(Editor's note: The mental aspect of sport is often overlooked, and there's confusion regarding the roles sport psychology can play. This is Part 2 of a three-part series explaining mental health, mental skills and sport psychology. Danny Desin, M.S., is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a prospective Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC). Desin interviewed three former Montana athletes -- Dylan Donahue, Josh Huestis and Christina Aragon -- about the mental aspect of sport. For Part 1 with Dylan Donahue, please click here. For Part 3 with Christina Aragon, please click here. )
What percentage of any given sport -- individual or team -- is mental?
Athletes of all levels will often answer this question with a number 75 percent and above. Assuming that’s true, what percentage of time does any given athlete devote to improving themselves in the mental aspect of their game? The most common answer to that question is zero percent. That means no time spent improving the one aspect of the game that the athlete is in complete control of, no time spent looking at the value of sport and how it can help in so many other areas, no time spent gaining the competitive edge.
Bill Russell said that “concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory,” and he is absolutely correct. Think about how many athletes who are not as skilled as their opponents end up winning. The same applies to teams. To put it in the simplest way possible: That phenomena is the result of mental ability, which is the primary focus of sport and performance psychology.
While most sport psychology consultants/mental performance coaches are not licensed psychologists in their state, they still have a commitment to improving the welfare of the athletes they work with. A lot of this work is done by breaking down the stigma of mental health in sports, which is that asking for help equates to a weak mentality. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as explained in a previous article featured on MontanaSports.com. Athletes are not immune to similar issues that people generally face just because they take part in sports. There may be some that disagree, but deciding to “suck it up” isn’t always the choice that leads to the best result.
Josh Huestis has had a lot of experience in his career with the mental side of the game. A former Great Falls CMR basketball player who helped his team win State AA championships in 2009 and 2010, Huestis is a graduate of Stanford University and holds the program record for blocked shots in a career (190). He was a first-round NBA draft pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder and has recently signed a contract to play for FC Bayern Munich. Huestis has outlined his experiences in sport psychology, including his views on mental health in sports, which he has also authored an article on.
Q: What role does mental health play in sports?
Huestis: "I’ve seen mental health issues be a really prominent thing in professional sports. All our lives, we as athletes are trained for a singular purpose. Our entire self-worth is reliant on succeeding at our sport and being the best. Because of that, I’ve seen so many athletes find themselves lost as human beings and become depressed and anxious. We’re held to such high standards and driven to achieve nearly impossible goals, which can lead to daily fear and mental struggles. The players that can truly succeed are the ones who recognize the need for help and can find the time to talk to someone about their issues on and off the court."
Q: How important are mental skills in sports?
Huestis: "To me, mental skills are the most important you can hone. Growing up everyone has heard that sports is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, but hardly anyone actually treats it that way. I’ve been able to play basketball at the highest level possible, and I’ve seen so many examples of players who may not be the most skilled, athletic, or talented but find a way to be highly successful purely because their mental training is second to none."
Q: Please describe your experience in working with a Sport Psychology Consultant.
Huestis: "I’m proud to say that I’ve worked with a sport psychologist since college. I’ve always struggled with my confidence on the court. Since Day 1 I’ve been a perfectionist, and that pursuit of perfection can lead me to be paralyzed with the fear of making a mistake on the court. This obviously causes my game to suffer tremendously. Working with a sport psychologist helped me so much in letting go of that fear and facing it head on. Realizing that all I can do every single day is take care of the things I can control has helped me a lot. By learning how to not dwell on the past and focus on the present, my game improved significantly. I’d recommend every athlete speak with a sport psychologist at some point. We all can benefit."
Josh Huestis is in tune with these concepts and uses his awareness of them to continue working at his craft on a daily basis. The first thing that any sport psychology consultant will look at is the mental and emotional wellness of the athlete, because progress can’t fully be made unless that area is addressed.
About Danny Desin (www.desinsportpsych.com): Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a prospective Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).