Unfortunately, therapy still carries with it a negative stigma. People fear what others may think of them if it were known that they sought out psychological help- does seeking help make a person look weak, incapable of handling life's challenges, or even "crazy"? These are all reasons why individuals, as well as athletes, do not seek out professional help and/or keep it quiet if they do. However, those that do not seek out treatment may undergo hardships that can easily be eliminated with a little guidance from someone well versed in overcoming obstacles that prevent optimal performance. And those that fear others learning of their treatment, further perpetuate the stigma that seeking help is something to be embarrassed about. Well it is time to break free from the stereotypes and fear, and relabel those that seek out treatment as strong individuals who are willing to seek out training to further advance themselves as athletes - individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to be the best that they can be.
It' All About Perspective
All athletes at some point or another struggle with their performance, whether it is only a few short plays or difficulties that last for years. However, the obstacles are just road blocks that can be overcome - the time it takes to overcome that road block depends on the individual. Some athletes are able to demonstrate enough mental toughness to work through their struggles on their own to rebound quickly, but others may not be so fortunate. Trying to approach an obstacle from the same flawed approach will only bring about the same result, and a great deal of frustration! The problem is, the struggles and increased frustration only create a greater gap between the athlete and optimal performance. A different perspective can go a long way in helping an athlete see the obstacle from a different angle, perhaps one that makes the obstacle look much less daunting. The obstacle then becomes a small bump in the road, and with different techniques and approaches, the athlete is able to find athletic success and a new found confidence for tackling obstacle in the future.
The Brain is a Muscle
The standard protocol for athletes is to seek out the help of coaches who have a greater understanding of the sport through experience and/or training. Athletes do not only rely on the help of coaches on the field, but seek out coaches in the weight room or those with specialized knowledge (e.g., swing coaches for golfers, kicking coaches for placekickers, etc.). Athletes seek out the help of coaches to work out their bodies to learn technique, as well as to get stronger. However, athletes are ignoring the most important muscle in their body - their brain! Sports psychologist are just brain coaches that help athletes learn techniques and get stronger. If athletes adopt this viewpoint, isn't it only natural that athletes should seek out coaches to strengthen and improve their mentality?
When an athlete gets injured, the first step is typically to seek out a medical doctor for an assessment and treatment plan to overcome and rehab the injury. Well isn't poor performance just a mental injury- one that should be evaluated and rehabbed by a professional? An athlete (for the most part) won't struggle through a physical injury without seeking help to correct the problem, so why should they think it is normal or acceptable to struggle through mental blocks without seeking help to learn ways to overcome their struggles in order to maintain optimal performance?
Above are three different approaches that can and should help athletes to view sports psychology from a different mindset, one that makes seeking out help a necessary step in achieving success on the field. If athletes talk about the help they received to overcome obstacles, they help to remove the stigma and teach athletes around them, and those that look up to them, that not only is it okay to seek treatment, but a positive path to athletic success.