Sports Psychology


Hey guys, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on the boards. As I get ready to send in my paperwork for a hopeful transfer to the University of Wyoming I have started thinking.

How do you get into the field of sport psychology? I’m currently majoring in psychology but I’ve been skeptical about whether or not to continue with it, I enjoy psychology but I don’t know if it’s something I want to go to school for for 10-12 years, but I don’t know what else I would really like to go into that I could do anything in (I love philosophy but not much to do with it).

I’d imagine you need a Psy.D or a Ph.D in psychology to start with but are there classes to specialize in sport psychology? What kind of jobs are available in this field? Do teams hire team therapists or psychoanalysts as staff or just in certain situations?

Do major league sports teams hire psychologists or do minor league and indy teams hire them too? What is the job description for a sport psychologist?

Is it therapy, analysis or something else? What mode of psychology is used? Cognitive, psychodynamic, biological or something more out of the ordinary like humanistic?

Are there companies that hire psychologists to go out and work for teams or are these psychologists mostly independent?

I know these are a lot of questions but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and been having a tough time finding out about this kind of thing. For any of the more experienced members, I’d appreciate the help.


Welcome back, O Master of the Knuckleball!
Yes, there are colleges and universities that offer degrees in sports psychology. And no, you don’t need a Ph.D.—a Master’s will do very well. You should do some investigating into the matter, find out which colleges offer such a degree, talk to the department heads and take it from there.
As to the kind of work that sports psychologists do, the techniques and such are as varied as restaurant menus. What’s particularly interesting is what is, and has been, done in the area of troubleshooting, because that’s usually when a team has to call one in. And what helps immensely is if the psychologist is, or has been, a very good player who knows his elbow from third base. Like a pitching coach, especially one who has pitched in the past—or even concurrently with this psychological work being done. And so much of it is just plain common sense; one doesn’t need to go into the abstruse or abstract or whatever.
Ed Lopat was one such—a very good pitcher who doubled as an extra pitching coach during his tenure with the Yankees. He told me once that a pitching coach has to be something of a psychologist—someone with a sixth sense that tells him when something isn’t right with a pitcher; very often a pitcher’s problem has nothing to do with his arm or his shoulder or—“Heck,” he said, “whatever he throws the ball with!” It’s what’s going on between the ears. The intriguing thing about him was that he had a seemingly eerie ability to zero in on a problem, whether it was something mechanical—or something psychological—and be able to come up with an answer almost instantaneously. When something isn’t right with a pitcher, an alarm goes off in the coach’s head—and it went off for him when I told him about this.
You hear stories—nightmarish ones from pitchers at all levels, all centering around the theme of “My stuff isn’t working!” It could be anything—the fast ball has lost its hippity-hop, the curveball hangs, the slider is flat, the knuckleball (and you know about this) refuses to knuckle, the strike zone jumps around like a jackrabbit on steroids—nightmares all. Well, one winter I found myself thinking about this, and I had been wondering what I would do if I found myself in such a situation, whether I would be able to handle it. Then suddenly the question morphed into “Could I handle it?” And I guess it was bothering me more than I realized, because one night I had a horrendous nightmare. In this nightmare I was warming up to come into a game in relief, and suddenly my two best pitches, the slider and the knuckle-curve, went into hiding and wouldn’t come out. And I couldn’t find the plate to save myself. When I went out to take the mound I discovered that the batters had all grown to twelve feet high and their bats were six feet long! Ouch! I awoke with a start and couldn’t get back to sleep for two hours.
Some time later I ran into Ed Lopat again—and I suddenly found myself telling him about this nightmare. He listened for a minute and then he interrupted me with a quiet “We’ll start there.” He introduced me to a psychological strategy I had never suspected he knew anything about. He had a good working knowledge of several hypnotic techniques, and he used one of them—the “progressive relaxation” induction, which is one of the most powerful in existence—to get me into a state of deep relaxation, and we explored the problem, and almost at once we hit pay dirt. What was bothering me, and what I had been unaware of, was an anxiety about my ability to pitch in tight situations with less than my best stuff! He went right after it, and in about an hour he knocked that problem out of commission, gave me more reinforcement and reassurance about my stuff than I had ever thought possible, restored my confidence and completely demolished any uneasiness I might have had about pitching in such situations. That night I watched him shut out the Detroit Tigers, 8-0, and the next day when I was scheduled to pitch I went out there and threw a two-hitter of my own. I never had that problem again.
It had to be the most dramatic “curbstone consultation” I had ever experienced.
Sometimes it can be very dramatic. Sometimes it’s more of a common-sense explanation. When it works, it’s almost miraculous. But be advised, Pustulio, there are times when it doesn’t work—and I could tell you stories about such times. Like the old St. Louis Browns, who had a banner year in 1944 and from then on stank on hot ice. The team was desperate, and in 1950 they hired a psychologist with a Ph.D. and all that, to try and hypnotize them out of a mind-boggling slump. It didn’t work, in large part because there was one thing this doc didn’t know about working with hypnosis—and it was this: he was a “one-trick pony”, a guy who knew one technique and ran it into the ground and never stopped to consider that this one technique wouldn’t work for everybody. The Browns had started the year in last place. By midseason they were still in last place. So this psychologist was ignominiously fired. Three years later they moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles.
Yes, it is indeed a fascinating subject. And if you’re really interested, look into those colleges and universities that offer the degree in sports psychology, find out all you can, and go to it. I’m with you all the way, and I wish you the best. :slight_smile: 8) :baseballpitcher:


Thanks Zita! That was a very informative post. It’s nice to know I might not have to become a doctor to do anything with psychology.

I get what you’re saying about the one trick pony thing, and so many psychologists disagree about so many things. I’ve already had both cognitive and psychodynamic type instructors and the cognitives don’t even think hypnosis is usefull and the psychodynamics rely on it too much.

I know from my own personal experience that in sports (especially baseball) there is a huge dimension of the game delegated to mental toughness. I’ve seen what confidence, cockiness and depression can do to a player’s performance, I’ve seen what a superstition can do to help someone’s psyche (or hurt it if it’s not fulfilled).


Hey, Pustulio—nice to hear from you again.
You say you’ve had both types of instructors. It reminds me of an old poem about six blind men who encounter an elephant. One of them takes hold of the trunk and says the elephant is like a rope. Another one grabs a leg and says the elephant is like a tree. And—well, the upshot of the whole thing is in the last two lines of the poem:
"Though each was partly in the right,
"They all were in the wrong."
None of them ever grasped the true essence of the elephant.
In psychology, as in just about everything else, there are enough theories to fill a warehouse. Ed Lopat, in his years in the minors before coming up to the White Sox in 1944, had made an exhaustive study of pitching and pitchers, and he was very interested in the mental and psychological aspects of pitching. He and I had many long talks—I used to call them “curbstone consultations”—and he talked not only about getting inside a batter’s head to confuse, discombooberate and generally mess up the latter’s timing and thinking; he also would get inside my bean from time to time to explore my mental processes out there on the mound. His approach to this angle was best described as common-sensical; he would check out a pitcher and determine where s/he was coming from and what would be the best way to enable him/her to reach his/her full capacity. Let me give you another example of how he would work.
When Allie Reynolds joined the Yankees in 1947 he was more of a thrower than a pitcher. He had a fast ball that often exceeded 100 miles an hour, but he was wild and didn’t have all this stuff together. When Lopat came to the Yankees at the start of the 1948 season he did what regular pitching coach Jim Turner couldn’t do. He saw where Reynolds was at, and one day he just sat the Chief down and talked to him about repertoire—about stuff. What he said was: “Take four pitches—a fast ball, a curve, a slider and a screwball. Now throw each one at three different speeds, and you have twelve pitches. Next, throw each one with both the losng-arm and the short-arm delivery, and you have twenty-four pitches.” He didn’t say what would happen if one threw each pitch at three different arm angles, overhand, three-quarters and sidearm, but later on I did the math and I came up with 72 pitches—and it may have been a lot more. In any event: Exit the fireballing thrower whose fast ball exceeded 100 miles an hour. Enter a very, very fine power pitcher with finesse, whose fast ball exceeded 100 miles an hour.
Steady Eddie told me once, when we were discussing the elements that went into the making of a good pitching coach, that he seemed to have a steadying influence on the rest of the pitching staff—that he could keep them relaxed and on an even keel. As he said, “It’s what I do”, with no pretense. Maybe he didn’t have a degree in the stuff, but he operated on a combination of common sense, instinct, keen observation, and what seemed to me to be a sixth sense—an eerie ability to spot a problem, zero in on it at once, and usually find a solution right away. In working with him I picked up on these elements, and more than once I thought to myself, "What an incredible pitching coach he is."
Where he picked up his working knowledge of hypnosis and how to use it, I’ll never know, because I decided not to push the matter—I figured, let it be his secret. But he knew several different approaches, all of which had one thing in common—they were aimed at taking the pressure off and giving a person a chance to relax and let his/her mind rest and become more receptive. As he put it, “The best definition of hypnosis I’ve ever run across is this: it’s an altered state of consciousness characterized by super-concentration and super-relaxation.” And how he would use it—whether it be to resolve a problem such as the one I had, or impart some important information, or just help a person clear his/her head—I remember that from the very beginning, even when he wasn’t using it, he made me feel comfortable and kept me relaxed and receptive to the information, advice and instruction I was receiving from him. And he would tailor his approach to the particular makeup of the pitcher he was working with—he individualized it, not like some psychologists et al. who were basically sticks in the mud! So, the point is, when you know what you’re doing with it you’ll find it very useful indeed.
And he knew what he was doing, all right. I remember that he had a very calm, pleasant and matter-of-fact speaking voice with a particular undertone in it that would just grab and hold the attention of the person he was talking to. Even when he was just explaining to another pitcher about things like focus—or pitch sequences— or getting through a rough patch—there was that element, which I have never seen in any other pitcher or pitching coach. Or heard. He really had me in the palm of his hand, and he helped me make the most of what he told and showed me. They just don’t make pitching coaches like that any more!
You take the best of what you hear or learn, put it together, and come up with your own ideas, your own conception, of what this is all about.
"Well, I’ve run on long enough. You have a lot to think about, and as I said—look into it. And don’t lose that knuckleball!!! :slight_smile: 8) :baseballpitcher: