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  • Troy Flanagan

A Sports Psychology Program That Works is Hard to Achieve!

Finding the right sports psychologist who uses an effective approach is the key to achieving a good sport psychology program. It can be hard to find a sports psychologist who players will fully engage with. This article outlines what a good sports psychology program should look like and the traits of a good sports psychologist. If executed well, even the most resistant players will eventually come around and engage in sports psychology to some extent.

Effective Sports Psychology

It’s well known that there has been a stigma and resistance from players associated with players working with a sport psychologist. Often players have been concerned about having to discuss their thoughts and concerns with a psychologist. Therefore, pitching sports psychology as improving mental strength and developing useful skills is far more appealing to them.

Developing mental skills is highly engaging for players when it is done well. Mental skills are very useful and can be immediately applied during practice and competition. Effective sport psychology, therefore, relies on a primary focus on mental skill development. This will lead to mentally tough athletes who are more likely to handle the pressure of competition when the stakes are high and win. Coaches, support staff, front office staff, family members and even other players play an important role in the process and can also help develop mental skills that are practical and easily applied. There are endless practical things to work on including dealing with pressure, keeping focus, minimizing distractions, reducing doubt, staying assertive, being self-reflective, effective leadership and more.

Traits of a good sports psychologist

A good sports psychologist continually identifies and improves skills that add to or improve performance. A good sports psychologist can also develop skills to deal with things that detract or take away from performance, particularly as they arise throughout the athlete’s career.

Having hired lots of sports psychologists over the years. Here are some additional things I have seen in my best practitioners:

  1. They can quickly take away the stigma of seeing a psychologist by assertively engaging athletes in a curriculum or learning pathway.

  2. I prefer a sports psychologist to be likeable, can fit into a high performance staff team, not into the role for self-promotion or personal gain and a has proven ability to connect with players.

  3. They have a background in performance psychology, preferably a PhD in applied sports psychology. A clinical psychology degree does not necessary anoint somebody ready to deal with helping a team win a championship. Specialist education and experience in applied sports psychology and mental skill development for sport is very important and preferred.

  4. They understand how to handle confidentiality when needed, but can also navigate the critical need to inform coaches and support staff about what players need and how to handle help them develop their mental skills.

  5. They have a good referral network of mental health providers.

  6. They are calm in a crisis or difficult situation.

  7. They can integrate technology to improve communication with athletes.

Mental Health Care and Clinical Psychology

While performance psychology makes up most of the work in a sports psychology program, there is the occasional need for mental health care within a sports team. Elite athletes seem superhuman to the average fan. However, they are not immune to common mental health issues like anxiety, depression, addiction and various other illnesses. Multiple service providers such as clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in each of the different types of mental health issues should be available for players to access. The most successful management of mental health issues comes when a collaborative team works together and may be comprised of a physician (oversight), clinical psychologist, psychiatrist (if needed), sport psychologist (referral and facilitation) and other specialists.


Whether it is sports psychology or mental health care, choosing the right practitioners is the key to success. The way that they work with players and the level of integration into their daily preparation are also key ingredients to a winning program. When you get it right, the engagement in the program is contagious and the impact is obvious.

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