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Holistic Sports Psychology, Helping Athletes On and Off the Field

Athletes go through stressors in their personal lives as well as their athletic lives. Traditional sports psychologists generally just treat the athlete as an athlete. However, more and more sports psychologists with holistic views realize that an athlete is a person first before they are an athlete and should be treated accordingly.

Athletes are also realizing that addressing all issues (i.e. home, sports-related injuries) may greatly improve themselves both in and outside their sport.

Holistic Sports Psychology: Helping Athletes On and Off the Field

In an emerging trend, more sports psychologists are using holistic approaches in their practices to treat the athlete both in and outside of their sport

The Definition of Holistic Sports Psychology

The American Holistic Health Association (AHHA)¹ defines the term holistic as having a mind/ body connection, a mind/ body/ spirit connection, or any physical/ mental/ emotional/ spiritual aspects.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA)², sports psychologists “help athletes refine their focus on competition goals, become more motivated, and learn to deal with the anxiety and fear of failure that often accompanies competition”.

The specific term of holistic sports psychology has not been clearly defined as of yet, although it can safely be assumed that it follows the definition of sports psychology adding a holistic approach, working to improve the athlete’s personal development.

Friesen and Orlick reveal long-time research showing that many, not all, traditional sports psychologists have expressed their concerns over outside influences affecting the athlete’s performance, but many felt it was beyond their scope of practice to treat the athlete otherwise.

The Three Central Perspectives in Holistic Sports Psychology Practice

Holistic Sports Psychology Practice
Holistic Sports Psychology Practice

First Perspective:

Understanding that non-sport environments can have an effect on athletic performance.

Athletes go to school, spend time with families, and have personal relationships just like everyone else. What is important to realize is that their emotions from those experiences can spill over into their athletic performance.

They need to learn how to deal with these influences, both mentally and physically, while focusing on how to perform in their sport better.

Second Perspective:

Helping the athlete develop their core being.

Many athletes have interests outside of their sport and also need to learn who exactly they are once they are no longer an athlete. Many times the athlete is so focused on their sport at the current time that they lose focus of their identity.

The sport can literally end up consuming them so that once their athletic life is over they don’t know what to do. Also helping to develop the athlete’s core being could make their athletic performance that much better because they now display an aura of confidence and carry themselves differently than when they were unsure of who they were.

Third Perspective:

Recognizes the sports experience as an interaction between behavior, thoughts, feelings, and physiology, not just ability.

Understanding how all of these things together can affect sports performance is important. Both the psychologist and athlete spend time addressing each of these areas to bring a better balance to the athlete and their performance. The athlete can also work with the multiple sports professionals that may be a part of the team staff to obtain different perspectives.

The Most Important Lesson to be Learned from Holistic Sports Psychology

The most important lesson from the practice of holistic sports psychology is that an athlete is a person before they are an athlete and should be treated that way. Everything else can be addressed after that. Society is all too familiar with what happens to athletes after they are no longer athletes.

Look at the downfall of many of them in today’s news headlines. Everyone wants athletes to succeed on the field, but you should hope they succeed off the field as well.


  • American Holistic Health Association. Accessed October 13, 2018.
  • American Psychological Association. Accessed October 13, 2018.
  • Friesen, A., Orlick, T. A Qualitative Analysis of Holistic Sports Psychology Consultants’ Professional Philosophies. The Sports Psychologist.

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