Sports psychology is a branch of psychology that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address athletes’ wellness, athletic performance, sports participation, and systematic issues surrounding sports settings. According to the Association for Applied Sports Psychology (AASP), sports psychologists specialize in offering services for individual athletes, parents of athletes, coaches, and others involved in sports culture from a wide range of settings, ages, and levels of competitions, ranging from recreational athletes to elite athletes.
Being involved in sports is often a source of enjoyment and fulfillment, offering opportunities to achieve goals, form relationships, and find support. However, in some cases, sports can be stressful or psychologically distressing. If sports-related challenges become intense, they can interfere with sports performance and everyday life.
Symptoms of Sports-Related Issues
While the symptoms related to sports-related issues can vary widely, some common mental health include:
- Anxiety and worry: If you’re constantly preoccupied with thoughts about sports and training, it can feel challenging to focus on other things. Anxiety and worry can also interfere with your athletic performance.
- Sadness and depression: Concerns surrounding sports participation can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression, making you question your worth as an athlete.
- Chronic stress: You may have difficulty sleeping or experience physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, unexplained aches, and digestive issues, due to chronic stress. If left untreated, chronic stress can lead to burnout.
- Interpersonal conflicts: Stress surrounding sports can strain relationships with friends, family members, coaches, teammates, and competitors.
Different Sports-Related Issues
Sports psychologists can help individual athletes, coaches, administrators, and parents of athletes with a wide variety of sports-related issues. Some of the most common reasons individuals seek help from sports psychologists include:
- Stress management: From chaotic schedules to pressure to perform, athletes face a wide range of stressors and psychological variables. Sports psychology professionals can help athletes develop strategies to manage stress and prevent burnout effectively.
- Career transitions and injuries: Applied sports psychology can help athletes cope with injuries and navigate career transitions.
- Substance use: In some settings, athletes are vulnerable to a higher risk of substance use and abuse.
- Eating disorders: Athletes face a higher risk of eating disorders than non-athletes. Sports psychologists with training in exercise science, physical education, and sports nutrition can help athletes develop a healthy and sustainable diet and exercise plan.
- Systemic issues: Sports teams or individual athletes may seek the help of a sports psychologist to cope with systemic problems such as racism, sexism, and hazing.
- Performance support: Many athletes work with psychologists, trainers, and mental performance consultants to develop strategies to increase their confidence, focus, and competency.
What Should You Do If You’re Experiencing Sports-Related Issues?
Many people experience challenges related to athletic performance and sports participation. According to a recent NCAA report, college student-athletes in North America are as likely as non-athlete peers to experience depression and anxiety. Still, they’re less likely to seek mental health treatment. Fortunately, a wide variety of treatment options are available for athletes, including:
- Therapy. Finding a therapist you feel comfortable with can help you address mental health issues surrounding sports. Counseling can also help you avoid burnout, reduce stress, and learn coping strategies to improve your symptoms.
- Social support. Connecting with friends and family members outside of sports settings can help you gain perspective on your situation and remind you that you have a strong support network.
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Mindfulness practices and breathing techniques can help you cope with stress, practice positive visualization, and take deep breaths. Studies have shown that mindfulness and relaxation techniques reduce stress and anxiety related to athletic performance.
- Hotlines. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website also offers valuable resources and treatment options.
Finding the Sports Psychologist
Sports psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals differ in their approaches to treating sports-related concerns. While sports psychologists have training in the field of sports psychology, clinical psychologists and counselors typically use more general approaches to treat sports-related concerns, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and psychodynamic psychotherapy.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes a clinical psychologist as proficient in sports psychology after acquiring a doctoral degree and licensure as a psychologist. According to the AASP, some sports psychologists are also Certified Mental Health Performance Consultants (CMPC), with special training in performance optimization, enjoyment, and personal development. When searching for a sports psychologist, it’s important to remember that this proficiency does not include those with a doctoral degree or sports psychology degree who are not licensed psychologists.
Whether you’re struggling with sports performance, sports-related stress, or systemic issues, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a sports psychologist, clinical psychologist, or counselor you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences or requirements. One of the licensed therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you optimize your athletic performance, cope with sports-related mental health issues, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress.