Sport Psychology Barriers

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole outlines the eight most common sport psychology barriers and how to overcome a few of them!

There are many barriers to fully embracing sport psychology. One of them is what you imagine it to be like. Something like the above? Not even close …

The 8 Biggest Sport Psychology Barriers

At Condor Performance we speak to a lot of people who make enquiries about our sport psychology services. Since we have been operating we would have spoken to approximately ten thousand parents, coaches, athletes, performers, and sporting administrators. In doing so we have learned a lot about the reasons why many performers still don’t bother to include bonafide sport psychology as part of their plans.

With this in mind below we will outline the eight most common of these barriers and where possible help you to put a step ladder up against a few of them. As always we welcome your comments and questions either publicly (via the comments box below) or privately (via [email protected]).

Sport Psychology Barrier #1: No Idea There is A Mental Side of Sport / Performance

Mental Toughness is not as tangible (visible, obvious) as the other performance areas. Consequently, it’s not targeted for improvement because many athletes have no idea their mental performance can be developed and strengthened just like other more obvious areas such as skills and fitness.

The only way around this barrier is through some kind of education so that an awareness of the mental side takes place. This will happen automatically if working with a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist but there are other ways too. One such way is to invest in your sports science knowledge via videos such as the one below.

This video runs for 11 minutes.

Sport Psychology Barrier #2: Confusing Mental Training with Something Else

Similar to the above but arguably worse. It’s very common for athletes to fall into the trap of thinking that working on the physical, technical, and tactical aspects of their sport will naturally result in greater mental toughness. So for example, because it took commitment to get up at 6 am to go for a run in winter, it will automatically result in an improvement in your overall commitment.

Although this might happen, it also might not. Sport psychology, as with all types of psychology, wants to be and should be heavily evidence-based. What this means is that the mental skills (or methods) used to improve mental toughness have been tried, tested, and approved. For example, sitting down and writing a Why Statement may well be a better motivator for most people.

Even those who are aware of the importance of the mental side, and are motivated to try and improve it, can be left really struggling to find genuine, dependable ways to actually work on it. Most resort to Googling questions like ‘how to improve my concentration’ which results in millions of websites full of contradictory ideas.

Sport Psychology Barrier #3: Hoping For A Magic Bullet

By “magic bullet” we mean those who expect that a single session with a sport psychologist will suddenly make them mentally tough. That all of a sudden their nerves will vanish. And they’ll be able to motivate themselves at will and focus like a fighter pilot. When this doesn’t happen, they bail well before the sport psychology process starts to bear fruit.

The only way to overcome this barrier is to trust in the process and be patient. There are many ways to help with this. One is to remember that improving the mind is a lot like improving the body. No one ever expects to go to the gym and have a 6-pack after one session with the exercise physiologist. Not even a dozen sessions. It works the same with sport psychology. If you want results fast, fine, listen hard, and apply the mental skills but don’t expect miracles.

Sport Psychology Barrier #4: Confusing Mental Toughness with Mental Health

Unfortunately, the words ‘psychology’ and ‘psychologist’ still evoke thoughts of mental illness and disorders. Therefore, a large number of athletes incorrectly feel that seeking the assistance of a sport psychologist or performance psychologist is a sign of mental weakness. A few years ago I wrote an entire blog post on this which you can read in full here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #5: It’s Too Expensive

Even when none of the above barriers apply, often cost gets in the way. The current recommended hourly rate for psychologists is over $250 an hour. This is the most awkward of the sport psychology barriers as it’s relative to your own income/wealth. For some people, $250 an hour is loose change but for others, it’s a fortune.

At Condor Performance, instead of reducing our rates and cheapening what we do, we add extra value to our 1-on-1 sport psychology services instead. How? Our rates are per month not per session so we allow and encourage email/text communication between sessions. Furthermore, the first session is not charged for, it’s free. For a more in-depth understanding of our monthly approach browse the answers to our FAQs here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #6: There Are No Sport Psychologists Near Me

The Corona Virus was a terrible thing but there were some benefits. Suddenly, the whole world realised that a sport psychology session via video call is just as good as one where the sport psychologist and client are in the same room. We knew this early on and started delivering sport psychology sessions this way as early as 2008. So maybe this barrier is not really a barrier nowadays but we’ll still keep it here anyway.

We’re almost at the point now where we could say that sessions via Zoom, FaceTime video, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams, and other platforms are better than what we call Same Place Sessions. Why? For a start, they are a lot more convenient with no travel time required. Athletes and performers can and do have sessions just before practice, competitions, and sometimes – where allowed – during both of these.

In 2023, our current team of psychologists delivers roughly 400 sessions per month between them. Of these, 380 would be via webcam.

Sport Psychology Barrier #7: I already tried seeing a psychologist and it was not effective …

This is a tough one. First, make sure the previous profession was actually qualified. The qualified ones, such as our whole team, are still outnumbered by the unqualified ones and the underqualified ones. In Australia, you can check to see if someone is a registered psychologist here.

But even if they do have the right credentials that is no guarantee of their effectiveness. Sometimes there are simple personality clashes. Other times, they are just not trained in the right area of psychology. This has always been one of the biggest advantages of choosing Condor Performance as your provider in the space. In the unlikely event that you don’t click with one of our team, we can simply transition you to another.

Sport Psychology Barrier #8: Now Is Not The Right Time ...

Tricky, tricky, tricky. If your Granny passed away so you had to postpone your start then this sounds like a sensible option rather than a barrier. But most of the time when we hear this it’s for other stuff. I am too busy. I’m in my off-season. I have just picked up an injury so need to focus on that. I have too much going on. I’m playing really well, will get in touch when I am in a slump.

Trust me on this, the best time to start improving mental aspects is and always will be now. How? Easy, fill in the contact form here, and one of our team will be in touch as soon as possible.

Time Management for Elite Athletes

Time management is one of the most useful starting points for athletes and coaches looking to take their performance to the next level.

Time management
Time management – A Key Mental Skill for All Performers

Time Management 101

Try to answer all these time management questions as quickly as possible without a calculator or Google. How many hours in a day? How many days in a week? Now, how many days in a year? And how many weeks in a year? Finally, how many hours in a week?

I suspect you were going along fine until the final question, correct? Most people instinctively know the answer to the first four questions. But the majority have to work out the answer to the final question.

Yet, I am of the view it’s the most useful number from a time management point of view. The answer, of course, is 168. 168 is the number of hours in a week (24 multiplied by 7). Last week, this week and next week will all have this in common. Your week and my week contain exactly this number of hours each. We all have this number in common and it acts as a great leveler in the pursuit of constant improvement.

There are 168 Hours In Evert Single Week

The most successful athletes and the ones trying to knock them off their perch all are blessed with 168 hours per calendar week. When helping my sporting clients with their time management I often start with an analysis of their 168 hours.

168 Hours A Week – Start From There

To start with, what you’re probably most interested in – improving your results – is only something you can influence. You can not control (guarantee) your outcomes and achievements. Nor can anyone else for that matter. Yes, that’s right. This is also true for precision sports like golf, dance, lawn bowls, etc.

To increase the chances of reaching our goals we’d want to shift our attention toward highly influenceable stuff. For example, how we might use our time in the coming days, weeks, or months. These are commonly known as processes.

Processes are simply highly influential recurring actions.

Past effort and actions (for example, how hard we tried during this morning’s gym session) are results. They have become outcomes as they can no longer be changed. Unless you are the owner of a time machine, of course.

Furthermore, future effort and actions (for example, what you plan to do by way of meditation when the season starts next month) are only a little influenceable. In other words, you can plan, research, and practice now but this doesn’t guarantee anything for later.

In other words, how you decide to use your 168 hours each week at the moment is one of the most influenceable aspects you’ll ever come across. This is especially true if you are mentally flexible enough to update your plans in unforeseen future circumstances.

Record Your Baseline

One of the best places to start from a time management point of view is to spend a whole week simply recording your actions. A basic 24 x 7 table is just fine. Either via a computer file or old school paper and pen, it doesn’t matter.

Ideally, leave judgment words off the page (or file) so that it purely states what you were doing during that time. For example, rather than recording the word ‘nothing’ during the time you were chilling out over the weekend, you’d write ‘relaxing’ or ‘reading’ or whatever the observable action was. Also, try and record the start and end times of the actions and do so as you go rather than at the end of each day when your memory will limit you.

This exercise typically has a major benefit right off the bat. It will increase your awareness and therefore start to help you in becoming more purposeful. Being more aware and purposeful are two of the more underrated mindset ingredients of performance excellence.

But you can use this data for a lot more than simply increasing your awareness and intentionality. You can use it to influence your future time too.

Quantity And Quality are Different

The best way to do this is via an analysis of the quantity and quality of your current time – the time you recorded. It is essential that you consider quantity and quality as separate – because they are. Start with quantity as it’s simpler. Using categories such as sleeping, physical preparation, and mental preparation, for example, calculate the amount of time you spent on each according to your data collection (not memory).

If you do this properly then the total of this calculation will be exactly 168 hours. When the number comes out to less than 168 hours you have missed something. If it’s more than 168 hours then let me know as you’ve increased the amount of time available in a week and we’ll make a billion dollars together!

Some of my sporting clients when I have asked them to do this have enjoyed converting these time tallies into percentages by dividing the number of hours by 1.68. For example, if there was a total of 52 hours of sleep across the seven days then this means that 31% of that week was spent asleep. Percentages can be a more useful metric when considering our values. You would expect the processes that we regard as being most valuable to have the highest percentages next to them. So if there is something in your life that is tremendously important (e.g. relationships) and it has a low percentage this allows you to consider what you might do to increase the time spent on that activity.

Next, it’s the turn of quality. The simplest way to question the quality of time is by considering how many things you were trying to do at once with one being the ideal (more than one being the biggest indicator of poor quality time).

Multitasking Is Overrated

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated. The science is clear now, the best way to do a poor job of a task is to combine it with another task (or tasks). You can also think about how present you were during the activities. The more present and engaged the higher the quality is likely to be.

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated.

Every parent will know this full well. Being with your kids whilst also trying to reply to some emails is just never going to have the same quality as really being with them (with the laptop closed and out of the way). I am fortunate in that by nature I am a terrible multitasker. This basically means that I go to great lengths during my week to make sure that I’m only doing one important thing at a time.

Finally, consider if the blocks of time were on purpose or by accident. For example, watching some television intentionally would be regarded as a much higher quality activity compared with doing the same thing by accident – because there was nothing else to do.

Processes that are carefully considered ahead of time are always likely to be higher in quality than “winging it”. This is incredibly obvious in my 1-on-1 consulting as one of the growing numbers of psychologists working for Condor Performance. Sessions that take place after having spent 15 minutes reviewing client notes are always higher in quality. Of course, this is not always possible such as when the previous session ran over time. But by leaving gaps between all sessions, and therefore creating some planning time, I personally find the quality of my work is enhanced.

The final part is to really ask the hard question. Do I want my time moving forward to be the same as it is at the moment in terms of quality and quantity?

Failure To Plan is Planning to Fail

And if not, try and adjust accordingly. For example, if you regard becoming mentally tougher as an important part of your goals and yet your mental preparation is only 1% of your time at the moment then you might like to try and see if you can boost this to 5%.

This is one of the biggest paradoxes of modern-day sport psychology. The fact that virtually everybody now recognises the tremendous value of improving mental aspects. Yet, despite this, the default amount of processes spent trying to improve the mind is either little or none at all. Remember processes are simply highly influential recurring actions. This means being aware of the importance of improving the mind is not enough. There actually needs to be recurring activities taking place every week aimed at improving it.

For many of my clients and myself included the future plan is enough. I don’t actually tally the time moving forward I just try to stick to the new regime as best I can. This typically prevents the ugly side of time management from taking place whereby the plan becomes a major source of guilt and frustration.

Would You Like Some Help?

All of the psychologists who work for Condor Performance use time management techniques for their own ‘performance enhancement’. Furthermore, we are very experienced at showing others how to improve their time management abilities. If you’d like help with this or any other mental aspect please reach out via our contact us form here.