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.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.