Uncontrolled frustration surfaced in Miami in 2009 when the world’s top-ranked male tennis player smashed his tennis racket at the Sony Ericsson Open into a bent, unidentifiable object – an outburst characteristic of Roger Federer’s tennis playing as a youth.
Angry at himself, Federer’s meltdown resulted after losing points to opponent Novak Djokovic, a behavior that Federer hadn’t exhibited, at least publicly, for many years. Federer ended up losing the match.
If Federer hadn’t gotten help by a sports psychologist for these daily, repeated outbursts as a child, it is unlikely that he would have ever achieved the unparalleled achievements he holds today.
Up until Miami, Federer had done a good job of using the skills taught by his sports psychologist to keep control of his emotions, skills that allowed him to perfect the game played in his mind as well as on the court, skills learned from a professional hired by his parents. They were horrified at his daily outbursts on the court, and repeated beatings of his racket against fences and other surfaces.
As a boy, Federer couldn’t understand his parents disapproval because he was mad only at himself and not at others. But as he learned how much these outbursts drained his energy, and took his focus away from his strategy and focus – contributing to poor performance – the advantage of employing a sports psychology professional became apparent.
“As athletes get better and better, the mental game is the differentiator,” according to Jeff Greenwald, a nationally recognized sport psychology consultant and licensed family counselor, located in the San Francisco Bay area.
Greenwald said that the pressure to win – the preoccupation with it – for every athlete, is overwhelming. The field of sports psychology is focused on teaching college and professional athletes how to take this overwhelming pressure, even in the most adverse circumstances, and turn it into an advantage. It’s a profession that combines the mental with the physical to achieve optimal performance – and has expanded to included working with recreational athletes, musicians, and performers in a variety of fields
As a sports psychology consultant, Greenwald uses cognitive behavioral strategies, based on solid psychological research, to help athletes apply proven interventions to remain relaxed, focused, and in control.
These interventions aren’t exclusive to “sports.” They’re specific to what scientists know on how the brain works, and they apply to all situations that place pressure on individuals.
Sports psychology professionals want to help people see the connection of thoughts and feelings to their behaviors. Like other psychology professionals, these practitioners want to help people better manage their moods and thoughts, see things from a different perspective, try new things, and stop avoiding certain things, Greenwald said. The focus of all psychology professionals is on helping people, and sports psychology is no different.
Mental skills consulting takes place with individual athletes, as well as sports teams. In addition, the American Psychological Association (APA), Division 47, states that the field of sports psychology is also interested in understanding how participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity affects an individual’s psychological development, health, and well-being throughout the life span.
In 1986, the APA formed Division 47, making it one of the newest psychology specialties. Many of the first practitioners – many who were athletes themselves – came from a variety of psychology fields, including developmental, educational, clinical, counseling, physiological, social, health psychology, and others.
As the field has continued to grow and expand, many colleges have added academic programs and degrees in sports psychology.
Professionals with degrees in the field work for sports teams and as personal consultants for individual athletes. Many are also interested in studying the application of psychology, sport, and exercise in noncompetitive settings; many are studying the effect of sports on motor development and learning, health prevention, and the aging process.
As Federer’s outburst in Miami in 2009 demonstrated, those who receive help at one point in their careers from sports psychology professionals often need to revisit and fine-tune the “mental” aspect of their game. And as new research gets published, athletes benefit from new mental strategies and interventions.
Sports psychology professionals have either a master’s degree or PhD in sports psychology. If you have a passion for helping people achieve their best through sports and exercise, request information from schools offering master’s degree programs in sports psychology or PhD programs in sports psychology.