Playing sports can have a positive effect on mental health, but the stress of competition can also weigh athletes down. This leads to the need for professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat any conditions that are affecting athletes, to enhance their performance and improve their well-being. The field of sports psychology is concerned with helping athletes develop the right mental state in order to succeed with their physical performance on the field. The basic principles of human behavior and psychology are used to achieve this goal.
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What is Sports Psychology?
Sports psychology is a specialization in psychology that evaluates the mental state of athletes. It can be hard at times to distinguish between physical pain and mental pain. By having a sports psychologist available to evaluate athletes, coaches and sports teams can make this distinction and help improve their performance. A sports psychologist will use a combination of diagnostic tests and therapy treatments to achieve this goal.
The Role of a Sports Psychologist
Athletes are under immense pressure to perform physically, which can take a toll on their mental health. A good sports psychologist will be able to help athletes to set more realistic goals, actualize these goals, and help cope with stress in a positive way. They can help athletes deal with problems such as performance anxiety and a lack of motivation, pushing them to do a little bit better in their next race or game.
Some tasks that a sports psychologist performs include the following:
- Perform athletic consulting
- Enhance performance
- Increase athlete motivation
- Diagnose and treat mental disorders
- Help injured athletes on the road to recovery
- Help assess new athletic talent
- Teach mental self-regulation techniques
Although it’s possible to find a position in sports psychology with a bachelor’s degree, most will have a minimum requirement of a master’s degree from an accredited learning institution. Some sports psychologists will also hold a doctorate degree. It’s possible to hold a degree in a sports psychology specialization, or earn a degree in clinical or counseling psychology. This academic requirement is also combined with an experiential requirement in most cases to find employment in this field.
There are also professional certifications offered through the American Board of Sport Psychology for students who are interested in becoming sports psychology professionals. The highest-ranked certification is the Board Certified Sports Psychologist-Diplomat, which takes into account education as well as training and experience.
Typical Work Settings for Sports Psychologists
Although sports psychology is a specialty field within the larger arena of psychology, there are smaller subcategories even within this field. These include the following:
- Clinical Sports Psychology: Athletes who suffer from mental illnesses as a result of their training regimen may need the help of a clinical sports therapist. In this discipline, the psychologist helps patients cope with typical sports-related issues including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
- Applied Sports Psychology: This is more closely related to counseling psychology, helping athletes apply mental techniques such as visualization to set and meet their personal goals.
- Academic Sports Psychology: Universities and colleges typically employ these types of sports psychologists, who help research the best training methods and motivational techniques, while helping coach college-level athletes.
Sports psychologists can work for universities, colleges, private medical clinics, physical therapy clinics, and hospitals. There is also a need for qualified sports psychologists in retirement or elder care clinics, to help seniors gain the motivation to become more active.
To succeed in the field of sports psychology, a positive attitude is necessary, as is a love of working with people. You will need to have the training and personality to motivate others.