What in the world is a Sports Psychologist?


Hello everyone! Sir Post-a-Lot here hoping that all you Malaysians had a fantastic Hari Merdeka! Today we bring your brand spanking new article, written by our very own Sports Psychologist, Sin Eu!

Sports Psychology is a relatively new field in the world of psychology, and in Malaysia, to say that Sin Eu is a dime a dozen is putting it mildly! Many of us may ask, what in the world does a Sports Psychologist actually do, so instead of guessing and wondering, what better way to figure that our then by getting it straight from the man himself!

Read on for Part 1 of “What in the world is a Sports Psychologist?” right here! Enjoy and have a great week all!


Sports and exercise psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with the psychological factors that affect the performance, participation and enjoyment of a person in sports. Naturally, athletes and sport enthusiasts focus on the physical aspects of sports as the results are tangible and can be easily and readily compared. Unfortunately, many still neglect the mental aspects of sports that fall under the sports psychology category.

For many professional athletes, there will be a large entourage of professionals accompanying them, including coaches, physiotherapists and nutritionists. With the emergence of sports and exercise psychology, research and applications covers the range of the psychological aspects of the athletes. A popular misconception of the role of a sports psychologist is that the person is there just to motivate the athlete or the team and serves no other purpose. Motivating the athlete is just a small part of the job of a sports psychologist. In addition to motivation of the athlete, sports psychologists also assist in coping with pressure, management of injuries, performance enhancement and maintenance of the athlete as well. Sports psychologists also deal with the counselling and interpersonal communications to ensure that the athlete’s mental well-being are being taken care of.


Athletes or teams hire specialists such as physiotherapists as their part of the entourage. Where does sport psychologists stand in this?


Here are some highlights of the role of Sport and Exercise Psychologists

Performance Enhancement

In sports psychology, performance enhancement is normally done via mental strategies, where perceptions and positive mentality will bring about solutions to cope with the situation. Techniques such as visualisation, relaxation and self-talk are practised together with a sport psychologist to overcome obstacles (such as mind blocks), change the mood of the athlete and to achieve full potential while performing in a certain sport. Tom Hall, a 1000-metre sprint canoer credits the power of visualisation for his performance and achievement in winning the bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


“Physically, I’d always been very good, but mentally I was weak”


Tom Hall mentioned that to compensate for the mental weakness, he would sit on a chair with his head down and visualise the race before the competition began. With key words such as “focus”, “keep rowing” and various movement-related self-talk, coupled with enhanced focus on himself and the competition rather than the outcome, Tom was able to increase his performance level to win the bronze medal.


Imagery is one of the mental techniques athletes use to enhance performances prior and during the game.



Sports psychologists do motivate athletes during the course of their jobs. More specifically, the work done by the sports psychologists is related to the internal motivation already present in the athletes. Apart from the extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation is the key element that sports psychologists focus on with the athletes to achieve a mental edge. The perception of competence, where a superior view of self can provide the psychological illusion of superiority to enhance performance and the mastery of any physical activity.

For example, weightlifters are regularly instilled with perceptions such as “I can accomplish anything in sport”, “I am an extraordinary athlete” and “After bad performances, I will do better next time”, will perform better because they are able to negate the negatives and the perception of failure. Sports psychologists are able to provide assistance with these mental and positive perception changes via positive talk scripts and visualization skills.

Athletes with strong motivation endure longer.

Coping with Pressure and Managing Expectations

By virtue of being an athlete, they will have to learn to cope with pressure. There are many factors that determine the pressure that an athlete faces, with include the perceived importance of the competition, self-expectation, general anxiety during competition, perfectionism tendencies and the focus towards the outcome rather than the performance itself. mental techniques can be introduced by the sport psychologist to counter these anxieties and unwanted thoughts. Self-talk techniques involve the restructuring of the perceived situation. For example, instead of “I hate the pressure of….”, it can to be changed to “I love the challenge of…”. As for relaxation techniques, muscular and physical relaxation can be of use to slow down an athletes sporting behaviour and gain focus on the movement and actions needed for execution. Emotional disorders can manifest with constant anxiety and increased stress level and as such, good coping skills and constant social support are needed to reduce the risks.


Professional sportsperson, especially at the highest levels, will need to cope with various pressure and expectations.


The above roles are what sports and exercise psychologists are commonly associated to. With their expertise in dealing with the psychological aspects of the game, the athletes are able to fully use these mental strategies to their advantages. In the next post, we will look at other roles of the sport and exercise psychologist that includes injury recovery, long term planning of programmes and leisure sports & health interventions.


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