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Three Examples of Successful Sports Psychology in Action

06 November, 2018

With so much at stake in elite sporting competitions, teams and players will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure they have an edge over their opponents.

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Training methods, diets and sleeping patterns are fine-tuned to suit each individual while data, analysis and statistics are used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. 

In recent years, sports psychology has also become an important part of any winning set-up across many sports including cricket, football and athletics. In the high-pressure environment of professional sport, winning the mental battle is also important.

But sports psychologists haven’t always had it easy. In the early days, their methods were not always taken seriously and even in recent times, some athletes have shown resistance to sports psychology techniques. However, as documented evidence of the effectiveness of sports psychology increased, more and more industry professionals began to take notice.

Today, many elite level sporting teams have sports psychologists amongst their staff. This can be particularly important in disciplines where slight mistakes can have a high and damaging cost to the individual player such as a batsman in cricket or a goalkeeper in football. In this Betway article about cricket batsmen, sports psychologist Steve Bull describes how a slight error of technique can end a batsmen innings while a bowler can quickly atone for bowling a wide. Similarly, goalkeeper pays a high price for a mistake that leads to a goal while a striker's wayward shot may be quickly forgotten.

In these high pressure scenarios, sports psychologists really can prove their worth. Here are just a few example where sports psychologists have helped top athletes achieve their goals.

Felix Baumgartner’s highest sky-dive attempt 2010

When Austrian BASE jumper and all-round daredevil Felix Baumgartner teamed up with Red Bull for the Stratos project in 2010, there were many psychological obstacles to overcome. His world record sky-dive attempt took him to the edge of space in a balloon where he had to wear a specially designed space suit just to survive. Then he jumped from 38,969.3 metres before free falling for four minutes and 19 seconds reaching a maximum speed of 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph).

After intensive training prior to the jump, Baumgartner began to suffer from extreme claustrophobia when donning his space suit. Red Bull turned to acclaimed sports psychologist and medical services provider Dr Michael Gervais. The athlete spent two weeks under consultation with Gervais and successfully completed the jump, breaking the sound barrier and three world records in the process.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s snooker comeback

Ronnie 'The Rocket' O’Sullivan burst into the snooker scene in the early '90s, became the best player in the world and then fell out of love with the game. During this dark period in his career, his unusual antics and comments were well documented. On more than one occasion, he threatened to quit the sport for good and many observers felt it would be for the best.

In 2011, in an attempt to combat his mental demons, O'Sullivan made contact with sports psychologist Steve Peters. At the time, personal issues were affecting his game and he was not enjoying the sport. He was still playing at a high level but many felt he was a star on the decline and the only way was down.

After working with Peters, O’Sullivan turned his game around and learned to enjoy life on and away from the table. He went on to win two more world titles, three Masters titles, two UK Championship title and many more ranking events and is still one of the topped ranked players in the world.



Justin Rose’s Major breakthrough

At the start of 2013, Justin Rose was 32 years old and beginning his 14th season as a professional golfer. At the time, he was ranked amongst the greatest players never to have won a Major tournament. But that was all about to change.

After missing his first 21 cuts as a pro, Rose later struggled to turn strong starts into wins, often throwing away leads on a Sunday. Having acknowledged his own psychological issues, Rose turned to Dr Gio Valiante who helped him overcome his mental hurdles.

The two first worked together in 2010 and three years later Rose became US Open champion beating Americans Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan to the title in Merion. Rose later revealed that part of his training with Valiante involved watching clips from the movie The Empire Strikes Back.


The man who started it all

Greenville College graduate Coleman Roberts Griffith had a strong interest in sport and later studied a PhD in Psychology at the University of Illinois. There, he began researching the relationship between the two fields. His two publications, ‘The Psychology of Coaching’ (1926) and ‘The Psychology of Athletics’ (1928), established him as a pioneer in the field of sports psychology. It is thanks to him that most professional players now have access to psychological experts

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