A psychologist is to help athletes cope with

A
sport psychologist is used for athletes to optimise performance and
ensure their overall mental well-being. With athletes being trained
physically to their maximum, often the role that the mind plays in
winning is overlooked; this is where investing in a sport
psychologist would be beneficial as they provide an edge over
competition. This essay will explore the specific roles a sport
psychologist can play in the development of an athlete.

One
of the main roles of a sport psychologist is to build and increase an
athlete’s self-confidence and motivation. Self-confidence is very
important at elite level since ability is very similar, having higher
confidence in oneself can give the edge to an athlete over their
peers. The stronger the belief in their capabilities, the greater and
more persistent are their efforts (Bandura 1989). A sport
psychologist can help increase confidence by adopting Bandura’s
theory of self-efficacy when communicating with athletes. For
example, using social persuasion to convince the athlete mentally
they have the ability to overcome obstacles and perform well can
increase self-efficacy, and translates into better performance.
Having high self-efficacy in an athlete leads to developing strong
motivation as well, meaning they are more likely to see obstacles as
challenges, and will be motivated to rise above them instead of being
contempt with the level they are at.
Teaching
athletes to self-talk has been found to increase focus and motivation
on the task required of them. The sport psychologist should encourage
positive self-talk to athletes. This can include praising oneself
after performing successfully or words of motivation to keep going;
this helps the athlete to think positively rather than being stuck in
a negative state. The psychologist could implement the five-A model
in this situation, it ensures that the athletes’ intention is to
make the change and involves modifying the technique until it is an
automatic response that the athlete feels comfortable to use in high
pressure situations. Teaching the athlete how to use pain as
motivation is also necessary. Helping the athlete to understand how
pain is related to improvement can keep the athlete motivated to work
through the pain instead of giving up. Developing this positive
attitude towards it will see athletes embrace pain through hard work
as they will understand that it is something that will pay off in the
long run.

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Another
major role of a sport psychologist is to help athletes cope with
pressure and anxiety. The psychologist aims to help the athlete feel
more relaxed and confident, while less nervous and stressed in the
competitive environment. If the athlete is in a confident state it
means they believe they have the ability to perform well in the
setting. In comparison, being in a stressed and agitated state
signals to the athlete they cannot perform well which often creates
self-doubt and negative imagery, which is likely to impair their
performance. For example, a footballer who under-performs taking
penalties in a game because they experience high anxiety may begin to
believe that they cannot perform in high stake situations even though
they might perform perfectly well in training. One technique the
psychologist should use in this situation is visualisation. This
involves the footballer thoroughly visualising themselves performing
a penalty in an important game to exert
the pressure, then teaching them relaxation techniques such as deep
breathing to control their arousal levels. Consequently, in an actual
game they can refer back to the techniques they learnt to eliminate
anxiety and perform successfully.

A
sport psychologist is also important in non-competitive situations.
They help athletes during and returning from an injury. During an
injury the psychologist must be keeping the athlete’s motivation high
and to be as stress free as possible. Athletes might be frustrated
and stressed while recovering and being in a pessimistic mind-set
would not help the athlete recover effectively. As noted before,
positive self-talk is very useful in game, however it is also a
psychological pain management strategy as it is found to have
significant influence on athletes ability to cope with sports
injuries. Adeyeye et al. (2013) studied the effect of progressive
relaxation and positive self-talk techniques in coping with pain from
sports injuries. The athletes that were given progressive relaxation
and positive self-talk as psychological therapies were found to have
a greater ability to cope with sports injuries. The psychologist
should use such techniques alongside medical treatment for the most
effective rehabilitation. Returning an athlete back to full training
and competition requires the athlete to be completely ready
psychologically. The psychologist must ensure the athlete has low
levels of anxiety to return. For example if a basketball player tares
their anterior cruciate ligament while landing from a jump, they
might be worried about returning because of the trauma they
experienced. The psychologist should incorporate specific skills
training just before returning. In this case, the basketball player
can easily work on shooting, passing and ball handling drills while
seated in a wheel chair. This will greatly help with their motivation
and get them mentally prepared for playing the game again.
Additionally, this allows the athlete to interact with their peers
who can provide social support and help ease the player back into the
competitive environment safely.

The
overall goal of the sport psychologist is to ensure the athlete has a
healthy mental well-being and strong mental skills. Gould et al.
(1987) found that 82% of coaches rated mental toughness the greatest
psychological attribute in determining wrestling success, however
only 9% believed that they were successful in developing this in
their athletes. This means that the psychologist must develop
discipline into the athlete for situations such as getting enough
sleep, not abusing alcohol or drugs, and this leads in to an ethical
dilemma that sport psychologists must address.

Doping
may be used by athletes because; desire to win, fear of failure, may
feel pressured by their coach, etc. The psychologist should talk
openly about the issue of drugs to find out the reason behind it if
the athlete is, or thinking about, doping. The most effective
intervention is to involve the athletes’ family and coach to use as
support, however the psychologist is often bound by confidentiality
to not reveal any personal information that the athlete has said. If
this is so, they should help prevent doping by training athletes in
self-control, or teaching them about the long-term drawbacks of
doping such as thoughts of regret which can heavily damage the
athletes’ mind throughout the years. If the athlete reveals that
they are doping for a specific reason such as lack of confidence in
themselves to win, the psychologist should then target on working to
improve the athletes’ confidence through methods I have already gone
over. Having a trustworthy relationship between the two would make it
easier for the athlete to open up to the psychologist and will be
more likely to listen and act on what they are saying.

Overall,
there is still a lack of knowledge of the benefits psychology can
bring in the world of sport. Coaches, managers and doctors may all be
regarded higher in the eyes of the athlete and subsequently not use
the sport psychologist to their full potential. Many techniques that
they provide can lead to better motivation, arousal regulation,
coping and recovery skills amongst a wide variety of more that
positively affects the athlete on and off the court. In this essay I
have explored various roles and techniques which a sport psychologist
can provide and how they are beneficial to athletes in order develop
and improve an athlete.

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