eSports Teams Need to Invest in Sport Psychology

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Recently I wrote a blog post titled ‘Lose The Battle, But Win The War’. The post was intended to motivate and reassure players who are going through a slump. The players, who despite their amazing accomplishments, feel like quitting. I wrote the post focusing more on their will to compete and not their results. I had the opportunity to speak to a few players after posting that blog, and discussed their current situations. Leading to a much faster recovery from their downward spiral. Some of these players were sponsored by well established companies, and it got me thinking. 

Is a player supposed to just fix their own mindset? 

Are they left to their own devices to find a way out of a slump? 

What happens if they never recover and the mounting pressure of losing sponsorship only makes it worse? 

How much money is at risk for a sponsor if their player(s) fall into a performance slump or have a meltdown on social media?

How can we retain a level of enjoyment in eSports while also pushing for peak performance?

All of these questions and many more need to be answered as eSports continues to grow. Especially if you’re a newer organization looking to form a team, but more so if you’re an established entity trying to survive. The answer is to turn to a practice used in athletics and competition today.

eSports teams need to invest in Sport Psychology, and the rest of this post will show you why.

 

What is Sport Psychology

According to the American Psychological Association: Sport psychology is 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.

In practice it involves an athletics counselor (individual or team) who fills in the developmental gaps that a coach cannot. Helping to ensure that the player is able to execute what the coach teaches without having any mental hurdles to overcome. Unlocking and maintaining a player’s potential or peak performance. This can be done through a number of different techniques, but it’s not uncommon for an athletics counselor to also focus on a player’s home life. Adding emotional support to a player that focuses on the player’s enjoyment in life and competition.

Although we tend to look at mental coaches as only being for players, organizations may also employ an athletics counselor to work with the coaches as well. To ensure that the coach is providing the best experience for the team and isn’t self sabotaging through win obsessive mindsets, or fear.

From Then to Now

Traces of Sport Psychology can be found as far back as 1898 with a study on bicyclists being more likely to cycle faster with a pacemaker. This opened the door to studying motivation, citing that humans have a higher level of motivation to achieve tasks such as archery compared to a mundane task. In 1938, Coleman Griffith was hired by the Chicago Cubs to serve as a sport psychologist consultant, and though his practices faced enormous push back, we have adopted many of his practices today.

Sport Psychology really emerged in the 60’s and has flourished ever since. A walking breathing example of Sports Psychology is Kobe Bryant, and though he never received any traditional counseling, he did follow the meditation teachings of George Mumford. I call him a walking breathing example because of the insights he shares about his mentality throughout his career. He perfectly outlines the peak mental state that psychologists strive to help players reach.

There are many other athletes who utilize team counselors, mental coaches or sports psychology on a regular basis. Some star athletes like Russel Wilson, Tom Brady, Justin Rose, Ronnie O’ Sullivan, and a whole host of athletes that aren’t as prolific but are pivotal to their teams. 

Anyone and everyone in every sport utilizes athletic counselors all over the world. We often don’t know the names of the counselors but there have been famous ones. Alan Goldberg, Gary Mack, John F. Murray, J. Mitchell Perry, to name a few. We may not know the names of every team counselor or mental coach, but we do know that they exist. As much as we as a society would love for the star athletes to just have unbridled talent, and not need the assistance of a mental coach, they often do. In fact, there has become an even greater demand for Sports Psychology in traditional sports due to its success. 

Why eSports Needs to Adopt It and Start Seeking It 

Let’s break down the three different areas that need and will benefit from Sports Psychology. First is Organization/Company/Team. Second is The Player(s), and third is eSports as a whole.

Organization/Company/Team

Despite eSports longevity, I still refer to it as a finite moment in time. Adhering to a short lifespan. This is caused by a myriad of factors, but specifically it has to do with game titles and their talent population. Competitive games come and go, and eSports that surrounds them does the same. Although, there does exist titles that have tested time, Super Smash Bros. Melee, StarCraft, Counter-Strike. The same cannot be said about a lot of other titles. Players rarely transition from one to another, even if it’s in the same series. Sometimes it’s a skill issue, will issue, or it’s simply something they are moving on from. The latter happens often due to the age group that is typically part of the top performance pool. School happens and life takes a hold of people, and if it doesn’t look like this will be a career for them, they tend to move on.

The factors listed above create a form of pressure on a player’s contribution to the organization. Whether or not the player is in fact aware of it. As a company you rely heavily on brand recognition, corporate endorsements, and merchandise sales. This means that the imposed lifespan on the game and player(s), also impacts your money. You have a lifespan on your money, and your opportunity to gain a return on investment. So the goal is to create as much visibility as possible for the player(s). This helps secure corporate endorsements and, new prospects among other streams of financial return.

But what happens if the player(s) you have stop performing well? The cost of travel mixed with the limited amount of national exposure opportunity means few events can fall through the cracks if you’re trying to be as optimal as possible. What happens if the player(s) never recover? Are they being given the best opportunity or resources needed to bounce back? Or are they paid and expected to figure it out? 

Worse, what if they are struggling, or are going through personal issues and take to social media? Directly reflecting the brand that you are trying to promote, and threatening the loss of corporate endorsement. These are harrowing factors that are becoming more prevalent by the year. The social landscape is changing, and it can be a volatile risk for your company and it’s image. 

Investing in Sports Psychology in the form of a team counselor, or even hiring an independent contractor at various times can benefit your player(s) greatly. It enables you to have more influence over the ups and downs of your player(s). Which helps to stabilize performance through improvement plans, and maintain visibility. Further, you build a trust with the player(s) in your organization by demonstrating to them that you’re willing to provide them resources that they would otherwise struggle to find. It allows you to structure their social media presence by encouraging the relationship between the player(s) and the counselor. Having a resource to vent too, that isn’t someone who competes against them, and also isn’t groups of erratic people, promotes better mental health and stability. Especially if the person you have working with your player(s) is genuinely invested in their well being in and outside of the game. In doing this, you also build a company culture that welcomes the talents or abilities of player(s) long after they have lost their time in the spotlight. Acting as inspirations or resources for new player(s) who come into the organization.

Sometimes talent, money and direction just isn’t enough for player(s) to consistently succeed. Mindset, motivation, and a genuine enjoyment in life act as the fuel for that talent. Given the age group in the talent pool, the benefit to the player(s) personal life will be a huge factor as well. Replicating the feeling and character building that you can get through youth sports. Having this resource can open the door to more confident corporate endorsements, and bigger player rosters. Ultimately growing your business, maintaining exposure, and giving you a sharper pulse on your talent, money, and time.

The Player(s)

 Regardless of a player’s skill and competency in a game, they can still struggle heavily with motivation. Given the current state of eSports, the disproportionate number of free agents to sponsored players, and the unclear path, players must wade through ambiguity on a regular basis. Rarely seeing rewards for their efforts outside of smaller tournaments and solid online placements. This is the nature of competition and is understandable. Not every player is going to find sponsorship, travel, or see their peak potential. Nor is every player going to commit to the idea of working towards a sponsorship and career. 

However, for those that do, having an additional resource that can instill a level of emotional grit, and reinforce self assurance can go a long way to bridge the gap between free agent and sponsored player. It has been proven that even players who have sponsorship can get lost in the ‘what ifs’ of life and performance. When looking at free agents, those ‘what ifs’ are amplified ten fold. Players need an additional resource for improvement that doesn’t allow room for competition between coach and player. Too often you can find people offering coaching services, or advice, but the person offering it has no accomplishments, might be worse than the person they are coaching, or they don’t truly know how to coach or mentally prime a player. This potential loss of money mixed with ambiguity leads to skepticism and reluctance. For good reason too. However, it leaves the lid on for players who need an improvement plan, a reminder of self assurance or a perspective change. 

eSports As a Whole

Combining the two areas above and investing into Sports Psychology moves eSports closer to having a Repeatable Success Formula. A Repeatable Success Formula is crucial for the longevity of eSports. As of right now there is a scarce amount of information that gives us insight on the success methods of accomplished players. We can speculate, use common inferences, and make comparisons to other activities, but we don’t really have a pulse on it. Ups and downs are only truly catalogued via placement charts. Most insight we gain happens way after the fact through documentaries or interviews. This makes sense given eSport’s infancy. Players while attempting to perform at their peak, aren’t experts on their method. They are focused on performing, not teaching. 

eSports is still young enough that we don’t have relics of information that traditional sports has. For example, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus is one of the most quoted individuals of all time in the realm of Sports Psychology. His career spanned from the early 60’s into 2000. That is a humongous sample size of information to gather about the mindset of a person, playing a game that hasn’t changed in at least a century. The only way for us to really start gathering this type of information is to be able to speculate in real time, with real studies during player(s) careers. With a better grasp of this information we are better suited to develop eSports professionals and identify potential. Leading to that Repeatable Success Formula.

If a corporate endorsement knows that your organization can guarantee that, the next best player in your line up can perform and has the support to do so, then the commitment of money and funding becomes greater. Solidifying long term relationships with corporate endorsements, which attracts other endorsements. Think of Nike, Adidas, Reebok in the NBA. With more money brings more opportunity, and bigger team rosters. Players can be paid more, coaches can be paid more, and organizations can prosper. 

Another benefit of being able to repeat success, means we can get closer to the psychological effects of gaming. Which in turn can build a genuine case for having eSports in colleges and schools. Something we are getting closer to, but still lack a visible outcome for.

We are making incredible strides in eSports with television endorsements, and new found visibility. However, if we want to take it from the niche sphere that it’s in, we will have to expand upon our knowledge of success in eSports. That comes from more partnerships with Sports Psychologists, Mental Coaches, and Players.  

What Does a Sports Psychologist/Team Counselor/Mental Coach Look LIke?

Just like all coaches and trainers, everyone has a different methodology in their practice. This is due to schooling, experience, and beliefs. However, there are several key traits that every Sports Psychologist should possess. 

 

  1. Strong interpersonal skills. Likeable and confident in their guidance.
  2. Flexible with guidance methods. Not every player is the same. The ability to adapt different methods to each player is key.
  3. Has a deep understanding for the game their specific player is involved in.
  4. Able to build rapport with players beyond just the game. Able to help guide in life as well, and have a caring accessible attitude.
  5. Resourceful, and constantly learning. Able to create solid relationships and references for players if knowledge needs to be expanded. Needs to not rely only on their own personal methodology. 
  6. Ability to use both theoretical sciences and applied sciences though activities and planning.

These are key traits that every Sports Psychologist should possess, including the ability to motivate and improve performance.

How Can This Be Accomplished?

There are several obstacles that stand in the way of introducing Sports Psychology into eSports. The main obstacle being money. eSports as it stands is an industry that will require and has required a lot of people to work for free. In this case, it may not be as easy as a person cutting videos, or producing content. 

It will be incredibly difficult to invest long term money into a system that is untested in this specific field, with this demographic. Not to mention the reluctance that will come from the very concept, as we’ve seen in traditional sports in the 30’s to now, despite all of its success, both documented and undocumented. Here are some of the solutions that I have come up with.

Offering internships and low entry salaries to psychology majors coming out of college who also have a vested interest in eSports.

Collectively opening a dialogue with the best minds in eSports. Players, Coaches, Corporate endorsers, Spectators.

 A concerted effort to remove the stigma of eSports coaches, and supporting legitimate coaches through promotion and exposure. With both established coaches who are already on a team, and coaches who exist in the free agency pool.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. You can reach me via email at zberry@freeagencyesports.com

Twitter @Fagencyesports

If you would like an example of what I believe a coaches methodology should look like(pricing and time commitment), as well as the current restrictions of visibility an eSports coach has. Check out my Fiverr.

 

 

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