Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.

You’ve heard about sport psychology, you know athletes use it and you know it has to do with the mental game.  You may think it is mainly just for Olympians, professionals and other elite athletes.  But, it is not, and here is how sport psychology can help you, whether you are a beginner or already a champion.

Sport psychology is most often thought of as solely the “mental game.” However, in addition to that, sport psychology is just as much about the “emotional game” and the “behavioral game.”  In other words, it is about how an athlete thinks, feels and acts in learning and playing a sport.

The Mental Game

The mental, or thinking, part includes such things as goal setting, game plans, strategies, concentration, self-talk and imagery.  For example, if you set a realistic goal of being close to the lead at the end of the competition, and then stick to a predetermined game plan and strategy for getting there, you may ultimately find yourself in the winner’s circle as others crumble around you.

The Emotional Game

The emotional, or feeling, part deals with pressure and choking, stress and anger control, building confidence, reducing anxiety and even holding down excitement!  Learn how to talk to yourself in a favorable manner and you will better manage stress and anxiety.  This will lead to confidence, helping you calm down and concentrate in the face of pressure.

The Behavioral Game

The behavioral, or action, part of the game includes developing pre-shot routines, learning how to relax and also how to practice more effectively and efficiently.  For example, when you practice, be sure to challenge yourself psychologically, as well as physically.  That is, add pressure to your practice routine, so you won’t be so shocked when pressure hits you on game day.

Sport Psychology is Broad in Scope

As you can see, sport psychology draws on a wide range of psychological topics.  Those topics come from developmental, personality, social and clinical psychology, as well as the areas of learning, motivation and cognition (thinking).  You can learn more about all these areas by taking Introductory Psychology in college.

Sport psychology is useful for athletes from beginners to professionals.  Beginners have to learn how to practice, how to manage their games on the course and how to deal with the anxiety of playing with and against others.  Professionals, those who want to move beyond just making the cut and finishing in the middle of the pack, have to fine-tune and work harder than ever at their mental, emotional and behavioral skills in order to take their games to the next level.  Just ask any PGA Tour pro and they will agree.

Sport Psychology and Life

I once had a student in my sport psychology class excitedly exclaim, “I thought this class was just going to be some kind of P.E. course; but this is about LIFE!”  How insightful she was.  Sport mirrors life, and sport psychology teaches skills and principles that prepare you not only for the pressures of sport, but also for the challenges of life itself.
Dr. Tom Dorsel, a sport psychologist for over 30 years, can be found on Facebook at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head.”  He is the author of GOLF: The Mental Game and can be contacted at