As a member of the Indiana Pacers, current Denver Nuggets center Roy Hibbert embraced the idea of advanced mental preparation during the NBA season.
The NBA is comprised of many of the most extraordinary athletes in the world. Their captivating physical abilities are on display at any given moment throughout each game played. Much work is put in by trainers, doctors and coaches of the team to make sure players are in the best shape, able-bodied and knowledgeable of the game plan. These factors seem to be the most important areas in the maintenance of a functional NBA player.
However, the league’s promotion of player mental preparation has been on the rise in recent years. As vital as physical conditioning is, it is only half of what is required to help players succeed.
Sports psychology found its way into the NBA in the early 1980s, when the league first implemented professional counseling. Now most of the franchises have psychologists working full-time or on-call as a consultant.
It wasn’t until Metta World Peace’s acknowledgement of his psychiatrist, moments after the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the championship in 2010 that sports therapy started to become a broader, outwardly discussed topic. As a result, a number of franchises have been more open about their use of in-house psychology since then.
World Peace is perhaps the player most synonymous with sports therapy, but Denver Nuggets center Roy Hibbert has also been a known active participant in the practice. He continues to be a strong and candid advocate.
Hibbert began seeking therapy early in his career during his time with the Indiana Pacers. “The Pacers had one on staff,” Hibbert says. “And (then Pacers head coach) Frank Vogel was very adamant about getting a mental edge, getting yourself mentally prepared as opposed to physically. That was great.”
One of its biggest benefits is that it provides preparation for in-game experiences.
“A lot of people train for the Olympics,” Hibbert says. “They train for four years just for one moment, so they have to learn to visualize and prepare like it’s that one moment every day.”
The need and use of counseling of any form can be a touchy subject in all walks of life. So through the hard-nosed reputation of the sports world, it’s not uncommon for people to associate any sort of emotional counseling as a sign of being soft.
“That you’re mentally weak is a misconception of sports therapy. I played with Metta World Peace, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that it helps. And he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve played with or played against.”
Players are continuing to adapt to the idea of therapy, and understanding the advantage of it. Hibbert expresses how he wasn’t skeptical about it at all when it was first brought up to him.
“No. It was an environment where we knew it would help us.”
Being committed to the practice is important. It’s an accumulative process that generally requires some repetition before it takes effect.
“It takes time, just like anything else,” Hibbert says. “You see some success. You have some ups and downs.”
Sports psychology goes beyond just correcting any kind of mental flaws a player may have. It helps sustain a fluid state of mind needed to perform at a high level. It includes building a focus. It includes building a sense of comfort.
It’s not obvious when watching games that the aspect of mental practice is just as essential as practicing jump shots and footwork.
Its necessity is obvious to NBA organizations as they continue to dedicate more time and finances to the department.
“Teams that I’ve played with in the league have a sports psychologist on staff and make them available,” Hibbert says. “So I think that the league is pretty much on top of that. It’s becoming the industry standard from what I see.”