The Psychological Side of Sports

Will Locklin, Staff Writer

Aaron Hernandez, a former American football player for the Patriots, dealt with mental health issues his whole career.  In 2014, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Four years later, he chooses to kill himself because of mental health problems.  Sometimes the right mental state is all that it can take for a player or team to reach their goals. A person’s mental state has been proven to affect the choices, decisions and overall behaviors and it a critical aspect of psychology in the sports field.  Sports psychology has been around and used since the 19th century but is not a very common topic in the world of sports. The argument against sports psychology is that we don’t know if it’s valid. A player can improve because of psychological training or because they made adjustments based off of the nuances of the game.  Sports psychology methods such as mental imagery, goal setting, motivation, and building confidence and focus should be used to help an athlete’s success and teams overall cohesion and culture to lead to winning.

Some people say that there is no way of knowing if sports psychology methods make a difference or not.  Several player interviews have reported that sports psychology only works in a particular situation and not all the time.  However, there have been many cases where sports psychology has made a significant difference in a player’s life. For example, in an interview with ESPN, famous baseball player Alex Rodriguez said that when he gets into a hitting slump, one of his strategies to get out of it is to talk with a coach about mental strategies.  He also says that a players game is only as strong as their mental health. Furthermore, football has been a sport that is so violent that many players struggle with mental health in their careers. If that was more of a priority, then it could help the players not only in their careers but also after.

Mental imagery, goal setting, and motivation are all critical tools players and coaches can use to help with on-field performance.  They all go together as well. First, a player sets a goal for themselves or the team. Then they motivate themselves or have trainers motivate them to work through the process of achieving that goal.  Furthermore, since there are always roadblocks to success, mental imagery can be used to push through and further motivate the athlete, if all three of these tools are used correctly, then the chances of player and team success rise.  Other factors that can go contribute to the process are focus and confidence. Improving concentration is key to any player and can be unlocked by practicing focusing on specific fundamentals in the game, such as planting your feet correctly for a jump shot.  Confidence can be traced down to whether a player believes in what they can do. If a player lacks confidence, then motivation is a way they can improve. Teams, coaches, and players need to use these tactics to be more successful both for themselves and the team.