Motivational interviewing as an effective sport psychology tool

With the help of a sports psychologist athlete always achieves great results. He uses different techniques to help the athlete to overcome difficulties and crises. This helps to maintain self-confidence and to be sure in abilities, as well as to keep the motivation and the interest. One of the most effective methods that a sports psychologist uses is motivational interviewing. It can be aimed at different purposes, and is very often used to treat sports addiction.

Motivational interviewing is carried out through the conduct of the conversation. This includes questions, listening, summarizing, and support. It is based on the idea of voluntary and sportsman’s own desire to change.

Why motivational interviewing is effective

Motivational interviewing was created when sports psychologists and other experts in this field recognized that coercion and pressure do not have the expected and desireble effect. This is because people, consciously or not, want to maintain their independence and protect their beliefs.

Therefore, during the motivational interviewing, you do not need to try to prove something. It is very important to avoid direct attempts to convince. During the motivational interviewing, a  sports psychologist influences on the patient without pressure. Through conversation sports psychologist brings a person to certain conclusions. Unobtrusive changing his beliefs, making him speak new statements that the athlete discovers during the conversation. Thus, the athlete “himself” makes the decision to change.


In addition to the fact, that due to the inherent human psychology, mechanisms of protection motivational interviewing does not accept direct and persistent motivation to changes, the athlete can resist himself.

self resistance while sport psychology motivational interviewing

It is an internal conflict, when a person understands that in reality he is not as he thinks he is, or is not who he wants to be. In this case, there is emotional stress. It should be noticed that that the resistance is strengthened by anxiety. Which, in its turn, is reinforced by the “violent” imposition of other beliefs. Because with stopping the resistance the man have to face with unpleasant things and experience that he tried to avoid or simply ignored before.

All of this only exerts the need for gradual changes and the flexibility in communication with the athlete.

How does motivational interviewing work

Techniques used by sports psychologist

In a motivational interviewing are generally applied:

  • open question,
  • reflective listening,
  • summarization,
  • encouragement and support.

Open question

Open questions cannot be answered briefly. They are a good way to get a person to tell more. For a sports psychologist it is a way to get more information, for example, specific life facts. It is better to begin a motivational interviewing with such kind of questions as well as a conversation in general.

Reflective listening

sports psychologist uses reflective listening method while motivational interview

Reflective listening has several levels.

First, a simple reflection or reflection of the content. That is a sports psychologist literal (or almost literal) repeating the athlete’s words. This is usually a repeating of the last or most important words.

A more complex level involves the analysis of the athlete’s words and their other formulation.

The deepest level of reflection is giving the athlete his own feelings in the way the sports psychologist suggests them to be.

As a rule, a sports psychologist makes two or three reflections of each answer to the question in the form of paraphrasing, rather than a simple repetition.

This method is also effective as it helps the athlete to continue talking. The reflection also highlights the contradictions between the desired life and reality. It is important to use the reflection in the affirmative rather than in the form of a question. This reflection will help to clarify the information received or get a new one without asking questions. This is especially important at the beginning of a counseling. When the athlete does not trust you. At this time, the client can “strain” any questions.


This method sports psychologist highlights the main point (as opposed to reflection) of what was said and then formulates in its own way. Summarizing involves a combination of positive and negative feelings of the athlete. It helps to understand the previous contradictions. Thus, this method helps to move between the stages or complete the meeting.

Encouragement and support

support during sport psychology motivational interviewing

Support of the athlete contributes to the development and strengthening of independence. Support from a sports psychologist includes recognition of the importance of the made by the sportsman efforts and the obtained results, no matter how large they are. Thus, respect for the experience and feelings is expressed. All this will keep the motivation to change. Support allows the athlete to feel more confident at the visit, will give confidence and strength for further actions.

Stages of motivational interviewing

In the studies, specific stages were identified that athletes must pass. During this process, irrational behavior changes to adaptive behavior. At each stage a person faces different tasks that must be solved before moving on to the next stage. These stations have already been described on our website here.

  1. Stage – unconsciousness of the problem. At this stage, the athlete does not believe that he has a problem or does not understand what the problem exactly is. Hinders the achievement of specific goals
  2. Stage – reflection. The athlete is not sure yet whether he wants to change. Or does not feel the strength to cope with these changes.
  3. Stage – decision and preparation for action. The athlete has already determined for himself that changes are necessary. And is already preparing to act, makes a plan.
  4. Stage – direct action. The athlete begins to change his behavior
  5. Maintaining changes. The athlete continues to adhere to the action plan.
  6. Disruption. In fact, this stage is not so unambiguous. The breakdown may not happen at all, but it may happen sooner or later, at any stage. If it happens, fails’ causes are analyzed to avoid them next time.

Such changes do not occur immediately and not even in one cycle. Athletes are moving on, passing through various stages until the change are achieved. They must realize, that they are ready for change and being responsible for it.

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