MythBusters: Sport Psychology Edition – Part 2 of 3

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Myth #2 – Sport Psychology is for people who are weak or struggling

Here is a quick story about former North Carolina Tarheel basketball player Rashad McCants from Nov 2004:

SI: When you were a freshman, Doherty asked you to meet “a friend” who turned out to be a sports psychologist.

McCants: That was the most embarrassing moment of my life. It was an insult to me. Because I felt like I was too smart for someone to pick at my brain and say, “Well, you must have a problem.” ‘Cause I felt at the time that I wasn’t the problem. The problem was beyond anybody’s control, because it was with every player on the team. I just had it worse than everybody. I remember he said, “This is Dr. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Richard] Coop [a member of the UNC faculty]. He’s a psychologist.” I looked at him and said, “You didn’t just send me to a psychologist and act like it was all right.” I saw him twice simply because Coach asked me, and I’m loyal to my coaches. If he asks me to do something, I’ll do it.

SI: But your favorite class right now is a psychology class, so you must respect the study of it, right?

McCants: It was just, how could he think or even dream of me needing a psychologist? You could ask anybody — any Carolina fan — my freshman year if I needed psychological help, those who read the papers would say yes. Those who watched the games live, who know me, will say get outta my face.

SI: But you don’t dismiss the idea of therapy being helpful to some people, do you?

McCants: Not at all. It was very relaxing to talk to him. Because I got to open up and tell him how I felt and get some things off my chest I couldn’t tell anyone else. But just the thought of [Doherty] thinking I needed it was something else.”

This is a pretty typical attitude toward sport psychology – insecure and a little misguided. While acknowledging that he was able to get things off his chest and talk to someone who was not his coach, McCants still could not stop talking about how offended he was that the coach thought he “needed help.”

In most sports, athletes are taught to be warriors, to be self-reliant, and to work through adversity. This is one of the things that make people who participate in athletics stronger in all areas of life. However, when you have resources, why not use them? If you are struggling with foul shooting, why not have a coach help with technique? You could work harder on your own using the same bad technique, but that would not help!   So if you want to be able to focus very well, why not consult with someone who can provide you the tools necessary to improve.

An example of this, who is in stark contrast to McCants, is Portland Trailblazer All Star Brandon Roy. He told Sports Illustrated in 2010 about his work with a sport psychology consultant in the off-season:

“I kept asking myself, ‘What is the difference between those teams that made the conference finals and ours?’ It’s not talent. We had plenty of talent. It comes down to leadership. They had better leaders. But I was the kind of guy who is always thinking, ‘What more can I do to help my team?’”

So this summer, Roy requested that the team arrange a meeting for him this summer with a sport psychologist.

Roy, a Rookie of the Year and 3-time NBA All-Star is not someone I would consider “weak” or “struggling.” Would you?

About the Author: Brian Baxter received an M.A. in Sports Psychology.  He teaches individuals how to identify and build awareness of their difficulties, their areas of improvement and their strengths and implements strategies to make the process second nature. 

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