Overtime scientific research has proved that psychology influences sports up to 90% of the time according to American psychology expert Kendra Cherry.
It is debatable that in most cases there lies limited variances between athletes in terms of potential, training, or physical ability and that it comes down to the psychological bit of it.
One of the biggest references down here on the local scene has been the national cricket side the Cricket Cranes, because of the manner in which they crumble at the international stage still remains mystical.
Yes, they might have achieved in last year’s Cricket World Cup Challenge League Group B at the Al Amerat oval, Oman where they won all five games against Kenya, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Jersey and Italy but the success came after the Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) partnered with Victoria University.
The partnership was aimed at improving the lives of sportsmen with education opportunities but most notably to also help fix the frail mind sets of the Cricket Cranes that had a lot to do with their misfiring record on the international scene. “As an association, we are very proud to be doing this with Victoria University.
“Some people have pointed out that we continuously fail at the international stage because of our mental preparedness. Therefore, when Victoria University offered to help us in this area using their resources we couldn’t turn it down,” said UCA chairman Bashir Ansasiira Badu on entering the deal last October.
UCA development officer Grace Mutyagaba, has been a first-hand witness to the importance of a sports psychology and believes it’s high time every sports institution adopts the notion. “It’s something really good. It comes with positive energy. Look at sides like India, Australia and England, they all have these people that help players understand the game, deal with pressure, help players relax, “said the former Lady Cricket Cranes coach.
While it’s a given that sports psychologists enhance performance, one question lingers on why they continue to be shunned in Uganda. Do they even exist in the first place? Uganda Olympics Committee (UOC) chairman and former Uganda Rugby president (URU) William Blick thinks it’s down to the ignorance in the local sports.
“People here are just not aware of the importance of sports psychologists, they are very important people. If they are out there they can register with UOC and we certify them before assigning them to different teams,” said Blick.
Even after inquiring from a number of sports federations, they all agree that a sports psychologist is vital but one wonders why the latter are out of business. Samson Muyingo, a Makerere University graduate from the 2019 psychology class paints a picture.
“There is an option of majoring in sports psychology but unfortunately students shun it because they think it’s not marketable,” he says. In a nutshell, even if one took on the mantle, they risk ending up lost as organisations continue to look away.
Some stakeholders in the local sports scene however believe there is no need for a sports psychologist in a team’s set up. Mande Juruni who tutors the national basketball side, the Silverbacks and seven time national basketball champions City Oilers, has adopted the role for both sides.
“I don’t think a sports psychologist is really important in our set -ups here. They mainly deal with preparing players’ minds for battle, something I think we as coaches and managers can also do,” reasoned Juruni. Rugby Cranes coach Robert Seguya, however, disagrees with his basketball counterpart.
“A team really needs that kind of person in its hierarchy, I understand we as coaches can take on that responsibility but we can never do it as well as a specialist would have done, I personally have had times when I felt I needed one in my camp,” said Seguya.
Dr. James Sekajugo a renowned sports physician who has worked with The Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) and the Commonwealth Games medical commission has closely been involved in local sports since the 80s. He deliberates that there is a deficit when it comes to sports psychologists not only in Uganda but Africa at large, but it’s due to a catalogue of factors ranging from mentality to opportunity.
“Sports psychologists are needed. They understand players’ behaviour before, during and after games unfortunately they remain handful in Africa because coaches take on the role just as a parent would understand their child even if they are not qualified,” he says. He also goes on to point out witchcraft for taking the place of psychologists especially in the 80s and 90s.
“Many football clubs practiced rituals before big games. That alone would spur on players as they had an advantage from the witchcraft and just believed,” Sekajugo, who personally struggled to get sports medicine education as society found it a luxury, said.
“When I applied for a sports medicine scholarship, I was turned down because everyone thought I should instead be studying how to fight malaria.”
He thinks future sports psychologists are facing the same issue as people find them irrelevant. It’s no secret that Uganda is lagging behind in many things and quality education of sports psychologists is one of them.
“There is limited personnel to train such people. A good example is how people think every sports doctor is qualified but it’s not the story,” adds Sekajugo.
For a country where sport has potential of turning into the biggest export, there can be room for improvement and making sports psychology a priority can be a step in the right direction.