Scary Thing About Sports Psychology

With halloween today, I figure what a great time to talk about some of the scary things about sports psychology. There are a few actually; so let me get right into it.

SUNRISE, FL – OCTOBER 31: Hockey fans dress up for Halloween as the Hanson Brothers from the movie “Slap Shot” prior to the game between the Florida Panthers and the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center on October 31, 2011 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unqualified Sports Psychology Experts Trolling Around

While many people gain experience in the sports milieu as an athlete or coach, nobody is qualified to give advice in sports psychology unless you’ve earned at least a masters degree. Many qualified experts in the field thereafter associate themselves to relevant associations which enhance their credibility  and refine their skills. Examples of such organization include the Canadian Sports Psychology Association (read more) / find a qualified expert in Quebec or in the United States the Association of Applied Sports Psychology (read more) / find a consultant.  Sure, a coach can tell an athlete that they need to have a better attitude but, generally, may not tell them actually how to do this. This mental skill among many others should be taught by a qualified person in sports psychology. You wouldn’t get a plumber to do electrical work or vice versa so the same hold true here. If you really want to get the most out of someone’s performance hire a qualified person in the field of performance enhancement. I am not suggesting you get in touch with me necessarily (although I would welcome a new client and offer you a free 15 minutes consultation) but I would strongly suggest that you bring someone on your team who has studied this field and earned accredited qualifications. There are certainly many coaches who learn on the job and offer pretty good advice but when followed up with other questions related to performance, one cannot be guessing at answers especially what is the fastest and most efficient way of getting there. For whatever reason, many people feel they are properly equipped to offer advice to others but falling into this trap can get you face-to-face with zombies who may be lingering with other trolls six feet under the ground. My doctor has an interesting mug in his office that states “please do not confusion your google search with my medical degree”.  Kind of frightening and appropriate if you ask me.

Haunted House and Nobody to the Rescue

Research has generally found that having no goals is worse then having some kind of goals. While it is nice to have a coach offer advice in sports psychology, it is certainly worse when no support at all is given in this critical part of the game. We know that having SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-oriented) is a good acronym to use to remember how to set a goal but unfortunately, not many athletes actually write it down. It’s pretty scary to put so much emphasis on performance and NOT have a written plan. Not having a qualified sports psychology expert on your team is like having a haunted house but nobody to fix this problem. The performance can really suffer even more. In fact, it is always better to be proactive and work on this part of the game before underlying issues appear. Get into the habit of being grateful, see positive images and have sound goals. Sometimes a word can make all the difference. It does not have to be that foreign. I’ve recently re-launched a new course in self-talk in which I get my athletes to re-write negative statements into more positive ones by simply changing one word (see the preview).

Trick or Treat – Trial and Error 

As kids ring the door bell this year and howler “trick or treat”, it has come to my attention that in the field of performance enhancement, we are generally accepting of the trial and error method. We’ve often used this method especially when solving math problems. By giving x a value and substituting a random value one can see if we have the right answer. Too much and we’ll subtract from the answer. Too little and we’ll just add more. By using a trial and error, the answer is eventually gotten but who has the time to practice by trial and error? In an ultra time sensitive field where nano seconds determine whether you get a medal or not, using this strategy certainly can be frightful. Let’s exaggerate a little and imagine the Olympic games whereby trial and error is used. Come back in four years the judge will ponder. Learning from one’s mistakes and gaining mental skills through competition is great but learning them before hand is best. This is where one of my most common pet peeve quotes comes into play. “Practice makes perfect” most people say but really, practice makes permanence as Martin Seligman once said. This means if you practice wrong you’ll eventually create a new learning pattern which will actually hurt your performance.

So, while halloween comes and goes I recommend to take some time and really consider hiring a qualified expert in the field of sports psychology to improve your game. Doing this should not be a “one off” event but rather a continual process. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill and once cannot simply tap their heels and make the demons disappear. The consequences of not having a mental skills program can strike fear into even the most courageous athletes. Meanwhile, be safe out there and watch out for those kids! We want to make sure their athletic experience is not a scary experience. Boo!




By Coach Doron

Coach Doron is a sports psychology coach who helps athletes improve their mental skills.

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