Sports psychology should be given priority especially in honing not just the physical but psychosocial skills among athletes, and schools should teach student athletes how to balance their academic and sports responsibilities, said Dr. Michele Valbuena, sports psychologist and chairperson of the Silliman University psychology department.
American Psychological Association defines sports psychology as a “proficiency that uses psychological knowledge and skills to address optimal performance and well-being of athletes, developmental and social aspects of sports participation, and systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations.”
Valbuena said, “In the Philippines, [sports psychology is] still a growing field because not many recognize the importance of developing the psychosocial skills of athletes as similarly important as the physical skills.”
She said psychosocial skills refer to athletes’ ability to deal with anxiety and pressure in their social environment that could affect their mental health.
“Mental toughness and management of anxiety should also be developed among athletes,” she said.
On the other hand, SU basketball varsity coach Jake Villavicencio said his training for the team mainly focuses on improving physical skills.
“As to [the athlete’s] mental health, such as [dealing with] stress, pressure, and anxiety, this should be handled by professionals,” he added.
Moreover, SU Athletics Director Niño Piñero said part of the training before becoming a certified university coach is to know how to teach mental preparations to athletes before and after competitions.
“But sad to say, maybe because of stress and pressure of work, [and] because these are not full-time coaches, they are not able to strictly implement the mental preparation of their athletes,” Piñero said.
He shared that while there is no formal psychosocial training for student varsity athletes in Silliman, counselling may be given to them upon recommendation by their coach.
Coaches act as the go-between person of student athletes before seeing guidance counsellors, he added.
Sports psych seminars
Piñero and Valbuena made attempts to fill the lack of understanding in sports psychology by organizing training seminars for coaches on the application of sports psychology.
“[Valbuena and I] started to have a lecture series…I invited all university coaches, but sad to say only a few were interested, so there is also a problem of how to accept sports psychology in the training,” said Piñero.
“We are already giving [coaches] the opportunity, it’s already here in Silliman University but they are not responding to it,” he said.
Although Piñero understood that coaches could not attend seminars due to financial and time constraints, he said that it is important for coaches to keep finding ways to improve in their profession.
“If you are a coach who really want to develop in sports coaching, you have to spend your own [money] because… you cannot always depend on the university, government or other sponsorships,” Piñero said.
Valbuena recommends that the university require its coaches to attend sports psychology training. She said this could influence other universities in the Visayas to also incorporate sports psychology into their own training programs.
Moreover, Valbuena emphasized the need for cooperation within the university to support the athletic program.
“In instances, for example, [when student athletes] have to take a leave to represent Silliman outside, they will miss classes. How can the university create a program that is helpful for them, so that when they come back from a competition, they don’t need to do double time in academics?”
Valbuena said student athletes should be taught how to balance their sports and academic responsibilities.
Harvey Abiera, member of the SU basketball varsity team, said balancing studies and training is a big challenge and monthly counselling or post-game counselling would be a helpful addition to their athletic program.