Archive for Sports Psychology Secrets

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: What Sports Parents Need to Know

As sports parents, we worry so much about our kids learning the correct physical technique or mechanics in their sports…but about their mental approach?

For example, what should you say to your youngster if they’re getting visibly nervous or moody before a game?

Is it okay if they develop certain rituals or superstitions as part of their pre-game prep?

Dan McGinn, who is a sports parent himself, has written a new book entitled PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, and I was eager to interview on my radio show this AM. Dan serves as a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, and has a real passion for sports psychology, which as most of you know, is a long-time passion of mine as well.

Dan’s book touches on a number of competitive fields, whether it be sports…or business…or in the performing arts. But the main theme that underlies all of his stories and insights is what do successful individuals do in order to assure that each performance is a good one. And Dan underscores some of the important myths and misconceptions of pre-game psychological preparation.

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SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: Are Cell Phones a Blessing or Curse?

Dr. Jarrod Spencer, a sports psychologist who runs Mind of the Athlete in Bethlehem, PA, had an interesting observation on my radio show this AM.

When I asked him what, in his opinion, was the most pressing concern in the world of sports parenting in terms of sports psychology, he surprised me when he said that he felt it was the growing reality that too many young athletes seem to be addicted to their cell phones, so much so that when they go to bed a night, they can’t seem to be able to put the phone down and get some sleep.

As a result, by staying awake to all hours of the night tracking social media, these youngsters don’t get enough needed rest, and that has a serious carryover effect into their next day at school and in practice and in games. Dr. Spencer feels that this is a growing epidemic, and the reason why so few parents are able to intervene with their kids is because the parents themselves are doing the same thing!

One or two callers agreed with Jerrod – that indeed kids seem to be addicted to cell phones in much the same way as a generation ago, people were addicted to cigarettes. And of course, both addictions are not healthy.

Jarrod felt that the only way to counteract this problem was for schools, coaches, and parents to educate kids today about this issue, and if nothing else, get them to understand what kinds of negative impact this addiction can have on their academics and athletic performance.


I had mentioned along the way that some college coaches actually prohibit their athletes from using their cell phones during the season, mainly because they don’t want their athletes to make any embarrassing mistakes on Twitter. I know Geno Auriemma at UConn hoops limits his players from using cellphones during the winter season. Other coaches do the same thing.

But I was not aware that kids and cell phone usage late at night was becoming so disruptive.

I did point out that perhaps today’s young athletes use their cell phones as a way to break the constant and grinding pressure that comes from playing on a highly competitive schedule in sports – -that kids look upon cell phones as toys, or as a way to break away from the growing expectations in sports.

Indeed, the more I reflect on that, the more I think that theory might make sense. By the time a young athlete is in HS, playing a competitive sport can often become totally consuming and overwhelming, both in terms of the time commitment as well as the constant pressure to keep succeeding and to win. By the time the kid gets home and is ready for bed, playing on one’s cell phone offers a much wanted emotional break from the rigors of sport.

As noted, it’s an interesting observation and theory.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY: Today’s Appearance on The NFL Network

Just FYI…..many of you know me for my work in the field of sports parenting. But long before I became involved in this area, I did my undergraduate and graduate work in psychology. And I specialized in sports psychology which, back when I was in college, was pretty much an unknown and uncharted territory. It’s only in the last couple of decades that sports psychology has become accepted by the world of professional and collegiate sports. Before then, the old joke that “anybody who needed to see a sports psychologist ought to have his head examined” was a typical — and unwanted — response from coaches and athletes.

In any event, like most athletes, I always found that the mental side of the game to be fascinating. Sure, you had to have the God-given physical skills to play at the collegiate or professional level, but the truth is, you reach a point where in order to succeed and win, one needs to become more consistent and perhaps a bit better prepared psychologically than one’s opponents. That’s where the mental approach begins to have major priority.

After being a head college baseball coach at Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY) for nine years where we had several nationally-ranked teams (NCAA, Div. II), I was then asked to serve as the roving sports psychology coach for the Cleveland Indians. I served with the big league and minor league teams of the Indians in the early 1990s, just as Cleveland was beginning to assert itself as an American League powerhouse. I worked with, and got to know well, a number of the young stars on those teams. And I was elated when Cleveland awarded me with an American League championship ring when the Tribe won the AL pennant in 1995.

These days, I still am called to consult with top athletes who are having some difficulties in terms of performing at a top level, and I’m called by athletes and their agents across a variety of sports. And sometimes, I’m even asked to comment when a kid is struggling. To that end, I thought you might be interested in seeing a short clip of yours truly on The NFL Network this AM discussing the performance issues of Tampa Bay’s highly-touted place-kicker Roberto Aguayo, and what he might want to try to correct his course of action.

See link below:

Rick Wolff on the NFL Network


Sports Psychology Secrets: What the Top Performing Athletes Do…

I thought it might be helpful to introduce some of the “secrets” of sports psychology to parents, coaches, educators, and of course, the athletes themselves.

Please bear in mind that the science of sports psychology has really only been around for about 40 years or so. When I was in college back in the 1970s, there was very little research being done in this field, and even less being reported in academic journals.

I know this first hand because being a psych major, I spent literally hours and hours searching the literature in the libraries at Harvard and came up with very little. This was, of course, before the days of the internet and Google search, but even if they had existed back then, I doubt there would have much to report.

But over the years, as sports psychology gradually become more accdepted, I found from my own clinical work in the field working with athletes that some of the more basic concepts in sports psych ran counter to my own experiences. And as I traded notes with the late Harvey Dorfman, perhaps the greatest sports psychologist of our time, I began to realize that basic instruction in this area didn’t always ring true with developing athletes. Harvey agreed.

Let me give you an example. How many times have you encountered a youngster who, right before an upcoming game, says that he or she is so nervous that they’re having a hard time focusing on the event. The general response is to tell the youngster to “just try and relax….just take some deep breaths to calm yourself.”

Or some psychologists will suggest that the athlete think about “going to their safe place” in their mind in order to relax.

But when I tried these approaches when I played, I found they didn’t help much. Instead, I found through clinical trial-and-error that it was better to not try and get rid of the anxiety, but rather to embrace it. That is, I began to recognize that when my physical body wen through those adrenaline rushes, it was my body simply reassuring me that it was ready and prepared to go out and play in a big game. After awhile, I found that I looked forward to those moments of nervousness before games.

The alternative was to NOT have those anxious moments. When that happened – and they happened very rarely – that made me even more nervous, because my body was not responding well. In other words, it made extremely nervous that I wasn’t nervous.

But fortunately, this didn’t happen tor often. As my pre-game jitters would settle in, I knew that I was physically ready to go out and perform at a peak level.

The other psychological part of this preparation was going through a pre-game ritual of visualization. I honestly don’t know who invented this process, but I do recall reading a very popular book in the 1970s called PSYCHOCYBERNETICS by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. The book is still in print today.

In any event, Dr. Maltz, who was a surgeon, would take time everyday before operating to lie down in a quiet dark room, and then see in his mind’s eye how he was going to perform the surgery. He would “see” himself in the OR, going step-by-step in the process, all in color, and all in great detail. He would go through the entire operation, from beginning to end.

When done, he would “wake” from his visualization session, and then be ready to go operate.

This process has become standard operating procedure for many top athletes, as well as other people who perform for a living. Surgeons, musicians, actors, presenters, and so on. The idea is that by preparing your mind to see what will happen, this helps relieve any concerns or worries that you might not perform well. The key is to see yourself performing well, e.g. making pitches on the corner, hitting free throws over and over again, etc.

The combination of visualization along with experiencing those pre-game jitters works well. As you go out to perform, you can live off the adrenaline rush while at the same time, put your mind on auto-pilot as your physical skills just work follow your visualized path to success. Just let your athletic instincts take over.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need to have practiced and perfected your skill over and over again. You can’t just visualize playing the piano flawlessly and then expect to play it in a concert if you have never played the piano before. Practice and more practice allows your muscles to memorize how to behave once you are in a competition.

You might want to introduce the concept of visualization and how to embrace pre-game jitters to your son or daughter aound the age of 12 or 13. Younger than that, they might not understand why. But as they reach middle school age, that’s a good time to start.