Mind Over Sports


Posted on: September 22, 2009

Over the years, when working with athletes and sports teams, I’ve found that what takes place in the personal lives of athletes off the field dramatically affects what takes place on the field. Athletes’ personal unresolved issues and problems directly affect their ability to focus and often show up in the form of mental errors and mistakes during game competition.
So when I first wrote this, I wanted to find out the answer to this question: Unless a sport psychologist is also licensed as a counseling psychologist or therapist, is he or she prohibited from helping athletes with their personal issues and problems?
The answer I found was: Yes!
According to a psychologist I interviewed at a Midwestern University, he told me that the ethical practice of psychology involves not practicing outside one’s domain of expertise, and that psychological treatment for personal problems generally falls into the realm of clinical and counseling psychology. Sport psychologists not trained in clinical and counseling psychology would typically limit their practice to psychoeducational interventions related to enhancing sports performance and refer outside sources for mental health treatment.
When I interviewed Jon Stabler, co-owner and co-founder of GolfPsych, and husband to Dr. Deborah Graham, one of the country’s most successful sport psychologists who is also a licensed psychotherapist, he told that me that “unless sport psychologists are also licensed therapists, it is illegal for them to give advice or direction on personal issues or other issues outside of the sport. Unfortunately, we are aware of several instances where well-known sport psychologists have crossed that line and the advice has not been what a licensed therapist would offer. If the advice they gave resulted in adverse or damaging outcomes, they could be very liable for those results.”
In harmony with this point of view, I’ve found that when athletes are encumbered with psychological baggage (issues and problems) visualization and other mental techniques normally taught by sport psychologists, will be ineffective. Some sport psychologists believe an athlete can become focused just by blocking these issues out, but I disagree. Issues and problems cannot be “just blocked out.” They must be identified, addressed and dealt with before visualization will work. But for those athletes whose lives are in harmony, who have resolved (or begun the process of resolving) important issues and problems in their lives, the use of visualization can be highly effective.
One has to wonder why our colleges and universities continue to offer degrees in the field of sport psychology and not require an accompanying degree in counseling.
From a positive perspective, I’ve found that when athletes have a high sense of self-worth, when they are not repressing their feelings and emotions, when they are highly spiritual, when they are helping others less fortunate than themselves and when their lives are in harmony, they will actually create positive events in their lives, on and off the field of competition.


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