Sport Psychologist Melbourne

Dr Michelle Pain is a sport psychologist based in Melbourne, Australia with more than 30 years of experience helping athletes improve their sporting mindset as well as their overall mental health and wellbeing.

Call Us Anytime On 1300 603 267

Although we now deliver 95% of our sport psychology services via webcam we have always wanted a sport psychologist in Melbourne.

As I was living in Sydney when I started Condor Performance in 2005, we have always had a physical presence in Sydney. This has allowed our clients the choice between session in the same room or via webcam. Fast forward 15 years and we now have two fantastic psychologists located in Sydney in Brian and Madalyn. On top of that, we have two more who are reasonably near in James (Newcastle) and Gareth (The Southern Highlands (Moss Vale) of NSW).

But Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city and some would say the sporting capital* has always eluded us. It’s worth pointing out why this has always been a dilemma for us. We get lots of enquiries from Victorian performers. Many of which are word-of-month due to the different way we deliver sport psychology services. This creates a dilemma for those preferring to work with a psychologist face-to-face. Do they work with one of us via webcam or see a more traditional sport psychologist in Melbourne? In fact, the search term “Sport Psychologist Melbourne” is one of the most common before landing on our homepage.

Persistence Is A Virtue

Melbourne sports psychologist Michelle Pain

In 2019 I had an in-depth phone conversation with Dr Michelle Pain (left). Immediately after the phone conversation, I had a strong feeling that we had found our women. Not only was Michelle based in Melbourne but she is one of the pioneers of Australian sport psychology. Of course, this comes with an enviable amount of experience working as an applied sport psychologist.

The only challenge was that she had decided not to renew her psychologist registration a couple of years ago.

Michelle and I had a long conversation about the pros and cons of actually allowing her to work for Condor Performance without renewing her registration as a psychologist. This is the closest I’ve ever come to employing a non-psychologist as a consultant. In the end, we agreed it would be better for her to re-register and I shall quickly explain why. 

Only Psychologists; No “Mind Coaches”

First and foremost all psychologists in Australia require Professional Indemnity Insurance. What this means is that in the unlikely event that something terrible happens the effected psychologist will be primarily assisted by their insurer. This is not to say that we do not want to help our psychologists if they get into trouble, it’s because it would be almost impossible given that most of us operate at the upper limits of capacity in the support we provide to our sporting and performance clients.

The second reason for the insistence that all members of our team being psychologists is this. It guarantees to both us and our clients a minimum amount of tertiary education that would otherwise be unknown.

Michelle’s application for re-registration as a psychologist was recently approved and therefore I am delighted to confirm several news items.

For those of you based in Melbourne who’d prefer to work with a sport psychologist face-to-face then Michelle’s home office is in Mentone. Secondly, due to the fact that Michelle has so much experience working as an applied sport psychologist the internal supervision, meetings and discussions that we have regularly just got a massive shot in the arm.

eSports – The Next Big Thing In Sport

But even more exciting than these two reasons is the fact that Michelle is the first member of our team to both know a lot about eSports and have experience working with these new kinds of performers. For those of you who have never heard of eSports then I will let Wikipedia quickly explain:

Esports (also known as electronic sportse-sports, or eSports) is a form of sport competition using video games.[1] Esports often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. Although organized competitions have long been a part of video game culture, these were largely between amateurs until the late 2000s, when participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events through live streaming saw a large surge in popularity.[2][3] By the 2010s, esports was a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively designing and providing funding for tournaments and other events.

We always prided ourselves in is the ability to say an Obama-esque “yes we can” to most requests for psychological assistance. A couple of years ago when we got our first inquiry from an sports athlete I had to be honest and transparent when telling him that we actually didn’t have any experience when it came to electronic sports at that time.

Well, Not Any More

In the same way that Michelle was one of the first sport psychologists to put sport psychology ‘on the map’ in Australia, she is now doing the same thing when it comes to the importance of the mental aspects of eSports.

* Some of the reasons why some people refer to Melbourne as the sporting capital of Australia are as follows. First, two of the largest international sporting events of the year take place in Melbourne. Once being the Australian Open (tennis) and the other the Formula One Grand Prix (motor racing). Second, it has the most prestigious sporting stadium in Australia (some would say the world) in the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Finally, many sporting organisations have their admin offices there. Too many to list but some of the most notable would be Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia and AFL. So, not a bad place for us to have a sport psychologist ‘on the ground’.

Music for Sport Psychology

Athletes have been using music for sports psychology purposes for decades. But what type of music is best? Gareth answers this and more …

Music for Sports Psychology
Music for Sport Psychology

Music is very emotional. So is the world of competitive sport so it makes complete sense that they might be able to work together – and they do. So music for sports psychology purposes will be the focus of this edition of the Mental Toughness Digest.

Athletes have been using music to get a psychological edge ever since songs were available via a portable playing device. For readers who were born during or before the 1970s, this might have been wit a The Walkman. Walkmans were then replaced by Discmans and Discmans in turn by MP3 players (such as the Apple iPod). Finally, all of these have been made obsolete by smartphones of course. At the time of writing an iPod is still available but it’s essentially a smartphone without the internet/phone connection.

Fast forward to 2020 and the combination of a smartphone and platforms such as Spotify now allow us to listen to virtually anything at any time.

Technology is Changing Sport Psychology Forever

At Condor Performance we are big believers of taking full advantage of the wonders of modern technology. We were delivering sport psychology consultations via Skype three years before the term ‘Telehealth’ was coined. Our very first Skype session took place in 2010.

See this definition of telehealth on the Australian Department of Health’s website added in 2015.

I personally am not a big fan of the term telehealth for two reasons. First, we very rarely use telephones to bridge the gap between us and our sporting clients. Maybe it’s just me but when I hear ‘tele’ I think telephone. The odd phone session still takes place but most sessions are via webcam. The platforms we use most often are:

  • Skype
  • FaceTime video
  • Zoom
  • WhatsApp Video
  • Google Hangouts

The second reason I am not loving the label ‘telehealth’ is due to the ‘health’ part. From a psychological point of view when you combine mental with health and get ‘mental health’. This evokes images of fixing problems whereas we’re more about building on existing strengths.

A better name in my opionion would be ‘webcam consulting’.

And it’s not just sessions themselves where technology is changing how performance psychology services are delivered. We not only allow our sporting clients to contact us between sessions via features such as WhatsApp (text, not voice snippet) we actively encourage it.

A Glimpse Into the Future

I like to think that the way we deliver our sport psychology services is a glimpse into the future of how all psychologists may choose to operate in years to come.

The context in which music is most frequently discussed during the mental training consultations we have with athletes, coaches and sporting officials is when we are looking into their pre competitions preparations or routines. I have always dedicated time to helping my clients optimise their competition mindset by looking at how they spend the time beforehand.

Quite simply what do they, or you, do one hour before kick-off? What is the best way to spend the rain delay during a cricket match? Have you ever thought about the ideal way to use the morning and afternoon when your semi-final only starts after 7 pm?

Before we talk about types of music it is important to accept one important fact. Unless you’re including playing songs in your own head listening to music is not something that you can control nor guarantee. In other words as useful as it is, and it is, it ought to have a backup. I recall once getting a call from a rugby union player I was working with just 20 minutes before kick-off. He told me he’d just dropped his iPod (common in 2013) into the toilet and was not working. In a semi-panic, he asked me what he should he do as he couldn’t listen to his pre-match tunes.

Rather than let you know what I told him I invite you to add your best guess to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Now that we have clarified this we can get to the exciting part of actually deciding on what type of music might assist us. And this is where it gets tricky because like so much in sports psychology it depends on the individual and their preferences.

What Type of Music is Best for Sport Psychology?

Probably the most common mistake made in this area is the assumption that fast-paced energetic type music (such as rock and Punk) is naturally the best type of music to listen to before the big game. What if you are already very energised, for example by the organic importance of the competition that is about to begin? Do you really need to listen to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best when you’re struggling to keep down your breakfast?

One of the cornerstones all our therapeutic model – Metuf – is that it is basically impossible to be too relaxed before a sporting contest. In other words the more relaxed the better. For years I resisted the temptation to actually recommend particular songs to help with this because I know first hand what one person finds relaxing another person can find very energising. However, over the years enough clients have suggested enough songs to me to be able to identify a select few which tend to be fairly calming for most people.

Calming Music for Performers

Recently I added these to a Spotlight playlist and have included the link below if you would like to save it:

Calming Music for Sports Psychology

So what about that heavy metal and the music from Rocky? How does that fit in? Again, with complete respect to individual differences, I feel like this kind of energising music is better placed before or during practice and training. Think about a workout at the gym which you feel you get more from when some upbeat tunes are thundering in the background. This playlist is easier to put together because generally speaking what most people will find energising very, very few people will find relaxing.

Energising Music for Performers

With this mind, I’ve included the second playlist below designed to help “psych you up”:

Energising Music for Sports Psychology

Maybe the only exception of using the second playlist before competition would be when you’ve lost all motivation to compete. For example, an athlete who is about to retire but still has to play a dozen games before then end of the reason.

If you’re reading this and you use music as a psychological tool in any context (not necessarily just sport) please add details below. Use the comments section to add names of song you have used. We will then add the most popular ones to the above playlists over time.

Rugby Union Psychology

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole – born in South Africa, educated in England and lives in Australia – is a world leader in the mental side of rugby union

The Most Recent Rugby World Cup was full of Rugby Union Psychology

Observations of The 2019 Rugby Union World Cup

Due to the fact that many readers of The Mental Toughness Digest come from countries where rugby union is not a major sport then let me quickly start this article by providing a quick summary and context of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 – where rugby union psychology was everywhere!

The first point to mention from a psychological point of view is that the Rugby World Cup is by far the most valued prize in world rugby. In other words, unlike many other sports that all have several majors competitions nothing comes close to the RWC for rugby playing nations.

The Rugby World Cup is played every four years with New Zealand (The All Blacks) taking out the two previous editions in 2011 and 2015. The nine William Web Ellis Trophies have only been won by four countries in total. In fact eight of these nine have been taken home by just three nations – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

This means that strong rugby union nations such as Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Japan and Argentina have never gotten their hands on the Rugby World Cup.

The Pool Stage of a Rugby World Cup

As a handful of countries dominate the sport the initial stages of the competition are a little strange. Powerhouse countries often beat ‘minnows’ by scores more common in cricket than rugby.

This means a much higher degree of predictability about who will make the final eight compared with a FIFA Soccer / Football World Cup for example. All four previous winners of the Rugby World Cup made it through to the quarter-finals of last year’s event. Furthermore, three of these rugby unions superpowers got through to the semi-final as well with only two-time winner Australia missing out on a place in the final four. Wales beat France to play only their 3rd ever semi-final.

Like most sports, it’s really at the pointy end of the competition – the knock-out stages where the mental side really kicks in. By ‘mental side’ we don’t just mean sporting mental toughness but tactics as well. Decision making, especially that required under pressure, is an entirely psychological process.

Semi-Final One

During the first semi-final that saw the mighty All Blacks take on The Poms (sorry, I mean the English) the game started with a little controversy. The English team, coached by a true lover of mind games Eddie Jones, lined up in a giant V whilst facing the The Haka.

England started their mind games well before the opening whistle in their semi-final against New Zealand. Rugby Union Psychology was in the air.

England was later fined for this which is something I disagree with. I am fine with one country being allowed to have an extra psychological boost just before the opening whistle. However, it should be left up to the opposition to decide if and how they observe or respond to this.

Of course, as is pointed out in this previous edition of the Mental Toughness Digest it’s never possible to really know what factors result in a win or loss in sport. But I suspect that New Zealand was slightly distracted by England’s unorthodox Haka response. England won the match comfortably 19 – 7.

Semi-Final Two

In the other semi South Africa beat Wales 19 – 16 in one of the least attractive games of rugby union you’ll ever see. Tactics completely dominated this game with The Spingboks kicking the ball as often as possible. In my work as a performance psychologist I am becoming more and more involved in the tactical side. This is especially true in the one on one work we do we coaches. Yet even I was stumped about why South Africa would want to give the ball away as often as they did. I suspect the brains trust knew something that I didn’t because The Boks scraped into their third Rugby World Cup final.

On the form of the two semi-finals England were clear favourites to take home the trophy after the final in Yokohama on 2nd November. But form is a hugely overrated concept in sport – it’s a reflection of the past which is completely uninfluenceable.

The Final – An Epic

It was obvious right from the start of the final that the English players were trying far too hard. What, surely it’s not possible to try too hard – I can hear you think? Oh yes, it is my friends.

One of the cornerstones of our mental coaching model – Metuf is the idea that the hard work and effort needs to be kept in the preparation basket. The main aim of sporting competitions is to be as relaxed as possible.

Let me explain why. Motor skills such as catching, passing or kicking a rugby ball fit along a continuum of automaticity. On the one extreme the action is “cognitive” which means is thinking is needed to attempt this skill. Think of a child learning to ride a bicycle. On the other extreme is the Autonomous Stage. Think about the action of brushing your teeth as an example. These action can and should be executed with little or no mental effort. In fact, the less mental effort you apply the more likely your best version of these motor skills will appear.

The Law of Reverse Effect

It is for this reason that my colleagues and I at Condor Performance are such advocates of what we called The Relaxed Competition Mindset. A concept that is based on a theory called The Law of Reverse Effect.

“The greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response”. Or understood another way. “Whenever the will (conscious mind) and imagination (subconscious) are in conflict, the imagination (subconscious) always wins.”

Despite having a coach who has a great understanding of the mental side England tried too hard in the Rugby World Cup final. Over-eagerness negatively impacted by their skills.

A Relaxed South African Side

On the flip side a relaxed South Africa kept things simple. They also changed the tactics that they’d used in the previous six games of the tournament. Suddenly they stop kicking as much and ran the ball. The English game plan was in tatters who would have been expecting them to kick.

All of these factors contributing to an emphatic 32 – 12 win. A result that saw “The Boks” equal The All Blacks tally of three World Cup wins.

What is truly remarkable is that six of the nine Rugby World Cups have been won by only two countries – South African and New Zealand.

It is impossible to really know why South Africa and New Zealand are pulling away from the rest. My best guess is it has a lot to do with how seriously they take the mental and tactical side of their coaching development programs.

Concluding Comments ~ Rugby Union Psychology

I will end this article by encouraging you to watch the press conference below with triumphant South African coach and captain. Psychological clues are everywhere. For example, just after winning the most sought after prize in world rugby they’re already planning for the Lions tours two years from now. Enjoy and as always use the space below to add your own thoughts and questions.

Rugby Union Psychology

Author of this post and leading rugby psychologist Gareth J. Mole is one of nine psychologists from Condor Performance.