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!


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.


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.


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.”



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



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.

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.”


Resolution Season

Making The Holiday Season Your Resolution Season
by Jimmy Yoo, SPINw Consultant

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to get together, and it is the start of the holiday season. For most people, the holidays also include enjoying a lot of food (like turkey, pie, and cookies) and drink (like pumpkin spiced lattes, hot cocoa with extra marshmallows, and winter ales). For many, late November and the month of December equate to binge eating, followed by January 1, the time to make a New Years Resolution. For many, the first thing that comes to mind is losing that extra weight we gained since Thanksgiving!

An article by Leo Widrich, “The science of New Year’s Resolutions: Why 88% fail and how to make them work” ( discusses the difference between creating new habits versus creating a New Year’s Resolution. Widrich identifies that when people create a New Years Resolution they tend to pick an abstract goal, “The problem is clear, any abstract goal you have, that is not tied to a specific behavior is near impossible for your brain to focus on. Making it “instinctual”, which is the crucial aspect, that will help you achieve any new habits, is missing in 90% of all New Year’s Resolutions, which makes them so likely to fail.”


Widrich sites that the key to a successful resolution is: to make a goal a habit first and most importantly, make it a tiny one (goal). Here is a list of examples on how Widrich translates four of the most common New Year’s Resolutions to tiny goals:

  • Resolution: Quit smoking vs. Habit: Only stop smoking that 1 cigarette you have every morning after breakfast
  • Resolution: Eat healthy food vs. Habit: Start substituting that 1 daily morning pastry for a banana
  • Resolution: Lose Weight vs. Habit: Every evening after work, go for a 2-3 minute run or walk around the block.
  • Resolution: Manage stress vs. Habit: Meditate for 2-3 minutes every morning after you wake up.

Widrich’s keys to success include:

  1. Pick only one resolution
  2. Take baby steps – make it a tiny habit
  3. Hold yourself accountable for what you want to change: Tell others or write it down
  4. Focus on the carrot not the stick – positive feedback and rewards increase your chances of success

In addition, a study by lifestyle magazine Psychologies questioned 2,000 people living in the United Kingdom about their New Year’s health resolutions. They discovered that 71% of the people surveyed had planned their New Years Resolution as early as the first week of November. 52% of the respondents said they would be focusing on weight loss, 43% mentioned they would be making changes to their general health, and 15% wanted to curb stress and anxiety in their daily lives.

So, why wait till January 1 to start your New Year’s Resolution / creating a new habit? Why feel guilty every time you eat one more holiday cookie? Instead, use the holiday season as part of your reward system. Reward yourself with a holiday cookie or a gingerbread latte after going to the gym, zumba class, or by just going for a walk.

Start your plan now and succeed rather than wait and increase your chances of failure!


Great new book for Sports Parents

Over the past 20 years or so, the youth sports landscape has changed dramatically.  As a coach and sport psychology consultant, I am frequently approached by parents of young players who wonder about the next step.  

“Should my athlete play competitive or rec next year?”  

“What is the difference between this club team and that club team?”  

“We’re being asked to play this one sport year-round – should we do that?”

SPINw friend John O’Sullivan has a brand new book, Changing the Game, aimed at the sports parent that can help answer these questions, and help be the best sports parent possible.
Sport Psychology Portland Parent Education

When you think of youth sports and more specifically sports parents, most people think of:

          -poor behavior
          -living vicariously through kids
          -misplaced priorities

Basically, all the things we think are counter-productive to the youth sports experience.  O’Sullivan has put together a young athlete owner’s manual, to help parents avoid these obstacles, and as the subtitle says “Raise happy, high performing athletes, and give youth sports back to our kids.

For more information about John and his Changing the Game Project, click here.

More on Positive Self Talk from an Ultra Runner

I got a nice email from one of my soccer players I coached years ago as a 14-15 year old kid. He’s now competing in distance running and is preparing for the Western States Endurance run, a 100 mile run.  As the countdown to that race is getting closer, he haas been dealing with some injury issues.  Mentally, here’s how it was effecting him:

My wondering then turns to ruminating and the list of CAN’Ts, HAVEN’T’s, and DOUBTS grows increasingly longer. Negative thoughts spread infectiously, and I’ve found that they can get out of control very quickly.

  • I CAN’T run as far as I’d like
  • I CAN’T run as fast as I’d like
  • I CAN’T train for the Inclinathon like I did last year
  • I CAN’T run Pikes once a month like I did last year
  • I DON’T KNOW if I’ll be able to compete or even survive 100 miles in June
  • I DON’T KNOW if I’ll ever be able to run without pain ever, ever, ever again!

He’d remembered some things we’d talked about years ago, when he was playing soccer in college, and decided to look me up. He found an article on the site about positive self talk, and wrote a bit about it here.

When doubts arise regarding where I am with my training, I’m starting to become aware of their impact and am trying to redirect my focus. I’m trying to “feed the good wolf.”

  • I AM able to run with greater volume, frequency, and intensity than I was able to last month
  • My core IS STRONGER now than it’s ever been, thanks to ab challenges amongst friends
  • I CAN now do consecutive headstand leg lifts and am putting my CorePower Groupon to good use
  • I CAN jog for a couple hours, bike for a couple more, and jog around some more in the same day without feeling too beat up.
  • I’ve DONE PLENTY OF HEAT TRAINING ALREADY thanks to hot yoga, treadmill workouts, and the hot tub
  • I’ve been approached to be a part of an EXCITING OPPORTUNITY with a great group of people on Pearl Izumi’s Ultra Team (more on this in a future post)

What an amazing thing for an athlete you coached 15 years ago get in touch with you.  Good luck in your run, Brandon!

Success Stories – Emotional Control

There was a time when I was able to work directly with a high school varsity team for a full season. With the consent of the athletic director, the coaches, the players and their parents, I met with the team for group sessions that focused on mental skills development and team cohesion. I also observed the team during practice and competition, and I made myself available to meet with athletes one on one, on a voluntary basis.


As a mental skills coach, the experience was invaluable because it helped me to gain better insight and understanding of team communication, team goals and expectations, and I was able to help the athletes identify characteristics that define peak performance versus poor performance.


Note to the reader: the athlete’s name and sport have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Several games into the season, a lacrosse player approached me and wanted to discuss problems he was having with controlling his anger and frustration during competition. The athlete stated that during the past three games, he had lost his cool during each game, which resulted in him getting numerous unsportsmanlike conduct fouls for unnecessary roughness and shouting profanity (mainly the F-word). He felt that if he continued to perform like this, he would continue to draw penalties, let his team down, and would most likely lose his starting position.


Mitch Abrams and Bruce Hale, professors in the field of sport psychology, describe anger in the following manner:

Anger is an emotion. It is a normal emotion that requires no judgment be made of it. It is neither good nor bad to be angry; it is as normal as being happy. Anger in itself, is not observable to others. If you are furious at this moment, people would only be aware of it if you behave in a way that displays your emotions, such as gritting your teeth or yelling. The emotion itself, however, is the feeling that you have. Many other emotions, like hate, fear, frustration, and disappointment, can lead to anger. Your body responds to anger in much the same way as it responds to anxiety; the major difference between the two is in their associated thoughts. Anger may be associated with thoughts of confrontation, while anxiety-related thoughts often involve avoidance. (Murphy, 2005, p.96)


Identifying the Problem

Over the course of several individual sessions with Steven (the defensive player on the lacrosse team), he was able to recognize that his anger and frustration would follow a certain pattern or progression:


a) If an opponent he was defending beat him one on one and scored a goal. His reaction to this would be to get mad at himself for playing poor defense. He also recognized that he would start whispering the F-word or as he referred to it as “dropping an F-bomb” to himself and he would start swatting his stick at the ground.


b) As the game progressed and if he was beaten one on one several times, he was likely to start playing more aggressively against his opponent, which would often lead to a penalty, or getting beat to the goal. He realized that if he was beat by an opponent or if he drew a foul, he would do one of three things, kick the dirt, hit himself in the chest, and/or growl; and finish it off by dropping an emphatic “F-bomb.”


c) Once he becomes so overwhelmed with anger and frustration, he would just start running around the field chasing after any opponent that had the ball. He knew at this point he was no longer in control of his emotions because he was not guarding his assigned opponent on the other team, he was no longer playing team defense, and he was trying to take his anger and frustration out on anyone that had the ball.



Steven recognized that to play to his ability, he needed to keep his emotions under control. To play to his potential, Steve needed to develop a plan to stay focused on the game and keep his emotions in check. The plan was as follows:


Whenever he felt like he made a mistake or played poorly, he would say the word “Fits”.

  • It served as his replacement word for swearing.

  • Second, it was his cue to take a deep breath to calm down and to assess what just happened. Third, it was his reminder that what just happened was not a big deal and he didn’t need to dwell on it.

  • Lastly, he would tap his gloves together to let himself know he had moved on and was ready to play.

Steven took the time to practice his mental skills during training sessions and games that lacrosse season. His time and dedication to his mental skills training paid off. He was able to learn to keep his emotions in check, which resulted in fewer penalties and better focus during competition.


Overall, each athlete is different and acquires new skills in a unique manner. Therefore, it is important to remember that an athlete needs to take the time to develop his or her own mental skills plan. Results just don’t happen overnight, you need to practice, practice, practice, to get better.

Success Stories – Motivation

“You gotta help me get out of this funk,” was the first sentence spoken by my new client. Loren, a small forward on the local college basketball team, quickly identified how she wanted to get out of her slump and find her basketball rhythm more consistently again.

Through Loren’s descriptions and answers, I noticed the general concept of motivation repeatedly came up. She commented on the grind of the long draining season, the culture of a struggling team, and her inconsistent energy levels.

In our weekly sessions, which involved handouts and role-playing exercises, Loren was able to identify both her external and internal motivational sources. She learned how to store negative comments in the back of her mind and use them strategically as motivational fuel for the weight room, early morning practices, and 4th quarter stretches. Teammates would even notice how Loren could seemingly “turn on a switch” to get things going.

In addition, Loren completed my “picture motivation” homework assignment requiring her to attach a small tag and photo onto her basketball gym bag. The photo would serve as a reminder of our conversations and provide an extra energy spark.

Despite warming the bench the season prior, Loren was nominated team captain by her teammates. Becoming a consistently high-energy player on the court and learning how to grind out the long season were the two elements Loren appreciated most from our individual session work.

Success Stories – Positive Self-Talk

Most of the athletes the I work with are really driven people. I’ve been surprised by the number of 4.0 students who make their way into my office. The best athletes are self-motivators who expect the best out of themselves relentlessly. It’s typically a beneficial characteristic for athletes to have but sometimes the “c’mon! You can do better!” attitude can become a detractor of motivation, focus, and confidence.

Jason was a high school swimmer, who fit this bill exactly. A high performer in school, music, sports, and life in general, Jason’s performance had been dipping as of late. And worse, he was developing a reputation as a “head case.”  As a high acheiver, he was having trouble living up to his own expectations, and becoming quite negative in his personality and demeanor.

We used several techniques to help him re-focus himself and handle his energy better: goal-setting, circle breathing, focusing on the controllables, and visualization among them. But the most helpful technique in getting Jason’s attitude correct was positive self-talk. As with many of these high achieving student athletes, Jason has a hard time “shutting his mind off” and overthinking things.

So we set off to explore his self-talk patterns where his internal focus went during stressful times in training and competition. From our conversations, it came up that he didn’t have all that much “negative self-talk,” it was more doubting or questioning. He’d go back and forth between “I got this!” to “Are you sure?” From “I’m gonna kill this race!” to “What makes you think you can do that?”

I told Jason that after several weeks of meeting him, I didn’t see where this negative focused self-talk was coming from. He confided that a lot of his teammates who weren’t as dedicated as him would often scoff when he talked about setting records and earning an NCAA Division I scholarship. He’d heard this as long as he could remember and those thought voices had become his own.

In order to further explain the role of self-talk, I relayed the Native American Story of the Two Wolves. It basically goes like this: A Grandfather explained to his young grandson that within every person there are two wolves in a constant battle. The Bad Wolf is full of jealously, anger, regret, and fear, while the Good Wolf is full of hope, happiness, love and faith. The young boy asks “But grandpa, who wins?” To which the grandfather replied “The one you feed.”

Jason liked this story and his mantra became “Feed the good wolf.” He recognized that the doubts in his thoughts were not serving him well, and weren’t even his own. So he decided that every time a negative came up, he said “That’s not me. Feed the good wolf.” and re-directed his thoughts to positive, confidence building thoughts like his training and his techinque.

Jason went on to earn that scholarship, and along the way share the things he learned with some of the younger swimmers on his team and in his club.

Sport Psychology and the Military

“Mental Skills Training is extremely important to today’s Army. We need toinculcate it into our culture; broadly, to the Soldiers and their Families… PeakPerformance is not a destination; it is a constant in life. We need to get good atit by applying these principles to the whole unit and the Army as a culture. Thisneeds to be part of our everyday lives.”

– GEN Peter J. Schoomaker Former Chief of Staff, Army

SPINw Sport Psychologist Eric Bergreen recently left Portland to work on contract withthe US Army to help set up mental skills training programs for soldiers. Using his experiencewith athletes and performance, he is helping soldiers to perform at their highest level everyday in the CSF-PREP program.  SPINw checked in recently with Dr. Bergreen to see how things were going.

SPINw:  How did you get the position with the Army?

Dr. Bergreen:  CSF-PREP has been an expanding program within the Army. I had previous contacts who have been contacting me to see if this might be a population I would be interested in working with. They were interested in my experience with athletes as well as high performers from the corporate and academic domains.  

SPINw:  How is it going so far?

Dr. Bergreen:  It has been a fantastic experience. I have worked with Soldiers from all walks of life; from Special Forces to the Wounded Warrior program. The diversity of needs has been challenging which makes for a great learning opportunity.

SPINw:  What similarities have you noticed between soldiers and athletes?

Dr Bergreen: High performance is not specific to athletics. Whether its combat, academic success, or managing life, attaining a high level goal requires the same mental skills.  

SPINw:  What differences have you noticed?

Dr. Bergreen:  I think the main difference comes from the traditions within the Army culture. They are very accustomed to the technical, tactical and physical training required for success.  They are less accustomed to thinking about specific mental skills required to perform at a high level.  When presenting the science behind mental and emotional competitiveness, there is often an initial resistance.  Once they grasp the nature of high performance psychology, they become very enthusiastic.

SPINw:  Are there any sport psychology techniques that are especially helpful for soldiers?

Dr. Bergreen:  First, it is important to understand the difference between training and high performance moments. One must recognize how the brain operates when in the “zone.” The programteaches how to regulate thoughts and emotions so that one is most likely to achieve an optimal performance mindset. Then it becomes an issue of focus and continued self- regulation.

SPINw: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about sport psychology since taking this new position?

Dr. Bergreen:  I think it about the versatility of the mental skills. Emotional regulation, situational confidence, attention control, etc., all play a role in high performance. These skills give you an edge in any performance situation from high stress combat, an academic test, even an awkward family get-together.