Sport psychology: self-development vs. treatment

I often receive calls from parents of young athletes requesting that I talk to their son or daughter. They explain that their child has a “big game” or try-out in the next few days and they want them to be better prepared mentally. Most parents are willing to go to any length possible to help their young aspiring athlete be the best in their sport, and as a parent myself, I appreciate that. However, this type of call, while quite positive in its intent, is often frustrating in that these parents have the expectation that a phone call or a couple of sessions with a sports psychologist will result in a marked improvement in their child’s sport performance. The reality is that in the short time frame, I can at best help the young athlete calm down, focus their energies on the relevant aspects of the next few days and help them put the up & coming “big game” into a more manageable perspective. I may even be successful in having their very interested parents back off a bit in order to give the young athlete some much needed psychological breathing room. Though I believe these interventions and suggestions can be quite helpful in the short-term, any longer lasting mental skill improvement will take a little longer to develop.

When I receive these calls from the parents of young athletes, they are requesting that I help their son or daughter “fix” a problem. While this is an understandable request, it would be far more productive and effective for the young athlete to be learning how to develop the psychological tools necessary to enhance their performance during their on-going practices and training regimen.

So, why isn’t there a sports psychologist teaching these skills at every youth sport program? Why don’t we require every coach working with our youth to take a basic course, such as, Effective Mental Skills for Sport and Life? If the mental side of sports performance is as important as all the sports commentators, sports analysts, coaches, parents and athletes themselves say and believe it is, why is it given such little attention in sports training, particularly in youth sports?

I believe there are two main reasons for this. The first is that sports psychologists themselves have not made a compelling enough case as to why learning these skills would benefit the athlete. Secondly, people still hold on to the notion that to see a psychologist, no matter what kind, means they are deficient or lacking in their make-up in some way and that they are receiving “treatment.” It is thus imperative that the professional organization of sports psychologist do a much better job of educating the public as to what a sports psychologist can do and how people can benefit from their services. In short, a sports psychologist is more often used for “development” rather than “treatment.”

If you are interested in discussing your “Head” issue with me, you can contact me here or on my website: www.ProFormance-inc.com.

Use your Head to Stay in the Game.


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