Psychology | Mar 31, 2016

6 Thoughts from the World of Sports Psychology

From the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Bucks to Bayer Leverkusen and the LA Angels of Anaheim, we asked a number of mental conditioning experts for their biggest concerns in their sport at present.

Chad Bohling, Director of Mental Conditioning, New York Yankees

‘’In my opinion, the field of mental conditioning or sport psychology is continuing to grow, especially in the athletic environment, and with that, there is an increased demand for professional and college teams wanting to utilize someone in this field.  However, there is a wide variety of backgrounds within the field and also a big difference of how pro/college teams want and expect out of that individual or group.  Some teams expect to employ a consultant who is available from time to time, but others want a full time person that is viewed more as a coach or support staff member. The tricky part is understanding which is the right approach to be most beneficial. Likewise, within the field, there is a wide range of educational backgrounds and levels of experience and environments. With that, it’s important for those who are looking to hire, to do their due diligence with who they are wanting and bringing into their environment. It’s a positive because of the advancement in the field, but we also need to be careful who’s being hired to actually do the work that is expected. Since the attraction to the field grows, so does the potential of uncertainty with finding someone that fits the proper working environment.’’

Ramel Smith, Team Psychologist, Milwaukee Bucks

To achieve success in this field, four components are paramount for sustained viability: 1) competent practitioners; 2) personal buy-in from the athlete; 3) rapport and trust between the athlete and practitioner; 4) full support from the organization/institution. All are equally important; however, the organization/institution must be the main pillar of the foundation. Mental Health is already a taboo subject in our culture. And, it is hyper-taboo in the world of sports– where superhuman exploits are demanded and expected. Our organizations have to understand that athletes have to deal with performance issues on the field and mental health issues in their personal lives.  It is the responsibility of the organization to seek out competent practitioners and to educate athletes on the benefits of the utilization of such services. The focus of teams should be to work proactively on the mental wellness side of the continuum rather than retroactively on the mental illness side.  The end goal for the athlete is to reduce the distractions outside the playing field to maximize performance on it.

Geoff Miller, Mental Skills Coach, L.A Angels of Anaheim

“For many years, I’ve seen the biggest challenge sport psychology has as the need to change the perception of what we do from “fixing problems” to a proactive approach meant to maximize the talent of every athlete on a team or in an organization.  That tide has seemed to turn quickly and there has been tremendous growth recently in the number of people hired as mental skills coaches by MLB teams.  The current challenge is to build cohesive sport psychology departments, filled with experienced professionals who can deliver comprehensive approaches to coaches and players alike.”

Christian Luthardt, Sports Psychologist, Bayer Leverkusen

“I think that my biggest challenge in 2016 will be that of combining and integrating my different roles as a sport psychologist within the club, which have been evolving over the last almost six years. At the first team level this involves one to one counselling with players, consulting the coaching staff and strategically assisting in the development of an environment for sustained high performance.  Simultaneously, my work within the youth academy includes issues of organizational development, systematic coach development and leading a team of three sport psychologists at the club. This challenge is drastically requiring me to establish and refine clear priorities for my work and myself in order to keep assuring a high quality of service. This basically means to strip away all unnecessary baggage in order to have a clear focus within my responsibilities. I am conscious though, that this will only be possible if I will also be able to find time to breathe, to step out of the day to day dynamic of my work regularly and to reflect on the processes of this work with clear and fresh eyes.”

Ian Mitchell, Performance Psychologist, Swansea City FC

“Since working within the Premier League and at Senior International level, a key aspect of my work has been to enhance others’ understanding of the specific role of psychology in both the preparation and performance of managers, coaches and players. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to football psychology in the sense that it tends to be utilised only when a problem has been identified. However, one only needs to look at a game model to fully appreciate underpinning psychological principles and demands that are evident within for example, tactical management, between transitions, and strategic decision making during specific phases of the game. An ongoing challenge therefore is to fully integrate psychology into existing coaching methodology and philosophies in order to address game and preparation demands. The game is now dominated by numbers especially in relation to physical and tactical game data so it is important to align psychological work wherever possible to key performance indicators. Subsequently, psychologists working in football need to acquire coaching knowledge in order to enhance their contextual intelligence and demonstrate a more proactive stance within a high performance environment.”

Cristina Fink, Director of Sports Psychology, Philadelphia Union

“The biggest challenge for sport psychologists continues to be the idea that sport psychology is only about mental skills and not about regulating your thoughts and emotions. The fact that we are still hearing in different forms the recipes and 5 or 7 or 10 steps to perform better is oversimplifying and unhelpful.  Helping athletes and coaches understand the importance of self-awareness is critical and therefore our biggest challenge.  You cannot regulate what you are not aware of, therefore, understanding what makes you react and how to manage your thoughts and emotions, remains the most critical skill for athletes and coaches to learn.”

“The second challenge we face is the preparation and training of future sport psychologists. To work with elite level athletes and coaches a sport psychologist need to spend time learning and understanding the sport they are working with and the athletes and coaches they are trying to help. The field, expanding to cover all performance areas, is at risk of diluting its essence.”

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