by Brian Baxter, MA Sport Psychology
2014 marks Sport Psychology Institute Northwest’s 15th year providing mental game services for teams, athletes, coaches and parents. The consultants of SPINw were asked: How has the field of sport psychology changed in the past 15 years? Interestingly enough, I’d say it’s grown by leaps and bounds, but at the same time, it still faces some of the same challenges now as it did back then.
For my own personal journey, I will go back to 1991 (okay, so that’s *gulp* 23 years ago), the first time I ever heard the term “sport psychology” or someone working with a “sport psychologist.” It was about my favorite pitcher on my favorite team, John Smoltz from the Atlanta Braves. Being a collegiate athlete and psychology major, this was huge! I was all in! Except I wasn’t, because nothing seemed to ever come of it, at least for me. I continued to play soccer, improving my technical and tactical knowledge of the sport, but without improving the mental part.
Fast forward to 1997, when I first had contact with a sport psychologist. I was pretty dedicated to coaching soccer and taking my USSF C license course, when renowned sport psychologist Darren Treasure presented on the topic of Psychology of Coaching. My interest was immediately piqued (again) and I hung out afterward and bent Dr Treasure’s ear for a while, soaking up what information I could gain, finally deciding, this is what I want to do.
In 1999 (15 years ago), I applied to and was accepted to John F Kennedy University sport psychology graduate program, and the next year packed up the U-Haul and my wife and dog and I head from North Carolina to California. I was still not sure what I was going to do with it but was excited for the challenge and to learn. At the very least, I’d become a better coach. That was 15 years ago, and a lot has changed and evolved since then.
I finished with my degree in 2004, moved to Portland in 2005 and started consulting under the name BaxterSports (tag line – performance enhancement through mental strength). Or at least trying to consult. In 2005 my experience was that people still didn’t know about sport psychology. I would tell people I met that I was a sport psychology consultant, and they would usually respond: “That’s cool! What is it?” Once I explained what the field is all about, the response was something like “Wow, I could have used that back when I was a kid/in high school/in college!” Yeah, me too.
In 2008, I was hired as a consultant here at Sport Psychology Institute Northwest. I took over as director in 2011. Over the years consultants have come and gone. Founder Mark Henry left to concentrate on Warrior Golf. Dr. Erik Bergreen has moved on to Ft. Benning Georgia to teach soldiers the high performance psychology techniques he once used with high level athletes. Former intern Michael Wilson is now a highly successful consultant with Evolving Concepts in Santa Barbara, CA. All of these folks, including my two current colleagues, Jimmy Yoo and Glen Coblens, have a common thread: a life-long love or sports and a passion for helping people achieve their goals. Another common thread: success! This mental game stuff works!
As I look back over the years, it’s the relationships we’ve built and are beginning to build where I have noticed the most change. Year 10 at Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club, Year 9 for Wilson High School baseball, Year 6 at Windell’s Academy, Year 5 at Multnomah Athletic Club, Year 4 with the Portland Timbers and Thorns RTC program, Year 3 at the University of Portland, to name a few. Building trust and connections, providing quality service, and helping improve performance – this is what it’s all about.
In 1991, Smoltz was an anomaly and mere curiosity. Now, in 2014, it is not uncommon to read about an athlete or a team (and championship level ones at that) with mention of their sport psychologist or mental game coach. In the past couple years, I have had more and more athletes share with friends and family that they are working with a sport psychology consultant. While these changes are noticeable, there is still a long way to go. The stigma of “psychology” can be hard to shake. Some people think that only a weak person would seek help on their mental game. We are working hard to change that perception to become closer to reality: strong people seek help wherever they can find it.
As we head into the next 15 years, it is our mission to continue to spread the word about this amazing field and it’s benefits for athletes, coaches, parents, teams, and organizations. We believe that participation in sports and the experiences gained through training and competition makes everyone better… if done the right way. We are committed to making sure that mental game services are are delivered professionally and effectively, and the option is available to athletes of all sports, age level, and ability level.
Contact us to find Mental Game Solutions for your athlete, team or organization.