Whilst there’s plenty of focus on the physical prowess of our sporting stars, increasing importance is being placed on how athletes are able to cope with the fierce mental pressures of their sport. From football teams hiring specialist sports psychologists, to rugby stars opening up about their anxieties, it seems as there is a much greater willingness to factor in feelings and emotions into the recipe for sporting success.

Nowhere was this better seen than in England’s 2018 World Cup performances in Russia. Whilst the team were largely derided ahead of the tournament, they managed to show a team spirit and optimism that saw them defy their critics. Much of this success has been attributed to their decision to hire Pippa Grange as the team psychologist. She was pivotal in helping the team turn their nerves into excitement as they faced huge amounts of pressure. And whilst the sight of England players riding inflatable unicorns in a swimming pool might look frivolous, it seems as though Grange understood how team bonding was an essential part of getting a winning result.

The introduction of sports science into training sessions was previously met with a certain amount of scepticism. But growing numbers of athletes are starting to realise how psychology plays a huge part in any potential success. The Scottish tennis ace, Andy Murray, famously hired the US therapist, Alexis Castorri, to help him get the mental edge necessary to win the US Open. Similarly, even deeply traditional cricket teams like Yorkshire had to resort to hiring a sports psychologist in 2018 to try and make a decent County Championship title challenge. And if you looking at any of the major sporting clashes on a betting resource like betting.org, then the chances are that there will be a mental health coach working behind the scenes.

Of course, sports psychology is nothing new. The practice is thought to have been developed in Germany in the 1920s where it quickly helped athletes improve their performance by focusing on their mental aptitude. Such was the success of this innovation that the practice spread to the USSR and the USA, and in particular, it was the US professor, Coleman Griffith, who pioneered many of the practices we still see being used today. Griffith was hired as a psychological consultant for the Chicago Cubs baseball team in 1938, and he helped players realise how factors such as personality, leadership and skill learning could help their overall performance.

In following years, we have seen sports psychology make its impact felt in a variety of areas. The 1984 Olympic Games was particularly notable for the fact that many teams hired psychologists for their athletes, whilst we have even seen many esports teams such as Fnatic hiring behavioural analysts to help their players overcome the intense pressure to avoid that much-feared ‘burnout’.

Despite the huge amount of progress, there is still plenty of work to be done in helping sports stars open up about their anxieties. But recently we have seen campaigns by mental health organisations such as MIND to get athletes to talk about their mental issues. In July 2018, we saw rugby legends like Jonny Wilkinson, football aces such as Danny Rose, and even the World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, talking about problems such as depression.

As the pressures on sports stars increase in the modern age, then the chances are that we will see more stars going on record about coping with mental health problems that include depression, anxiety and self-harm. But as long as they receive the help they need, then it’s hoped that they can overcome these issues to put in a winning result.

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