Decision Making In Sport

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the often overlooked role that decision making plays in the outcome of sporting contests.

Decision Making in Sport
Decision Making in Sport

One of the core concepts of our Metuf model is that we break “performance preparation” down into five parts. There is some debate about the pros and cons of separating performance like this. After all, they’re all related to one another. For example it takes a certain level of motivation – a mental state – to improve muscle strength – a physical component. Our argument is that if you focus on each part as a separate entity then any “crossover” benefit that rubs off onto another area is a bonus to your improvement. Whereas lumping them all together can result in incorrectly assuming you’re doing more than you are. Decision making in sport is a great example of this. In my experience ‘in the trenches’ as a sport psychologist for the last 15 years decision making is rarely targeted by itself.

Specificity is Special

I often tell the anecdote of the coach who once told me he used to get his players to run up sand dunes in extreme temperatures in order (in his mind) to improve their mental toughness. Risky, risky, risky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some nice mental benefits of doing this (the most obvious to come to mind is an improvement in the confidence of being able to ensure extreme conditions while exhausted) but that’s a very, very small part of good mental performance.

Those familiar with our Metuf model will know that we use an analogy of the competitive athlete being like a 4 engines aeroplane. In this analogy, the actual main body of the plane is like health and wellbeing. Attached to this are the four engines. Each of which is a key aspects of sports performance. The two on the left wing are ‘below the neck’ in Technical Wisdom and Physical Capabilities. To two on the right wing are ‘above the neck’. They are Mental Toughness and Tactical Wisdom.

Tactical Wisdom is Decision Making in Sport Contexts

Recently a number of our 1-on-1 clients have been asking us for more and more input into their Tactical Wisdom. ‘TW’ is very tricky as in theory it’s entirely mental yet the coaching of these “in the moment” decisions is, and always wants to be, the domain of sporting coaches not a sport psychologists. This is one of the many reasons why it makes so much sense for us to work more directly with coaches.

I’m going to use two examples from different sports here to emphasise my point. First, the decision faced by a golfer whether to “lay up” short of a creek located just before the green or “go for it” by attempting to hit the ball directly over the creek onto the green. Second, the decision by a striker in football (soccer) when near the penalty area to “have a shot” or pass the ball to a teammate.

Risk Versus Reward

Both of these scenarios have what we call a “risk and reward” assessment to them. None of the four options mentioned are obviously terrible and therefore the goal is to train your mind to “make the best decision according to the specifics competitive situation”. Most decision making errors take place when the emotion of the moment trumps the competition situation. Here’s a clue about how to not let that happen (and yes, it requires a bit of hard work).

First, you’re much more likely to make an unemotional decision if it’s a scenario that’s been “mapped out” already. The more often it’s been mentally rehearsed beforehand, the better. This is best done by what we call the “If Blank Then Blank” exercise. Let’s go back to our two examples above.

Although there might seem like an overwhelming number of scenarios, if you really think about it there are probably only half a dozen or so. For example:

“If stroke play then lay up”.

“If match play then go for green”.

But maybe that’s too simple so these might be better:

If stroke play and a par 5 then lay up”.

If stroke play and windy then lay up”.

If stroke play and leading then lay up”.

If stroke play and less than 3 shots within the lead then lay up”.

If any another situation then go for the green”.

And for the other example, the footballer:

“If ball is on / near my right foot with no defender near then shoot”.

“If any other scenario then pass”

If Blank Then Blank”

Human brains are remarkable at learning these “If Blank Then Blank” right from when we’re newborns. Think about it; “If hungry then cry”. And it carries on all the way to adulthood. “If red or amber light then slow down and stop”. Certain commentators have and continue to object to the fact that this exercise appears to bring “thinking” into what really want to be instinctive actions.

Our answer to this is simple. There’s no escaping the fact that certain moments in certain sports require a lot of decision making. The “If Blank Then Blank” exercise simply decreases the chances of a brain explosion while under pressure. In our experience, the greatest benefit of this is the reduction of one of performance excellence’s biggest threats – indecision.

I’m not sure if I’m taking the word too literally but indecision means a slowing of a decision due to being “in the decision”. Basically the decision making process (risk versus reward) is taking longer as it’s new.

In fact, indecision is so damaging to performance it would be fair to say that you’re better off making the wrong decision quickly and with confidence rather than the right one slowly and full of self-doubt.

Gareth J. Mole (sport psychologist)

If you’d some help to improve the decision making aspects of what you do please contact us by filling in this form. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.

Tennis Psychology

Tennis Psychology refers to tennis-specific motivation, emotions, thoughts and focus as well as tactics and on-court decision making.

Tennis Psychology
Tennis Psychology – The Great Ones Take It Very Seriously

We are slowly moving towards a set of values that basically replaces sports psychology with the sport-specific versions. In other words, golf psychology, tennis psychology, ballet psychology etc replacing sport and performance psychology.

In doing so we’re not treating sports as being psychologically all the same, or even that similar to be honest. If you’re a traditionalist reading this then a) relax – read one b) excellent, our SEO endeavours must be working and c) we are not talking about mental health in the context of the sport here we’re referring only the psychological aspects of playing or competing in that sport. 

Tennis Psychology Is Not Wellbeing Within The Tennis Community

So tennis psychology is not the discipline applicable when working with a tennis player who has crippling bipolar disorder. Rather the field of tennis psychology is what helps tennis players and coaches improve mental aspects directly related to tennis.

Plug Alert: Of course the psychologists who consult for Condor Performance can and do assist with both of the above. In other words we help with wellbeing as well as sporting mental toughness. For more on why it’s useful to keep these two “mentals” apart then read this blog post here.

Tennis is, of course, most commonly played one versus one. Therefore the M, E, T and the F from Metuf are all essential parts of tennis psychology. But the U – which stands for Unity – is not irrelevant either due to the fact that many tennis players play doubles and/or team-based competitions (such as the Fed Cup and David Cup).

In fact, it’s interesting to observe the tennis career of Australia’s Sam Stosur who despite having a reputation for being a little mentally vulnerable as a singles players is one of the world’s best doubles and team players. If you factor in the U as being a part of the best definition of mental toughness is would be hard to say that SS doesn’t have a strong mental game.

The Big Four of Tennis Psychology

But the real clues when it comes to being mentally the best on court relate to The Big Four mental aspects of sports:

  • Motivation; In many ways the core of mental toughness and overall performance. When you improve your enthusiasm, passion, desire every aspect of your tennis benefits.
  • Emotions; John McEnroe would have won a lot more than seven Grand Slams has he worked on managing his emotions.
  • Thoughts; Learning to think more about the areas that you have a lot of influence over will have a huge impact on your tennis psychology.
  • Focus; Do you have a pre-point routine that allows you to refocus before the start of each point? If not then get in touch and we’ll show you how.

Tennis Psychology Includes Tactics

And let’s not forget decision making here. Very few sports have the same amount of decision-making requirements compared with tennis.

So when we refer to someone like RF as being the best of all time what we’re actually saying is he’s worked out a way to become really, really good at the above. Sure, he’s technically great and physically good enough but it’s his tennis psychology that makes him a legend.

A quick on-court tennis psychology video is currently being produced and will be placed here when ready.

The Coach Whisperer(s)

The Real Coach Whisperers

Sporting coaches are amongst the most obvious benefactors of performance psychology services.

The Coach Whisperer

Recently, there was a large article about an individual who has become known as the coach whisperer. To keep this article ‘above the waist’ I will refrain from mentioning his name. Nor will I be linking to the abovementioned article online. Instead, I will discuss a number of common themes that have been in the various news articles that I have come across about the coach whisperer:

  • He works (has worked) mainly with sporting coaches
  • The work he appears to be doing is highly psychological in nature
  • He charges for these services
  • He is open about not having any formal qualifications

I am not going to criticise the coach whisperer; mainly due to the fact that I have never met him and prefer to hold off on judging people I do not know. Instead, I shall comment on each of the above. I will describe how they relate to the work that my colleagues and I are currently doing with sporting coaches.

Helping Coaches Become Better Mental Coaches

From memory, I started working with my first sporting coaches around 2010. That means that for the initial five years of our existence we worked with only athletes and other performers. That coach, who I still work with today for two months a year, had one simple request. She asked me to help her become a much better mental coach. And by mental coach, she really meant mental toughness coach rather than a mental health coach. And so we got to work upskilling her mental toolkit. Which, by the way, was not that empty to start with!

It might be worth mentioning that at no point during our many Skype consultations did I actually whisper. In fact, if anything, the conversations have been the opposite of whispering with a reasonable amount of amicable shouting not being uncommon.

Of course, when you work one-on-one with someone for that long it’s virtually impossible not to spend some time on mental health and wellbeing. But when we did, it was to help her as a person, a mother, a wife and ultimately as an employee. At no point were we trying to help her become a mental health expert in her own right.

Coaching Is Highly Psychological 

I remember once having a meeting with a top-level soccer coach and during the meeting, he said: “I am actually the sport psychologist of the team”. I knew what he meant so chose NOT to interrupt him. Only in my head, I said in Australia one can’t refer to oneself as a psychologist with being registered with AHPRA. What he meant, of course, is that being a sporting coach has always been and will always be highly psychological in nature.

Think about it for a second. One of the most sought after attributes of the world’s best coaches is their ability to motivate people. Motivation is arguably the cornerstone of sport psychology and it’s no coincidence that the M from Metuf – our online mental training course – stands for Motivation.

I have read anecdotes about how the coach whisperer motivates the coaches he works with (and therefore their players). These methods are nothing like the ones we use – taken from sports science.

Be Careful What You Pay For

There are rumours that the coach whisperer charges a lot for his “services”. These alleged amounts are significantly higher than the cost of working one on one with a member of the Condor Performance team*. I have always stood by the belief that anyone should be able to give away psychological advice away for free. In other words, do all the counselling and coaching you want with your friends and family as long as no money is changing hands.

But this all changes when there is a fee involved. When you buy something, whether it be a product or a service, you expect value for money in return. In other words, the more you pay the more you should get in return.

I recently upgraded our family car and spent almost exactly double compared with the last time we bought a vehicle. But in my view, this has resulted in us getting a car that is about twice as good – for our purposes – compared to the last one. I was happy to pay more, as got more in return.

There is a story about the coach whisperer working with the head coach of the Queensland Rugby League team during this year’s state of origin series. It’s alleged he charged around $5000 an hour for his advice and told everyone – including those he worked with – they would beat New South Wales three games to zero. In the end, NSW won the series 2-1.

Be careful what you pay for.

*At Condor Performance we charge by the month not by the session and the average spend is between AUS$130 and AUS$350 a month. For this, the client will typically get between 60 and 90 minutes of sessions time. Furthermore, they will get unlimited email and text message support from their psychologist.

We are really confident that our fees provide excellent value-for-money and return on investment. If you want to put this assertion to the test just email [email protected] and ask for a breakdown of our current fees.

How Important Are Qualifications?

My final point is about the controversial topic of qualifications or lack therefore. The coach whisperer is apparently quite proud of his lack of recognised credentials – often boastfull in fact.

As many of you either know or would have worked out the entire Condor Performance team are psychologists. In other words, due to us all living in Australia, we are all fully registered as psychologists with AHPRA. The best way to get an understanding of the benefits of choosing a psychologist, over say a ‘whisperer’ is to listen to my answer to this very question here.

Since I first started working with our first sporting coach in 2010 the ratio of coaches that make up our growing client base has slowly improved. In fact, on the cusp of 2020 close to a fifth of all of the individual client are sporting coaches.

If you are a sporting coach looking to improve your mental toolkit the best place to start is to complete our MTQ-C below.

Golf Psychology

We know more about the psychology of golf than ever before. This article addresses some of the basics of Golf Psychology as we know it in 2020.

The Psychology of Golf
The Psychology of Golf

Golf Psychology Combines Both The Mental and Tactical Aspects of Golf

At Condor Performance we have always worked with a lot of golfers. In fact, since we started providing performance psychology services we’ve worked with more golfers than athletes of any other sport.

One of the many bonuses of this is that we have really come to know the weird and wonderful game of golf well. Our collective familiarity with golf is now so good that we might consider using the term ‘golf psychology‘ to describe what we do with golfers.

In the future, it’s likely the concept of sport psychology will be replaced by performance psychology. When this happens, a psychologist with considerable experience within a performance area (like golf) should be allowed to call themselves a ‘golf psychologist‘. I would happily and confidently refer to the entire Condor Performance team as golf psychologists in golfing contexts.

Why Do We Work With Some Many Golfers?

Golfers are amazing at understanding that their sport is very psychological in nature. Every golfer that has ever played the game has found out the hard way that good swing mechanics will only get them so far. Maybe it was because of a lapse in concentration that resulted in a four-putt. Or just the natural frustration of not knowing why the ball sometimes goes where you want it to and sometimes it doesn’t. Most golfers don’t need to be convinced of the fact that their sport is mostly won and lost between the ears.

Interestingly, many golfers think the famous Yogi Berra quote was about golf when in fact it was about baseball. The actual direct quote from 1925 was “Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.” Somehow this evolved into a version uttered by golfers the world over that “golf is 90% mental”. But is it?

Golfing success, like with any individual competitive sport, is made up of about half non-golfing aspects and half very sporty elements.

Golf Psychology and the Metuf Model

Our Metuf model includes the below analogy of the golfer being like a four-engine plane. The main body of the plane is mental health and wellbeing – and would contribute about half towards golfing success.

Golf Psychology
Golf Psychology starts with mental health and wellbeing.

This half needs to be prioritised first. Why? Because it’s more important to be a happier person than an excellent golfer. The other half consists of the four pillars of modern sports science. Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. Tactical is obviously psychological so when I think about golf psychology I am also thinking about on-course decision making.

I recently watched the episode of the Netflix docu-series Loosers featuring Jean van de Velde. During which he reflects on the heartbreak from his famous last hole of the 1999 Open Championship. I was 23 at that time which was the peak of my obsession with all sports but I couldn’t remember most the details. On watching the episode it reminded me that it was a decision making error than actually cost Jean victory that year. On the final hole, with a three-shot buffer, he decided to try and carry the “burn” protecting the green. He didn’t choke, he made one very poor shot selection. The right decision, of course, was to lay up well before the burn.

Golf is 25% Mental To Start With

So golf starts out being 25% mental and then increases from that point due to the fact that it commonly gets ignored – but not by everyone.

A growing ratio of our sporting clients are actually coaches rather than athletes. Many of these coaches are golf coaches or instructors. They come to us when they realise that traditional coaching pathways fall woefully short when it comes to helping them become great mental coaches. We love this approach to golf psychology. The sport psychologist upskilling those in the trenches with the golfers. We literally teach them how to help their golfers master the mental games from the very time that they take up golf in the first place.

Pre Shot Routines Are Essential

A great example of the benefit of this approach is through the use of Pre Shot Routines. PSRs are at the centre of golf psychology because they focused on the 10 to 15 seconds before each short. As my golf clients know after you have established a basic swing I believe that every shot – included those in practice – should follow a PSR. I have seen golf coaches break down into tears when I explain to them that golf shots in practice without a PSR is not actually golf practice at all. Ball bashing, maybe but it certainly doesn’t resemble what will take place out there on the course.

Below is an old video that I dug up to explain how to develop Pre Shot Routines for golf. Note, the video is outdated now so I suggest you watch with curiosity more than trying to copy every single element.

Only 1.5% Of A Round Of Golf Is About The Swing

You need to remember that about the 98.5% of a round of golf – for pros and amateurs alike – does not involve hitting a golf ball. Defined from the start of the backswing to the end of the follow-through. Do the maths if you like:

4 hours = 240 mins to hit, let’s say 80 shots. Each of those shots takes about 2 seconds. 80 multiplied by 2 = 160 seconds or about 3 minutes. So about 3 of the 240 minutes of a round of golf requires “swing mechanics”. Or another way to look at it is 3 hours and 57 minutes of a round of golf has nothing to do with how well you can hit the ball. That’s 98.5% in case you’re still doing the maths.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some my top favourite golf psychology quotes from golfers you might have heard of.

Great Mental Game Golf Quotes

It’s such a psychological and mental game, golf, that the smallest wrong thing at the wrong time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.

Lee Westwood

You could have all the tools in the world, but if you really don’t want to be there, or if there’s something that’s off course that’s playing on your mind. The game of golf is so mental, and if you don’t have everything in the right order, it’s very difficult to win golf tournaments.

Jason Day

Rest is huge because if you’re sleep-deprived, that can definitely run into the mental side of the game and can definitely hurt your game if you’re playing tournament golf.

Jason Day

Staying in the present is the key to any golfer’s game. Once you start thinking about a shot you just messed up or what you have to do on the next nine to catch somebody, you’re lost.

Paul Azinger

If you are a golf coach looking to improve the way you coach the mental side then start is by completing our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Coaches here.

If you’re a golfer then fill in our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Athletes and one of our “golf psychologists” will get back to you.

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.

Cricket Psychology

The sport of cricket is particularly demanding from a psychological point of view – which makes for some mentally very tough cricketers

Jonty Rhodes - Cricket Psychology
This image courtesy of the Mumbai Indian IPL franchise

I think it’s reasonable to say that there is no sport quite like cricket. Certainly from a psychological point of view. Of course all sports are mentally challenging. Many require only certain kinds of mental skills for performance consistency.

Cricket, on the other hand, requires the entire array of mental techniques. We, as sport psychologists and performance psychologists, typically use the whole toolkit during our consulting with cricketers and cricket coaches.

Cricket Psychology Defined

Let’s breakdown the psychology of cricket a little. It is both a team sport and an individual sport. Due to this cricketers need psychological skills that would apply both to team and individuals athletes. Imagine rugby league and golf had a baby! For example, cricket batters requires very specialised forms of communication. The kind normally only applicable to those who play “doubles” in sports. The communication between two batsmen whilst out in the middle is very similar to a doubles pair in tennis. Is this type of communication rehearsed in training? Not a lot in my experience, even at international level.

Communication is a psychological skill even if the communicating is about something very tactical. That is why we have dedicated an entire module of our online, self-guided Mental Toughness Training program for cricket (“Metuf for Cricket”) to team unity and communication skills.

Cricketers execute their skills as individuals but do so as part of a team. Therefore concepts such as team unity and the culture of the dressing room are all pivotal. Without these success will be hard to find.

Team Dynamics Are Key

Kevin Pietersen was statistically the best batsmen to play for England between 2005 in 2014. Yet despite this he has not played for England since being dropped in 2014. It was a controversial decision at the time. However the fact that England’s performances across all three formats since then have improved suggests than team unity might be more important than previously thought.

A Self-Guided Mental Training Program for Cricketers and Cricket Coaches looking to get the Mental Edge

Cricket Psychology – Focus is Essential

Even the shortest forms of cricket last longer than many other sporting contests. Therefore cricketing mental toughness requires extraordinary abilities to focus. To switch on and off (or to switch up and down). Cricketers need to learn patience and focus when it really matters.

I had some great cricket coaches during my school days at Oundle School. But I can’t recall any of them teaching me how to switch on and off effectively for either my keeping nor my batting. Oh, if I could only send a message to my 15-year-old self about Pre Ball Routines.

Recent Examples of Cricketing Mental Toughness

In 2019 there were some amazing examples of cricket psychology at play. Some remarkable displays of sporting mental toughness that have been seen on the cricket pitch for quite some time.

The World Cup Final Over

In case readers do no follow cricket then let Wikipedia summarise what happened at the end of the Cricket Wolrd Cup that took place in England early this year. The final took place between New Zealand and England (hosts) on 14th July 2019 at Lords (the home of cricket):

The two teams were tied on 241 runs at the end of the match, resulting in a Super Over being played to break the tie. On the final ball of New Zealand’s Super Over, after equalling the 15 runs England managed in their over, Martin Guptill attempted to score the winning run but was run out by wicket-keeper Jos Buttler, meaning the Super Over was also tied. England won on the boundary countback rule, having scored 26 boundaries to New Zealand’s 17, thus becoming Cricket World Cup winners for the first time.

What was remarkable from a cricket psychology point of view was just how well all of the players and the umpires handled the extreme pressure of the situation. Huge credit needs to go into those who were assisting with the mental side of preparation of both the Kiwi and Pommy cricket teams.

The Ben Stokes Miracle

Again, in case you were not following the Ashes let me summarise. Ben Stokes scored 135 not out on the final day of the third test to deny Australia the win. From a cricket psychology point of view, the most commendable aspect of Stokes’ innings was just how ‘in the moment’ he was through the whole day. The past and the future of mostly distractions in high-pressure situations and Ben Stokes was the embodiment of relaxed and present-focused.

Steve Smith Stats’

In 2018 Steve Smith was banned for 12 months for the role he played in the ball-tampering incident that shook the world of cricket. Although as performance psychologists we are mindful never to judge everything on the results the fact that Smith scores 333 more runs than any other player in the series (both side) is truly incredible. Obviously we’re biased but it would be hard not to suggest the reason for Smith’s dominance with the bat is due to his amazing cricketing mental toughness.

But don’t take my word for it – have a read of what the current Australian coach wrote about Mental Toughness back in 2010:

View the original article here on the Cricket Australia website

Cricket Psychology Is Part Of Our DNA

As some of you will be aware at Condor Performance we prefer to use psychologists with an excellent knowledge of most sports. This has been one of our core values since 2005. The result is a team of psychologists who between all of us know a lot about most major sports. However there are a few sports which for some reason we are particularly familiar with.

In other words, if you were to score our collective knowledge across all major sports then some will rank much better than others. Cricket currently ranks slightly above all other sports. This is helped by a few lucky coincidences. For example, James Kneller is actually a former elite bowler. Gareth (me), was a child growing up in South Africa when greats like Rhodes, Donald and Cronjé were allowed back from international bans. And of course, our whole team comes from Australia or New Zealand. Two countries that have a long love affair with the sport of cricket.

If you are a cricketer, cricket coach or cricket administrator of any level and would like help with your consistency and performance please get in touch. We would be delighted to assist you in your journey to the next level.

South African Sport Psychologist

Gareth J. Mole is widely regarded as one of the leading sport psychologists in the world and is very proud of his South African heritage

Sport Psychologist South Africa
Gareth J. Mole is a South African sport psychologist now living in Australia. He works with athletes and sports coaches from around the world via webcam technologies.

Meet a South African Sport Psychologist

Gareth John Mole is a world-renowned and proudly South African sport psychologist. He was born in Transvaal in 1976. That’s what Gauteng was called back then. His father is a South African and his Mother an Aussie.

Maybe a career in sport was his destiny. He was named after the great Gareth Edwards. Edwards was a standout rugby union scrum-half (halfback) for Wales and during that era.

He attended St Peters Preparatory School in Rivonia whereby his love for all sports started. “Most of my memories from St Peters are sports-related” he reminisces. “Of course in those days it was mostly rugby [union], cricket and athletics” he adds.

Born Near A Race Track

In the 1980s Gareth and his siblings could be found either watching or playing sport at the family home. The property was only a few KMs from the famous, Kyalami race track.

“Although there was no Formula One at Kyalami in those days there was still plenty of motorsport taking place all the time. The background soundtrack to my childhood was the roar of racing cars and the screech of tyres” Gareth recalls.

“Competitive motor racing is mentally very, very hard. Although the drivers and riders require supreme fitness it’s really their mindset and tactical abilities that separate the good from the best” he states.

Nigel Mansell was far from being one of the fittest Formula One drivers during his time. But his mental toughness and outstanding tactical preparation resulted in him being one of the best competitors of the Eighties”.

From South Africa To The World

At the age of ten, Gareth moved from South African to The UK to attend boarding school. It was at Oundle that the breadth of his sporting knowledge grew exponentially.

“Had I stayed in South Africa I suspect that my sporting knowledge might have remained somewhat limited. My time in England exposed me to many of the other major sports – in particular, football (soccer), hockey, squash and volleyball” Gareth says.

After finishing up at Oundle and taking a gap year, Gareth moved north in order to do a Psychology Degree at the University of Leeds. It was during the undergraduate years that his preexisting love of sport fused with his new psychology training.

“Sport psychology was only a small inclusion during my degree at Leeds but it was enough for me to think – I like this, I want to be a sport psychologist” he states. I also remember thinking if there were any other South African sport psychologists at that time. Maybe I could be the first South African sport psychologist ever?

At the time Masters degrees in The UK specialising in Sport Psychology were virtually non-existent. So in 2004, he found himself on a one-way flight to Sydney, Australia.

Australia From 2004

“Oh, how things have changed. Now England is one of the best countries in the world in order to qualify as a sport psychologist. But in 2004 there were more options in Australia – so that’s where I went” Gareth declares.

After finishing his Masters and therefore becoming a qualified sport psychologist he set up Condor Performance – which had a very international perspective right from the start.

“I didn’t like the idea that I would only be able to assist athletes and coaches from Australia” Gareth recalls, “so from the very beginning we were on the front foot regarding webcam technologies such as Skype”. He goes on to say “As the technology improved word soon caught on that athletes and coaches from anywhere in the world could access our performance psychology services. Interesting, and maybe due to the dearth of sports psychologists physically located in South Africa we got and continue to get many enquiries from Cape Town to Johannesburg and everywhere in between”.

Sticking By The Term Sport Psychologist

As many qualified sport psychologists find out it easier to use terms such as ‘mental skills coach’, ‘performance coach’ or just ‘coach’ Gareth has always stuck by the much-maligned title of ‘sport psychologist’.

“I liken sticking with the term ‘sport psychologists’ to those who have stuck by South Africa during the tough times,” he says. “When all the best dentists in the country leave then, of course, they are making the problem worse”. He goes on “the main reason that many choose not to refer to themselves as psychologists – despite having the qualifications to do so – it due to the stigma attached with the word psychologist”.

He concludes “the only way to remove that stigma is for sport psychologists to do excellent work and then keep using the title sport psychologist so that eventually it will not be associated with mental health problems and therapy/counselling”.

Webcam Sport Psychologist

Gareth is one of the pioneers of delivering sport psychology services via webcam. In fact, in the early days, when this kind of technology was brand new he was the ‘webcam sports psychologist’ more so than the ‘South African sport psychologist’ in some circles. In fact, he was one of the very first sport psychologists in the world to work through an internet connection and webcam.

Nowadays with huge improvements in the area of videoconferencing due to platforms such as Zoom, Skype, WhatApp video, FaceTime video and Google Hangouts Gareth and his colleagues at Condor Performance do 99% of their performance psychology work this way.

Zoom is currently Gareth’s favourite form of webcam system due to the extra features like screen sharing, virtual whiteboard and the option of recording the sessions.

If you’d like more information about working 1-on-1 with Gareth you can email him directly at [email protected]. Make sure to include details of your location, sport, goals and current mental challenges. He will typically get back to you within 48 hours.

Performance Mindfulness

Sport Psychology draws from many models but recently Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) is gaining some serious momentum.

Performance Mindfulness is simply mindfulness techniques for performance enhancement purposes.

If you are not formally trained in psychology, you might not know this. Under the banner of “psychotherapy” there are hundreds of different approaches. Sometimes called models or philosophies some work together whilst others are literally opposites. For some mindfulness (or performance mindfulness) is everything, for others it’s nonexistent.

At Condor Performance, we are open to our psychologists using whichever therapeutic models they believe are best. One of our core values is ‘always do what’s in the best interest of the client’. This eliminates the need to force all of our performance and sport psychologists to use the same ‘tool kit’.

CBT and ACT

In my applied work with sporting clients I have tended to use two major models. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been my go-to philosophies since 2005.

I should mention that I am not that thrilled that both of them end in the word ‘therapy’. The word therapy, to most, suggests a night clinical or counselling framework. This is not exactly the best label when helping professional golfers with their pre shot routines (for example).

Like many psychology students from the 1990s I was exposed mostly to just CBT models during my undergraduate years. In fact, so dominant was CBT in the early part of my training that I assumes it was ‘the only way’ to help clients!

Despite this I was always uncomfortable about the idea of helping people to think too differently. Quite frankly it just felt too hard without any real benefit. There was something missing from CBT’s toolkit. Luckily due to psychologist’s CPD requirements I was constantly being exposed to new ideas.

Russ Harris in 2013

In 2013 I was supervising a young provisionally registered psychologist called Alice Williams (now fully registered). During supervision sessions Alice had a lot of questions about both mindfulness and performance mindfulness. I knew I didn’t know enough. So the two of us travelled to Canberra to take one of Russ Harris’ Intro courses into ACT.

The two-day event was a game changer as we say in sporting circles. It made me realise that the C from CBT needed to come with a warning.

Warning: Thoughts (cognitions) should not be tampered with unless in exceptional situations.

There was nothing wrong with the B from CBT at all. Behavioural therapy seemed to be highly effective and a “gold mine” for sport psychology purposes.

The Wild Beast Analogy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was first developed by Steven C. Hayes in the 1980s. His starting point was that the cognitions of human being are very much like wild animals. You can try and tame them but ultimately they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

So instead of trying to directly change our thoughts we are far better off accepting them most of the time.

This makes complete sense to me. Imagine trying to get a tennis player to always have the same thoughts before they serve. Or to always think positively. Now imagine that that tennis player is in a very difficult situation. Maybe she is slightly injured or maybe she’s double match point down. Now, not only is she in a bind but we’re expecting her to think a certain way too!

Take a look at this before and after 2013 expert from a couple of hypothetical sessions.

Before 2013 (Discovering ACT)

Sport Psychologist: What do you think before each serve?

Tennis Player: Not quite sure ..

Sport Psychologist: I want you to be sure …

After 2013 (Discovering ACT)

Sport Psychologist: What do you think before each serve?

Tennis Player: Not quite sure ..

Sport Psychologist: Great, it’s your actions that count. What do you do before each serve?

The Misuse of The Word Mindfulness

Mindfulness has and continues to be confused with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Mindfulness is an increased awareness of the present moment with decreased judgment. It’s just one part of ACT, a very important part but it’s not the entire model.

When I use ACT to inform the one-on-one mental training I do with my sporting and non-sporting clients, I do so in the following way.

First, I explain that uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are a part of the human existence. The wild animal analogy can help here.

Next, I explain how thoughts are separate from actions. You can try this now. Start rubbing the top of your head whilst at the same time thinking how silly it is to rub one’s head. Even better say out loud “I will never be able to rub my head whilst talking”.

Mental Separation

All too often in the human experience thoughts, feeling and actions are regarded as inseparable. The favoured term in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is fused. Therefore the separation of thoughts from actions is logically called diffusion – a key part of ACT.

So we have to get better at accepting our thoughts. You can try this alone to start with but it is very hard. Or you can use free or paid apps or audio guides. Recently we created this 16 mins free audio called Really Simple Mindfulness.

Really Simple Mindfulness

This brings us to the final part of ACT, the commitment part. By commitment, what we are really saying is committed actions. And this is my mindfulness and ACT are so useful for sport. More so than almost any other human endeavour sports are facts full of actions. There are a virtually unlimited number of tasks that can be actioned.

So performance mindfulness is really just normally mindfulness but in a performance settings. And it’s in these settings that fusing (getting caught up) with your thoughts can be so damaging.

If you are curious about finding out more about the work we do at Condor Performance a great place to start is to listen to some of the recorded answers to the most frequent questions we get by clicking here. Or get in touch via one of these methods:

Mindfulness for Sport; The Power of The Present Moment

Below is a 2016 article by David on the same subject matter.

Mindfulness for Sport is a key performance mental skill without which you might just be found wanting when the pressure is up.

In every sport and performance area, there are a significant number of variables and factors that ultimately affect performance and results. Obviously, one of our jobs at Condor Performance (Applied Sport and Performance Psychologists) is to make sure that our clients have direct access to the mental skills that are most likely to help with these variables. Mindfulness For Sport, or Really Simple Mindfulness, is one such skill.

One idea we encourage the athletes and coaches we work with to focus on during training and competition is the present moment. It is here where we have the best opportunity to stay grounded and focused.

What I tend to notice when discussing the present moment with people is that the old cliche of “one step/shot/swing/etc. at a time”. However, without any commitment to a change in behaviour this belief merely acts as a “bumper sticker” mental skill. How about strategies that actually help you remain in the ‘here and now’?

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge a view that I’ve heard that some of the more stop-start sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and volleyball, are better ‘organically’ for staying in the present. There is some logic to this as these sports are broken down into smaller ‘chunks’. For example, separate points of shots or holes. During the period between these events, athletes are able to apply strategies such as pre-performance routines to help stay in the ‘now. Mindfulness For Sport is really about using such routines to ensure this happens.

Even In Dynamic Team Sports

But Mindfulness For Sport can work for all sports, you just need some creativity. Being able to bring ourselves back to the present moment by finding opportunities to break the match/game/race down into smaller events is not limited to start-stop sports.

All sports have natural points of breaks, pauses and checkpoints. These ‘gaps’ lend themselves to being associated with breaking sport down and applying a mental skill at these times.

In basketball, this could be crossing half-court when possession changes. In football (soccer) maybe when there is a free kick or throw-in? For both rugby codes moments when possession changes hands and you are lining up offensively or defensively. Even in swimming how about when you push off the wall to start the next lap?

As you can see, these moments don’t have to be very long. This is because the skills we want to apply are designed to be simple and effective. We don’t want to issues by overthinking via the work through a checklist of items each time this occurs.

If you’d like to ‘dip your toes’ into some more Mindfulness for Sport related techniques for sport and performance then skip straight to the Emotions section of Metuf for Sports by clicking here.

What Is Mental Toughness?

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are the main topics that are addressed in this article.

What is Mental Toughness? For us, it’s a bit like one of the engines on a four engine plane.

No Agreement At This Time

It is important to state from the very beginning that there is currently very little agreement within the sport psychology community about what is really meant by mental toughness. In fact many researchers and psychologists working in sport and performance don’t even like the term mental toughness. Some don’t like the actual label whilst others don’t believe it should be a seperate concept to mental health. With this in mind the below assertions are just my professional opinions. Not surprisingly they are shared by my colleagues at Condor Performance.

Defining Sporting Mental Toughness

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are amongst the main topics that I will address below. Please use the comments sections at the bottom to let me know if you agree or disagree and why. And don’t forgot the why.

Mental Toughness Is Not The Same As Mental Preparation

Is the pursuit of more clarify we need to clear up the most common furphy first. Mental Toughness is the target, the outcome, the ‘thing(s)’ we’re trying to improve. Mental Toughness is not a process. Mental Toughness is the cake. It’s not the beating of the eggs.

A more accurate but less appealing label for mental toughness is actually ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. But in the same way that you’d sell less Advil if you called it only by it’s scientific name (ibuprofen) mental toughness is both punchier and more appealing to the consumer. If you want to see the importance of getting the label right have a look at this.

Furthermore, mental toughness is the umbrella terms for ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. What this means is that is refers to a complex interplay between a number of very different mental aspects. It works the same way as intelligence. Intelligence is now known to be made up of different types. So saying some is intelligent or not is less than usual. First up, it’s too black and white – where is the cut off? But more importantly it ignores the fact that someone can be high in visual-spatial intelligence and low in verbal-linguistic for example.

So a much more relevant question is what are the subcomponents of mental toughness? What are the common psychological outcomes we’re looking to improve as psychologists working in sport? After we have agreed on that, we can focus on the best methods, processes for improving them.

The Aeroplane Analogy

At Condor Performance we an use an analogy that the competitive athlete is like a four engined plane. This is best explained via this 15 minute video below.

Most human beings do not require super fitness, amazing physical strength nor excellent flexibility in order to function, thrive and be good at what they do. In fact, only relatively small amounts of physical activity may be needed in order for most people to experience the day-to-day benefits of exercise on their wellbeing. 

But if this person happens to be an athlete – and in particular an athlete of a physically demanding sport then these small amounts of psychical activity will not be sufficient. Especially if they want to go as far in their chosen sport as possible. 

If the purpose of the aircraft is simply to go for short 20 minute flights as part of a hobby group for amateur fliers then it still needs to function but the efficiency of the engines is less critical compared with an aeroplane that wants to fly as far as possible (safely).

After 15 years of helping mostly athletes with mostly their performance mental toughness, I believe that it is best broken down into these five key psychological subcomponents:

  • Motivation (towards training and competing)
  • Emotional Agility (before / during training and competitions
  • Thought Shaping through values
  • Unity (Team cohesion)
  • Focus on demand

Be Careful Of Synonyms!

Most of the other labels that you’d expect to be here are either synonyms of one of these words or a type of one of the subcomponents or a combination of the both of these. For example, the words concentration and attention are both synonyms of focus. I know from some of my academic contact that some don’t agree with this. In other others focus and attention are not actually the same. To them I say this. They are close enough, let’s not overcomplicate things just for the same of it.

Confidence, pressure. fear and feeling relaxed are all types of emotions. Flow, one of the most common words in modern-day sport psychology, is really just a blend of high focus whilst executing tasks that are not too easy nor too hard.

How Do We Improve Mental Toughness

As mentioned before trying to improve mental toughness as a whole thing is a waste of time. Much in the same way that trying to improve intelligence is. Once you start asking yourself the question how do I improve motivation or emotional agility then the magic start to happen. First, common sense and/or experience will produce a few ideas.

Try this experiment with kids. As them to brainstorm way to improve mental toughness. See what happens. Now repeat and ask them to come up with was to improve group unity. Bam!

If you type the word ‘motivation’ into Google Scholar you get 4,270,000 results. We know a lot about motivation and how to improve it. If you type ‘mental toughness’ in you get a mere 18,400 results. That’s more than 200 times the amount of knowledge on motivation compared with mental toughness.

If you are not happy with common sense alone then turn your attention to the research. Or better still start working with someone who has gone through all the research on your behalf. At Condor Performance I am blessed to have an amazing team of psychologists who do almost of the consulting. This allows me the time to get my geek on and consume performance psychology like a bear coming out of hibernation.

If you’d like to find our more about how to work with one of our team on your mental toughness then get in touch now.


The Best Sport Psychologist You Can Be

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole makes 5 suggestions on how to be ‘the best sport psychologist you can be’ and in turn lift the entire profession.

I believe that I am currently the best sport psychologist that I can be.

At what stage in a career do you have enough enough experience to start giving advice? Some might suggest that it’s best to wait until the very end or even into retirement. The issue with that is you’re likely to be making suggestions well after you were at your best. In my view, the ideal time to be given advice is when you’re at your peak.

Meant with confidence, not arrogance I feel that I am currently at the peak of my powers as a sport psychologist.

I started working as a sport psychologist shortly after completing my Masters from the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2005. I was 28 and very keen to start working with sporting clients – some would say I was too keen.

Can You Be Too Keen, Motivated?

Of course you can. Motivation, like most performance desirables is best somewhere in the middle. In other words, being too motivated and not motivated enough are both issues. Been too keen can lead to poor decision making. Maybe a better label for to motivated is desperate. In 2005 I was desperate to start working with sporting clients.

Condor Performance came about due to the lack of jobs out there for qualified sport psychologists. My mindset was simple. Instead of getting frustrated by the lack of opportunities if I haven’t tried to create some for myself.

I am now 43, not 28 so officially middle aged. I am now married to a ‘legend’. We have two amazing kids and live near Moss Vales (New South Wales). Oh, and Condor Performance has grown from a one-man band with a few clients to a growing team of nine sport psychologists and performance psychologists.

Between us we have hundred of sporting clients from all around the world.

Lesson From The Journey So Far

With all of this in mind, I have put together a short list of suggestions. Of course, if you are either a sport psychologist or trying to become one then these will be both immediately and obviously useful. But as I look down at the list that I jotted down on paper earlier it’s already obvious to me that many of the ideas are likely to be handy for sporting coaches too. In particular sporting coaches who are already aware of the huge role that sports psychology plays in terms of helping athletes become the best that they can be.

Quite frankly, I am over trying to convince anyone that the mind (the brain) is an important aspect of human performance and that it can and should be targeted for improvement.

Tip One: Know Your Sports

Having an in-depth understanding of as many major sports as possible is, in my view, the foundation of being an excellence sports psychologist. There are many reasons for this but the most prominent are:

  • A good understanding of how sports works will allow you to build rapport with clients of those sports in a way that nothing else will
  • If you work less on mental health issues and more on performance challenges (like I do) then it’s likely the conversations will become very “sporty”. From sessions with golfers that are 100% dedicated to improving different types of pre-shot routine for various types of golf shot to workshops with gymnastics coaches who want views on the different mental demands of the different types of gymnastics disciplines and apparatus

My own knowledge of sport comes mostly from my childhood. I remember watching every ball of every cricket test match during my long school holidays. I remember creating my own tennis scoreboard using an old whiteboard so I could play umpire during Wimbledon matches. So you could say that I have been studying the sports side of sports psychology since I was about five or six years old. And South Africa during the 1980s was a great place to feast on live sport – as the bans from international competitions meant that regional and interstate rivalries were at there most frequent and engaging.

Familiarity With Sport Is How We Build Rapport

Over the years I have employed and supervised dozens of sports psychologists. I have, at times, been dumbfounded by the lack of passion and knowledge that many of them have when it comes to sport. And we’re not talking about boutique sports here like dragon boating or synchronised swimming. We are talking about major sports that at certain times of year are everywhere like golf, tennis, football and basketball.

In fact, so important is sporting expertise for me that I include it as part of the interview process. Nowadays, I am less intense but still require incoming sport and performance psychologists to self-asses their own sporting knowledge.

Universities with sport psychology courses take note – include sport as part of the student’s requirements and thank me later.

Can you learn a passion and proficiency for sports even if your childhood was not like mine? Of course. If mental challenges like managing emotions and improving motivation can be overcome then so too can your understanding of sports. But it’s not going to happen by accident – you’d better get to work.

Tip Two: Personality Counts – Big Time

I know this is a controversial one but I am writing an opinion piece here so hear me out. The best sports psychologists I have met – some of whom I am very fortunate to have to work for me – have all been very likeable and very intelligent. By likeable I mean you’d almost prefer to be their friend instead of their boss. By intelligent, I mean super smart. The kind that doesn’t require a calculator when going through some of the numbers we gather once a month to monitor our own performance as “performance psychologists’.

You would imagine that in order to complete a university degree – the step before pursuing a career as a sports psychologist – you’d need to have at least some degree of mental quickness and people skills. Alas, this doesn’t always happen which of course makes my job of finding suitable candidates when we’re looking to expand so much harder. 

Tip Three: Never Stops Improving

The Japanese have a lovely word for it Kai-zen – which loosely translated into English means ‘constant improvement’. Maybe all professions fall victim to this. Once fully qualified is can be frightfully difficult to get some sports psychologists to actively continue their professional development. At Condor Performance we decided that prevention was always better than a cure and have, for as long as I can remember, paid for our psychologists to attend relevant conferences and other CPD events. By paid for I mean we both purchase their accreditation and allow them to attend during working time – not as part of their own leave.

I suspect some of my team think we’re doing it for their benefit but in actual fact, we’re doing is for ours. The best athletes and coaches in the world will only want to work with the best support staff in the world. It’s a horse and cart or chicken and egg thing.

Tip Four: Convert Frustration into Fuel

At the time of writing (2019), if you get a fancy sign with the words “Local Sports Psychologist” and stick it up by your front gate or door very, very few potential clients will come knocking. In the same way that some sports are organically very frustrating (golf and cricket are the first two to come to mind) so too is the profession of ‘sports psychologist’. In other words, nothing comes easy.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying there are professions out there without challenges and roadblocks but ours would have to rank inside the top 10% of ‘most difficult to convert years spent studying into take-home pay per week’.

I have had many conversions with sports psychologist colleagues (not Condor Performance employees) where the frustration was so much that it felt like I was in a session with a golfer who just couldn’t win his first tournament regardless of how hard he tried.

In fact, one chat over coffee in particular really sticks in my memory where I used such a golf analogy. Golf is frustrating ‘on purpose’ so that only the mentally tough would ‘find a way’. If it’s too hard for you, take up jogging instead.

Tip Five: Become A Sporting Coach Yourself 

Ok, honesty time. This is the only one of my tips that I currently don’t do myself. But it’s not due to a lack of motivation but a lack of time. I would like to be around as much as possible whilst my children are still young.

If so much of coaching is actually sport psychology under a pseudonym put your money where your mouth is. Start using your training to help your local sports teams. Of course, three barriers are likely to stop you.

  • Few decision makers will let you have a go. That’s right, despite 6 or 7 years of formal training towards how to make humans perform better your local netball team is still more likely to pick a former player as their head coach
  • You don’t want the accountability that comes with being Head Coach. Rightly or wrongly when we help sporting clients to improve their mental toughness there is rarely, if any, accountability if we don’t actually get the job done. But ask any coach at any level what will happen if they can’t produce results – they’ll know the answer

Last But Not Least

  • No time to do both. This is my excuse. With less work (the majority of my working time at Condor Performance is on essential admin tasks) one of the first things I’d do is offer my services pro bono at one or two of the local clubs near me. By I know that doing a good job – or the best job possible – would take up a lot of time and so this will have to wait until my kids and my company are all a little bit older.

Looking for work (more work) as a sport psychologist? Check out our jobs page here.