Archive for Sports Psychology

A Mindset of Sacrifice

Traveling with USA Track and Field during this year’s world championships has allowed me to learn a great deal from the athletes in a unique environment. During preparation for the championships I sat down with Kara Winger, a three time Olympian and the American record holder for javelin. I asked her several questions about what athletes sacrifice and was fascinated with her response.

I specifically asked: “I am amazed at what athletes ‘give up’ or commit to. What do you think of when talking about commitment to your sport?”

She responded with this:

I’ve always been very intrinsically motivated, so when I think about commitment to sport, it’s about bettering myself and not a whole lot else. People get wrapped up in discussing the sacrifice of athletics, but I’ve never seen it as a burden. To me, it’s an opportunity to do something totally weird and different than you ever thought you’d be up to, see the world, and challenge yourself in ways you don’t expect. Maybe it’s partly being 31, but I’ve always loved lots of sleep, I enjoy feeding myself well, and I like to measure my improvement in anything, not just athletics. It’s not a difficult commitment in my mind to see if I can be the best at something, and I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that friendships formed and experiences gained along the way make the effort that much more worth it. 

The only things I feel like I give up are time spent with loved ones in the summer and outdoor adventures that I long to have someday. But I’ve also learned to prioritize time with loved ones when I have the opportunity (off-season and holidays). Smaller-scale outdoor activities help me recover from sport, mentally and physically, so I work those in too. I don’t think everyone gets to figure out that time is precious this early in life, but I truly have sport to thank for that, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Instead of focusing on the sacrifice that she has made she is clearly focused on the reward that she gains by the profession that she has chosen. Athletes at this level give up so much. They always are eating, sleeping and living with performance in mind. I know several that set an alarm so that it reminds them to go to bed on time, clearly conflicting with activities in the evening. We often don’t see this type of commitment because we are not living with them on a daily basis.

Personally, I have now been on the road approximately 18 days of a 25 day trip. This is time away from my family that I cannot get back, but I am inspired by Kara’s words. I also had an amazing moment on this trip when Amy Cragg placed third in the women’s Marathon. She is the first American woman to win a medal at the marathon distance since 1983. I was honored to hand her the flag at the finish line.

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Mental Prep: Gain the Edge Before You Compete

Spending hours on the field and in the gym are certainly going to help you improve, but one of the most neglected areas of training is the mind. So before you step into the arena, spend some time preparing away from practice. Here are two areas to focus on:

Composure

“Butterflies” really do exist for everyone and are completely normal. What’s important is how you manage them. Physical strategies such as relaxation or deep breathing techniques can work, as well as mental ones like self-talk, an inner dialogue to remain positive and confident.

The way we think, feel and speak to ourselves is impactful on our performance. Be aware of your own inner dialogue and use statements that are confidence-builders.

  • “I am prepared.”
  • “I am knowledgeable.”

Avoid statements that add pressure or lead to worries about the outcome.

  • “I have to nail this!”
  • “If I don’t do well, then…”

The key to composure is to keep your thoughts focused on the present and what is within your control.

Visualization

Confidence does not come from the absence of pressure or adversity, but rather knowing you have the tools to perform well despite these challenges. Your confidence level stems from a variety of sources – past performance, preparation, goal achievement, feedback from others, and self-talk.

Another chief confidence-building tool is visualization.

Just as a driver in the Indy 500 will imagine the opening laps of the race before their ignition is even fired or a quarterback imagines the routes the receiver will run before the ball is snapped, you, too, can visualize the scenarios in which you will perform.

Imagine yourself performing calmly, assuredly and successfully. What does your goal look like? Visualize yourself performing in a way that achieves it. Highlight what you did to make that happen.

Most importantly, have a plan for how you will practice and implement these skills!

Your perspective ultimately determines how you “perform.” When the pressure is on, mastering these skills will allow you to be better composed and more confident, which will set-up the success that follows.

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Brain power: tips to mentally prepare for competition

Great athletes put in hours practicing, eating right, and sleeping for success. The best athletes, however, also spend adequate time harnessing the power of their minds. Sports go beyond physical capabilities, and often wins and losses can be traced to mental strength. Here are some tips from our very own Dr. Chris Carr regarding mental preparation:

  1. Begin your imagery of competition the night before; visualize success, great plays and victory.
  2. Focus on deep breathing during the ride to the event.
  3. Use music to focus and visualize making great plays.
  4. Keep your thoughts on the present…one play at a time.
  5. When you have distractions in your mind, create some type of release by visualizing yourself destroying those distractions.
  6. Write down a cue word that you associate with your own optimal performance and have it on your wrist or someplace easily accessible for reminders.
  7. Use the same routine before every game or competition.
  8. Love the game and enjoy playing.

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How to Achieve Your Goals

Whether you’re going for a gold medal, state championship or you just want to lose those last 10 pounds, you need a healthy set of goals to get there. It’s relatively easy to set them, but achieving them is a whole different monster.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “The reason most people fail is they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.” So how do you achieve what you want most? By understanding the difference between outcome and process goals.

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Outcome goals are pretty straightforward: they’re the endgame. They’re the goals listed in the first sentence. Improving your record time, running a half-marathon, becoming an All-American. Those are outcome goals. That is what you want most, and it’s easy to set those without a plan in place. Enter process goals.

Process goals are what you need to do on a daily basis to accomplish your outcome goals. Getting up early to run, eating a salad instead of pizza, doing an extra set of push-ups, spending an extra hour after practice shooting. Those are process goals, and those are the goals that often get brushed aside. Those are the goals we fail to accomplish when we fall into the trap Napoleon talked about. The more we focus on process goals, however, the better chance we have of accomplishing our outcome goals.

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There’s one more thing to understand before setting out to conquer your goals: motivation. The best and most durable motivation is internal. This comes from within you and fuels the drive you need to accomplish your process goals. Being the best version of yourself, being better than yesterday, getting to another level on the playing field. Those are internal motivators. Wanting your name in the paper, looking like a million bucks, winning that coveted award. Those are external motivators. Sure, motivation comes from those things as well, but only the fire from internal motivation lasts when you don’t want to get out of bed.

Shift your motivation internally, attack your daily process goals and watch your outcome goals get closer and closer to reality.

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Brace Yourselves: Winter is Coming

It’s inevitable in this part of the country, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The weather becomes cold, the days become short and those holidays allow for easy overeating. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to counteract the fitness doom and gloom of winter.

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Plan Ahead

If you’re not prepared, winter workouts (or lack thereof) can eat you alive. Formulate a plan of attack to stay in shape, and stick to it. Write your plan or schedule down, and check things off when you accomplish them. They can be as easy or hard as you like, just get in the habit of sticking to your schedule.

Utilize Your Surroundings

There are plenty of workouts you can do with no equipment needed. Our Jeff Richter knows plenty of awesome cardio workouts you can do in the warmth of your living room. You don’t have to go to the gym everyday if you use your surroundings well.

Be Accountable

It’s easier to be motivated in the summer sun when beach days are prevalent and outdoor activities are endless. Having someone hold you accountable to your goals can go a long way in the winter time. Accountability is a must when it comes to your winter diet as well. After all,  slacking off is tougher when someone has the opportunity to call you out on it.

 

Your fitness doesn’t have to fall behind when the temperature drops. Create a plan, utilize what’s around you, and don’t fly solo. Stick to it, and come January, you’ll already be way ahead of the curve.

 

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Superstitious Young Athletes

Lucky socks, tying your shoes a certain way, stepping over the foul line, putting your gloves on left hand first, then right hand, rally caps… Superstitions abound among young athletes. Are they good? Are they bad? What can a parent do to help a child with useful pre-performance routines? Kacey Oiness, Ph.D., HSPP, a Sport & Performance Psychologist at St.Vincent Sports Performance is here to answer those questions and more.



Kids often develop superstitions in an effort to create consistency in performances and feel as though there is something they can control each time they compete. Therefore, encouraging kids to develop performance routines can be useful, as it can allow them to identify things that are within their control that can contribute to success. You can assist your child in creating pre-performance routines that contribute to performance such as healthy behaviors (i.e. a good night’s sleep, eating healthy, etc.), as well as incorporating mental skills that lead to greater levels of confidence and an ability to maintain composure (i.e. positive self-talk, relaxation strategies, visualization). By encouraging them to develop a routine that facilitates their performance, you are giving them a way to feel a sense of control and consistency, without necessarily having to turn to superstitions.

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Superstitions, however, can be a part of sport and are not necessarily bad. But it is important to be cautious about allowing an athlete to depend  on their superstitious behaviors. Flexibility is key: if an athlete is unable to perform an aspect of their performance routine or engage in a superstitious behavior, it is important for them to learn to refocus on things that are within their control moving forward. When an athlete has difficulty moving past the idea that they have to engage in a superstitious behavior, that is when it can become harmful. The more you can assist your athlete in developing useful physical and mental performance routines and reinforce flexibility in that routine, the more beneficial it will be to their athletic performance.

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When Should Athletes Work with a Sport Psychologist?

It is valuable for any athlete to work with a sport psychologist to develop a structured mental skills routine. Whether the athlete is performing well, or experiencing decreases or plateaus in their performance, a sport psychologist can provide all athletes with mental skills that can help lead to their peak level of performance. Sport psychologists also work to assist athletes in coping with outside stressors that can negatively impact their performance.

Things to look for:

  • Inconsistency in performance
  • Lack of clearly defined goals
  • Differing levels of performance in practice versus competition (not performing well under pressure)
  • Excessive nervousness prior to and/or during performances
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty controlling emotions when playing (i.e. anxiety, anger, frustration, etc.)
  • Negativity directed at oneself or others
  • Focusing on things that are not within their control (i.e. weather, the other team, etc.)
  • Lack of, or decreases in, motivation
  • Low levels of confidence

Athletes going through any of the following could benefit from working with a sport psychologist:

  • General mental health disorders: anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders
  • Conflict with coaches, parents, or teammates
  • Outside stressors (i.e. academics, social relationships, etc.)
  • Injury
  • Signs of substance use/abuse
  • Disordered eating/body image concerns
  • Sleep difficulties, changes in appetite

Lastly, it is important to answer the question, “How do I know if they are qualified to help me?” Identifying who is qualified to work with athletes is an important step in getting them the resources they need for success. Identify licensed mental health professionals in your area with a specialization in sport psychology. Mental health professionals with a counseling or clinical psychology background will be able to assist athletes experiencing a wide range of things, including both sport performance challenges and general mental health concerns.

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DYKYA?

SVSP staffers often have a string of letters after their names. Some are shorter and more commonly known, like MD. And others take up a large chunk of the alphabet and not as popularly understood, like CSCS, USAW or HSPP. You may have often wondered what they all mean. Did you figure out the acronym we made up for the blog title – it stands for Do You Know Your Acronyms? There are so many acronyms in training, psychology, medicine and nutrition, even those in those fields may not have them all down pat. The Defining Sports Performance Blog is here with the answers to all the abbreviated degrees, certifications and classifications befitting our staff!

 

ATC: Certified Athletic Trainer

CES: Clinical Exercise Specialist

CSCS: Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

CSSD: Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

HSPP: Health Service Provider in Psychology

EDD: Doctor of Education

LAT: Licensed Athletic Trainer

MA: Master of Arts

MBA: Master of Business Administrationt

MD: Medical Doctor

M.Ed.: Master of Education

MS: Master of Science

PES: Performance Enhancement Specialist

PHD: Doctor of Philosophy

PRN: Practicing Registered Nurse

PT: Physical Therapist

PTA: Physical Therapist Assistant

RD: Registered Dietician

RN: Registered Nurse

USAW: USA Weightlifting Certificate

 

Hopefully this alphabetic lesson helps you understand the rigorous amounts of training, studying and education the staff at SVSP has gone through – and continues to go through- enabling them to define sports performance.

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Get to Know Dr. Oiness

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Kacey Oiness, Ph.D., was named a sport & performance psychologist at St.Vincent Sports Performance in June. Dr. Oiness grew up as a gymnast and competed collegiately at Iowa State. It was there when she fully realized her passion for psychology and began following that career path. She was the Big 12 Conference Floor Champion, a three-time NACGW Academic All-American and was named to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District VII list.

 

After finishing up at Iowa State, Dr. Oiness attended  Colorado State, where she earned a Master’s and Ph.D. in counseling psychology. The program didn’t have a sport psychology focus, so she took extra classes and sought out other experts in that field to build her experience. In psychology, budding doctors go through an internship matching process and Dr. Oiness landed at the Oklahoma Health Consortium. There, she spent half her time in the Oklahoma University (OU) athletics department and half in the school’s counseling center, gaining valuable experience in and out of athletics. She stayed on at OU during the next year as a post-doctoral fellow before being hired as assistant director of psychological resources for the University of Oklahoma Athletics Department.

 

During her time at OU, she worked with the Sooner athletes, coaches, trainers and other staff. “The atmosphere was great as was working with athletes who have such a high level skill, but are still willing to come in and do whatever they can to make themselves better.”

She’s really looking forward to working with clients of all ages in a variety of sports as she begins her time at St.Vincent Sports Performance. Additionally, Dr. Oiness will work with the athletes, personnel and teams at Purdue University Athletic Department on a regular basis.

 

Dr. Oiness also dove in high school before moving her focus to gymnastics. These days, Dr. Oiness has a love for running and has completed multiple half-marathons. She’s got an eye out for her next race soon!

 

Visit SVSP online for more on our Performance Psychology offerings or view a factsheet here.

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Hard Work, Visualized

SVSP NFL Combine Infographic

With the 2014 NFL Draft just three weeks away, how will Combine and Pro Day performance affect selection? NFL hopefuls often reference their tireless training and hard work, but what does all that hard work actually look like? Take a look at what one group of NFL hopefuls did over the course of a comprehensive six-week training program and how it paid off in testing.

 

 

Want to see more training? Check out Jordan Lynch (QB, Northern Illinois), Keith Wenning (QB, Ball State), Jeremy Gallon (WR, Michigan), Erik Lora (WR, Eastern Illinois) and Dez Southward (DB, Wisconsin) in action.

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