with Sports Psychology
As an athlete I know the importance of working to develop the different elements of fitness and the technical skills to be physically ready to perform well.
I also know that how we think, feel and manage ourselves has a massive impact on how prepared we are and on how we perform at important times - our competitions. These are Sports Psychology skills that everyone can develop. Here I list some of these most common challenges and skills: what they are, why they are important and how addressing them can help you perform better.
As you will see below, there are many ways that your mind, mentality, or psychology impacts on your performance and enjoyment of sport. Similarly, there are many ways that sport impacts on your mind, psychology and how you feel.
Sports Psychology problems & solutions
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Sports Psychology help to conquer nerves, stress, anxiety and muscular tension
For many of us, our level of nervousness, anxiety and stress has a big impact on how we perform. This can show itself in various unhelpful ways, such as:
Muscular tension: Tension will impair movements and biomechanics – causing you to move poorly and perform in a less skilled way.
High levels of adrenaline: Some adrenaline coursing through your veins is good, especially for short duration, explosive events, such as throwing or jumping, or combat sports. However, for most sports, a high level of adrenaline and other stress hormones can put you out of your comfort zone, causing distraction as you wonder what on earth is going on with your body or in the situation.
Predicting catastrophe: You may expect things to start off badly, to go badly later, that you let yourself or others down, make a fool of yourself…
Of course, nerves, stress and anxiety build quite some time before competition starts. Your mind, diet and sleep are all affected by your rising levels of stress. How you manage the lead-up to the event will have a big impact on how stressed you are at an event and therefore on your performance. This will also impact on how satisfied you feel after the event is over. If you wait until competition day to start managing your stress, you will almost certainly be too late to do anything effective about it.
To effectively address competition anxiety, nerves and stress, I work with sports people to tackle the three key areas:
Physical or muscular tension
Stress-related behaviour (what you do or don’t do)
Buy a Stress Management Program for Sport
You can buy and instantly download my complete stress management program for sport in my online shop here. Or, if you only want to focus on managing physical tension (included in the complete program), you can buy the physical stress management program in the shop. These audio programs are downloaded in mp3 audio format and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee - if you are not completely happy with the program, get in touch and I'll refund your purchase. Read more about these programs in my shop.
Become confident in your sports performance
Confidence is required for a great performance. Sporting confidence can be developed.
When we are confident, we have a strong belief that we are ready to cope with the challenges ahead. We expect to deliver a good performance in competitions. We feel 'up for the challenge.'
When confident, we are not significantly anxious, stressed, nervous, distracted, or dreading what's ahead.
One of the most helpful things that we can do is to structure our training to give us the preparation that we can believe in and draw on, to feel robustly confident in the lead-up to and during a competition.
If you could benefit from feeling more confident, then why not get in touch to see how I can help.
Manage frustrations in sport
When things don't go our way, we get annoyed. These emotional responses can turn our normally tranquil self into a much less tranquil, contained and professional version of ourselves. This change can be unsettling not only for ourselves, but also for those who witness our frustration, anger or rage.
Of course, this state is only going to have a detrimental impact on our performance. When we are in Angry Mode, we will struggle to concentrate on what's important. We will struggle to think strategically. Our movements or biomechanics lose exactness and efficiency. So unless we are competing in a fast explosive event, it's almost certain that our performance is going to drop significantly. It takes quite a while for an angry state to subside and for us to get back on top of (or is that 'in to'?) what we are there to do.
Managing the ups and downs of our emotions - including frustrations, anger and rages - is important if we want to perform to our potential. This emotional management can be learned - even by those of us who have had an angry streak since we were young. If we don't learn to manage anger, we will always be limited, vulnerable to losing it and to losing our grip on a good performance.
Perform more consistently
One of the most frustrating experiences as a sports person is when our performance is inconsistent - some days we perform well, on others we don't. Our performance can change - for the better or worse - over a matter of only a few minutes. For some of us this variability in performance is huge, for others less so. For some this drop-off in performance happens often, for others less so.
This inability to perform as well as we can, over a sustained period of time, is something that many athletes who see me want to address. They believe that this inconsistency in performance is not necessary and is a by-product of how they are managing (or not) their mind during an event.
To develop this consistency we identify and test-out the elements that might help, rather than hinder, our performance. If you would benefit from performing more consistently, then contact me today to see how I can help.
Overcome injuries and setbacks in sport
Unfortunately, if you spend enough time in sport, you’ll likely experience a setback. One of the most common that athletes face, is an injury. Some setbacks can be massive and very limiting. Responding to setbacks in an effective way, learning helpful lessons and returning to performing wiser and more robust is key.
Many setbacks are caused by the following types of injuries:
The body just gives way - when placing the forces through our body during training or competition, our body just snaps or gives way.
Overuse injuries – those tendon, ligament or bone injuries caused by the repeated movements involved in sport (e.g., tennis elbow, tendinitis, stress fractures, ligament or tendon tears...).
A impact injury - such as a crash resulting in a sudden physical problem (broken bones, head injury...).
Injuries challenge us to assess what is going on, decide on who might be best to consult with, on how to adjust our training and cope with changes. There is a fair amount of disappointment, hope, fear and uncertainty to deal with (plus likely pain and discomfort!).
There is often a lot of worry about whether this injury might mean the end of doing what we love. Setbacks in our recovery can come as big blows. We miss many of the things that training give us - the exercise, the endorphins, the company, the goals...
There are various psychological elements associated with managing injury that I can help with - helping you cope better, to have a faster and more successful return to performing in your sport. If you would like some help with this, then do get in touch.
In my 20 years of competing in triathlons, I’ve had a few injuries - visited a few physios, podiatrists, chiropractors, osteopaths, x-ray machines... When injured, I know that we lose a lot, at least for a while. And we gain what we don't want - a significant amount of challenge! I have personal experience of testing-out psychological techniques from research studies, that can help athletes:
Cope with and adjust to an injury
Limit the loss of physical skills and abilities when we can't train
If you would like to get some help to manage your injury, then please do get in touch.
Some people think that competitions aren’t really a big deal – you simply do what you have done in training. While this sounds logical, it underplays the elements that a sportsperson could, or should, consider and do to maximise performance. Here are some of these elements to consider:
To manage competition nerves, stress or anxiety above.
To manage frustrations, when things don’t go your way.
To consider different strategies – what are you wanting to do and how are you going to respond to a range of possible scenarios.
If competing on a course, there’s knowing about the course, choosing how you want to race it (based on your strengths and weaknesses) and predicting how others might race it if they may impact on your performance.
Planning for how you will deal with (or ideally minimise the occurrance of) setbacks of challenges during an event.
Considering how to focus on the right things at the right time.
Then once the dust has settled, there is conducting a helpful competition analysis or review – to learn the lessons, to become more consistently better.
If you want some help with managing your competitions, when your performance matters most, then do get in touch.
Brush-off other people's expectations
We want to perform well. This motivation can come within, where our performance is important to us. We don't care that much about other people's view of our performance. This attitude can be quite helpful.
Some of us aren't that lucky. We are affected by the expectations of other people. These expectations can be high, inflexible and down right unhelpful. There expectations can have a significant and negative impact on us, how we feel and our performance.
Learning to cope with the expectations of other people is an important skill for a sports person. If you think that you would benefit from some help with this, then do get in touch.
Get your mojo and motivation back
The physical and psychological rigours of training and competition can take their toll.
When improvements in performance are coming and competitions are going well, things are can seem relatively easy for an athlete.
If this isn't the case, if things haven't been going so well for a while, we have some significant challenge, or if we have been in the game for a long time, then motivation can drop.
Things can become more difficult. It's more difficult to get to training. To put forth the right level of effort. To be as dedicated with the diet, stretching and recovery. You just can't be bothered. You've lost the drive and zest for your sport that's normally there. It's like we have lost our mojo.
If this sounds like you and you want some help to get your motivation and mojo back, then why not get in touch today for some help?
Transition smoothly to life after sport
For professional athletes, retirement from sport can be a real challenge. You likely got into the sport when you were young, during your childhood years. You have spent countless hours training and had years of competing. Retirement from sport can be difficult for a number of reasons. Here are some things that increase the chance that retirement will be tougher to adjust to:
All who you are and what you do - your identity - is tied up with you as a competitive athlete in your sport
Your retirement is thrust onto you - through injury, or the decisions of coaches or managers
You have no plans for what you will do when retirement comes
You have no clear skills or qualifications to develop in retirement
If you would like to some help to plan for and transition smoothly to retirement,. Or, if you have retired from sport and could do with some help to adjust to life after your athletic career finishes, then do get in touch.
Improve focus and concentration
Your ability to focus, to concentrate, to place your attention where you want and where is required are key psychological skills for a sportsperson.
Being focused on the right things when training, practising and competing is required to develop quicker, to perform better, and even to avoid accidents or injury.
Knowing what to focus on is important. Being able to shift your attention is important. Being able to have fewer distractions, and to be less distracted from what you are doing is important.
Without mastering your focus, concentration and attention, you won't perform at your best. If you could do with some help to develop these psychological skills, then do get in touch.
Become mentally resilient
We often hear nowadays about mental or psychological resilience - athletes who show it, or who could do with developing more of it.
What do we mean by resilience in sport?
It's the ability to weather the challenges that are thrown at us
That these challenges do not cause us to lose our emotional control, our focus, or our ability to make the right choices
That these challenges do not cause a significant or catastrophic drop in performance
That any impacts on performance are brief and small
That we may even face these challenges with a smile!
To be a resilient athlete, you need to have an arsenal or armoury of psychological skills to manage challenging situations. To develop your resilience, we would need to do an assessment of your sports-specific psychological skills, what has challenged you previously and how you responded, so a tailored plan can be created. If you would like some help with this, then do get in touch.
Deal better with critical and negative people
In life and sport, we come across a wide-range of people, with different outlooks. Some people can be encouraging and uplifting. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, that there are people who are negative and critical.
These people can be generally negative, which can be wearing and draining. Or even worse, they can be critical of you, your abilities, your characteristics, you generally or just about anything about you.
If this person, or these people, are part of your training group, team, coaching staff or management, then it can really difficult to deflect or absorb without it taking a major toll on our outlook, our mood, our performance.
If this type of situation sounds like yours, and you would like some help to manage negative and critical people to deal with them better, then get in touch to see how I can help.
Overcome the yips and movement blocks
Sometimes, usually for no apparent reason, our body starts behaving oddly when performing our skills. Or, it stops doing what we want it to do, what we normally do. We're not asking it to do anything out of the ordinary, or some skill that we haven't performed many times before. These types of problems are called movement blocks. In some sports, there are particular names given to these:
In golf, these are called the yips, when the player just can't get the golf club to swing in the usual way
In darts, it's called dartitis
Movement blocks can be perplexing, frustrating and embarrassing. They get in the way of our enjoyment of sport and our performance.
Another example of where they occur, is in diving. Divers can be paralysed on the board or platform, unable to start the dive movement and execute the dive that they have made many times before. Now you might think that this makes sense, because diving off a 5 or 10 metre platform is dangerous, so their mind is doing what makes sense - stopping them from hurting yourself. However, these divers are competent and have demonstrated the ability to execute this dive many times before (without injury). Plus, in my experience, the dive that has the movement block is usually a dive that isn't the most advanced or difficult for the diver. It is commonly a dive that is a few steps down from the most difficult for the diver.
Sometimes movement blocks disappear naturally, but this often is not the case. They can be pesky things to banish. If you would like some help to get rid of your movement block, then why not get in touch today?
Cope with moving up to the next level or team
Getting promoted or selected for the next level is great. It shows that we are improving, making progress, being recognised for this. For many moving up to the next team or level happens without too much difficulty.
However, for others, moving up a level can be challenging. It takes a bit of mental adjustment to move up (as it does when you are forced to down, as described in the next section below), seeing yourself as being able at that level, or worthy of being there. Another factor that contributes to this being a struggle, is if it is linked to a change in their group: who they train with, who they are coached by - so there is a new group to break into, to get established in - both in terms of where your performance falls in the pecking order, but also in terms of how you fit into the social hierarchy and friendship groups. Not all groups are welcoming of the newbies. Some can be rather hostile.
If you could do with some help to manage a move up to the next level, then get in touch to see how I can help.
Cope with being dropped
You try to perform at your best. You train hard. You do what helps. But sometimes this isn't enough. Despite your best efforts, your performance isn't deemed good enough by selectors, coaches or managers - and you get dropped. Sometimes it is a surprise, a bit of a shock. At other times, it is not such a surprise, because you have seen that your performance hasn't been that good lately, perhaps you have seen others who are performing better, or maybe you are limited by an injury or something else.
Whatever the reason for being dropped, it can be a challenge to absorb, to keep motivation high, to do your best at the new level and to focus on maximising your chance of getting back up to the team or squad.
If you could benefit from some help with coping with being dropped from your team or squad, then why not get in touch today?
Reflect and learn from competitions
Turn around performance slumps
Wouldn't it be great if we could always be improving? Always seeing evidence that we are getting fitter, stronger, better? Yes, that would be great.
However, if you have spent a few years in your sport or pursuing a fitness goal, you will know that there are times when progress is uncertain, or when there is clear evidence that your performance is not improving, or even worse, when you see that your performance has got worse.
These are challenging times. Recognising and absorbing this can be difficult. Working out why it has happened is often not straight-forward. Coming up with a plan of what is likely to help is the next challenge. Next comes introducing the changes and evaluating the impact.
If you could do with some help to turn around your performance slump or performance plateau, then why not get in touch today?
Competitions are what we train for. They are why we put in all the hours and effort. Sometimes they go as planned - often they don't. Either way, it is important to have a method for evaluating how they go, to extract learning and action points to shape how you train and execute the next competition. If you don't do this, you miss-out a really important aspect that contributes to the speed that you progress and improve in sport.
If you could do with some help to reflect on and learn from your competitions, then get in touch to see how I can help.
Work better as a team
In team sports, we have an obvious team - those who we train, travel and compete with. The goal of any team is to do it's best. However, there are many times when teams are not performing at their best, or even trying to perform at their best. Team members, can be only half-committed, putting in only a little effort, or actually doing things on purpose to get in the way of certain teammates or the team's performance!
Sometimes, things aren't quite so bad, but for one reason of another, the team is not pulling together in the same direction, or there are some difficulties between some teammates. This might be due to not liking each other, getting back at a teammate (revenge), a feeling of frustration, jealousy or envy, a desire to put a teammate in their place, or to maintain your position as top dog...
For coaches at all levels, all sports, around the world, getting a team to be pulling together, in the right direction, supporting each other, doing their best, is the perpetual challenge.
Get in touch for some help if you are:
The team member who is not getting the support or treatment by teammates that you should
Part of a team that is not getting on as it should, or pulling together in the right direction
A coach or manager who could do with some sports psychology help to get your team to gel, function and perform better
Get help with broader & deeper issues
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Sometimes aspects of our sporting or life outside sport can provide such significant challenges, that our ability to function normally can be overwhelmed. Or, sometimes biological changes within our body causes changes in our mood or anxiety.
My skills and training in Clinical Psychology allow me to address deeper or more complex difficulties, if required, for those who play sport or who exercise. Maybe your difficulty is described below?
Body image problems
Our body is essential for performing in sport - sport is a physical activity. Sports vary in the type of physical training required - power or strength, stamina or endurance, fine or gross motor skills, speed or slow and deliberate...
Some sports have an aesthetic quality, where how you look when you perform, such as your posture, is part of how you are judged or scored - think of gymnastics, diving...
Some sports only score how your body looks - perhaps the greatest example of this is bodybuilding. And, for gym goers, there might never be a competition, but there's plenty of emphasis on how your body looks.
Some sports have more of the body on display.
Many sports come with expectations of the 'right' body type, shape or composition for performance - thinness, lightness, narrow hips, broad shoulders, lean or defined muscles...
As athletes, how we look is part of our identity. If we have the experience of other people making critical or negative comments about how we look, or how our characteristics (weight, size, shape, fatness-leanness...) are linked to how we perform, then we can develop a negative, distorted, unhelpful and unhealthy body image.
If this sounds like you, then get in touch today to improve your body image problem.
Problems with food / eating disorders
Doing sport and exercise stimulates your appetite, to replace all the calories and energy you have burned off. Sometimes, in an effort to improve body composition, appearance or performance, we restrict, limit or develop rules about what we can and can’t eat. While better food choices can be a really good thing, it can get out of hand for some of us. This is when they become inflexible rules, such as where we simply MUST NOT or CANNOT have that [ice cream, slice of cake, biscuit, pizza, bread…]. The inflexibility of the rules about food, combined with the mental and emotional disturbance they cause, indicates how much of a problem these rules have become.
If your relationship with food has got out of balance, then why not get in touch today, to see how I can help you develop greater flexibility with food choices, so you feel better.
Over exercise or exercise addiction
Over exercise or exercise addiction can develop out of the good habit of exercise. At first exercise can make us feel good physically and psychologically, give us a sense of achievement, give us goals to pursue, and much more.
For some of us, our levels of exercise, training and sport participation can go on increasing, with us pursuing more and more opportunities to exercise. We engage in it at levels far above what is needed for sports performance, for health and wellbeing. Our logic goes along the lines of:
One exercise class is good, so two must be better.
I feel like a slob sitting around, so I’ve got to move more, whenever I can.
I feel bad when I don’t exercise, so I’m going to try to exercise as often as I can.
He or she’s always at the gym / at the class / in the pool and look good, so I need to do that too.
He or she’s posting on Strava / Facebook / social media about how many runs / cycles they’ve done, so I need to do more as my sessions look pathetic
Exercise can become very reinforcing – which is good. But if it has developed for you into more of an obsessive pursuit, where other important aspects of life get dropped, where you are unable to back-off, where you are picking up injuries or risking your long-term health, then maybe it is time for you to get in touch to see how my psychological input can help.
Low mood or depression
Significant low mood and depression can affect anyone – whether athlete or non-athlete.
Right now, 1 in 10 of us will be depressed
Over our lifetime, 1 in 4 of us will experience depression
If can be relatively short-lived, or more persistent. It can occur just the once, or be recurring, coming back time and time again.
If you are depressed, your mood will be low, really low, persistently low. It will mean that your outlook is bleak, your thoughts negative. Your behaviour, desire to be social and sleep will all be affected. Your body will feel more sluggish, tired more of the time. Unlike what other people might say, you can’t “just snap out it”, “smile more” to feel like yourself again.
For a sports person this will really get in the way of your ability to get to training, to train well, to interact with other teammates or coaches, to eat well, to recover, to sleep well...
You will likely wonder about the point of training and question other things that you do.
As well as a reduced mood, you may be more irritable or angry than usual.
Your performance will suffer.
All these things lead the negative cycle to become reinforced. Problems will increase and things become more and more stuck. It’s miserable and really difficult to just fix yourself.
If this sounds like you, get in touch today, to see how I can help.
How we get along with others has a big impact on how we feel. Feeling welcome, accepted, liked, valued... is important. If we don't have this, or even worse, have clear experiences and messages from others that we are not accepted, liked, valued or good enough, can be tough psychologically to comprehend and absorb. This makes a lot of sense - why shouldn't we be disturbed by experiences of being treated badly????
If you are are having difficulties in your relationships with others - inside or outside sport - then get in touch to see how I can help.
Other forms of anxiety
An anxious athlete is one who can often feel anxious a lot of the time, across a range of situations. When anxious, they feel on edge, uneasy, a bit panicky. For others, the anxiety is more specific, triggered in when they are in a certain place, situation or there are some particular set of conditions.
The anxiety can be quite predictable, or more of a surprise, like it comes out of the blue.
The anxiety can be quite stable and consistent, or it can come on in waves, with great peaks – maybe even developing into full blown panic attacks.
For anyone this is unpleasant and undesirable. For an athlete, this anxiety will get in the way of your ability to train, to perform at your best. It this type of anxiety is getting is problem for you, why not contact me to see how I can help?
Alternatively, if you want to take more of a DIY-approach to addressing your anxiety, check out my Stress Management Program on my shop page.
Obsessions, compulsions, OCD
Routines are really important, as it helps us to do things in a consistent way, to get consistent results. Sometimes our routines can develop into hard and fast, must-do rules. These routines can create problems if we can't follow them, or if they become too cumbersome. They can create obstacles to us getting ready to train or compete. They create significant unease and anxiety if we can't follow them.
We can become too focused on following the routine, that we lose sight of why we developed the routine in the first place, how it was supposed to help, and whether today it is helping at all. Maybe it is getting in the way and creating a problem, rather than helping!
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD, is the official diagnostic term for when we:
Mentally obsess over some thing, that we can't simply dismiss or shake-off.
Are compelled to do something to feel better or to prevent something bad happening (a poor performance, an accident...). This usually involves doing something in a particular way, following a set of rules, that are specific to you.
The unease, anxiety, distress and behaviours get in our way of doing what we would be doing otherwise in sport or outside sport.
If your rules, routines or OCD has got out of hand, then why not get in touch today?
You can read my related blog post on Sports routines, superstitions, rituals or could it be OCD?
When a big bad incident or accident happens, this will challenge our ability to mentally absorb it. This is irrespective of whether we have a physical injury to adjust to.
These experiences are not usual experiences for us. While they may be something that we accept that could happen one day, when they actually do happen, they can be a surprise, can overwhelm and cause significant difficulties.
For example, let's imagine that you are a cyclist. You ride your bike 6 or 7 days a week. You train for hours on these days. You race often. You see the crashes that occur in your races, you see others crash in televised bike races, when you read about cycling you read about the inevitable crashes too.
One day, when racing, a rider falls in front of you and a split-second later you are catapulted over your handlebars and hit the tarmac hard.
Your brain releases adrenaline within milliseconds of the accident unfolding to scan the scene to avoid additional threats and problems. Your brain does a quick scan of your body to see what might be damaged. Your brain begins to review "what the heck happened?"
As I said above, even if you managed to somersault over your handlebars and hit the road without much more than a few bruises (unlikely, but might be possible), you could continue to experience psychological problems to absorb what happened and on getting back into your cycle racing. These could show themselves as:
Being disturbed by memories of the accident at any time - reliving the accident time and time again.
Heightened emotional states and feelings of anxiety, fear, anger
Being more jumpy and startled by noises
Disturbed sleep, perhaps with a greater number of nightmares
- Problems getting back on your bike, riding behind another cyclist or riding in a bunch in races as fear and caution get in the way
These difficulties can be really disruptive and confusing. They are caused by how the brain processes traumatic experiences. They can develop into the more formally diagnosed conditions of Adjustment Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, or even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
If you are struggling to cope with, adjust to or move on from this type of traumatic accident or incident, then get in touch to find out how I can help, with my training as a Clinical Psychologist with additional training in CBT (the go-to treatment for trauma).
In this Problems Helped page, I have set out to describe the types of problems that sports people get in touch with me to help them with. Since 2002, I have helped hundreds, with a wide-range of difficulties, many of these are not described here. So, if you have a problem or difficulty that isn't captured here, why not send me a message or give me a call, to see how I might be able to help.
If you are looking for some help for your son or daughter, who is under 18 years of age, then you might want to check out my Sports Psychology for Children website. I'm often asked to help children navigate the world of sport. I created this website to describe the challenges and solutions for kids involved in sport.