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Sport Psychology:

Keeping Student-Athletes at the Top of Their Game

For many students, back to school means back to sports! Athletes look forward to competing as the fall sport schedules are released. In addition to eager anticipation, student-athletes may find themselves feeing anxious about what lies ahead. Will I accomplish my goals? Will I stay healthy? Will I be able to balance the dynamics of school, sports and relationships? Athletes may need extra guidance as they navigate the pressures of a new season. They may also want to build upon their strengths and enhance mental performance. At Sport Psychology, we are happy to help support the mindset and mental health of all student-athletes as they begin a new academic year.

One suggestion for transitioning from summer break to the academic year is establishing goals. Athletes should break down long-term goals into mini goals for each day, practice and game. By making one’s objectives both sport-related and non-sport-related, athletes are reminded that their overall identity is greater than their sport. They can serve important roles on their team, in their family and within the community.

The mental aspect of sports is not always prioritized by athletes or coaches. Additionally, athletes don’t always have the tools to enhance their mental performance. Tactics such as relaxation techniques, imagery, mindfulness and healthy self-talk can make the difference between a good performance and a great one.

Athletes who are in emotional distress typically show a noticeable shift in their persona. Many exhibit withdrawal, isolation, sudden outbursts, difficulty with transitions or significant changes in eating and sleeping patterns. They may seem apathetic about sport participation when they used to be passionate. When such behaviors are observed or reported, it’s time to seek extra support. Be especially vigilant for warning signs of suicidality. These may include a preoccupation with death or dying, a belief that one is a burden to others and that the world would be better without him or her. If there is a plan in place, the individual has the means and suicide is potentially imminent, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 or dial 911.

With all of the money spent on athletic programs, there remains significantly less funding, if any, for athlete-centered mental health resources. Meanwhile, many elite athletes consider their “mental fitness” as part of their training regimen. They value having a regular space and time for themselves. Should there be bumps along the road, the relationship with a trusted professional is already in place. Remember, you don’t have to wait until something is wrong to develop a relationship with a mental health clinician and strengthen the relationship with yourself.

Carrie Hastings, PsyD serves as Team Psychologist for the LA Rams and is the founder of Sport Psychology in Westlake Village. To learn more, visit sportpsychologywlv.com, call 805.242.5771 or drop by any time to visit our library of sport psychology resources at 660 Hampshire Road, Suite 100 in Westlake Village.

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