In the world of sports, no matter what level, high school, college or professional the athlete is going to experience a slump, injury, mental fatigue or some kind of mental barrier hindering their performance. It’s actually very common. The athlete needs to learn to overcome and better cope with these challenges.
Sports Psychologists can assist athletes to overcome these issues, help enhance their performance, while achieving their goals. These professionals can help athletes change their mindset or mental behavior. They can help instill a positive mental attitude that can have a major impact upon performance and healing. The psychologist can use different strategies to help an athlete work through a down period, a slump, or an injury.
Dr. Joanne Perry, 28 a Charlotte native, a former collegiate swimmer at Pepperdine University in an interview with this writer, explained her role as a Novant Health sport psychologist, as her experience ranges from athletes as young as age 11 years, including many other patients from teenagers to adults of all ages.
What is sports psychology and how is it different than other types of psychology?
Sports psychology has been with us since the 1980’s. It’s a subgroup in the field of psychology that applies the theory, principles and strategies used in clinical and counseling psychology geared to sports, athletes and coaches.
The doctor will deal with anxiety issues, trauma, injuries, recovery, stress, transition, adjustments to change, mental health, performance and more.
What led you to a career in this field?
As a former college athlete and psychology major it seemed like a natural career choice. Her experience at a highly competitive level in collegiate athletics, and her genuine interest in the filed of psychology in general. “I witnessed first hand many of the challenges athletes face and thought I could make a difference in their mental health and well being. I know what they’re going through, they have about 15 stressors, more than the average student, therefore, it helps to have empathy”
What kind of changes have there been in your field of practice in the last few years?
In the clinical psychology side of the spectrum. How athlete populations view performance challenges. This is especially critical for collegiate and professional athletes. It’s extremely competitive at the Division 1 collegiate level, and as a professional athlete because winning is the primary objective. Success will bring more recognition, media exposure, and ultimately financial rewards to the school athletic program. The same is applicable at the professional level as an athletes career can be impacted at anytime due to physical injury or psychological challenges.
Major sport injuries can be very psychology damaging to athletes. The stress of an injury is very disruptive to an athletes daily routine and overall life. Many have to learn to overcome this kind of setback and recovery. There are mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, frustration, including being anxious. The sports psychologist can certainly help an athlete better cope mentally, get the individual in a positive frame of mind, to remain on the right track to full recovery physically.
How do you specifically help athletes?
With athletes we deal primarily with anxiety and depression issues related to their performance results. We will use motivational interviews to assist with behavior change. Dr. Perry will use cognitive behavior therapy, she will look at the way an athlete is thinking about certain problems, and how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors are all interconnected.
She is also trained in a new innovative approach, called the “third wave” approach to therapy, which is acceptance and commitment therapy. “In this, we are less focused on controlling or changing negative internal states, and more focused on not reacting to them. For athletes, this is a perfect approach. It’s inevitable as athletes they will risk injury, they are going to face physical pain at some point. We believe it’s far less about the presence of pain and much more about the individuals reaction to it.”
What do you see for the future of this field?
Dr. Perry certainly believes the sports psychology field will experience more growth. Sports Psychologist are in demand at many major universities because of the stress to enhance performance, juggling academic demands with practice and competition. Also, there is always pressure to win.
The field is becoming more accepted in the world of sports. Every Olympic team has a sports psychologist involved. In professional sports there are more sports psychologists getting involved with individual athletes and with the various organizations.
It’s actually pretty straight forward, as the pressures become greater and the level of performance gets even higher, the demand will certainly grow for more sports psychologist to assist athletes who require their unique and specialized skills.
Novant Health is trying to make healthcare more accessible to student athletes in particular. This is both at the high school and collegiate level. Dr. Perry is focused on the student athlete who are the majority of her patients. She works in the orthopedic and sports medicine department at Novant Health.