By Phd. Maria Marentes Castillo / Master’s degree in sport psychology

Currently everything related to sports psychology seems like a tendency to follow. We have apparently understood that the psychological factor is fundamental to the achievement of success in sport or to be able to stay healthy during sports practice. However, in many scenarios it is still far from good practice. One of the reasons why even today and with so much scientific and valid information “understood sports psychology” is not good practice is professional intrusiveness, which can be promoted even by sports teams and leaders themselves. Now I’ll explain why.

Throughout my experience as a sports psychologist in the field, whose work I started  about 13 years ago I found myself working in scenarios forced by sports managers, that is, where it was an obligation of the coach to accept us as part of the team, sports psychology in Mexico has gradually convinced many sports teams and coaches in general our role and value within the multidisciplinary team, but just working in limited environments in the first place by the team leader caused a lack of depth and functionality of the work. Of course, not all contexts are the same, there are coaches who accept and understand the work (I had several of this type), but in most cases unfortunately it is not like this. A lot of this is due to the stereotypes that we carry as professionals who “cure madness” that, as incredible as it may still seem today this type of thinking is still preserved: The effects range from a very superficial intervention of the psychologist and little coverage of athletes, little access to many of the sporting events, etc.

The curious thing about this situation is that when I became a teacher of this discipline in academic programs of sports science I heard many testimonies of former athletes where they mentioned for the most part the lack of the sports psychology professional, and those explanations that I was able to give as a teacher to this phenomenon were few without questioning the role or decision of those who were their coaches or sports leaders and what I had left was to promote the integration of the figure of the sports psychologist.

Many of these athletes once recounted that during certain stages of their sporting career they felt emotions they could not handle, wanted to achieve goals that seemed reachable, could not handle persistent negative thoughts, did not know how to communicate with a coach that was not willing to listen, or even suffered some kind of violence in their sporting contexts, all because they dreamed of reaching a medal , a record or that most important competition. This type of situation leads you to wonder Why not accept that a professional specialized in these topics can handle these situations? The psychologist of physical activity and sport (as it should actually be called) is a professional who owns a bachelor’s degree in psychology and specializes at least a master’s degree in sports psychology and can continue to specialize with a doctoral degree or in general with continuous education and in Mexico we have many of these opportunities.

Every time I start a psychology class of physical activity and sport in a context of sports training or related students, I have always asked this question; When does an athlete or sports team fail, to what do you attribute the failure? and When an athlete or sports team succeeds, to what do you attribute that success? The answers to the first question usually revolve around: for lack of concentration, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, because I was going through a personal situation, and the answers to the second question are focused on: because they were prepared throughout the season, because he had excellent planning, because he is an athlete with brilliant qualities, etc. Can you tell the differences? These differences make me ask these students, so Why don’t they fully integrate the sports psychologist? And it is necessary to clarify something important: The psychologist does not do the role of dealing with the clinical situations of an athlete, that is, he is not on the field to take care of a depression, or anxiety disorders… since we are not clinical psychologists, but we will be able to observe exacerbated behaviors that the athlete is showing and we will channel it to another specialist in our discipline. But what I must say is that clinical psychological situations could have been prevented with the integration of the sports psychologist from the beginning into the preparation of athletes.

We have worked so hard to convince and show that we are fundamental and today a significant number of sports teams across the country want psychological work, but then we face a second and great problem: professional intrusiveness. Have you seen through social media the promotion of courses or workshops of “How to motivate your athletes”, “How to be successful in your sport”, “How not to give up in your sport” or workshops of “Neurolinguistic programming” all this to convince you that you can be successful and that the mind influences so strongly in winning that you can do it in a workshop of a week. Then sports teams and coaches have preferred to call these pseudo-professionals who prepare in a similar workshop, who program themselves, who read a book about some motivational achievement of a character and replicate the steps to follow so that you stay “motivated”, they promise you immediate results, tell you emphatically that you can do it and you will listen carefully to repeat “I can”. Let me tell you that these courses, conferences will hardly have a permanent result because at no time promote reflection in the individual, but just “program” to a person, therefore, this “activator” effect will decline in a very short time and again you will find yourself with very few tools to face your context, and unfortunately believe and understand that these programs are “sports psychology” leading to become a bad practice. In addition, these programs have no scientific basis, they will not be able to answer the question on why you were not successful, at the end of the course. The truth is that improving psychological processes is not a medical prescription, in fact, we know that doctors adjust our treatments because some medication did not work for us. Then we cannot expect that the complexity of the human mind can be resolved in a workshop. The true professional of sports psychology performs a training plan just as a physical trainer does and adjusts it to the extent that the improvements of the athlete, and if we see some unexpected obstacle, we implement other strategies to be able to face it.

In the end, the sports psychologist is not the professional who guarantees you success, because if it was then there would not be a whole sports collective that prepares strongly for a sporting season. The sports psychologist is another member of the sports collective, who enhances the mental factor in athletes, just as a physical trainer who develops the physical factor, and of each professional who has a specific and fundamental task to achieve sports performance as a team.