you.
- Gain additional perspectives on your sport experiences
- Feel deeply listened to and respected as you discuss
- Assess your mental strengths and weaknesses.
- Devise a mental training plan to help you overcome mental
- Discover learning experiences and exercises to help you
become self aware.
- Share the kind of things and ask the kind of questions
you would normally not be able to share with your friends,
parents or coaches.
- Grow from being assigned mental training homework.
- Be assessed on a variety of mental measures to increase
- Receive assistance in making better decisions about your
- Benefit from a viewpoint other than your own.
- Make action plans to bring your goals to reality.
- Learn a wide variety of mental skills.
- See charts and illustrations to help you understand key
- Learn self-regulation skills for emotional, mental and
- Ask any questions you may have about your sports experiences.
- Discuss sensitive issues in a safe, confidential environment.
- Gain the perspective from someone who has been a successful
athlete, coach and mental trainer.
- Set up weekly and monthly structures that help you stay
accountable to your goals and dreams.
- Replace negative thought patterns with positive ones.
- Help you realize higher levels of confidence.
- Set goals that help you learn faster, perform better
and enjoy yourself more.
- Familiarize yourself with the zone and be able to enter
it more often.
- Navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of change.
- Experience high quality communication skills.
- Rehearse mental skills.
- Have a dialogue that helps you think and solve your own
- Hear advice, suggestions and counsel.
- Receive ongoing support and feedback.
Your Next Steps In Mental Mastery
In essence, sports psychology coaching
is a valuable, specialized educational experience, one that
will benefit you far beyond your sport experiences. It's a
lifetime investment in yourself as a person. The insights
you learn and the skills you build will carry over to many
important varied applications for school, business and life
Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2006
All rights reserved.
Sports psychologists exist for one reason only -- to help
you maximize your sport experiences. They want you to succeed.
They want to help you grow as an athlete and as a person.
I hope this article has helped put aside some of your fears
and concerns about sports psychology and deepened your understanding
of this fascinating field. I encourage you to avail yourself
of the wisdom and expertise of sports psychologists so you
can reach more of your sporting and human potential.
To learn more about how sport psychology coaching can help
you become a better, more confident athlete, visit Bill Cole,
MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach at www.mentalgamecoach.com/Services/SportPsychologyCoaching.html.
This article covers only one small part of the mental game.
A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting,
pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis,
mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control
training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration
training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building,
breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness
training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training,
psych-out proofing and media training.
For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need
an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental
strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport
psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot,
This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths
and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide
in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis
for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve
your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first
step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness
and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching
Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports.
He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published
book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive
article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
Article Source: SportsPsychologyCoaching.com
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