“Juan Martin del Potro has revealed that he sought the help of a sports psychologist”, the headline reads and the first thought that flashes through my mind is — sports psychologist, for real? But sport is all about physical strength and skills, right? After a few minutes of googling, I realise it’s not so anymore. Well, it was never so, just that it took us time to acknowledge that fact. However, the tightening of competition and the increase in professionalism has contributed to making this word commonplace.
Less popular than physios?
Sport has always had a connection with biology and psychology is just another aspect of this same stream; like — that which deals with our minds. So why didn’t we think of creating sports psychologists, probably along with sports physiologists? One reason, possibly, the overriding one, would be the fact that consulting psychologists was restricted, by social stigma, to people with so-called mental disorders. While it was considered natural to be fatigued or injured physically, mental tensions and injuries were looked down upon. So, physiologists became popular way before their emotional counterparts, the psychologists.
Things looking better?
But, things are looking better for the psychologists. Major sports teams, especially in the NBA and professional players do employ a psychologist as part of their support staff along with the medical people. Infact, with depression almost moving out of the social stigma zone, psychologista are finding more work than ever before and this has spilled on to the sports field too.
Players have started to use psychological tactics too to improve their game like visualising and meditation. In his book Serve to win, Novak Djokovic gave credit to visualising techniques also, for his whopping success. The Indian cricket team captain, Virat Kohli, always reiterated that visualising helped him score ton after ton; and he looks intent on beating some records — maybe he has visualised it all!
But, psychological tactics in the port have not been a recent trend in one aspect — sledging. This ancient practice, still in use today is employed by players to rattle the emotional balance of their opponents so that they lose focus and end up losing the game too.
It can then be said that sports and psychology have a link that dates back to ages but one that was not appreciated until late.