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What Is Sports Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Sports psychotherapy focuses on improving sports performance by addressing anxiety, lack of concentration, and other issues that may arise for both amateur and professional athletes. It can include individual sessions with athletes as well as group work incorporating teams and support staff. Practitioners in this field can approach it from a number of perspectives and may integrate various psychological concepts into their work, including guided visualization, team-building exercises, and talk therapy.

Athletes can experience performance problems related to psychological barriers like being afraid of the next level of competition, having trouble focusing at events, and experiencing a lack of cohesion with the rest of a team. On an individual level, sports psychotherapy can identify the specific problem an athlete faces and work on resolving it. For example, an equestrian concerned about more advanced competition might focus on past accomplishments, positive feedback from trainers, and other supporting information that indicates readiness.

Groups can also benefit from sports psychotherapy. The therapist may work with a team that isn’t functioning well together to help them coordinate, communicate, and improve their dynamics. Exercises can encourage members of the team to trust each other and develop stronger bonds so they perform better on the field. This may also include individual work to address particular issues, like someone who feels excluded by the team or who experiences anxiety relating to perceptions about performance.

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This does not include physical training, although sports psychotherapy sessions may take place in the field. Therapists can watch their clients during training and competition to learn more about them, for example, or may want to work with a team on home ground. The therapist may work with an athletic coach or trainer to identify and discuss issues, but many areas have health laws prohibiting therapists from sharing information without explicit permission from the athlete. In some cases, sports psychotherapy can include sessions with the trainer to help deepen the connection between athlete and coach for better results.

People recovering from injuries may attend sports psychotherapy sessions during the adjustment period. This includes athletes who may need to curtail their activities or change their habits because of the severity of an injury, as they may have trouble adapting. Those in training to develop strength and get ready to be back on the field may find it helpful to attend some therapy to discuss the injury, the aftermath, and the recovery process. Injuries can also contribute to fears in competition that might impact performance, like a reluctance to bear weight that makes it hard to perform technical maneuvers like throwing or jumping.

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