Resistance to Sport Psychology: Why should an experienced coach bring a sport psychologist into the picture?

“I know sport psychology” said the coach, the trainer, and everyone in between. We all have knowledge, experience, and thus opinions about people and what helps them to perform.

There’s no doubt that a top coach intricately understands the psychology of their sport. There are cases when an experienced coach has a stronger knowledge of the sport than the sport psychologist.  Most coaches have worked with an athlete for several years and feel they know them better than a sport psychologist ever could.

So why wouldn’t you bypass the sport psychologist and take the mental skills training with your athletes into your own hands?

Here is my rationale for why working collaboratively with a sport psychologist can lead to great outcomes for you and your athletes, even if the above scenarios are true for you.

Knowing Thy Self
While getting to know an athlete and building rapport is important, a good sport psychologist is primarily concerned with helping the athlete get to know themselves.  This knowledge will form the foundation for knowing when to use certain mental skills, in their own way, in key moments.

Mentoring vs. Awareness Building
Coaches use knowledge and expertise to advise, mentor, and encourage certain habits.  This approach is perfect for facilitating the adoption of sport specific behaviours, but what about innate perceptions, personality, or motivation in an athlete that may be blocking high performance.

I hear coaches say, “I’ve repeatedly talked about this, but nothing is changing.  I just think they don’t want to change or maybe they are just not capable.”

Sometimes change requires the athlete to work from the inside out in a way that advice alone can’t initiate.  In this case, a self-awareness building approach is required.  Contrary to popular belief, sport psychologists are not advisers, we are awareness builders.  We are trained in techniques to facilitate this process in the athlete themselves, allowing a deeper self understanding of their emotions, thoughts, and actions and independently learning how the sport environment influences these things in positive and negative ways.  [Tweet “Change in one’s mindset and habits can only take shape once self-awareness is acquired.”] In this sense, the sport psychologist can be the change agent that opens the door for coaches to elevate an athletes performance to the next level.

Knowledge vs. Adaptation
There is a distinction between understanding sport psychology concepts in the general sense and creating interventions designed to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of each and every individual.  A good sport psychologist is trained to adapt a singular concept introduced in sport psychology theories and to prescribe strategies for an athlete that best suits their needs, strengths, and limitations from a psychological stand point.

Psychologist First, Passion for Sport Second
A sport psychologist is a licensed psychologist first.  We are trained at the highest level to understand and develop interventions for suboptimal human behaviours and to promote the integration of high performing behaviours. Secondly, we are passionate about sport, understand the demands of sport, and the important role the coach plays in developing an athlete’s potential.

I’ve had the most success in achieving performance gains when working collaboratively with a coach on the mental change process in an athlete.  For example, when you can combine the awareness of a golfer’s emotional and mental response, with information from the coach about their technical defaults under pressure or focus lapses, you have a recipe for shaping a powerful intervention from all angles.  A sport psychologist will incorporate an experienced coaches knowledge of the sport and the athlete.

If coaches are serious about taking their athletes to the next level or developing the full potential of the person, it’s definitely worth considering the alliance with a sport psychologist.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment with Dr Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre to learn how a Mental Notes psychologist can work with you.