As sports psychology has made its way as a field of respect, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began implementing Sports Psychology Professional (SPP) services to gain insight into the lives of young athletes. This consisted of doing research and also having resources available to the players when they needed it. Now, many colleges are making sure they are having mental check-ups every quarter or semester to touch base with their athletes. Yes, many people might say that the colleges are doing this because they want their players to do well, but having healthy students is a priority for most institutions and I believe that this is a step in the right direction.
So many athletes who suffer from mental illness begin to slip into a funk after a season is over, or once they begin to feel as if their performance is lacking. For this very reason, the SPPs have so much to pay attention to when meeting with their athletes. At larger schools, they may have two or three SPPs but at smaller schools like Santa Clara University, there is one trained professional who is equipped to diagnose and help the student-athletes. This one job can take countless hours planning and meeting with their clients. Although this job is taxing and strenuous, having the ability to assist athletes during times of great need is a huge part of what the NCAA does for their students.
Many SPPs help athletes to enhance their performance by supplying them with mental tactics like techniques for relaxation, visualization, and positive self-talk. Although these things may seem intuitive when you read, science has proven that there is a specific way to do all of these things and it can be different for each individual. No two players are the same on both physical and mental levels.
SPPs can also help athletes cope with the pressure of being a Division level athlete, recover from injuries, keep up with exercise, and enjoy the sport that they are playing.
(recovering and coping from injuries is an extensive process that is an entire topic of it’s own. Here’s a cool article if you want to read up!)
One example of what SPPs are capable of is when a sports psychologist was able to teach a sharpshooters how to be aware of their heartbeats by using a biofeedback device. They were able to learn how to fire in between their heart beats giving them an advantage in a more steady shot.. I don’t know about you, but this is not something I expected a psychologist to be capable of! Yes in my studies I had heard about these devices but I never thought of using it in this type of case.
It’s not just a mental game of making yourself happier to become a better player, there are physical and biological things that psychologists are trained to know and do in order to help athletes. There are many psychological demands that athletes need to meet and there are many unforeseen difficulties that the NCAA cannot control and having this very important resource available is crucial.
There is a versatile range of sports psychologists, and like athletes, no two are the same in how they work. Over a sample of 96 universities who use sports psychologists, there are 10 different kinds of positions that are implemented. They differ from types of department affiliations, time-commitments, types of services, and clients.
For those schools who do not have these services, their explanations are that it “isn’t in the budget, but maybe 5 years from now”. Although these schools believe that these services would be useful, it is usually because there is a lack of money to support a program.
Most schools who do not have a built in SPP in their program have contact with an institution where athletes can reach out if they need to.
Dr. Wendy Borlarbi, the resident sports psychologist for James Madison University, is considered the coach of mind and spirit. She states, “college athletics is a job, we are asking these kids to do a full-time job and get an education. We need to give them the tools to be the athletes we want them to be and the students we want them to be.”
Having this opportunity available to student-athletes can help them clear their mind and conscience. With this, when they are up to bat, at the free throw line, or making a corner kick, they can be as successful as they are physically capable of.
Although most schools do not have a full-time SPP, the number is growing and the demand is as well. Because society is beginning to recognize mental illness as a very real problem, our athletes are also receiving the necessary help. Although not all athletes will need this particular help, having the option is always reassuring.
Most SPPs do not take credit for the success of failures of their student-athletes because correlation is not necessarily causation. There are a plethora of factors that influence and athlete’s performance and even though the psychological assistance probably had some influence, it is the athletes choice to implement the changes into their game.
SEE MORE HERE! (Bibliography)
- Wrisberg, C., Withycombe, J., Simpson, D., Loberg, L. A., & Reed, A. (2012). NCAA Division-I administrators’ perceptions of the benefits of sport psychology services and possible roles for a consultant. Sport Psychologist, 26, 16-28.
- Connole, I., Shannon, V., Watson, J., Wrisberg, C., Etzel, E., & Schimmel, C. (In Press). The Sport Psychologist. NCAA athletic administrators’ preferred characteristics for sport psychology positions: A consumer market analysis
- Voight, M., & Callaghan, J. (2001). The use of sport psychology services at NCAA Division I Universities from 1998-1999. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 91-102.