Sport Psychology Top 5 FAQ

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Matt Long, M.A., M.Ed.

When I tell people that I am a sport psychology consultant, there are a variety of responses.  But there are almost always questions about what it means and what exactly I do.  So hopefully this brief FAQ offers some clarity as well as a deeper understanding of how working with me can be helpful to a variety of people.

1. What is sport psychology and how can it help me?

Sport psychology is quite simply the study of how the mind affects performance in sports, and more importantly how athletes and performers can improve performance through the development of mental skills.  If you have ever wondered why your performance in games/tournaments/races doesn’t match your performance in training and practice, then you understand how crucial this is.

 

2. What are mental skills?

Mental skills are anything on the mental side of performance that can be practiced – think visualization, confidence, focus, energy management, handling nerves, routines, self-talk, setting effective goals, etc.  These skills represent a huge percentage of performance, yet are almost always neglected when it comes to training…hence the term “mental training” or “mental conditioning”.

 

3. What exactly does it look like to work with a sport psychology professional?

This will depend on the sport setting, age group, and whether you are an individual or a team, but in general there are 3 components: assessment, education, and support.

With any individual or team I work with, it starts with assessment – finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then identifying specific mental skills to develop.  I do this through an initial meeting to gather information, along with various assessment forms that measure motivation, confidence, and other key mental skills.

The education piece involves a learning process on your part of how your strengths and weaknesses interact with performing your sport, and practicing the specific mental skills during training.  For example, we might decide that the focus of our time will be improving your ability to bounce back after making mistakes during games.  There are specific mental skills that help you become more resilient.

The final piece, support, is the ongoing encouragement, assessment, and communication that happen as you take what you are learning and gradually implement it in your training and competitions.  Depending on the program, this could mean weekly meetings, practice/competition observations, phone check-ins, etc.  At the end of the day I am a coach, and my job is to utilize my knowledge and experience to draw out the best in you when it matters most.  I train people to be more confident, more motivated, more resilient, more focused – on the field and off.

 

4. Sport Psychology – isn’t that for head cases and choke artists?

This is a common misperception about the field – that you only need it if there’s something wrong with you.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  To quote Trevor Moawad, a pioneer in the field of mental conditioning who has worked with athletes at the highest levels, “You don’t have to be sick to get better”.  Sport Psychology is about training the mental side of your game, whether that is addressing a weakness or developing a strength.  There is a reason athletes, performing artists, and even business professionals are employing sport psychology professionals at an increasing rate – sooner or later, we realize that our potential as performers cannot be reached without developing the right mindset.

5. Who do you work with?

This is a simple one.  I work with anyone.  Legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete”.  So, I work with athletes.

I have worked with athletes as young as 7 and as old as 80, in most every sport you can imagine, from bobsledding to basketball.  There is a vital mental component to any performance, and the sooner you realize that the sooner you can start training that part of your game.