From balancing school work to competing at a high level of performance, student athletes have to work to thrive in the classroom and in their sports. During moments of intense play, athletes have to respond and perform to help their team. The way that athletes and coaches respond to the sports they participate in can be looked through the lens of sports psychology.
To understand sports psychology, one must first know about performance psychology. Performance psychology focuses on the behavioral and mental aspect of performance. Emily Cabano is a doctorate student in clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University, and says that the use of performance psychology is not limited to only athletes, but it is used to help people in the military, first responders, lawyers and many more. Cabano acknowledges that SPU offers many services for athletes and coaches, while also acknowledging the program is a team effort.
“Athletes have many support systems on campus. We work with the counseling center, with the training staff, and administrative staff,” Cabano said.
Cabano describes sports psychology as being the use of psychological skills and principles that are used to help people in a performance environment. Sports psychology looks at these psychological skills to improve an athletes performance.
Cabano, who had previous experience coaching gymnastics and as a student athlete in college at the University of Arizona, knew she wanted to continue working with athletes.
“I ended up going back to school and wanting to do something continuing with sports athletes. I just happened to sign the program at the University of Denver, which is one of the best sport and performance programs in the country and so I was very fortunate to have great training there,” Cabano said.
Cabano highlights the difference between both regular psychology and sports psychology.
“Clinical psychology really focuses on mental health and mental disorders. While sports, you’re speaking about performance work, in particular with athletes,” Cabano said.
Cabano acknowledged that athletes have high demands to perform at a high level, not only physically but mentally as well.
“I’m definitely drawn to excellence and I’m drawn to the ability of performance skills to facilitate excellence,” Cabano said.
Cabano expressed that she enjoys helping the athletes in a way that can impact them both in sports and their lives.
“I find it really meaningful and fulfilling to be able to help a young person develop mental health that can really impact their life both in and outside of sports,” Cabano said.
Sports psychology not only helps the athletes, but can benefit coaches as well. SPU Women’s Basketball Coach Mike Simonson and Men’s Basketball Coach Grant Leep discussed the benefits of using sports psychology.
Leep has been enrolled in sports psychology courses and Simonson has read up on coaching self help books, as well as learning from colleagues.
Simonson acknowledged that his athletes have a life off the court, and the stresses athletes face on the court can affect them off the court as well.
“Sports psychology benefits not only student athlete performance, but manages their anxiety. Many athletes experience mental pressure that carries over into their everyday lives. My hope is that we can manage their stress levels and give tools to our athletes to alleviate their worries on and off the court,” Simonson said.
Leep emphasized that the utility of sports psychology can be used in the present, explaining that it is not only important for big moments or in the postseason. Leep explained that not only can sports psychology help on an individual aspect, but also a team aspect.
“Nothing is ever going to go how you want it to go all the time. When we get in those moments, how we handle what is going on around us will oftentimes define a game or a season,” Leep said. “We try to build confidence in our athletes. Then it comes down to the discipline to be at your best within the framework of what is best for our team and our program.”