By Pavo Jurkic
January 3, 2019
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), sports psychology is a skill that uses psychological knowledge to address optimal performance and the well-being of sports athletes.
In other words, sports psychology interventions exist to help athletes perform at their highest levels while ensuring their mental health, as well as cognitive and behavioral skills, remain in optimal condition.
This is not only for the benefit of athletes but coaches, administrators, and closest family members as well. While sports psychology has long been used in the traditional sports, it has started branching into esports waters.
The majority of top-tier teams in the most notable esports franchises (LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO) have had sports psychologists for a long time already. Teams with sports psychologists are already reaping the benefits.
The CS:GO Astralis team is the perfect example of this – we’ll cover their story toward the end. For now, let’s focus on the role of sports psychology in esports. More precisely, we’ll inspect the most common types of interventions for esports athletes and coaches.
If teams recognize their problems are of a psychological nature, there are several types of sports psychology treatments that may improve performance. Each of them tackles different issues, so it’s important to know the problems beforehand.
These interventions are focused on groups and often include entertaining activities with coaches, players, and even their family members. Through fun games and an entertaining environment, psychologists are educating everyone on leadership, motivation, and player-to-play relationships. It’s sort of like traditional team building but with several sports psychologists trying to maximize the learning aspect in a casual and friendly environment, far away from work.
Cognitive and behavioral training are also focused on groups but can support individuals as well. Their main goal is to make the goals clear for everyone involved in the organization and point out the importance of team morale and emotion management.
Anger management, self-esteem, trust issues – all of these factors are important in this type of intervention. Be it on an individual or group level; sports psychologists have to ensure the entire collective is at the desired level of physical and psychical well-being.
Individual counseling is another common type of intervention. The players themselves often initiate counseling. It may be due to feeling out of place, having motivational issues, stress, and other issues of a similar nature.
There can be other factors at play here, such as substance abuse, over-training, and even career transitions. At the top tier of esports, even the smallest details can make or break teams at the most crucial moments.
When push comes to shove, coaches are there to get their team back up, not the sports psychologists. But their jobs, at least in terms of esports, are often intertwined. Since sports psychologists can’t be at their team’s side during the matches (in most cases), coaches are the next best thing.
For that reason, a big part of sports psychology relies on coaching the coaches. As funny as it might sound at first, by teaching the coaches how to motivate, praise and get their team’s morale back up, psychologists can influence the players indirectly.
Sports psychology experts bring forth a heap of specialized knowledge known to be effective with struggling sports or esports organizations. This knowledge includes theoretical, clinical, developmental, and practical aspects, each important for certain types of struggles.
To put everything in simpler terms, here are the three main goals of sports psychology in esports:
The first thing sports psychologists do in their initial session is to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength. All players and their coaches need to work together and be focused on a common goal. It might sound like a simple thing at first, but it’s much more difficult than it seems.
Being forgiving, honest, not taking things personally, learning to trust your teammates, and being open to criticism are all equally important. Teams need all of their players to be on the same wavelength.
Due to the complicated nature of esports competitions, players and teams often struggle with finding uniformed goals. It’s easy for NBA or NHL players – they have just one yearly competition to participate in, esports players don’t have such luxury. They are stranded between a wave of tournaments scattered throughout the year, making long-term plan-making a cumbersome task.
That’s where sports psychologists come into play! By assessing the competitive scene, inspecting the calendar and listening to what players and coaches have to say, they do their best to narrow the main goal as much as possible. Needless to say, having a properly narrowed goal can mean a great deal to the motivation and dedication of players and coaches alike, especially once they’re in the touching distance.
Let’s not forget that psychologists have to ensure all players are giving 100% effort, 100% of the time. Effort can be crippled by anxiety and stress, both closely related to the highly competitive esports environment. On the other hand, stress and anxiety can be related to other factors such as dedication and motivation.
It is on sports psychologists to recognize the crippling factors, find their sources, and eliminate them as soon as possible, ensuring players are at their A-game before the next big competition.
Back in 2017, Astralis was considered a team with unrealized potential. During this time, they’ve played great but couldn’t seem to close out tournaments with style. This was followed by several semifinals finishes which started seriously affecting players’ confidence and team morale. Astralis needed more help, so they brought in an expert in sports psychology – Lars Robl.
The addition of Lars Robl and Magisk saw Astralis move from unrealized potential to one of the best CS:GO teams of all time. A part of that definitely falls to the in-game brilliance of all five players on their roster, but some of the credit surely goes to their coaching and psychology staff.
Lars Robl, thanks to his special forces background, immediately made a mark on the team. With unconventional approaches and brilliant ideas, he spiced up the players’ lives and ensured everyone’s satisfaction.
“We brought the team together and spent three days on Peder Skram (a frigate-class warship in Copenhagen, which now functions as a museum) for a workshop. So we sat there with a paper board, no PCs, no nothing, just three days working on the strategy” – Lars Robl, Astralis Sports Psychologist
He was also responsible for paying close attention to the players’ fatigue levels. As mentioned earlier, over-training and burning out can have adverse effects on tournament performance. That said, it’s no wonder he decided to relieve Astralis’ busy schedule by withdrawing from several notable competitions.
We can’t forget about zonic’s influence on the recent success of this team. Danny “zonic” Sørensen is surely as important as all the players in Astralis’ roster. Since he started coaching this Astralis team (since January 2016), they’ve won roughly 20 notable tournaments.
Zonic has been working closely with Lars Robl, ensuring Lars’ words get through to the players during crucial moments in timeouts. His impeccable work ethics, great motivational speeches, and impressive game IQ make him the perfect coach for such a mentally strong team like Astralis. There’s no denying the fact he’s among the best CS:GO coaches of all time!
Sports psychology is already pretty important. It is already playing a key part in the success of many professional esports teams. We’ve gone through the types of interventions, the most obvious virtues of having highly skilled professionals onboard, and the story behind Astralis’ mental supremacy.
There can be no doubt. The road to victory is paved by the coaching, teamwork, and strategy developed through sports psychology.