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Your guide to sport and performance psychology

The sport and performance psychology field combines a deep understanding of psychology and human behaviour through a sport-focused lens. The field of sport psychology, also known as performance psychology or exercise psychology, has accelerated in the last 20 years with the increased understanding that sport performance is impacted by mental wellbeing. Sport psychology focuses on strengthening psychological, physiological and technical training. It is an exciting industry in which sport psychologists play a crucial role in athletes’ training regime. Exercise psychologists help players facing intense fatigue, anxiety and stress, using their psychology background to support athletes achieve level-headed, motivated and focused mindsets.  

How to become a sport psychologist 

In order to become a qualified sport psychologist, students must pursue higher education. Students are first required to obtain either an undergraduate degree or a Graduate Diploma in Psychology. After completing a foundational course, those wanting to become certified psychologists can complete fourth-year studies, which enables entry into a Masters or Doctorate qualification. Upon successful completion, students will be eligible to register as a practising psychologist.  

The final stage to specialising in sport psychology is by receiving an endorsement for Sport Psychology through training with an approved practitioner. Training periods can vary depending on your level of educational background, however, once completed you will receive accreditation from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) as an official Sports Psychologist.   

What do sport and performance psychologists do? 

Sport psychologists are important team members, they help athletes reach their potential through safe and reliable training methods. Performance psychologists look after the mental welfare of all different types of athletes, which in turn improves their physical ability.  

These are some key responsibilities of sports psychologists: 

Anxiety, stress and energy management 

Athletes are put under immense pressure by their trainers, team members, club owners and fans. Using methods taught in psychology training to ease anxiety and stress whilst organising energy output is crucial for a players’ mental health. Under the industry’s microscope, players can forget that their mental state affects their performance and this is where an exercise psychologist can help players to prioritise their wellbeing. 

Goal setting techniques 

Exercise psychologists help their patients by setting up achievable and motivational goals. Helping athletes develop an action plan which allows them to reach their end goal is crucial for keeping motivation and performance strong throughout a season or long training period, which in turn enables better overall performance. Setting effective goals is an important psychological tool for motivation and overcoming challenges. Sports psychologists understand how to create personal, achievable and motivating goals.   

Attention, concentration and focus control 

A deep understanding of psychology allows exercise psychologists to teach their athletes better ways to sharpen their focus. Athletes can lose focus when performing under stress or in front of large crowds. Performance psychologists give their athletes the tools they need to reduce the noise so they can focus on performing at their best.  

Team building exercises  

Performance psychologists can improve team cohesion by developing group strengthening exercises. With the added pressures of working within the sports industry, group conflict can sometimes ensue. With training in conflict resolution and the ability to diagnose the trigger of friction and hostility, sports and performance psychologists can improve team unity. This teamwork can be in group sports, amongst players or between different stakeholders and coaches.  

Olympic champions realise success with a sports psychologist 

The Australian Olympic swimming team struck gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics with the help of their trusted sport psychologist, Georgia Ridler. Working alongside coaches and managers, Georgia ensured that the team’s mental wellbeing was a priority, allowing them to compete at their best. Overlooking team cohesion and ensuring that the athlete's anxiety and mental distractions were well managed, she was a key team member. The Australian Olympic Swim Team achieved great success at the 2016 games, taking home ten swimming medals, including three gold, four silver and three bronze medals.  

Psychology has unlimited career pathways 

Undertaking study in psychology can lead to a variety of unexpected career pathways such as that within the sports industry. A strong understanding of human behaviour lends itself to several industries and a variety of different job opportunities. Sport and performance psychology is amongst many interesting specialisations within the field psychology. Studying psychology will grant you transferrable skills and give you the flexibility to pave your own unique career path. 

To learn how a Graduate Diploma in Psychology is the first step towards a career in sports psychology, make an appointment to speak with an advisor today. 

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