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Sports Psychology: A High-Performance Athlete’s Perspective

There is a lot more going on in an athlete’s mind than just the sport.

From my personal experience being an athlete, I took it very seriously and had the perception that basketball was not something I could simply enjoy and have fun doing. This stemmed from the idea that I wasn’t working hard enough, and that there were others who were much better than me.

I look back at myself at a young age and realize how many opportunities I missed for going out to parties, hanging out with friends, and eating the foods I wanted to, due to the thought that it would instantly hinder my performance. “Too much of anything is the beginning of a mess” - Dorothy Draper reflects that in moderation, all these enjoyable activities are necessary in life as they actually help you work harder towards your goals in the long term, no matter how unlikely achieving your goals may seem.

Even though I knew my potential and remember working hard as a NSW basketball state athlete, I wasn’t able to reveal these talents during games and trials. The mentality I held when approaching each game was mainly focused on my opponents’ strengths and ability to perform on the court, rather than my own. I got lost in the thought of ‘competing’ with someone else and aiming to play better than them, so I was focused on assessing their capabilities, while neglecting to focus on my own strengths as an advantage to succeed.

George Mumford is a mindfulness coach who has helped plenty of athletes and famous businessmen with performance. He is a firm believer of staying in the moment and embracing life as it comes. His main focus is to teach people to worry about things they can control and live life one day at a time. He has worked with some of the most famous basketball players, such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, in helping them achieve success along their career journey. “George helped me understand the art of mindfulness. To be neither distracted or focused, rigid or flexible, passive or aggressive. I learned just to be”, said Kobe Bryant, a 5-time NBA Champion.

The purpose of sports performance experts is to aid athletes in preparing for games and ensuring the mindset they approach the game with gives them the opportunity to succeed. The constant thoughts playing in an athletes mind, such as “how badly have I performed?!”, distracts them from their purpose in the moment, which is what a performance expert helps to manage.

Athletes are also constantly judged by spectators, coaches and people, and can easily be put in the wrong simply because of small mistakes. Social media is used as a tool to express such judgements including: “they aren’t working hard enough for what they get paid for”, or “they probably went out the night before” when an athlete makes a mistake.

This can lead to the dehumanization of these individuals, who are shamed and ridiculed because of factors possibly outside their control. Justin Gatlin, one of the fastest sprinters in the world, was referred to as a “Shameless Fraud” after testing positive for steroids. The public may have generally been unaware that he had been battling with ADHD since birth, which was the reasoning behind his use of steroids. Athletes can quickly be shamed by media, where it is easy to forget to consider these people as also human, who deal with problems too, behind the scenes.

Josh Martin from ESPN portrays how the media can misjudge athletes because of their behaviour, a prime example being in basketball, where he states, “if a guy lashes out on the court, he’s considered a “hot head”, if he takes a lot of tough contested shots, he’s 'selfish'”. These misconceptions are then used as a shield to distract society from positive accomplishments in, and throughout an athlete’s career journey.

Mental health issues can as such develop for many players behind the scenes. Recently, NBA player Kevin Love opened up about his experience of depression, stating, “for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem”. He talks about how athletes fail to mention their struggles, due to their desire for society to perceive them as "strong". The misconception of athletes having perfect lives, with a lot of money and extravagant lifestyles, contributes to their struggle of feeling like their true selves are invisible to the rest of the world. Athletes, like all humans, need help from people they trust and believe in order to keep going and not give up.

Sports Psychologists assist athletes in enhancing performance, coping with the pressures of competition, recovering from injury, and the most crucial aspect - enjoying the game they love playing. Demand for Sports Psychologists is estimated to grow by 12% in the US, as many athletes from different fields of sport find it beneficial to talk and learn about the psychological aspect of being an athlete.

In my opinion, Sports Psychologists are a vital guide to an athlete’s behaviour and mindset, a profession which must be made more available and valued in the future.

If you're interested in engaging an expert to support you in understanding and enhancing the way you think, feel, and perform psychologically within an elite sport, please send us a message, give us a call or make an appointment with us via our website. We at Neu Wellness Group look forward to hearing from you.

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