5 Things Amazing Sports Parents Do

   Brian Baxter with older son, Hawk

Raising a young athlete can be at the same time: rewarding and frustrating, exhilarating and boring, energizing and exhausting!  A few years ago, I wrote about Being a Student of Parenting – really taking this crazy world of youth sports and making it about learning how to be a better parent.

Since 1999, SPINw has worked with thousands of youth and high school athletes to help them build or re-build confidence, improve focus, set goals, and deal with the pressure of elite level sports. This process always involves the parents!  As the young athlete learns new techniques, the parents are their best support system, and also need tools to help.

So, read on to find out 5 Things Amazing Sports Parents Do:

1 – They keep the BIG PICTURE in mind

Sports parents most important insight is perspective.  For a young athlete, every game is the biggest game of their lives – which can bring with it extra stress, pressure and anxiety.  “What is I don’t play well?”  “What if all that hard work and training doesn’t pay off in this competition?”  “What if I let someone down?” The last thing a parent wants to do is add on to that stress level in any way.

If you were an athlete growing up, hopefully you will have some perspective on things. You will be able to separate the “must win” game from a learning experience.  You know that, as important as this game seems now, in the words of John Popper from Blues Traveler: “It won’t mean a thing in 100 years.” Even if you weren’t an athlete growing up, you most likely experienced similar situations in other areas of life, such as music, performing, or simply in your career life.

An amazing sports parent has the proper perspective on the BIG PICTURE, which is – what is my child gaining from this experience? What, from each and every day of training or competition, will my child learn that will help them later in life?  Amazing sports parents keep this in mind at all times when involved in their child’s sporting life.

2 – They know their role
 Sports parents are just that – parents.  They are not the coach – please do NOT coach your kids from the sidelines.  This goes against the BIG PICTURE.  There may be times when coaching from the sidelines will help in the short term.  But it’s robbing them of crucial things! Like learning from their mistakes (see #3), learning how to be coachable and communicate with their teammates, sharpening their decision-making skills, and just simply figuring things out on their own.
 They are not the referee. There is no making a scene at a perceived bad call or blaming a loss on the officials. Young athletes must be able to deal with adversity, and know how to play with sportsmanship. This growth is stunted by bad examples set by parents and coaches who focus too much on the referees.
 Most importantly, they do not live vicariously through their kids.  Ultimately, it’s the kids’ game, not the parents’.
3 – They allow space for their athlete to learn through mistakes and failure
 Amazing sports parents can avoid the classic traps of being a “helicopter parent” or a “lawnmower parent.” That is, they do not come to the rescue every time there is a problem. If a young athlete gets cut from the tryout, or makes a key mistake in a key moment, they are going to feel terrible.  It is in our DNA as parents to comfort and make things okay for our kids.  But amazing sports parents do not go overboard in this area.  They are supportive and available, but they do not actively try to fix things.
 In any athletic competition, an athlete goes through an emotional rollercoaster.  And so does the parent watching from the stands. Amazing sports parents allow space for their athletes to emotionally process their successes and failures.  They do not pile on with “woulda, coulda, shouldas”, nor do they deny their kids the opportunity for their own emotional processing.  Rather, they allow the appropriate time and space for their athlete to make mistakes, and learn from failures.
 Brian with younger son, Zavier
4 – They help foster internal motivation in their athletes
 Amazing sports parents know that external motivations such as winning, incentives (financial or otherwise), and coaches, parents and other people, do not last over the long term. They know that internal motivation, such as self-improvement and mastery, being a part of something bigger than themselves, is the more sustainable motivation for life.
 One way to do this is to approach communication with your athlete from a “growth mindset” perspective. That is, to praise controllable elements in performance such as attitude and effort.  And to not praise athletes based on their talent or athleticism.  Amazing sports parents know that if an athlete attributes his or her success to work rate and positivity, they are likely to continue living these qualities.
5 – They create a peaceful environment on the car ride home
This is the most tangible piece of advice for sports parents, based on feedback I generally receive from them.  Many of you have probably read this study about the 6 words to say to your athlete after a competition.  This strategy sums up the other 4 items in this list, and puts it into a practice action item, which goes like this:
 Amazing sports parents, on the car ride home, simply let their athlete know; “I loved watching you play.” or “I really enjoyed that game, it was fun.” no matter what the result or how good or bad the performance.  Then they wait for their child to initiate any further conversation.
This is BIG PICTURE thinking! You are not overanalyzing or dissecting the day. Not making it any bigger or smaller than it was. In the big picture, hopefully, it was fun watching your child compete, succeed, fail, learn, communicate, listen, and grow!  If not, you definitely need to ask yourself why? What is getting in the way?
If your child doesn’t say anything on the ride home, they are emotionally processing what has happened.  No matter how happy or sad they are, these emotions will eventually pass, and translate into learning and growth. Amazing sports parents do not interfere with this!  Also, it’s important to not that the parent has just gone through an emotional experience. So, amazing sports parents allow themselves the same emotional processing time.
 Of those 5 things, how many of them do you do consistently?  Which areas do you feel like you need work on?  Like with anything else, self-improvement comes from awareness, a desire to change, knowledge, and application of knowledge. And in this case, you are not only helping yourself, but you can help your young athlete as well.  You too can be an amazing sports parent!

Meet Jake Sivinski – SPINw’s fall intern

jake-spinw-sport-psychology-intern-portland Hello world! My name is Jake Sivinski and I am a new intern here at SPINw! I’m super excited to announce that I will be updating the SPINw blog every week. My background as an athlete lies primarily in the winter sports world. I was a competitive freeskier for  7 years competing internationally all over the continent. My background in athletics and my passion for psychology has led me to SPINw, and for that I am grateful. For my first post I would like to tell the story about how I came to know about the field of Sports Psychology and the profound positive impact it has had on my life. Hope you enjoy!

-Jake

There’s something pretty weird about skiing in July. Every time I do it I feel like I am cheating nature, like stealing a cookie from winter’s proverbial cookie jar. But when the opportunity to ski in one of country’s national parks pops up, sometimes you just have to take it. The date was July 1, 2009 and I was 15 years old. I was young and excited and coming off one of my best winters to date: a dangerous trio. To make matters even more dangerous I was with a large group of other 15 year olds who felt the exact same way. We had just built a nice big jump and were all attempting to learn new tricks in the soft summer slush on Chinook Pass in Rainier National Park.  The trick of the day was a frontflip and nobody wanted to be the first to try it. Finally, I decided to go first, and well, it didn’t go very well. In fact, it ended in a fracture of both my tibia and fibula and a four-hour ambulance ride down the mountain. To make matters worse, I ended up breaking my L2 and L3 during my recovery, adding about three months to the process.

To say it lightly, thoughts about that day and the injury haunted me for years. Every time I would step up to do something scary and push myself, doubt would always be there. To this day I still have the perfect memory of my feet above my head and the sinking feeling in my stomach that I was not going to complete the rotation. The doubt I inflicted on myself dogged me for three competition seasons. During that time I never performed at the level I knew I could. I remember so much frustration and anger during those years and always feeling that I was letting myself down. Finally my senior year of high school, one of my coaches turned me onto a sports psychologist who had been working with various members of the US Ski Team. The moment I stepped into his office I could feel the doubt start to recede. He coached me through a wide variety of visualization exercises and helped me replace the doubt I had in myself with positive visualization. Almost overnight my skiing changed, and the following season was my best ever. I found it so much easier to push myself and I finally was able to push aside the doubt and focus on making sure I delivered the performance I knew I was capable of.

jake-spinw-sport-psychology-portland-intern

While I may not ski competitively anymore (homework is something that nobody can make disappear)  I still feel the positive effects of visiting my sports psychologist. And the great part about it is those effects are not just limited to skiing. The techniques I learned are applicable to so many different things and anytime I may have a flicker of self doubt I can use them to calm myself down and think more rationally. Now that I am in college, I have made it my goal to learn the skills necessary to help other young athletes perform to the best of their ability and improve their mental game. That’s why I am so grateful to get to work the premier sports psychology practice in the city of Portland! I look forward to sharing more information and stories with you all over the next few months! Thanks you all so much for reading.

 

Top Waterskiier uses The Sports Mindset Gameplan to reach his goals

DID YOU KNOW ONE OF THE NATION’S TOP WATER SKIERS LIVES IN HILLSBORO… AND HE’S IN HIS 60’s?

sport psychology skiing

Tom Carey credits SPINw book with helping him become a top 10 slalom water skier in the US

January  22, 2016, Portland, OR . . . It’s not often that a $20 book can transform your life, career and propel you to the top of national rankings in a sport. But for champion water skier and Oregonian Tom Carey, that’s exactly what reading “The Sports Mindset Gameplan” did for him. An athlete since the age of five, Carey had competed in various sports, and at age 60, he decided to take a different tack for competing at the 2014 U.S. National Water Ski Championships. Although he was always ambitious, he had never gotten the results he wanted while competing at the annual championships. This year, he committed to doing more than showing up.

The winter before the competition, a few copies of “The Sports Mindset Gameplan” showed up at his Beaverton facility Bio Force Youth Fitness. He grabbed on and went through it in meticulous detail, page by page, using it as his workbook. By the end, his goal was set to place in the top 10. And so, at the age of 60, when most people are seriously settling in to the thought of retirement, Carey competed and emerged in 6th place in the men’s slalom event.

“The Sports Mindset Gameplan,” written by Portland sports psychology consultant and SPINw director Brian Baxter, MA. It’s an interactive workbook designed for all athletes, from beginning to recreational to elite, and puts the mental focus back into physical training and performance.

“This is exactly what we had hoped the book would do—to transform good athletes into great ones, simply by taking the necessary steps of asking yourself the right questions and propelling people to strengthen their mental focus and goals and to make the most of their sporting experience.”

Said Carey: “Although the book speaks a lot about team sports, I was amazed that it’s also great to use for individual sports like water skiing. I had the motivation and ambition to win—this book helped me put the proper steps in place to set my sights on achieving my goal to be in the top 10.”

So what’s next for Carey? Place in the top three? Different competitions or open the playing field to international competition?

“That’s a great question,” Carey says. “I’m relying on Brian to help me flesh out my next steps and goals. Now having read and worked through the book, I have ultimate faith in what the SPINw team says, and now I just need to get those goals in focus.”

It’s 90% Mental! Workshop on February 28, 2016

Come join us at Evolution Healthcare and Fitness in SE Portland on February 28th at 5pm for a mental game workshop.
(Click here to register)

How many times have you heard someone tell you what a huge component the mental game is in your particular sport? Well, they were right!

You spend hours each week training your body to perform at it’s highest level. But how do you prepare your mind? The mental game often separates the good athletes from the great ones, and the great ones from the elite. This workshop will address confidence, mental toughness, focus, and more, to help you perform up to your potential when the pressure is on.

As the Director of SPINw here in Portland, Brian works with athletes and teams of all ages and skills levels on the mental game. He is excited to bring these sport psychology techniques to the athletes at Evolution! Copies of his workbook for athletes, The Sports Mindset Gameplan, will be available at a discounted rate to participants.
(Click here to register)

How Can Coaches help players out of a slump?

I do a regular interview with Michael Austin from Basketball Coach Weekly. Coaches often ask me about team motivation techniques, and what sport psychology skills they can use with their athletes.  In this most recent interview, (which I particularly enjoyed) I address the answer to those questions in terms of how coaches can spot and help correct a player who is in a slump.  Check it out!

Sport Psychology Portland Basketball weekly positive

Sport Psychology Interview with Isaac Byrd

Recently I was interviewed by ex-NFL player Isaac Byrd on his Unlocking the Minds of Athletes podcast.  Isaac does great job interviewing professionals in the field, and I was honored to be a part of it.

Check it out here.

Quote: Henry Ford…Anything being possible

2 things to listen for: 1st, Brian talks about the importance of having awareness that a strong mentality is just as important as a strong body and 2nd, he mentions 3 key components to be aware of that will immediately help your mental-game.

Scenario: He details certain techniques athletes can use to keep a strong and positive mindset when dealing with a major injury.

Training Round: He talks about a technique he teaches his athletes called ‘Filtered Listening’ and he goes into great detail about what that is and how you can use it in any sport.

Brian Baxter sport psychology Portland interview

Sport Psychology is not just for sports

The vast majority of our clients have been athletes.  High level performers who have high aspirations, push themselves to train hard for extended periods of time, and who sacrifice so much in their lives to achieve their goals. From team sports like soccer, basketball and baseball, to individual sports like cross country, tennis and golf, there are probably more similarities in the mental game than differences.  Pressure, stress, dealing with failure, inconsistency in motivation, lack of confidence, mental fatigue, and struggles with concentration are some of the issues we see no matter what the sport.

But not only across sports, this is across life too. Think of your life outside of sports, whether it’s work, a job interview, taking a big test, or simply paying your bills in any given month.  These issues come up in many areas of life where you have to perform to a high level to achieve your objectives.

While most of our clients are athletes, we have also worked with students, business people, stock traders, and military, among others.  The qualities needed to perform are the same:  confidence, focus, motivation, dealing with pressure and anxiety, controlling emotions, and more.  Check out our sport psychology services page to see if what we provide athletes could help you perform to your best in your field.

sport psychology us armyMental Skills Foundation for US Army

 

Sport Psychology is about Fun

Continuing our 5 Things You Need to Know About Sport Psychology…
#1 – Sport Psychology is not “psychology”
#2 – Sport Psychology is as much proactive measure as it is a reactive one

we now bring you #3 – Sport Psychology is about Fun

The reason that people play sports, coach sports, watch sports, and get their kids involved in sports boils down to one thing:  having fun.  Sure, there are other very valuable reasons – to be active, to meet new people, to be part of something bigger than yourself, to compete, to learn – but what is the common denominator for all these reasons?  Because it’s fun.

Whether you are a young athlete, a professional athlete, a coach, or a sports parent, keeping this in mind is crucial to the athlete’s performance and success.

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Young Athletes
In study after study, survey after survey, fun is one of the top reason kids give for participating in youth sports is fun. But what is fun?  According to a George Washington University study:

“The 11 fun factors lie within the fundamental tenets and include Being a good sport, Trying hard, Positive coaching, Learning and improving, Game time support, Games, Practices, Team friendships, Mental bonuses, Team rituals, and Swag.”

Professional Athletes

But is sports supposed to be ‘fun’ for the pros?  Isn’t it their job? Sometimes hard work isn’t fun, right?  Well, let’s let a couple of professional athletes have to say about their participation in sports.

Derek Jeter:  “The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward.”

Derek Jeter

Lionel Messi: “Football is a game. I’m trying to have fun on the pitch, always just to play. That’s why I do it. The day I stop having fun is the day I retire.”

messi

Coaches

For coaches, it’s very important that you keep fun in mind to get the most out of your athletes. That doesn’t mean to lower your expectations, or not ask your athletes to sacrifice, work hard, deal with pressure, face adversity, and push themselves to do things they may not want to do. It comes down to perspective.

Here’s how much legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith (RIP) thought about his players having fun:

“He would tell us in those tight games, ‘Isn’t this what you came to Carolina for? Isn’t this fun?’ That’s how he was in every huddle. He used those as an opportunity for us to showcase our skills and what we had learned and worked on throughout the year in practice.” – JR Smith, former Tarheel

dean-smith-dead-a-lot

Parents

Sports parents are a young athlete’s first advocate in providing a great environment for fun. It’s their job to see the bigger picture and make sure the athletic experience is enjoyable.  But oftentimes they end up putting more pressure on the athlete, and being just another detractor from the fun.  From this Michigan State University study, you can keep yourself in check by following the two simple rules:
1 – Peace on the car ride home!  After competition, give yourself and your young athlete time to emotionally process the day’s events, and re-convene at a later time to talk about the performance.

2 – Six simple words to say right after the game:  “I love to watch you play.”   Or in other words, if your kid knows that you had fun, that enhances their fun.

Sport psychology is about fun. Having confidence, staying motivated, putting in maximum effort, blocking distractions, controlling emotions, rising to challenges, pushing through adversity – those are essential elements to peak performance.  They are also pretty fun to be able to do on a consistent basis.  As an athlete, coach or parent, if you are losing the fun, we can help you get it back.  Contact SPINw to talk to one of our consultants to get started.

Sport Psychology is Proactive too

Last week’s issue covered the fact that:   #1 – Sport Psychology is not “psychology”

Not only is sport psychology not psychology, it is also not just a measure of last resort. There can be a tendency to think of sport psychology only as a reactive measure – when the athlete is struggling mightily with performance. But working on the mental game is valuable as a proactive tool too.

Let’s look at the Mental Game on this spectrum:

SPINw Mental Game Performance Spectrum

In our experience at SPINw, the majority of our athletes are on the lower end of this spectrum.  They are usually trending toward the Struggling mode or worse.  But we do serve as a proactive measure as well. For young athletes, as they grow physically, become more skilled technically, and learn their sport tactically, the psychological aspect of sports can’t be ignored. The older a player gets, the more pressure, the higher the stakes become, they  must have the tools to handle.  For older athletes, a strong mental game is needed to keep consistency in performance.

A Proactive Success Story
I once worked with a high school quarterback who was up toward the higher end of the spectrum and told me the reason he came in was because he “heard sport psychology could help make me a better player.”  Simple.  He was a confident kid, but this was his first year to potentially be a starter.  He was in a preseason battle to win the starting job and wanted to do everything he could to give him a competitive edge.

We worked together on setting goals for the season to sharpen his focus.  He worked on improving his leadership skills to communicate better and get the most out of his teammates.  We implemented breathing and visualization techniques to help slow the game down.  He ended up not only winning the starting job, but leading his team to an undefeated regular season.

A Reactive / Proactive Mix, with predictably mixed results

The coach of a basketball team I once worked with called me halfway through the season for the first time after a tough 5 game losing streak. He wanted me to help the team re-build their confidence.  At first, the players “having to meet with a sport psychologist” was a little offensive and demeaning to them.  “What like we’re crazy and we can’t figure it out on our own?” I remember one player muttering.  Fortunately, after a couple meetings, they completely warmed up to the concept and enjoyed the sessions and told me it helped them get back on track.

The following season we did a more proactive program and this team had a better season, playing more consistently to the higher end of their potential.  They had a few big wins, including beating a highly ranked rival, and ended the season higher than their preseason prediction polls. Several players mentioned they felt more mentally tough and mentally prepared, lingo that had entered the team lexicon.

The proactive nature of that season allowed for “sport psychology” to be a normal part of the proceedings. There was no stigma around having me present at practices, games, and in-season mental game sessions. This helped get the team in the green part of the Mental Game Performance Spectrum, whereas the year before they were deeply in the red part of it.

Where do you land on the Mental Game Performance Spectrum?

Our SPINw consultants have over 50 years combined experience training, competing, coaching, and mental game training.  Contact us today to get started on a program tailor-made for you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum.

Is there a ‘sixth sense’ in sports?

No, not a sixth sense of being able to see dead people like in the movie…

but more like this dictionary.com definition:

sixth sense – noun
a power of perception beyond the five senses; intuition:
“His sixth sense warned him to be cautious.

As an athlete or a coach, do you ever have a feeling that you know what’s going to happen next?  Or after something has happened, thinking “I knew that was going to happen!”  Do you ever make decisions based on a “gut feeling?”  That’s the kind of sixth sense I am talking about. It’s more about seeing things before they happen.

Here’s another way to look at “sense.”  If something “makes sense,” we are talking about this definition:

a sane and realistic attitude to situations and problems; a reasonable or comprehensible rationale.

But sometimes sports makes no sense. How else to explain upsets, chokes, and record-breaking performances?  Those “wow!” moments like Kirk Gibson’s homerun, David Tyree’s “helmet catch,” or Tim Tebow winning an NFL playoff game (kidding, I’m a big Gator fan, so I can go there)?

So what exactly is the sixth sense of sports?  Belief, Confidence, Anticipation, Intuition, Trust, Faith? A combination of these?  And can it be developed?

We think so.

Let’s take a look at some other “Senses” – Sense of humor, sense of balance, sense of fairness

Like these, the sixth sense in sports, well, makes no “sense.”  Sense of humor is just that – a sense of what’s funny. It’s not all the same for all people and there is definitely no formula to it.  Jerry Seinfeld has a certain sense of humor, and so does Adam Carolla.  Both are very funny, but in different senses. But these senses can be developed – timing, observation, studying, practicing, and of course, experience can all help.

Sport psychology techniques to help grow your “Sixth Sense of Sports”

1) Circle Breathing – part of sensing what’s coming next is being fully present in the moment. Circle breathing is a slow, deep, controlled breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  It is used to relax, calm, and re-focus.  Try it now, take 3 circle breaths………   What were you thinking about? For most people, the answer is “nothing.” It clears your mind to be more in-tune with the present moment.  As a professor I had, Betty Wenz, once said, “It’s impossible to simultaneously focus on breathing and worry.”

mokusobreath

2) Positive Self-Talk – being an optimist, and controlling your self-talk is big time to develop a sixth sense.  For things to go your way, you need to have a mindset that is open to any possibility. When your mind is open, you are more likely to take opportunities that present themselves, no matter how unlikely.
Positive Mindset - SMG quote

3) Visualization – Using this sport psychology technique helps to build what I refer to as “emotional memory.”  We all know muscle memory – when you practice at a skill so much that your muscles remember the movements.  Emotional memory is when you have practiced, re-lived or felt the experience of success so much that you remember what it feels like.

When most people think of visualization, they think of, well, vision – seeing plays in your mind’s eye.  But it’s a little more than that: proper visualization uses all 5 sesnse: sight, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. The sum of all these senses creates not only a full experience mentally, but can bring up all the emotions mentioned previously: belief, trust, anticipation, calmness, and more.  It becomes more than the sum of the 5 senses to help create and strengthen your “sixth sense.”