Mental Training (part 3/5 Inside the Mental Game of a State Champion)

Having a built-in expert in sport psychology is rare and is something that not many teams, let alone high school teams, have. But just having access isn’t enough. Coaches traditionally like full control of what goes on with their teams, and have trouble trusting an outside source to teach and implement new skills that they may know little to nothing about. Fortunately for the Franklin HS boys soccer team, Oregon Coach of the Year Ty Kovatch trusted me enough to allow me the time and freedom to implement the mental training plan I have always dreamed of putting into place.
Coach Ty and Brian

As the assistant coach, I did my best to support the vision the coach had for the team. I was a basic assistant coach: supporting practices, running some drills, training small groups, and more. Within each of these, I tried to bring an element of mental training in the area of focus, positive mindset, communication and more. For the pure mental coaching piece, we did regular classroom sessions and various activities throughout the year.

Positive Culture is essential to Mental Training

A strong mental game starts with a strong, positive culture and positive coaching as I wrote about in Part 2. To have a strong culture though is to actively embody it.  We hve to live the traits we espouse. And part of that was having the right mentality. Here are some of the mental training elements that were essential to our run to the state championship.

1) Process over Results

Just about every team’s goal at the start of a season is to win a state championship, but only one gets to achieve that goal. So it’s important to set process and performance goals and not just set the outcome goal. I asked each player during the preseason what their goals for the team were. As I mentioned in Part 1, we knew we had enough talent to go deep into the playoffs, so not surprisingly the most common answers were: State Championship, PIL Championship, beat Cleveland (our rival who has historically pretty much owned the series), and to go 14-0. 

This is a good starting point, but again, most teams have these goals at the beginning. In sport psychology, the outcomes they listed are considered out of your control. What’s in your control is how hard you work, your attitude, your preparation and other things. So, to not to let the goals just sit in outcome mode, my next questions were “How? How are we going to do this? What is the focus day-in-and-day-out that will get us those results? What are the things we need to be and do ‘No Matter What’?”

The photo below shows the process the team decided to follow and the results they hoped to achieve.
sport psychology process goals outcome goals

2) Apex Soccer Journal

Consistency throughout a season is crucial especially the mental game.  Throughout the season players used The Apex Soccer Journal to set personal goals each month and each week. We had them check in on their goals regularly to stay focused and self-motivated. The book served as the perfect tool, and the players were expected to have it with them at all times like any other piece of equipment!

Apex Soccer Journal sport psychology

After each game, the journal guided the players through a self-evaluation and also an evaluation of the opponent they had just faced.   This helps by making sure they learn from as many details as possible throughout the season. Not only that, but we ended up facing three teams in the playoffs that we had seen in the regular season.  Because of this, the players had an extra bit of preparation as they could read over their own notes about that opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. In the regular season we were 1-0-2 vs those teams. In the playoffs we were 3-0.

3) Team Building

We did team building in two ways.  The first thing we introduced was 6am Saturday practices. No teenager wants to get up at 6am on Saturday. It makes them miserable. But nothing brings people closer quite like being miserable together. Several players I spoke with admitted as much: ‘we hated that you made us do that, but we all saw the results’.

The second thing we introduced was road trip challenges. On our bus trips, instead of just allowing the kids free reign, we implemented structure and reserved the first 30 minutes as time without phones or music.  The goal was to get the kids talking and interacting, to ensure cliques didn’t form over the course of the season, and to talk face to face without screens and without distractions. During that time we created collaborative and competitive challenges to complete.  These activities helped the players not only get closer as the season went on, but to stay focused on those long road trips. As a result, we only lost one game on the road all season.

4) Visualization

During the season all the players had access to the Sports Mindset Audio program.  They could listen to these at anytime on their phone. As a team I led various types of visualization exercises throughout the season. Before games we might do skill building visualizations like seeing themselves making a tackle or scoring a goal.  After games we often did recovery visualization to allow dedicated time to process mistakes and dwell on positive things they did in the game. Before training we sometimes did a few short mindset visualizations: to transition from a school mindset to a soccer mindset.  All of this practice culminated in a 10 minute visualization in the locker room at Hillsboro Stadium before the championship game that got everyone calm, confident, and on the same page. There’s no doubt that that final mindset shift helped tie everything together.

So there you have it – a general view inside the mental game of a state championship team. The consistency and attention given to the sport psychology training did not make these soccer players great, but it did allow them to have a certain freedom of mind in the most pressure-filled situations.  The next two parts of the series will focus on adversity and “living up to the cliches.”

Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1)

Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1 – avoiding burnout)
By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology

As a mental skills coach at SPINw, I help athletes attain a consistent high performance mindset through sport psychology techniques like focus, goal setting, visualization.  A high performance mindset is not something that is turned on one minute and off the next.  It is more consistent than that.  Therefore, I help athletes dedicate everyday to a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.  Lifestyle can be defined as “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.” It’s basically your habits – how you do things under pressure.

Some of my athletes are professionals, who make a living at playing sports.  But most are only part-time athletes, who are also students, parents, performing artists, doctors, teachers, etc., and often many of these.  It’s good to bring your “A-Game” everyday – not necessarily that you will win every time at everything, but that you consistently perform at a high level.  Anyone can benefit from developing a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.

This doesn’t mean perfection: that in every moment of your life, you are competing to be the best at everything you do, like being being the best student, athlete, or employee at all times.  This type of focus is not ideal because you are constantly comparing yourself to others.  This type of focus is out of your control. If you are too focused on comparing yourself to others, being the best, being perfect, you are not focusing on the necessary skills and strategies to effectively perform the task at hand.  To achieve a high performance mindset each day, it is important to focus on the little things that help you in the present moment or on the things that you are able to control right now.

As a professional ___________________(fill in your job here), it is easy to move from one task to the next without stopping or taking a break.  There can be a tendency to concentrate and stay focused on things till we become mentally and physically exhausted.  As a result, habit becomes “work till I can’t work anymore” or work till my body forces me to take a break, like when you just fall asleep doing a simple task.  The more this happens, the more risk of experiencing burnout. To prevent this, I work with athletes on comprehensive goal setting plans that include “planned breaks” as an essential part of high performance over the long run.

Burnout can cause us to react with negative emotional responses.  For example, a director of a non-profit that I work with recognized she was experiencing burnout and decided it was time to talk to someone about it.  For purposes of confidentiality, I will call this person Josie.  Josie was a former collegiate athlete and still liked to play sports as a means to stay active.  For the past four months, Josie had not been able to play sports or even find time to exercise due to the demands she had at work.  Her goal was to find a way to get back into playing sports and exercising.

When we met, she mentioned that she was experiencing emotional highs and lows that would result in her snapping at employees when they did not perform a task to her expectations, or making sarcastic remarks to customers that she felt were being rude and obnoxious.  She was also feeling angry and sad because she did not feel supported by her boss and others in her life, like family and friends.  She knew she was experiencing burnout, but did not know how to change things.

During one of our sessions, Josie came in feeling really angry.  She stated that she really hated her co-workers that smoked.  She felt as though they were always leaving the office to go outside and take a smoke break.  Even worse, she hated the fact that there were two or three of them that would always leave together to have a cigarette.  In that discussion, she recognized that she wasn’t mad at them, she was actually jealous of them because they were able to take time, be it every hour or every few hours to take a break, talk with colleagues, and just get out of the office to get some fresh air.  While she had no desire to start smoking cigarettes, she decided it was time that she started taking “Cigarettes Breaks” of her own.  She made it an expectation to take a 10-15 minute break every few hours, and do something active like take a walk in the building or outside depending on the weather, or just go talk to a colleague and keep the conversation to things not related to work.  She also made it a point to physically leave her desk to eat lunch.  She found that leaving her mobile phone at her desk, as well, made it more of an enjoyable lunchtime because she could either eat peacefully by herself or spend time with co-workers, just talking to them rather than texting or looking at things on her phone.

Josie admits that forcing herself to take a lunch break and frequent breaks throughout the day was extremely challenging.  But, once she was able to do it, she started to feel less stressed and more energetic at work.  This small shift to her daily routine also helped motivate her to leave work at a reasonable time so that she could start playing sports again.  In the end, Josie realized that making small changes to her day helped her to find more balance in her life, which in turn, allowed her to develop her high performance lifestyle.

Like Josie, you can also take a step toward developing a high performance lifestyle by identify things that you can different each day, like getting more sleep at night, eating better, taking breaks, and finding a life balance of work, exercise, personal relationships, recreational activities, and just taking time to unplug from technology so that you can enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  Taking the first step is always challenging, so if you need some extra support, find a buddy that you can start doing things with, or schedule a session with us at SPINw!

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)

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

Strengthen Your Mindfulness Muscle

The race was going great until I smashed the final hurdle. In an instant, my focus went from the finish line ahead to the clatter of the downed obstacle, the gasp of the crowd, and my stumbling effort to right myself as the other racers sailed by. A moment prior, looking past the hurdle had shifted my focus only a few seconds into the future. But itwas distraction enough to pull my awareness away from the here and now; away from the cadence I needed to clear that one… last… hurdle. By briefly and unwittingly shifting attention away from the present moment, I had ripped defeat from the jaws of victory.

Enter Mindfulness.

Once again, hindsight proves 20/20. My collegiate competition days now behind me,I have since learned quite a bit about the value of something called “mindfulness”in sport and many other contexts. There are various definitions of mindfulness, but Iparticularly like Ronald Siegel’s description of it as “awareness of the present momentwith acceptance.” It fits well with what athletes have to say about being in “flow,” andfostering “peak experience.”

Mindfulness practices have proven to be very effective for coping with anxiety, reducing depression, increasing happiness, and even managing addictive behaviors. But what dothey have to do with sport performance? Well, in my experience with many athletes frommany sports, mindfulness can help improve focus, make performance more consistent,reduce distraction, and even help athletes attain more enjoyment of their event. Often, these are the very factors that mean the difference between success and failure on thefield or court.

Strengthening your mindfulness “muscle”

Mindfulness practices are many and varied. I like to think of them as a family of skills. As an athlete, you know that honing a skill requires practice, and lots of it. You alsoknow that having a coach (or in the case of mindfulness, a sport psychology consultant)goes a long way toward learning skills better and faster. Nothing can replace disciplined, intentional practice with the help of an expert, but here are a few tips for setting you on a good track toward more mindful (and effective) sport performance:

Learn focused breathing. It may seem strange to think of breathing as a skill that needsto be learned; after all, we do it all the time without giving it a second thought. But mindful breathing involves directing attention to what is going on with the breath: the place where the breath enters and exits the body, the rising and falling of the abdominal wall, movement of the breath inward and outward, and even the sound of the moving air. Learning this skill opens the door to other aspects of being fully in the moment, and thereby fully focused on the task at hand.

Let your training be a venue for becoming more aware. Take periodic opportunities during practice (perhaps using a timer) to stop and ask yourself where your attention is focused. Are you immersed in the activity, or is your mind wandering off to what you’ll be having for dinner, who you’re going to call that night, etc.? If you do find your mind wandering, don’t be harsh with yourself about it! Instead, realize that’s what minds willdo, then patiently bring your awareness back to some focal point you’ve chosen. For instance, a movement, a visual cue, or a word you associate with fluid performance.

Make space for mindfulness in your warm-up routine. Pre-competition stretching provides a great opportunity for focused breathing. Not only will this get your mind centered on the present moment, but it will also help you get more out of your stretch.Many athletes actually experience more anxiety before competition than during.Incorporating mindfulness into the warm-up often helps to reduce these jitters. But it’simportant to remember that the “goal” is not to reduce performance anxiety; it’s simply to be aware. Athletes find that when they focus on fostering awareness, the rest often takes care of itself.

Allow for mindful awareness during competition, but don’t force it. As the great athletesknow, unlocking your full potential means letting things flow. Cultivating mindfulness is much like what a basketball player does in shooting 100 free throws a day in practice.The shots don’t count for any points during practice, but when game time comes,shooting is much more automatic. If you wait till game time to try to use mindfulness,your success rate will probably be about like the free throw percentage of a hoops player who never practices free throws.

The tip of the iceberg

These ideas can get you started on a path to strengthening awareness, fostering focus,and thereby improving overall sport performance. But like the proverbial iceberg, there’s a lot more under the surface! Through reading, practicing, and working with asport psychology consultant, you can take your application of mindfulness to deeperand deeper levels. Below are some reading materials that cover different angles onmindfulness within and outside of sports. Read, learn, and keep a list of questions abouthow to apply these concepts to your own experience in sports. Then contact a sport psychologist to personalize your mindfulness plan and take it to the next level!

Mindfulness-related readings:

Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson
Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
The Mindfulness Solution by Ronald Siegel, Psy.D.

Luke Patrick, Ph.D. is a sport psychologist who lives in Portland, Oregon. He works in a group private practice is in Beaverton, Oregon. For more information, check out his page at

Mental Tips from a Major Champion

Paddy’s Psychology

Check out these quotes from 3-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington about sport psychology. Ask yourself if you agree, disagree, and why.

“It ain’t rocket science what they, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][sport psychologists] tell you.”

“It’s not going to be some big secret that nobody else but me knows. But knowing it and having the discipline to follow it are two different things.”

“You rarely learn from winning…when something is painful, you tend to learn a lot more from it.”

“I’m more likely to get into the zone when I’m nervous and have adrenaline going.”

“Things like ‘inside the present’ or plenty of ‘respect your routine’ or ‘acceptance’ and ‘patience, no judging, no analyzing, [are important sport psychology skills].'”

Good stuff here from Paddy. The first two quotes tell us a lot about the skills sport psychology teaches us. Much of it is not an abstract, new-age concept that’s hard to grasp. Skills like staying positive and visualizing our goals are pretty straightforward – but, like Paddy makes clear, there’s a difference between KNOWING and DOING. It’s important to rehearse and practice the mental game skills we’ve learned.

The third quote while painful, can ring true – it is in our tough times, in our defeats, when we can learn much about ourselves and our mental game. Acceptance here is key – the nonjudgmental observation of our mental game in order to objectively see ourselves, our skills, and our challenges and areas for improvement.

The fourth quote demonstrates a concept in sport psychology known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Basically, it says that humans do their best at performance-related tasks (like sports!) with a certain amount of anxiety – not too little, or we’re bored, and not too much, or we’re overwhelmed. Paddy is describing this when he says a certain amount of nervousness helps him get in the zone. Check out a picture of the concept here.

The fifth one is up to you to interpret. Tell us what you think about those concepts in the comments section. What do those (inside the present, respect your routine, acceptance, patience, no judging, no analyzing) mean to you and your mental game?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]