Why Athletes Should See A Sport Psychologist

By Elizabeth Swanson
Henry Ford Health

January 9, 2024

Whether at the professional or intramural level, there are so many benefits to being an athlete. Participating in a sport teaches communication skills, how to overcome adversity—and regular exercise has so many incredible health effects on the mind and body.     

Henry Ford HealthBut that’s not to say athletes don’t have their own set of challenges. Pressures to perform, physical injuries and intense schedules can take a toll on anyone’s mental health, which is where a sport psychologist comes in. 

“It’s helpful that a sport psychologist knows the culture of athletics and the typical stressors that athletes face,” says Seth Swary, Ph.D., a sport psychology clinician at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine. “We’re familiar with the influence the world of athletics can have on someone and how it can affect their well-being. 

“Athletes have a whole team around them to help them perform — athletic trainers, nutritionists, etc.— so why shouldn’t they have an expert who is dedicated to supporting their mental health? A sport psychologist acts as a strength-training coach for the mind.”     

Mental Health Challenges That Athletes Face & How Sport Psychology Can Help

Athletes often have a built-in support system: teammates and coaches who know what they’re going through and trainers and physicians who can help manage aches and injuries. But still, it’s not always easy. Some of the difficulties that athletes face include:   

  • Increased attention on body imageEspecially if you play a sport that requires revealing outfits — or a sport with increased focus on weight — it might be difficult to maintain a healthy body image. For some, this can lead to an increased risk of developing an eating disorder.  
  • The pressure to perform. “If you’re an athlete at the college or professional level and play badly during a game, you get roasted on Twitter,” says Dr. Swary. “But even if you’re not in the public eye, there is pressure to perform — from coaches, teammates, family members.”     
  • Navigating demanding schedules. “I work with many college athletes and their schedules are packed — practicing at least two hours a day, team meetings, traveling to and from games — and then they’re trying to keep up with school,” says Dr. Swary. “It can be stressful.”
  • Debilitating physical injuries. The physical demand of sports can also bring about its own set of challenges — especially when injuries occur. “You’re not only dealing with surgery and rehabilitation, but you’re also out of the game for a while,” says Dr. Swary.
  • Making career transitions. “I’ve worked with many athletes who are transitioning from one level of athletics to another (for example, middle school to high school, high school to college, college to professional) along with athletes who are transitioning out of their career,” says Dr. Swary. “They wonder how they can leave this sport they’ve been doing their whole lives — some since they were 3 or 4 years old. It can be a huge part of their identity and a tough transition to make. Even more so if it’s an injury that abruptly derails their career. We can provide them with ways to make a smooth, healthy transition.” 

That said, nothing “bad” has to happen to benefit from sport psychology. As Dr. Swary says, you don’t see a personal trainer because you’re not strong, you see a personal trainer because you could benefit from being stronger. It’s the same with sport psychology — and it can help improve your performance. 

“We have specific skills we work on for performance optimization,” says Dr. Swary. “How do we talk to ourselves? How do we respond in certain situations? How do we stay in the moment when we’re distracted?

“A high school athlete may have had a rough day at school; then they have to refocus and find energy at the end of the day for their game. It can be helpful for any athlete at any time.” 

Reviewed by Seth Swary, Ph.D., a sport psychology clinician at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine.

To learn more about the sport psychology program at Henry Ford or to request an appointment, visit henryford.com/sportpsychology.

How To Warm Up Correctly Before Playing Different Sports

July 10, 2024

When you see professional athletes gearing up to race or getting ready to take the field, you’ll notice that they’re always in motion. That’s because they are warming up in preparation for going all out.

Henry Ford HealthAnd there’s a good reason why you’ll never see a pro go straight from the bench into a full sprint. “You need to allow your muscles to gradually accept the demands of your activity,” says Jennifer Burnham, a certified athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health. “Otherwise you risk causing an injury.”

Why You Should Warm Up

As the name implies, a warmup is a series of movements designed to warm up your muscles. “You want to increase blood flow to your muscles and loosen up and lubricate your joints,” says Burnham. “And you need to do it gradually, so that your body has time to adapt to the increasing intensity.”

Warming up involves more than just stretching. According to Burnham, studies have actually shown that holding a static stretch when muscles are cold can decrease performance. “Instead, before activity you want to do a dynamic warmup that incorporates movement as well as some gentle stretching."

Your warmup only needs to take 5 to 10 minutes. When deciding what to do, think about the movements you’ll be doing in your activity and which muscles and joints are most involved. Then choose movements that slowly get them warmed up and primed for more intense action.

How To Warm Up For Different Activities

No matter your sport, the warmup before your workout should include some exercises to activate and engage your core (the abdominal and back muscles). “Waking up those muscles helps decrease injury potential,” says Burnham. She suggests incorporating bridges and mini squats (no deeper than 45 degrees) into your warmup routine. To do a bridge, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and squeeze your butt as you lift your hips up to form a straight line from knees to shoulders.

The rest of your warmup can be more specific to muscles and movements of your planned activity.


Before a run, or even a jog, you want to warm up all the muscles and joints from the waist down.

  • Rotate your hips (lift your knee up and do some circles in both directions to move the joint) and ankles (circle one foot at a time both clockwise and counter-clockwise).
  • Get powerful muscles like your glutes and quads ready with high knees and butt kicks.
  • Walk on your toes and then on your heels to warm up shin and calf muscles.
  • When you’re ready to run, start off slowly and gradually increase your speed.

Racquet sports

You still need to warm up your lower body using the same moves as the running warmup. But you’ll want to add in others specific to the upper body movements of tennis, pickleball or other racket sports.

  • Warm up shoulders with big arm circles both forwards and backwards
  • Circle your hands in both directions to get wrists ready for action
  • Lunge forward and rotate your upper torso to increase your spine mobility

Basketball, soccer and football

You want to make sure your lower body has time to adapt to the demands of sports that require bursts of sprinting and quick shifts of direction. Your warmup should gradually increase in speed and intensity as you move your body in all directions:

  • Side shuffles while swinging your arms (shuffle in both directions)
  • Grapevines in both directions
  • Skip forward, lifting knees high, then skip backward


Prepping your body for a swimming workout means warming up your arms, shoulders and upper back.

  • Circle arms backwards and forwards
  • Use a light resistance band to do shoulder rows
  • Use a light resistance band or light dumbbell and lift straight arms up to shoulder height in front and to your sides
  • Start with an easy tempo freestyle swim before going into more dynamic strokes like butterfly

Jennifer Burnham is an athletic trainer who sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/athletes or call 313-651-1969.