Sports Psychology for Parents

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports psychology for parents is an important component for helping kids perform at their best. I often get questions from parents of young athletes wanting to know how they can positively contribute to their child’s athletic development and if they are doing anything that might be causing problems.

In my sports psychology practice, I usually meet with the parents and young athlete separately and together. It is not unusual to get differing stories as to what the problems are and what causes them.

In most cases, sports psychology for parents involves a few sessions of helping them better understand how I will evaluate and work with their child along with educating them about some specific things they might want to do more of or less of. In some situations one or both parents may be inadvertently causing or contributing to their child’s problem. One parent thought he was helping his kid reach his goal to become a star tennis player on his high school team. After a full day of school and 2-3 hours of practice, he would come home at which point he father would insist that he serve 300 tennis balls before dinner! The kid got burnt out and quit the tennis team. Some parental behaviors are more subtle, like grimacing whenever the player makes a mistake. Sometimes parents fail to intervene when they should, like a child throwing a tantrum on the court or throwing a racquet in anger or disgust.

Many of these issues can be addressed in a short amount of time. Occasionally, family counseling is needed and in cases where the parents are unwilling or unable to change, I work individually with the young athlete to teach coping skills to be able to better manage those people and situations he may not be able to control.

Dr. Robert Heller is a psychologist and sport psychology consultant based in Boca Raton, Florida. He is the author of numerous self improvement guides and the widely used mental conditioning CD-ROM training program, TENNISMIND.

(This blog was originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)

Sports Psychology for Athletes

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports Psychology for athletes has become increasingly popular over the past number of years as professional athletes increasingly attribute their success, comebacks and ability to overcome obstacles to their work with sports psychologists. In fact, there is a popular television drama series that features a sports psychologist who consults with football players, tennis players, coaches and managers. While the television sports psychologist role is exaggerated and over the line in some cases, it is true that many of the problems athletes demonstrate on the field are often a reflection of problems they are having in their lives off the field.

While sports psychologists teach mental and emotional skills that can be helpful for athletes to perform better in their respective sport and these skills can also be applied to their personal lives, often times, it is the personal counseling over a period of weeks and months that often makes the most difference in the long term success of the athlete.

A quick consultation or brief session or two can be helpful in the same way  band aid or a field adjustment by a personal trainer to attend to a strained muscle can provide a temporary fix. However, the long term solution usually requires both a more comprehensive evaluation and a more in depth treatment.

In my sports psychology practice in Boca Raton, Florida, because of the many tennis and golf academies, I tend to see many of these types of young athletes. They are referred by coaches and brought in by their parents and almost always come in for “performance related” concerns. I have found that often times these performance issues affect them in many areas of their lives. For example, a tennis player who gets very anxious before a match to the point of throwing up, responds in a similar way before taking a test in school or giving a presentation in front of the class. While teaching the athlete how to relax would be a part of the treatment package, other components would include helping the athlete understand the connection between his or her thoughts and feelings and teaching cognitive coping skills to create healthier attitudes and beliefs.

By understanding and working on the “big picture”, young athletes can learn to perform to the best of their abilities and develop in emotionally healthy adults.

Dr.Robert Heller is a psychologist and sports psychology consultant based in Boca Raton, Fl and author of the mental conditioning CD-ROM program TENNISMIND.

(This blog was originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)

Sports Psychology for Seniors

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sports Psychology for Seniors

Sports Psychology is not just for professionals, advanced players or only youngsters.  Many seniors pick up competitive sports, especially sports like golf and tennis, later in life. Sports psychology training can help them to learn, play and compete in their sports better and have more enjoyment in the process.

Mental and emotional skills like physical technical skills can be learned and enhanced at any age or ability level. Mental skills training is one aspect of sports psychology and depending on the needs of the player, skills like goal setting, managing distractions, improving concentration and guided visualization can all aid in helping the senior player improve their results.

Another part of sports psychology for seniors is helping them deal with emotional issues that can interfere with performance and enjoyment. One of my clients wanted help to feel more confident. In his case, it meant learning to care less what his doubles partner in tennis might think if he missed a shot or played poorly. A female client was so worried that she wouldn’t be moved up on her team if she didn’t play well that she created a self-fulfilling prophecy: By focusing in so much on the end result, she distracted herself by not playing in the moment and didn’t play nearly as well as she could have. A “weekend warrior” just coming back from a serious hip injury had overly high expectations of himself with respect to movement and speed. His disappointment turned to frustration and self-anger.

Sports psychology for seniors might result in teaching them how to better give and receive constructive criticism from coaches, partners and opponents, how to communicate more effectively with others and how to regulate their emotions through self talk and relaxation methods.

Mental coaching offers seniors and others the opportunity to perform to their highest potential more of the time and to enjoy their sport for years to come.

(Originally posted in Tennis Enthusiast)


Reducing Anxiety in Sports

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Reducing Anxiety in Sports

Reducing anxiety in sports is largely about managing expectations. In my work as a sport psychology consultant I work with a large number of high level junior tennis players. Almost all young athletes I work see have the goal of playing with less anxiety.

In many cases the tennis athlete is far more anxious when competing against a weaker player than a stronger player. In playing a weaker player the expectation is “I am better. I should win easily. If I don’t put this opponent away quickly, others will think I am not very good”. This added pressure sets the player up for increased muscle tension, decreased concentration and a greater chance for mistakes and poor play. In fact the worry cycle might begin if he/she losses a few points or games. The fear of losing to a “weaker” player comes to the forefront and increases with every lost point.

In contrast, when playing a stronger player, anxiety is less because the thinking is, “I am not supposed to win. She is the ranked player. No one is going to think less about me if I lose.” As a result, the player plays more relaxed and with a greater sense of freedom. They often perform at their best and may, at times, pull off an upset win.

Another method to reduce anxiety in sports is training the athlete to monitor and modify their breathing. By learning to breathe, slowly and deeply through the belly, the athlete can take the edge off of negative emotions and anxiety and anger and maintain a steadier composure in the face of adversity.

Combining strategies from cognitive therapy with behavioral methods provides the athlete with specific tools they can use to reduce anxiety in sports and perform closer and more consistently to their true potential.

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