Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Sport Psychology

Let’s assume you’re a shooting guard and play for a Division I Men’s Basketball Team. Just before one of your games you’ve experienced a problem in your personal life and haven’t told anyone about it. You’ve “stuffed it” inside yourself, thus affecting your ability to focus. In that particular game you go 1 for 10, which means you missed nine shots. Those nine shots represented a potential 18 points (even more if any were three pointers) not to mention that the opposing team may have gotten the rebounds and taken the ball down the court and hit five of them. That represents another 10 points. If you combine them they represent a 28 point differential. Pretty hard to overcome in a typical game. It’s like giving your opponent a 28 point advantage. And that’s from just one player. That’s why I advocate coaches create team support groups, allowing their players to talk about their personal feelings and issues with their teammates instead of “bottling” them up. And very often a player’s issues could be the result of a problem with the coach, which is why team meetings without coaches present often produce a positive change in the won-lost column. Remember, withholding (keeping your issues and emotions bottled up inside yourself) is a form of lying that demeans you and lowers your self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects your ability to focus and process information.


I recently had an opportunity to interview Dr. Tommy Burnett who spent 40 years as a professor at Missouri State University. Dr. Burnett has a PhD in Sport Psychology and is also an expert in Sports Law and Risk Management. He told me that when athletes exercise, the oxygen goes to the muscles first. But alcohol interferes with the oxygen supply making an athlete susceptible to injury. The consumption of alcohol interferes with the transportation of oxygen to the body’s muscle cells and is not being delivered to the ligaments and tendons. When the muscle fibers are deprived of oxygen, the athlete is more prone to injuries. Especially joint injuries. This is pretty common knowledge among personal trainers who work on professional athletes but it’s a fact often hidden from public view since there is a close association of the marketing of alcoholic beverages and sports, especially professional sports. So when you read where an athlete is experiencing muscle and ligament problems, there’s a possibility that particular athlete is also consuming substantial amounts of alcohol in his or her personal life.

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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