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What Is Sports Psychology?

According to Division 47 of the American Psychological Association, sports psychology encompasses a range of topics including "motivation to persist and achieve, psychological considerations in sport injury and rehabilitation, counseling techniques with athletes, assessing talent, exercise adherence and well-being, self-perceptions related to achieving, expertise in sport, youth sport and performance enhancement and self-regulation techniques."
While popular perceptions often presume that sports psychology is only concerned with professional athletics, it actually concerns athletes on all levels of expertise and ages from high school through college. One of my interests is developing the healthy young athlete as well.
As a specialty area, it includes a broad range of scientific, clinical and applied topics involving sports and exercise. There are two key areas of interest in sports psychology: understanding how psychology can be applied to improve motivation and performance and understanding how sports and athletics can improve mental health and overall well being.

What is Sports Psychiatry?

Sports psychiatry addresses critical topics, such as regulating energy, recognizing and controlling stress, preparing mentally for performance, and treating mental disorders common to athletes. It explains sports culture and team structure and function, vividly describing the environment in which elite competition takes place. Not only does it include developing the professional and elite athletes but also high school, college and young athletes as well.

While popular perceptions often presume that sports psychiatruy is only concerned with professional athletics, it actually conerns athletes on all levels of experitise and ages from high school through college. One of my interests is developing the healthy young athlete as well
Sports psychiatry distinguishes itself from the well-established field of sports psychology. While our interventions often do affect sports performance positively—and performance problems may in fact be the presenting complaint—our primary goal is not performance enhancement per se, but rather a focus on psychiatric disorders affecting athlete's performance. Some illnesses may have been present before the person became an athlete or the potential may have been there. Perhaps there is a genetic predisposition to, for example, bipolar disorder or ADHD.
Involvement in sports may worsen some existing illnesses; for example, an anxiety disorder might be exacerbated by the unique pressures of athletic competition. Other psychiatric disorders may be engendered through the sport itself: an eating disorder in a gymnast or anabolic steroid abuse in a body builder.

There are unique considerations when choosing pharmacological interventions. It is vital to be awre of adverse events that may impair athletic performance, such as a tremor induced by lithium, or weight gain secondary to an antipsychotic. In addition, sports psychiatrists must be mindful of prescription medications and must keep in mind the banned substances list for each sporting body. A common example: drugs perceived as having performance-enhancing properties, such as psychostimulants for ADHD. The rules vary from one governing body in sports to another, but a therapeutic use exemption may be available for an athlete after a careful review of his or her history.

What qualities might a sports psychiatrist have? Most of us who are drawn to the field have been athletes, and we are no strangers to the discipline, single-mindedness, and competitive spirit required to succeed on the field. This resonates with our patients.
It focuses on the shifting nature and intensity of athletes' emotions—the highs that come with success and the lows that accompany poor performance—and describes the situations that magnify them, including injury and pain, media scrutiny, the availability of performance-enhancing drugs, and the fear of both failure and success

  • First, teams need to transition into the 21st century and provide the same (if not better) psychiatric and behavioral care as medical care.
  • Second, individuals who play need help to achieve peak performance, as well as emotional stability and success, in sports and life.
  • Third, to cope with the issue of stigma about psychiatric illness, players and coaches simply find it easier not to seek help or to receive treatment for psychiatric illness or symptoms of "bad behavior." To see a psychiatrist is still viewed as being "crazy" or "weak," and worse still, athletes may be told that "they can't play" because of their untreated problems. Pick up any newspaper and see the daily athletic litany of substance abuse, doping, violence, suicides, domestic abuse, etc.
  • Finally, parents, spouses/significant others, and families can be guided on how to provide better support during the ups and downs of an athletic career.






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