Industry analyst, Plunkett Research, has estimated that the U.S. Sports industry grosses nearly 4 billion dollars in any given year and impacts the lives of millions from children to adults. Due to this ever-present passion for sports, athletes of all ages face incredible pressure to achieve and maintain high levels of performance. Scott Goldman, the director of clinical and sport psychology at the University of Arizona, stated “Everyone is trying to figure out how to maximize talent. (Voelker, 2015)”
Sports have long been an arena where physical conditioning, strength, technique, and ball control (depending on sport) have been the focus. Better performance hinged on the improvement of any one of those domains. Practice longer or harder. However, that image and philosophy is starting to change due to growing attention from athletes, parents, coaches, and media. According to the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (2015), this attention has been the result of:
- The growing number of elite, amateur, and professional athletes who acknowledge working with a professional in the field of applied sport psychology.
- Coaches at the high school and university levels who seek professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology to work with their athletes and teams on game preparation, team cohesion, communication skills, and other areas that affect performance.
- Major universities are adding professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology to their athletic department staffs to assist athletes with life skills development and improve their ability to cope with the demands of being a student-athlete.
- The number of professional and Olympic athletes who discuss mental training as a regular part of their training routines.
- Exercise specialists, athletic trainers, youth sport directors, corporations, and psychologists who are using knowledge and techniques developed by professionals in the field of applied sport and exercise psychology to assist with improving exercise adherence, rehabilitating injuries, educating coaches and parents, building self-esteem, teaching group dynamics, and increasing effectiveness.
- The growing concern about the use of performance enhancement substances in sport and exercise settings.
- The increased media attention on increasing physical activity in youth as a way to fight the national obesity epidemic.
As the science around sports continues to evolve, so does the need to develop a more comprehensive approach to how athletes are trained. The need to integrate mental skills training is just as essential. Performance related concerns are not often critiqued based on physical deficits, but rather mental ones. “They are good but they are making simple mistakes.” “They started off strong, but then fell apart.” Mental skills are much harder to measure than physical skills, but they can be similarly practiced and fine-tuned.
In 2001, Loehr, author of “Player Development at the Core,” identified the importance that both physical and emotional deficits can have on performance. Similar to a student in the classroom where lack of sleep and poor nutrition/ hydration can result in decreased performance and a decreased ability to cope mentally, the same results occur in athletes. Also, similar to a student in the classroom where psychological stresses from circumstances related to finances, social, family, esteem, frustration, focus can derail performance, the same results occur in an athlete. Deficiencies in either physical or mental needs can result in decreased biomechanical efficiency and focus (USTA, 2015).
It is essential to start training student-athletes in a more comprehensive manner. A simple back-up plan or one day lecture will not suffice. “One requires training on a regular, systematic basis to develop and apply the correct skills. Psychological training should incorporate methods and techniques which teach one how to interpret what is happening to you and why. Then in the following order, how to cope with whatever is happening to and around you; how to cope with whatever you encounter; how to make decisions based on relevant cues and how to persist despite what is happening with you and to you (Athletics Training, 2015)”