In the past years there have been several examples of athletes who do not perform on the moment they have to. How is this possible? Is this a solvable problem? In most cases it is a mental issue. That is why I took action and interviewed a sports psychologist. I can already hear you think… What is a sports psychologist?
A sports psychologist is a professional who helps an athlete/a sports team to lower the pressure and stress during their career. Popularly said: it is a mental coach who is active in the sports world. You can distinguish three sorts of sports psychologists. In the first place there is a sports psychologist in practice, who is mostly working at his/her own company and get hired by big sports clubs/ unions. The second one is a sports psychologist teacher. This one is busy to train other sports psychologists and improve the work field. The last one is a sports psychologist researcher, which almost always uses science to discover new aspects of the branch. But, since a few weeks there is a new way of being a sports psychologist. In Groningen, prof. dr. N. van Yperen became the first Dutch Professor of Sport and Performance Psychology which is a huge milestone for the development and the publicity of this section of psychology.
Now that you got the gist of what sport psychology is, it’s time to introduce someone who works in this field, drs. Daniëlle van der Klein-Driesen. Daniëlle has her own company, ‘Flow Mentale Training’ , and she works from her practice. You can gather more information about her and her work in the rest of this article.
Interviewer: Could you describe how you became a sports psychologist?
Daniëlle: “After my studies of Pedagogical Sciences, I completed a Master at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: Sport and performance Psychology. Besides, I obtained my accreditation of a sports psychologist and of a sports psychology teacher at the VSPN (= Union for Sports Psychologists in the Netherlands). I received my certificate of a behavior therapist too.”
Interviewer: And how could a VSPN member be distinguished from other sports psychologists?
Daniëlle: “As a VSPN member you have to be active as a sports psychologist for several hours. You have to maintain your acquaintance by staying in contact with the VSPN and learning of this speciality. I will give you an example. If you are in the chair of the dentist and a wisdom tooth has to be removed, what would you choose? An experienced dentist with a certificate of dentistry or a random person who acts like a dentist? Of course you choose the first option. There are always differences between people and their way of working, but at least at the VSPN they have a good basic knowledge.”
Interviewer: How should you describe a normal day of your own experiences ? What are your tasks?
Daniëlle: “At my own company I receive clients which differ from young talented athletes to older Olympic experienced athletes. They often have questions about the pressure of the result and their performance behavior. These young ambitious athletes are often perfectionists and they hate making mistakes. They feel a lot of pressure because of their own demands and sometimes from the outside (parents, friends or the coach). In most of my clients I recognise that they struggle with their maturity. For ‘normal’ young adults during puberty the brain develops into a mature brain and hormones make its entry. During the puberty you expect they want to take distance from their parents, but the athletes are highly dependent on their mother and/ or father. A lot of young athletes have to be brought to several international games by car. And the other weekend they have a tournament at the other side of the country. So, during these periods they are very close to their parents. This view is perfectly in line with my recent book, ‘GAS en REM in de sport’.”
Interviewer: In which areas of the sport psychology are you active in nowadays?
Daniëlle: “I currently give training sessions at the Time Tennis Academy, Tennis Focus Academy, VMBO Thorbecke ‘Sports and Dance’. I also assist football players of the Youth Academy of Feyenoord which are in the Thorbecke College and young players of Excelsior Rotterdam. Besides that, I receive individual athletes on a daily basis at home. In the weekends, I usually give presentations to sports unions. For me it is important to pay attention to the several sports and ‘understand’ the sports. A tennis player experiences her matches in a totally different way than a judoka.”
Interviewer: What is your opinion regarding to performing well against world top athletes and having a bad performance against lower classed players?
Daniëlle: “In tennis there is such as a world ranking. It wouldn’t be good advice for an athlete to fixate on this ranking during a match. The best recommendation during a tennis match is to experience every point as a single goal and work yourself step-by-step through the match. A key note here is to use your judgement-free ability. It is not necessary to punish yourself after one bad service or less good backhand.”
Interviewer: Now about your book. What is the purpose of your book? What is the target audience?
Daniëlle: “My target audience differs from athletes and coaches to parents. My goal to coaches is to make them aware that some details of their way of training could be demotivating for his/her talent. For example, before an important boxing match the coach often beats his/her pupil in the face to create a certain mindset. But, not every athlete has the same personality and likewise some of them prefer other ways of treating before a key match. For some athletes it may be a good idea to joke around in order to not focus on the match for a single moment. Mind you! These procedures have to be retaken or repeated otherwise it will not work. I hope that the coaches make mental training part of their training program, so that they teach the athlete how to deal with pressure.”
Interviewer: What are your expectations of this profession in the future?
Daniëlle: “More accredited sports psychologists will lead to new and fresh insights on this topic. It won’t be long before the mental issue becomes more important. If mental training gives you that one percent of performing better, it can provide the difference between a golden medal or a silver medal. In addition, I notice an increase of athletes having trouble with psychical problems arising from the performance culture. You have to prove yourself time after time. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the current manager of Feyenoord Rotterdam, was on his ‘pink cloud’ for the past months. Nowadays he has to show again his qualities by bringing Feyenoord back to the top of the table. These are some issues which the brain of a sportsman or sportswoman has to deal with.”
A recent example of mental coaching: Ronald Mulder, a professional speed skater, said to ‘NU.nl’ that he has been working with a mental coach for one and a half year. Since then, Mulder is performing very constantly and he even qualified for the Winter Olympics 2018 in South-Korea.
Why only train your muscles, as the brain is controlling your muscles?
By Jean-Luc Budel