Evolution of Sport Psychology

GLEN SPINWEvolution of Sports Psychology by Glen Coblens, MS

Most athletes, coaches and parents would agree your mental state has a lot to do with your success. If physical talents and abilities are equal, mental strength can give athletes an edge. When Coleman R. Girffith founded Sports Psychology in the 1920’s, he thought “the more mind is made use of in athletic competition, the greater will be the skill of our athletes” (Benjamin & Baker, 2004). Although Griffith worked with colleges and some professional teams, he struggled to convince athletes and team managers/coaches of the value of developing strong mental skills. Later, the ideas he pioneered were later developed by others, and now are a standard practice in professional and collegiate sports. His original research focused on:

  • Relation between physical exercise and learning
  • Nature of sleep in athletes
  • Measurement of physical fitness
  • Effects of emotion on learning of habits
  • Muscular coordination
  • Persistence of errors
  • Effects of fatigue on performance
  • Mental variables associated with excellent athletic performance.

Today, sport psychologists work in a variety of roles including private practices, consulting services, help professional and collegiate athletes/sports teams and conduct research. The popularity and growth of athletics has provided opportunities for many individuals and organizations. Here are just a few areas where Sports Psychology can help:

  • Enhance Performance
  • Emotional Control
  • Enjoyment and satisfaction
  • Focus and re-focus
  • How to effectively handle the pressures of competition
  • Learning a new skill
  • Recovering from injuries
  • Motivation


SPINw’s mission is to continue the evolution of sports psychology. We offer a full slate of programs for athletes, teams, coaches and parents. Our consultants are coaches and parents with expertise in one-on-one or team consultation, small group workshops and large presentations. SPINw is here to help the athlete in all of us… young and young at heart, beginner, recreational, competitive or elite. Contact us and allow us the opportunity to unlock your mental power.

How Sport Psychology has changed in 15 years

JIMMY SPINwHappy Birthday SPINw!  I can’t believe it has been 15 years!!
-by Jimmy Yoo, SPINw Consultant

As I reflect on the past 15 years I realize that a lot has changed in sport, particularly in the United States.  In terms of athletes, I am reminded of Kevin Garnett (drafted in 1995) and Kobe Bryant (drafted in 1996).  Both were basketball players who were drafted right out of high school to play professional basketball.  While they weren’t the first athletes to be drafted out of high school to play a professional sport, their immediate success had a ripple effect on the sport of basketball and with sports in the United States.  Before Kobe and Kevin Garnett, basketball players were encouraged to play four years of college basketball before entering the NBA, now players are either recruited straight out of high school or at most, play one maybe two years of college basketball before going pro.

This trend in drafting younger athletes has lead college coaches to recruit athlete at a younger age.  Instead of evaluating the potential and recruiting athletes their junior year of high school, it is now an accepted practice that college coaches seek out verbal commitments from athletes as early as their freshman year of high school.  Since college coaches no longer have four years to develop their players and build a team identity, they are now forced to find talented basketball players who can make an immediate impact on their teams as freshmen.  As a result, coaches at all levels (youth, high school, and college) are stressing the need for athletes to specialize (play only one sport) at an even younger age.   It wasn’t long ago when it was acceptable for an athlete to choose a primary sport in high school.  It is now commonplace to see athletes specialize in a sport as early as 5th grade (10 to 11 years of age).

It is important to note here that, while early specialization has become a norm in youth sports, we at SPINw feel that athletes should wait till at least high school before deciding to specialize at one sport.  There are many studies that show negative effects associate with early sports specialization, including increased likelihood of injury and burnout.  But as the trend continues, the need for sport psychology services increase, and SPINw supports all athletes.

As more athletes become more serious at a younger age, they are also determined to take advantage of every possible resource necessary to get the competitive edge over other athletes.  For example, a high school quarterback works with a quarterback coach to help him improve his throwing mechanics (developing his technical skill); he also attends quarterback skills camps to learn how to read different defensive formations and learn different offensive play sets (developing his tactical skills); and he works with a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach to improve his physical strength, speed, and stamina.

So, how has sport psychology changed in the past 15 years and how does it currently help athletes?
As the competitive environment of sports has evolved, so has the need to understand and develop the mental game.  In the past, the services of a sport psychology consultant was stereotyped as a reactive measure that was used to help athletes recover from a slump or to help an athlete recover from a serious injury and return to sport.  Now, athletes utilize the services of sport psychology consultants as a proactive measure to help maximize their performance.

Coaches are also using sport psychology consultants to work with their teams.  For example, Phil Jackson was known for using a sport psychology consultant when he coached the L.A. Lakers.  Jackson’s team used such skills as visualization, relaxation, and present minded focus to motivate his players and to improve their performance.  NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll brought in a sport psychologist, as did English Premier League powerhouse Liverpool FC.

Overall, as the number of younger athletes participating in highly competitive and pressure oriented sports environments increases, coaches, parents, and athletes have become more mindful in their approach to sports.  There is also a growing awareness to develop mental skills to help athletes thrive in these highly competitive environments.

As we celebrate 15 years as the premier provider of sport psychology services in the Northwest, we are honored to have worked with so many passionate and talented athletes and coaches.  As we look to the future, our mission is to continue to educate athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators on the importance of including mental skills training as part of sports.  Our consultants also pledge to provide on going high quality service to the athletes and sports minded people we work with.  Lastly, we look forward to the next 15 years of serving the sports community and helping to further the field of sport psychology!

Contact SPINw for more information.

15 years of SPINw – so, what’s changed?

BRIAN SPINw 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 Bravesjohn-smoltz-sport-psychologyBeing 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 baxter_v6psychology.  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!

Portland Timbers sports performance trainingAs 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.

smgpAs 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.