What Is Sport Psychology?

There is a lot of confusion around sport psychology and how it’s different from traditional psychology. And, when you’re an elite or high-performing athlete, it’s important to know the differences so you can make an informed decision and get back to performing at your highest level.

I’m Dr. Tim White, owner and sport psychologist at White House Sport Psychology and in this video we’re going to explore the simple question, “What is sport psychology?”

The best way to think about sport psychology is to think about training your mind to manage stress, pressure, and high expectations. You can also train your mind to let go of mistakes, manage perfectionism, and get into the right mindset to perform your best.

If we compared sport psychology to strength and conditioning, we would say that sport psychology is like building mental strength, mental flexibility, and mental endurance.

Think of an athlete you know who has a strong mental game. It seems like they are never phased by the circumstances and consistently exhibit mental toughness and adaptability.

These characteristics can be taught AND trained. Teaching and training an athlete these skills, strategies, and principles is what sport psychology is all about.

Just like we use very specific weight training exercises to build our muscles, stretching exercises to increase our flexibility, and conditioning exercises to build our physical fitness, sport psychology teaches and trains an athlete how to use specific exercises, skills, and strategies that help them stay focused and calm, change their perspective, “push through” when they want to quit, “move on” when they make a mistake, and ultimately compete with a sense of trust and belief in their ability to perform their best.

At this point you may be wondering, “but what about mental health and terms like athletic counseling and sports therapy?” This is where some confusion can develop.

Athletic counseling and sports therapy focus more on the mental health and wellbeing of an athlete. Like anyone else, many athletes have anxiety, feel overwhelmed, and experience the symptoms of depression.

Others have ADHD, panic attacks, or problems with family and friends. These types of concerns are normal. They are OK. They do NOT make the athlete weak, soft, or bad.


When an athlete is going through a mental health issue, it can affect their sports performance. In addition, poor sports performance can have a negative effect on an athlete’s mental health. It is helpful to think of these situations as an athlete who needs some help with their mental health and wellbeing.

Sport psychology and athlete mental health are similar in that they both involve the brain and the mind. In fact, they overlap with each other quite a bit. And yet they are different.

Traditional forms of sport psychology tend to focus on sports performance and the mental skills and strategies an athlete uses during competition. For example, strategies like relaxation skills, focus & concentration skills, and controlling your attention are common.

Meanwhile, traditional mental health tends to focus more on the overall health and wellbeing of the person. For example, managing the symptoms of depression, addressing ADHD or past trauma, and social anxiety.

Understanding that sport psychology and mental health are similar to each other but also have their  differences is important because this will help you determine the type of help you may need as well as which professionals can help you.

At White House Sport Psychology we specialize in helping athletes with both sports performance and traditional mental health needs.

Don’t worry if you have a hard time understanding these differences – we can help you explore your options and determine which form of support is best for your needs.

For more information on how to determine what kind of help you need and which professionals are your best options, read part two here.

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