The value of Sport Psychology Versus Motivational Speaking

Many people often question the value of a sport psychologist and question what they can do. In fact this area of sporting expertise still remains taboo for an awful lot of sports people including some professionals.

Many teams use motivational speakers to come in and give their players a pep talk to “give them a lift” or a “boost” before they play a big game and many liken sport psychologists to these motivational speakers.

While a motivational speaker can lift morale to a certain extent, their long term effect is often negligible. Players walk out the door on a high but a week later will have forgotten what was said.

A sport psychologist on the other hand uses applied psychological scientific research to inform their actions and interventions to solve or improve actual performances issues. Most sport psychologists would be capable of offering services in and around the areas of

(1) Motivation for sport and exercise,
(2) Anxiety, performance stress & motor control
(3) Relaxation & deep breathing
(4) Effective goal setting
(5) Mental Skills Training (visualisation / self-talk)
(6) Team building & group cohesion.
(7) Injury and Rehabilitation
(8) Post Career Transition.

(9) Leadership behaviour

If, for example, a player had issues with performing on the big day, strategies could implemented to control nervousness and relieve the pressure. If a player was not getting the most out of themselves on the pitch it could be through lack of motivation. An effective goal setting strategy could be used to improve this and thus performance would improve.
If a player was having issues with a closed skill task under pressure (golf, GAA free taking, basketball free throw etc), a strategy could be employed to improve attentional focus, increasing percentage success and hence increase confidence and performance.

All of these areas are grossly ignored by the many inspiring “motivational” speakers on the circuit who often have little more than a feelgood good news story to tell. As you part with your cash, their may be feelings of good things ahead, but it often doesnt ring true as there is often no implemented strategy behind the motivational jargon about what they succeeded in doing. In essence, you wont get much “bang” for your “buck”.

On a side note it is interesting to see that Donegal’s Jimmy McGuiness (MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology) has been taken on in a part time capacity at Celtic Football Club. What he has achieved in Donegal in 2 years is remarkable and reflects very well on the value of applied sport psychologists and the impact they may have on performance.