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 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.”


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.”


How the Seahawks Integrate Sport Psychology Into Team Practices

It is often asked, how do teams fit mental skills sessions into the practice setting? What are some things that sport psychologists work on during these sessions?

With the start of the NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks uncover their recipe for success. First off, success starts with the head coach. Fundamentally, the head coach needs to create an environment tailored for success. For Pete Carroll (head coach of the Seahawks) success starts by supporting the players by showing that the coaches and the organization care about them. Carroll feels that “happy players make for better players.” His mantra with the team is “Do your job better than it has ever been done before,” through the use of positivity of thought, words, and actions.

How does a sport psychologist fit into this culture? Since 2011, sport psychologist Mike Gervais has worked with the team at practice and has also been spotted on the sidelines during games. Sessions with Gervais include meditation, visualization, and neurotopia brain-performance testing that includes neurofeedback (brainwave testing), and status profiling that identifies: “what is going on in their lives, how much sleep they are getting, their goals, and how they are dealing with stressors.”

How does this help the athletes? Russell Wilson (starting quarterback for the Seahawks) states that his work with Gervais helps him prepare for competition and high-pressure situations by “being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”

To read more about how Pete Carroll and his innovative staff are changing the environment of professional football, click on the following link:

by Jimmy Yoo, SPINw consultant

What’s your mission?

I’m pretty big on themes in life, and sit up and take notice when I see them.  What are the topics that seem to bubble up in conversation frequently? That you read about in SI? Or see on SportsCenter? The big theme over the past couple weeks for me has been that of culture, identity, and mission, and how they tie into motivation


In the past few days I have heard some variation of this theme from a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, a collegiate soccer coach, various sports parents, a high school baseball team, an adult horseback rider, and a 6th grade basketball player.  All of these different people are coming from a different place, of course, but the similtarities are there – they are struggling due to a lack of overall guiding prinicple.  In the sport psychology world, they are lacking a clearly defined mission statement.

Those without a clearly defined mission are more likely to:

     – have trouble getting the most our of their athletes
     – have a hard time staying fully motivated
     – rest on their past achievements
     – suffer communication breakdowns
     – do not fully commit in training or competition
     – panic when the pressure is on

Typically, problems with the mental game come from a series of small moments snowballing into something bigger.  Having a clearly defined mission statement is one sport psychology technique that can help with focus, motivation, and keeping a positive mindset when things aren’t going so well.  The mission statement is meant to take a look at the big picture – the sum of all the parts: past history, skillset, work rate, goals, etc.   Whereas most of the loss of focus, motivation and confidence comes from ballooning a mistake to be way bigger than it actually is in real life.

It is essential that each organization has a positive culture for it’s members. 
It is essential that each team within that organization has a specific mission statment that fits within the over-arching organization’s mission.
It is essential that each athlete has a mission statement that fulfills not only themselves, but the mission of the team and organization.

So, what is your mission?  Want help putting it together?  Contact SPINw today to see how we can help with focus, confidence, motivation, and a positive overall mental game.

Hunting…In the Zone?

Tips for building focus and getting In the Zone

Clinical Psychologist Bryan T. Karazsia, in a recent article, offers some interesting tips for building focus and getting in the zone. Some of his ideas include:

Visualization – Practice seeing performance success in your mind before competition even arrives. That way, when the big moment arrives, you’ve already lived through it.

Breathing – Slow, regular, deep breathing is key for competitors at any level to relax themselves. As clutch moments arrive, breathing work can serve to calm those jittery nerves and upset stomachs.

Cue words – Another useful skill to learn is that of a cue word which prompts us to think of relaxation. Karaszia himself uses “ocean”, while other examples could be “clear”, “calm”, or “breathe”.

Remember, these are all skills to be learned. Just as we hone our bodies for competition, so does the elite athlete hone their mind. Regular practice, with the guidance of a SPINw sport counselor, is the key for developing these techniques.
Of course, for those of you familiar with sport psychology, these ideas probably aren’t new. What may surprise you is that these tips were offered for a narrower niche: hunters. That’s right, Dr. Karaszia’s advice and tips appeared in Peterson’s Bowhunting. Said the doctor, in summary of the benefits of sport psychology: “The fields of clinical and sports psychology have proven that these [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”][mental training] methods can enhance your performance in the field — so much that the best athletes in the world have paid thousands of dollars to get some advice from a sports psychologist.”
Interesting to see our field expanding into more and more areas….