Sports psychotherapy and sport psychology can work in unison to improve the outcomes for athletes.
The role of the mind in either facilitating or hindering performance in sport has been well documented since the turn of the century. Popular streaming services like Amazon and Netflix have each released documentaries like Andy Murray: Resurfacing and Untold: Breaking Point, detailing the mental battles athletes face during their careers. Further to this point, many coaching related courses in the United Kingdom have introduced sport psychology modules for the future cohorts of coaches to engage with. Mental skills training is now seen as integral to the development of a coach’s philosophy. As a hopeful Sport and Exercise Psychologist, it is a question I ask dauntingly: Will there be as much need for Sport and Exercise Psychologists in the future?
The differences between sports psychotherapy and sport psychology are covered as part of the “Introduction to Sports Psychotherapy” online course delivered by Sports Psychotherapy Academy which is now available to enrol onto. Click here if you would like to gain more information.
Could the future landscape of player care in sport could see the merging of the two cousin disciplines? Not all athletes issues come on the pitch/track, often it is their performance that is impacted due to issues away from their sport. A key tenant of the use of Psychotherapy within Sport is to develop the person first and the athlete second. (Martens, 1987; Campbell et al, 2021). With athletes occupying a plethora of roles distinct from their role as an athlete, the amount of pressure socially and professionally linked to them is astronomical.
Due to these pressures and the many more challenges athletes face. It is clear that psychological support is needed for individuals. Nesti (2004) expressed that it is common for younger athletes to have not yet developed the repertoire to express how they are feeling. Therefore, individuals must be emotionally literate for them to best utilise the benefits of talking therapy (Psychotherapy).
For those individuals who are not emotionally literate, the addition of sport psychology educational sessions within an academy environment, will help the ability for individuals to better understand more about psychological principles. Allowing them then to fully benefit from the use of a working psychotherapist within their sporting environment. There is an agelong argument first brought to light by Greenspan and Feltz (1989) that professional athletes already possess the mental skills which has enabled them to separate themselves from amateur level athletes. If this is true, then surely practitioners’ efforts should lie away from training mental skills when consulting athletes at the top of their game.
A recent report revealed that Olympic and Paralympic sports, excluding sports like football and rugby union, contributed £25 billion to the UK economy for the year 2017, the greatest ever figure (Sport Industry Research Centre, 2021). The financial pressure sports teams endure can be diffused onto their athletes as there is a lot riding on their success. Sports organisations can help ensure that athletes’ varied needs are attended to by bringing a sport psychotherapist on board (Bloom, 2021).
The acceptance of psychological principles is covered across the footballing hierarchy with the notoriety of the four-pillar model: Tactical, Technical, Psychological, Physical. However, educating individuals on psychological theory, and applying the workings of a Sport Psychologist may be the first step in what else can be achieved. In order to better equip players, coaches, parents and other key stakeholders in higher psychological awareness, more can be done.
By implementing the work of a Psychotherapist with experience of the workings within sport, understand that the impact and support that can be achieved and offered through education and available professional services can enable athletes and individuals a greater ability to manage the challenges and difficulties they may face when entering a professional sporting environment, whether that be on the pitch or off the pitch.
It is practitioners’ responsibilities to decide where to draw the line when it comes to how best their competencies can help individuals. Those in a helping profession are morally obliged to provide a duty of care to the highest possible standard. Dealing with problems which practitioners are not well versed in risks endangering the athlete. To avoid this occupational hazard, sporting organisations should look to harness the capabilities of both Sport and Exercise Psychologists and Psychotherapists to work in collaboration so that the correct referrals can be made if necessary.
By – John-Paul Kerfoot
Twitter – @jp_kerfoot
24th November 2021
- Bloom, G. (2021). Taking psychotherapy into sport—A clinical perspective. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research.
- Campbell, N., Brady, A., & Tincknell-Smith, A. (2021). Developing and Supporting Athlete Wellbeing: Person First, Athlete Second. Routledge.
- Greenspan, M. J., & Feltz, D. L. (1989). Psychological interventions with athletes in competitive situations: A review. The sport psychologist, 3(3), 219-236.
- Martens, R. (1987). Science, knowledge, and sport psychology. The sport psychologist, 1(1), 29-55.
- Nesti, M. (2004). Existential psychology and sport: Theory and application. Routledge.
- Sport Industry Research Centre. (2021). The Economic Importance of Olympic and Paralympic Sports, an update (2017). https://www.uksport.gov.uk/-/media/files/investment/uk-sport—olympic-and-paralympic-sports-satellite-account-2017.ashx