Anger and Performance: Sport Psychology Techniques for dealing with extreme emotions

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power, and is not easy.” —Aristotle

An essential element of sport psychology is dealing with the emotions that come with competitive athletics. Whether you are an athlete, a coach, a referee, a parent, or a fan, the higher the level of competition, the higher the emotional level can become. And the higher the emotional level, the more important it becomes to control and manage those emotions.

One exercise I lead my athletes through is to identify which emotions help their performance and which emotions hurt their performance. For a vast majority of my clients, there are more emotions that negatively affect how they play than positively affect. This awareness is key to developing strategies to handle the negative emotions, and even use them for your benefit.

There are some emotions that athletes identify that sometimes help and sometimes hurt their performance. Among them: aggressiveness, caution, stubbornness, and surprise. But by far, the most common is anger.

Athletes describe it this way: “Sometimes I get angry and it makes me focus and play better. Sometimes I get angry and it makes me play erratic and out of control.”

That is important information to know, and to come up with a plan to make sure you harness your anger for positive, instead of letting the anger control you and your actions. If we take Aristotle’s quote above, let’s examine these questions:

Who Are You Angry With?
This is a big factor in whether anger is good or bad for performance. Typically, if the anger is directed inward, towards yourself, that could result in higher work rate and focus if positive self-talk is employed. Or, it could result in lower work rate and withdrawing from the game if self-talk is more negative. That being said, athletes need to use positive self-talk.

If you are angry at someone else — opponent, referee, coach, etc. — that rarely works in your favor. This typically leads to lack of effort and to reckless and unsportsmanlike behavior. Athletes should be able to re-focus their anger away from someone who is not in their control and toward something positive, and controllable.

To What Degree Are You Angry?

Are you just a little mad, or do you become irate or enraged. The difference being how in control of the emotion you are. Being enraged could mean the anger is too intense, and can control you. Athletes can use positive self-talk and circle breathing as a way to calm their emotions to manageable levels.

When Do You Become Angry?
Is it after a mistake, a perceived bad call, or an opponent talking trash? Know yourself and your tendencies, and the situations in which you are likely to become angry. Having a pre-performance routine to prepare is a very helpful sport-psychology tool.

Why Are You Angry?
Typically, it is because you are focused on the wrong thing. You are focused on something you cannot control. Mentally tough athletes focus on the controllable aspects as much as possible, and have tools to re-focus when they get distracted.

How Do You Handle Your Anger?
The question may not be: “Will you get angry?” More likely, “How will you handle yourself when you get angry?” Using sport-psychology techniques that you have practiced and honed until they become second nature is the way to go. Here are the sport psychology techniques that I have mentioned above:

Pre-Performance Routines
This is a mental warm-up, with action items for athletes to check off before starting practice or competition. It can include going over goals, visualization, positive self-talk, listening to music, and more. The goals are to clear the mind of distractions and to perform with a positive mindset and confidence.

Positive Self-Talk
Also referred to as “self-coaching,” this technique is a way for athletes to look at any situation in a positive light. Athletes can coach themselves up by focusing on the right things, being optimistic, and circle breathing — one of the simplest and effective sport-psychology techniques. This is a slow, deep, controlled breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. It is a way to calm your mind, body and emotions, so that you can make good decisions.

Re-Focus on What You Can Control
You can control attitude, effort, preparation, and the present moment. These are factors that sports participants have 100 percent control over, and are less likely to be stressed or let anger turn negative. The ability to re-focus your attention to the right thing at the right time is a key element in controlling anger.

About the Author

Brian Baxter is the director of the Sport Psychology Institute Northwest in Portland and a prior US Lacrosse Convention (LaxCon) speaker.

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!

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!

How to prevent hazing in your organization

A recent google search for “hazing” in the news turned up 128,000 hits this morning. I’ve been asked a few times about hazing and it’s impact:  Is it happening more now than ever? Is there a difference between physically, mentally and emotionally abusive hazing? What can coaches and organizations do about the problem?  It’s got me thinking about the subject and doing a little research.

From my own experience, as a freshman in college back in the early ’90s I was hazed. Both as a member of the soccer team and a fraternity. And I also doled it out as an upperclassman.  I suspect I am like millions of people for whom hazing did not have much of a lasting negative effect. So little effect that I never really considered that I was “hazed” until I started writing this article.  However, it is safe to say that there are countless others for whom hazing has had a seriously negative impact.

My situation is not unique. In one study, 47% of high school athletes reported being hazed, but only 8% identified the behaviors as “hazing.” While hazing did not have a negative impact on me, it definitely has the propensity to get out of control and have severe negative effects, such as emotional trauma, physical injury and in rare cases, death.  As athletic directors, coaches, and parents, we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

Before we discuss how to stop the overblown types of hazing and it’s negative effects, and replace with positive team building rituals, we have to understand why it happens in the first place. What is hazing? Why is hazing even a thing in the first place? What do athletes get out of it? What need is it serving a team?

What is hazing?  Hazing can be defined as embarrassing, ridiculous, cruel, and sometimes abusive rituals and events used to initiate new members into a group.  Hazing is most frequently known to happen among high school and collegiate sports teams, fraternities and sororities, social clubsgangs, the military and other groups.

Why is hazing even a thing?

“Love born from pain is the real thing” – Matisyahu “Love Born”

As the song lyrics above infer,  sometimes negativity does bring people together. Going through pain and hardship together and surviving it does build a bond. Doing challenging tasks together can promote solidarity, conformity, and social identity, all important qualities for athletic teams. Hazing plays on the human need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  And not only that, but the harder it seems to join a group, or the more a member has to do to earn entry, the more perceived meaning membership in that group has.  In other words, belonging to a groups means more to the members when it’s harder to join.

What makes hazing so dangerous?  So hazing’s origins got started with good enough intentions: rituals for new members to go through to prove themselves worthy of the group, conform, and build bonds with the other members.  But we know where good intentions can end up.

Hazing rituals become traditions over time, where, once a new member goes through the process, they are “in.”  Then the following year, they are on the other side, have gone through the ritual, and get to apply it instead of being subjected to it.   The most negative of mutations of these rituals occur when a once-hazed freshman now has the power. And why just keep doing the same old boring rituals when I thought of this newer, better, version?  And it escalates until you have something tragic happen.

Teams want unity, they want bonding, and they want to feel ownership and belonging.  So it is up to leaders: athletic directors, coaching directors, head coaches, assistant coaches, and parents to provide these things for their teams.

How do you know if hazing is happening within your organization?  Chances are there is some type of team rituals or hazing going on, whether it is completely benign or downright illegal.  Here are some of the main challenges for athletic directors, coaches and parents:

1 – Most hazing occurs in secret, without the coaches’ knowledge – this is part of the allure – bonding between the members of the team without the authority figure.

2 – New members of the team are likely to be afraid to report it, due to alienating themselves from the team or being seen as soft, weak, or not down with the team.

3 – Groups may see it as team building or team bonding, but not hazing (there could be a fine line between the two).

4 – Some players (maybe the majority) aren’t phased by it so “what’s the big deal?”

How can leaders stop hazing within their organization?  Like most issues that a team faces, it depends on the culture and the context in which it’s happening.   How can a coach break a cycle of hazing within a program? Some hazing rituals are built into the fabric of the school or program for generations – can a coach stop it?

1 – Know it likely exists in some form or another within your team. Don’t be an ostrich, with your head in the sand, hoping that it’s not going on.

2 – Create and promote a positive culture through Vision, Mission and Core Values.  A culture where hazing is not needed because you fill the need it serves!

         –  Provide plenty of positive team building, create your own challenging, yet safe and positive rituals

         –  Provide an environment where the team has ownership

3 – Communicate your Vision, Mission, and Core Values to all members of the team

         – Communicate frequently with team leaders and more experience members of the team

         – Provide communication lines and protocols between coach and players so that everyone feels a responsibility to the health of the team

3- Continually evolve your culture to meet the need of the players.

It’s up to the leaders to create a culture where athletes learn, grow, improve, thrive, and build character on an individual level.  And a culture that promotes team unity, leadership and communication. Hazing is without question a huge threat to individuals and teams.  To pretend it doesn’t exist, or to deal with it only on a reactive basis is not a good plan.  Be proactive, and model the behaviors and traits you want to see in your athletes, teams, and organizations.

For more information on how to build a winning culture from top to bottom, check out our AMPlify program.

AMPlify sport psychology 2

Sports, Peers and Injury

Hello all!

The next couple blog posts I really want to dive into the idea that sports culture and teams work the same way as any cultural group. I want to talk about what psychological aspects of human nature lead to various sports phenomenon and how we can use this information to deconstruct the way we compete.

-Jake Sivinski

Sports, Peers and Injury

My background in competitive skiing has meant that the threat of serious injury has never been far. This is a reality that strikes many different athletes as they progress in their sport and push to perform at higher and higher levels. But why does this have to be so? Why does the threat have to progress as our game does? What sort of psychological processes lead to this increase?

One possible answer takes us to the field of social psychology and various facets of social identity theory. In short, social identity theory states that we define who we are by looking to the people around us and the groups we belong to. For example, I identify myself as American because that is where I live and most people I interact with are also American. This theory not only describes our identities as social constructions, but also as being fluid and subject to change. This means that over time the extent to which we identify as one thing or another can wax and wane and change based on the environment in which we exist. In the context of athletes social identity theory would predict that the more time you spend playing a sport and the better you get at it, the more valuable it becomes to your identity.


So how does this relate to increased likelihood of injury? Well, to understand that we need to learn about a second social psychology theory known as “Social Proof.” Social Proof essentially states that as a member of a group, we look to others to inform our behavior and we try to copy the behaviors that we deem as correct. In the realm of athletics, this means that we look to our friends or teammates who are the best at their respective sport and try to copy their behavior. So essentially as our identification with a sport increases, so does our value for the sport, therefore causing us to spend more and more time trying to copy the behavior of people we look up to as athletes in that sport.

Now we are at a place where the threat of injury starts to get larger and larger. In a sport, where higher levels of play leads to higher levels of risk, it is not hard to see how this happens. Say I am a young kid who spends his whole day thinking about skiing (I once was), I am going to spend a lot of time thinking about the tricks and stunts that pro skiers are doing. As a young kid I neither have the ability to do them safely nor the strength to walk away from a serious fall.  Now I am in a headspace that could lead to me behaving dangerously and injuring myself.  

Having athletic idols in a sport that we can learn from and respect is not always a bad thing. Pushing ourselves to try and be like the best is something that is valuable to our progression as athletes. However, it is best if we try to do this in a controlled manner in which we never step so far out of our own ability that we expose ourselves to undue risk. This is where good training and guidance becomes essential. We need to be able to know not only how to push ourselves, but also when we are ready to push. This is one of many lessons that a person can learn through better understanding how their own psychology affects their athletic life

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.


This is Your Brain on Sports – book review

Brain on sport psychology

“We’ve spent the preceding chapters trying to make the case that there are rational underpinnings for all the supposed craziness and unusual behavior that sports seem to trigger. That is, that “your brain on sports” is really just your regular brain acting as it does in other contexts.”

Sound interesting?  This is how Wertheim and Sommers sum up their latest book, This is Your Brain on Sports. From a sport psychology perspective, it’s a great book in the same vein as classics like “Freakonomics” or “Outliers.”   The authors take common ideas and phenomena in sports and put them under the sociological and psychological research microscope to explain certain peculiar behaviors and that are common not only in sports, but in life in general.

Each chapter explores a unique idea from sports, examines the research, and relates it to real life.  Beginning by promising answers to Why questions: “Why Hockey Goons Would Rather Fight at Home” to “Why We Need Rivals” to “Why Our Moral Compass is More Flexible than an Olympic Gymnast” these chapters offer excellent insights into how the mind works, how people relate to each other through the prism of sports, and uncovers why things that seem bizarre are actually quite common..  The conclusion is that sports isn’t so much different than life.  Although, they do go on to explain:  “…sports and athletic competition are fertile ground for scientists across disciplines to test their hypotheses about basic aspects of human nature.”

There’s a lot in here to relate to sport psychology and the mental game.  For instance, popular theory says that sport psychology was founded in 1898 by Norman Triplett, who noticed that he rode his bicycle faster when he was with other people.  In the chapter “Why We Need Rivals,” the authors explain how Triplett created a “competition machine” to test in a lab setting if people did in fact ride faster against someone else as opposed to against the clock. His theory proved to be true, and was used in further studies by other psychologists on how athletes compete against rivals – something that seems to make sense, but now backed by research.

One of my favorites was the chapter that was in essence about goal setting.  “Why Running on a Treadmill is Like Running a Business.”  In it the authors talk about “the power of the finish line” and how very important to performance setting milestones is.  In my experience at SPINw, one of the reasons goal setting fails is that there are not enough measurable milestones on the way to a long term goal.  There is some compelling anecdotes and evidence here explaining why this is the case.  This chapter, like many others, should prove to be a powerful tool for athletes and especially coaches, to use goal setting for motivation and increased effort.

Overall, there is something for everyone in this book, whether you are an athlete, a coach, a sports fan, or even someone who is just interested in psychology and how the mind works.

Click here to check it out on Amazon.


Goal Setting in Munchable Chunks

JIMMY SPINw   By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology

 “Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started.  It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”  -Steve Prefontaine

This is one of my favorite quotes!  While winning and success are a part of sports and competition, it isn’t the main reason why athletes compete or why they love their sport.  Joy, fun, and personal passion are the motivation!  As I write this, there are probably athletes wondering, “So how do I do this?” 

During one of my recent workshops with a swim club, we discussed the importance of doing things in MUNCHABLE CHUNKS.  The question I posed to the group was, “If I asked you to eat a large pizza in one bite, could you do it?”  Answers included: “no, that’s impossible,” “it would get messy,” and “huh, I’m not even sure how I would do that.” 

The art to eating a pizza is similar to an athlete’s approach to sport.  If I only focus on the end result, I can get caught up thinking things like, “this is impossible, so why bother trying,” “if I try this and fail, what will others think of me,” or “there’s so much I need to accomplish, I don’t know where to start.”  While it is good to have the end result in mind, to accomplish the task at hand (be it practice or competition) athletes need to focus on the small things that help them in the moment. 

Taking things in munchable chunks allows an athlete to focus on the task at hand.  For example, a swimmer who focuses on the little things (that are relevant to performance) will take the time to warm-up, visualize their strokes and breathing patterns, and he/she will focus on his/her own performance rather than focusing on who he/she is swimming against and/or the pressure to win that race.

Overall, when athletes can focus on the little things that contribute to their performance they are able to concentrate on the task at hand and they are in control of their performance.  When athletes perform with this mindset, they are confident.  And, when athletes are confident, they tend to enjoy what they are doing. 

Key Points:

1.  As an athlete, set long-term and short-term goals with your coaches.   A long-term goal can be something you work toward by the end of the season, a year from now, or 4 years from now (i.e., a high school career).  A short-term goal is the process or the munchable chunks.  These are the little things that you have identified to work on each day, each week, and each month.  They are the steps that help you work toward your long-term goal. 

2.  As we focus on the task at hand, we need to be mindful of things that are helpful versus things that are hurtful to our performance.  The swimmers identified things like, proper warm-up, stroke count, breathing, and focusing on good form as things that are helpful to performance.  They also identified the following as things that are hurtful or distracting to their performance, thinking about who I am going to swim against in my heat, wondering what people are thinking about in the stands, and thinking about how critical this race is for my future.   

*Remember, it’s a process!  When you focus on the little things, you will feel in control of your performance, you will approach each practice and competition with a sense of personal expectation and purpose, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride with each competition and practice. 

What does US Soccer’s new mandates mean for you?

The implementation of US Soccer’s 2015 Player Development initiatives is right around the corner.  There has been lots of discussion on the topic, but few concrete answers, which is leaving many involved in youth soccer a bit confused and unsettled about what these changes will mean for players.  These initiatives are changing the youth soccer landscape completely, so there are a lot of unknowns for parents, coaches and players alike. The bottom line is, what’s best for the kids? Do these mandates help or hurt?

Here in Oregon, youth tryouts for club soccer are taking place May 9-14.  In this article we will take a closer look at the changes coming up, give our take on them, and what they will mean for the youth soccer community.

{SPINw is hosting Tryout Prep Mental Game Workshops to help players go into tryouts focused & confident}  -Click on the link below for more information and to register-

SPINw Soccer Tryout Prep Workshop 2016

First off, why all the changes?  Why now?

Click here for a video explanation from US Soccer

According to US Soccer, here’s the reasoning behind the changes:

Despite the increased popularity of soccer and the success of our national teams, the youth soccer landscape at the entry level needs to be improved.
Our soccer culture at the youth level focuses on winning and results rather than focusing on developing the skills of individual players.
The concept of a team outweighs the importance of players having fun and developing to the best of their abilities.
As a country, we need coaches and parents to spend less time caring about wins and loses, and more time devoted to teaching individual skills.
Part of this initiative is to educate and empower coaches and parents to change the way we look at the sport.
One example of this is U.S. Soccer’s new online F License, which is designed for coaches working with players ages 6-8.

Our take:  Hard to disagree with the reasoning behind it. Player development over winning titles, especially at the younger ages, is common sense (although sadly, not so common, which is why some changes are needed!) In sport psychology, we strive to have athletes focus on the process, improving skills, and growing as a player over results. So this logic fits from a development perspective. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win, and learning to compete, but it should not be more important than technical and tactical player development.

First initiative – Small-Sided Standards

Basically, the size of the field and the number of players on the field start smaller and progress as players get older (see chart above). Here’s the why according to US Soccer:

Fewer players on the field means more touches on the ball and more involvement in the game, which helps develop more individual skill.
Players who are more skilled may become more confident and comfortable when in possession of the ball.
The ratio of players to field size is designed to assist players with making the right kind of decisions and improving their awareness.
As players get older, and numbers increase on bigger fields, this approach builds on itself.
And as players get older, the building block approach also allows them to better integrate into a team model where they develop partnerships with other players that make up the team.
Overall, the standards provide for an age appropriate environment where players can achieve these objectives.

Our take:  Love this one, no problems here.  For player development it’s great, and should have been done long ago!

Bonus part of this initiative:  The Build Out line.  This one hasn’t been talked about as much as the others, but we love it.  Basically, the build out line forces teams to play out of the back. The keeper is not allowed to punt the ball, and defenders must give a little space and time for the defense to start the play.  This will be in effect through the U10 age group (7 v 7).


Second initiative – Birth Year Registration

2015 Player Development Initiatives 21

This is the one that’s caused the most ruckus. Here’s why, according to US Soccer:

Not only will this change align our players with the international standard, but it will allow us to be better informed to combat relative age effect when making teams for youth players.

According to wikipedia, the relative age effect is:

“The term relative age effect (RAE) is used to describe a bias, evident in the upper echelons of youth sport[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”][1] and academia,[2][3] where participation is higher amongst those born early in the relevant selection period (and correspondingly lower amongst those born late in the selection period) than would be expected from the normalised distribution of live births. The selection period is usually the calendar year, the academic year or the sporting season.

Our take: This is pretty ill-conceived, and the cons outweigh the stated benefits. The relative age effect doesn’t magically go away by making this change. It just shifts to a new birthday.  In the best-seller Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the relative age effect in hockey where a majority of high level older players are born in January, February and March.  Is this change really going to help the US produce the next Lionel Messi or win a World Cup?  It seems highly doubtful.  This mandate flies in the face of the stated objectives. The real objective behind this is to prepare players to become national team caliber players, meaning a fraction of a percent of players will see any benefit from it.

The negatives – There are several, but here are the top three as we see them:
1) Teams that have been together for years will be dismantled –
2) Teams will not be primarily based on school grade level – for recreational teams especially,  this mandate doesn’t make sense. A big part of the fun of playing soccer is playing with your friends and classmates, and this basically takes that part of youth soccer and makes it more difficult.
3) Rising 8th graders and high school seniors may have limited options for a team or worse, left without a team.

Our overall take:  So there are some clear cut plusses and minuses with the new changes.  And some major uncertainty.  But don’t fear, our take is this – The next 6 months or so will be rough and chaotic, but after that we will forget it ever happened. Sports is like life, in that change is the only constant.  We want our young athletes to learn, grow, become resilient, be problem-solvers, and be able to handle adversity.  That’s how to build confidence.  So if you look at it that way, it’s not that big a deal in the long run.  It’s up to the adults to keep that in mind as we head toward this unknown territory in youth soccer.


Developing Young Athletes

Stages of Athletic and Social Development: Perspective on Developing a Young Athlete

By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology

Sport psychology coaching kids

We are currently in an era where children are pressured to specialize in a sport as early as 10 years of age.  These young athletes are heavily recruited by youth travel or club teams, where the majority of their time is spent competing versus training and just enjoying sports.  Travel teams, select teams, and/or competitive club programs are promising parents that their children increase their chances of a college scholarship and the potential to become professional athlete, IF they commit to year around single sport specialization and travel to competitive tournaments where college recruiters and professional scouts evaluate them.  Parents whose children are on these teams will recruit as well by telling prospective parents that if their child does not commit to playing on a club/travel/select team at the youth level, they won’t have a chance of making the varsity team for their local high school.

It is good to have dreams and aspirations for our children, but it is vitally important to make sure that our kids are having fun, that we (as parents) are allowing them to participate in as many sports and physical activities as possible, and that we are allowing our children to develop at their own pace.  Like all things in life, sports and being physically active is a process.  For athletes, developing physical strength and agility, acquiring technical skills, learning tactical skills, and honing psychological skills (like mental toughness and anxiety reduction) are keys to their success.  With that in mind, children need the necessary time to develop each of these skills.  For example, before an athlete enters high school, the majority of their time should be spent on skills development, with less time being devoted to competition and tournament play.  If you try to fast forward or skip some steps in the process, i.e., having a child play up an age level because you think they are better than the kids their age, it may look and feel like an advantage for that season, but in the long run it could negatively affect your child as an athlete and as a person. 

As a lacrosse coach and as a mental skills coach, it is commonplace to see high school athletes committing to a Division-I college/university as a high school sophomore.  It is equally as common that many of these same athletes will decide to de-commit from said college/university and retire from their sport upon graduating from high school.  These athletes admit that because they played at a competitive level since they were 10 or 11 years old, their ultimate goal was to commit to a Division-I college/university.  But, once they achieved that milestone, they realized that they were completely burnt-out and instead of being motivated to play at the next level, they were instead looking forward to life without competitive sports.

As parents, it can be difficult to understand how to help develop and support your child as an athlete.  Questions like, how young is too young to start participating in a sport?  When should my child start specializing in a sport?  How do I make sure that my child is successful in the long-term as an athlete and as a person?  How should I define sport successes and long-term expectations for my child-athlete? And, are they really enjoying the sport they play or are they doing it because we really want them to?

As coaches, it can be confusing to understand why some athletes are highly motivated to consistently participate in a sport, while others don’t seem motivated at all.  It can also be frustrating to see athletes perform well in practice yet struggle, get frustrated, and/or anxious when they participate in competition.    

Erik Erickson’s Theory of Personality and the 7 Stages of Long Term Athletic Development (created by Canadian Sports For Life) provide useful information to help parents and coaches understand how to best support and develop athletes from a young age.

Erik Erickson, a renowned developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, believed that over the course of a person’s life, he/she develops through social adaptation.  Meaning, as people interact and develop social relationships throughout their lives, their ability to problem-solve determines their development and personality.   Erickson developed 8 Psychosocial Stages of Development from birth to death.  **Note: Erikson’s model does not have exact dates as Erikson recognized that everyone develops at their own pace.

7 Stages of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) was created by Canadian Sports for Life.  This methodology demonstrates that by introducing and training the correct skills at the right time of development, kids and adults will become more active, stay active, and perform better.  I found this information in John O’Sullivan’s book Changing the Game.   A book I highly recommend to parents and coaches. 

To better understand these two methodologies, I created five phases of athletic and social development.  I have summarized each phase and provide more detailed information concerning each phase at the end of the article:

Phase 1 Summary: Foundation Building (birth to age 6). 

*Stage 1 (Active Start, ages 0-6) of the 7 Stages of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) is present in this phase; as well as Erickson’s Stage 1 (Trust versus Mistrust, ages 0-1), Stage 2 (Autonomy versus Doubt and Shame, ages 1-3), and Stage 3 (Initiative versus Guilt, ages 3-5).

The focus for children between the ages of 0-6 are acquisition of basic skills and creating habits that build the foundation for physical and social development.  At this stage, children start the slow process from complete dependence on others to starting their journey toward independence.  Things that are introduced at this age become ingrained habits.  During this time, it is up to adults (parents, caretakers, coaches, and teachers) to introduce and encourage children to learn and develop.

sport psychology lax coaching kids

Phase 2: Acquisition of Skills (ages 6-12).

*LTAD Stages 2 (FUNdamentals, girls 6-8/boys6-9) and 3 (Learn to Train, girls 8-11/boys9-12); and Erickson’s stage 4 (Industry versus Inferiority, ages 6-12).

Children transition from foundational development to learning skills (social skills, life skills, and sport specific skills) and strategies (related to problem-solving and tactical skills related to sports).  Learn by doing.  This is a time when children enter school and start to acquire knowledge and skills.  They will learn from others in school (specifically peers), on the playground, with parents, and other adults.  Of note, peer relationships take center stage at this time. 

This is the perfect time to have your child participate in a wide variety of sports.  A child starts to learn more about technical and tactical skills development through fun activities and games as opposed to regimented training.  The more fun and engaging the activity, the more likely they will continue to develop that skill and stay with the sport.  Again, the focus is on skills development and having fun!

sport psychology portland thorns academy

Phase 3: Training to Compete and Identity Development (ages 11-23). 

*LTAD Stage 4 (Train to Train, girls 11-15/boys 12-16), Stage 5 (Train to Compete, girls 15-21/boys 16-23); Erickson’s stage 8 (Identity versus Role-Confusion,

Socially, this is a time when teens define who they are as individuals.  For example, a teen may define himself or herself as a hard working student, a member of student council, and/or an active volunteer in his or her community; and an athlete will choose to specialize in one or two sports and identify herself/himself as a swimmer, lacrosse player, cross-country runner etc…  During this time, teens also learn to develop time management skills and will formulate goals and expectations for their future.   This is a critical stage in your child’s life because it is a time when they will be transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  It is the time when they are trying to figure out “WHO THEY ARE and HOW TO ACCOMPLISH IT.”

For the athlete, this is a time when they transition from foundational development to specialized training.  At this time athletes have committed to specializing in one or sometimes two sports.  Training hours are increased and this is the time when an athlete will recognize whether they have the ability and dedication to be an elite performer at their sport(s).  To do this they must spend more time refining skills in practices that consist of high-volume and high-repetition.  As part of their time management, athletes also must learn to delegate time between training, recovery and injury prevention/management, and performance.  Athletes will acquire these skills by learning more about nutrition, strength and conditioning, mental skills development, and the importance of rest and recovery for the body.  At this point, athletes are seeking out any and all resources that will help them get a slight edge on their competition and so they can perform consistently at a high level.   As a result, by the later half of this phase, athletes’ transition from a focus on specialized training to being focused on competition. 

Phase 4: Competition Ready and Relationships (ages 20+).

*LTAD Stage 6 (Train to Win, girls 18+/boys 19+); Erickson Stage 6 (Intimacy versus Isolation, 20’s to late 30’s).

Socially, this is a period where young adults develop intimate relationships.   According to Erickson, if you were able to resolve the conflict in stage 5 (identity versus role-confusion), a person should be able to form intimate relationships with others.  If they weren’t, they will struggle with trusting and committed relationships.

At this stage, athletes should have developed all of the technical, tactical, physical, and mental skills necessary to compete at the elite and professional levels.  Their goal is the pursuit of excellence and external success like winning metals, trophies, and championships.  It is important for the athlete to have a trusted support network that helps them to successfully perform daily.  This network includes family, coaches, nutritionists, doctors, physical therapists, masseuses, and mental skills coaches (sport psychologists).   Often times, you will see this team of people as an athlete’s entourage that accompanies them wherever they go. 

Sport Psychology family fun

Phase 5: Active for Life, Giving Back and a Reflection on Life (Ages 30+). 

*LTAD Stage 7 (Active for Life, any age); and Erickson Stage 7 (Generativity versus Stagnation, ages 40-60) and Erickson Stage 8 (Integrity versus Despair (ages 60 to the end of life). 

Socially, at this stage, people have mastered certain skills and are now applying these skills to a career and in life.  As a result, people look to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.  As they near the end of life, these people will reflect on their past accomplishments and failures to determine whether they lived a fulfilling life or one filled with regret and lost opportunities. 

If athletes had positive experiences in sports throughout their childhood, teenage years, and adulthood, it is highly likely that they will choose to stay active for life.  For example, if an athlete ran track in high school, they will identify themselves as a runner and may even join a running group/club later in life as a means to exercise and be part of a social group that shares similar interests (in running). 

Appendix: Defined stages of LTAD and Erickson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development.

Phase 1: Foundation Building (birth to age 6). 

Phase 2: Acquisition of Skills (ages 6-12

Phase 3: Competition Ready and Identity Development (ages 11-23). 

Phase 4: Competition Ready and Love (ages 20+)

Phase 5: Active for Life, Giving Back and a Reflection on Life (Ages 30+). 


Botcher, S. (2014, November 23). 9 communities to pilot Canadian Sport for Life approach to sport and physical activity – Active For Life. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from

Cherry, K. (2015, July 02). How Erik Erikson’s Own Identity Crisis Shaped His Theories. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from

LTAD Stages. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 2016, from

McLeod, S. A. (2013). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from

O’Sullivan, J. (2014). Changing the game: The parent’s guide to raising happy, high-performing athletes and giving youth sports back to our kids. New York City, NY: Morgan James Publishing.