Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

As a sports psychologist who works with many tennis players and golfers in Boca Raton, Florida, I see and hear of lots of devices and strategies designed to improve performance. Typically advertisers find a well known celebrity or top athlete to promote their product to suggest it is the product that has helped them achieve their success and if you use the product it will help you as well!

As tennis champion Novak Djokovic has stormed into the spotlight; he is the latest to be drawn into the peak performance spot light. Last month, the attention was focused on his “secret gluten free diet”. This month the headlines in the Wall Street Journal is, “Novak Djokovic’s Secret: Sitting in a Pressured Egg”. 

A company who sells the product for a smooth $75,000 claims that spending up to 20 minutes in the pod three times a week can boost athletic performance by improving circulation, boosting oxygen-rich red blood cells, removing lactic acid and other potential benefits. Djokovic gets to use the device for free and the company gets to use his quote, “I think it really helps – not with muscle but more with recovery after an exhausting set”. 

A lot of the same claims can be made by having a massage – for around $75.

Winning at Sports

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

The Women’s World Cup match up between Japan and the United States turned out to be a real “nail biter” and a test for mental skills and mental toughness as well as the physical skill, technique and strategy. The U.S. had long dominated Japan in previous match ups and was the heavy favorite to win. In fact, they took most of the shots and controlled play for much of the first half, creating many opportunities but failing to connect.  In a game where  the U.S. was leading during much of it, Japan fought back and tied the score in the regular game and then again with only four minutes remaining in the overtime. In the shootout, it was Japan’s goalkeeper who blocked 2 U.S. kicks and perhaps a U.S. player who may have choked by sending what should have been an easy goal, a dozen feet above the goal bar that made the difference in Japan’s winning effort.

Winning in sports and in life, is trying your hardest and never giving up until the very end. It is holding out hope and playing with uncertainty.In sports psychology, we teach persistence, tenacity and recovering from adversity. This game was a testimony to those skills and ideals. Both teams have much to feel proud about.

Parent’s Guide to Being A Tennis (or Sports ) Parent

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

A tennis teaching professional, Mike Dumitru, from Boca Raton, Florida wrote an excellent article, “Do’s and Don’ts for Tennis Parents, which appeared in Florida Tennis magazine. As a sports psychology consultant who works a lot with high performance kids and parents, I found a lot of good suggestions were included in this piece.

I think for the parents who are unsure of how to best help and guide their children, this article offers good and thoughtful ideas. It will however, do little for those parents who feel very sure that their way of interacting is perfectly fine, even when it may be hurtful, even harmful at times. When I come in contact with these parents (and sadly, sometimes coaches), I work with the kids to view them as distractions or obstacles that need to be dealt with.

It’s also important to remember that parents sometimes err in the opposite direction of not being available or supportive of their child’s sport of choice. For example, the father who wants his son to play football, rather than tennis or the mother who never attends any of the child’s matches either due to lack of interest, work or other reasons.

While tennis provides opportunities to learn and develop many important mental and physical skills, as an individual sport, it lacks many of the social and cooperative skills (cooperative effort towards a common goal ) teamwork, communication, helping others succeed) that group sports provide. Parents can help and encourage kids, (especially young ones) to cross train and develop their skills and interests in several sports. Most kids below the age of 12, don’t really know what they like or excel at. Giving a kid a  choice along with opportunities to explore their interests is another “gift” parents can give.

Should You Run for Every Ball

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Perhaps one of the most famous and best known tennis coaches wrote an article entitled, “Go for Every Ball No Matter Where it Lands”. He quoted the advice that Richard Williams, father of tennis greats, Venus and Serena, had imparted to them at an early age.

As a sports psychologist I am trained to look at advice in a systematic way: What works best for which person in which situation, under what circumstances?

The benefits of going for every ball even the ones that are very far out is that you may actually get some of them that both you and your opponent felt were impossible. It can build your confidence, speed, anticipation etc. It also sends a message to your opponent that they can’t let up or assume they have hit a winner. By going for everything, you may put pressure on some opponents to try and hit better shots which may result in them making more mistakes.

The risks of going for every ball, even the ones that are clearly way out of reach and those that are far out of the court are that you may get injured by being over stretched or hitting a ball from a very awkward position. You may also tire yourself out, especially if it is a hot day and/or you a playing a long match or matches. In these cases, you are likely to make any number of “fatigue” errors that outweigh the benefits of running down EVERY ball.

A smart player needs to balance risk/reward in running for shots and learn  how to play efficiently. For example, if you are ahead 5-0, 40 love, NOT risking running into a fence to retrieve a great top spin lob your opponent just hit over your head might be a good mental strategy at that time!

The take away is, “no one size fits all”. Think of advice in a “general “ way and apply it to your needs and situation.


Monday, November 1st, 2010

Basketball great, Bob McAdoo recently shared his anxiety about watching his 15 year old daughter compete in tennis. Apparently, the 15 year old nationally ranked daughter at times fights herself rather than her opponent. The on-court outbursts interrupt her concentration and hurts her performance. McAdoo claims she inherited her temper from her mother. As a sports psychologist I don’t buy it. The greater likelihood is it is learned behavior that she has either observed in others or comes from her own overly perfectionist standards and unrealistic expectations of herself. It is also possible that she puts tremendous pressure on herself by demanding that she compete at the highest level as her father did. I have worked with a number of children of famous and successful parents that feel that way. Hopefully, she will learn how to channel her desire to win and become a pro one day, focusing more on “one day at a time” and “improving rather than winning”.

Racket Throwing: How to Tame Your Temper

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

The most recent TENNIS MAGAZINE was a personal story by Stephen Tignor about his life long struggle with throwing rackets. What it shows to me, a sports psychologist who deals with this common problem, is that negative behaviors are learned early on and don’t necessarily change over time and often require some active intervention to be able to overcome them. In fact, early research into anger and aggression clearly showed that violently expressing anger increases the chances of doing so in the future. 

In addition, angry outbursts most often result in you playing worse rather than better. In my book, “Anger Management”, I provide a number of coping strategies to help control temper. In the mental conditioning CD-ROM, program, “Dr.Heller’s TENNISMIND”, I provide specific hypnotic suggestions to manage and eliminate many of the common triggers that give rise to negative on court behaviors like racket throwing. 

The point is just because others do it doesn’t justify your doing it. Some may rationalize expressing frustration in violent ways is helpful, however the research shows otherwise. Learning to control your thoughts, emotions and behavior can be accomplished through serious mental training with a competent, experienced psychologist or “sports psychologist”. 

For comments on this blog or further information on this topic contact Dr.Robert Heller at

Sports Psychology for the Corporate Athlete

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

“Slumping at Work? What Would Jack Do?” That is the headline of a Wall Street Journal that focused on how sports psychologists apply the same mental toughness skills they use with professional athletes to businessmen and corporate executives. For example, the causes that lead to “slumps” such as self-critical thinking, loss of confidence, over analyzing and other types of negative thinking are commonly found in both the sports and business arenas.

Overcoming these problems teaching “mental skills” can restore or lead to “peak performance” whether it be on the playing field or in the boardroom. Teaching relaxation skills, guided imagery, focusing on past positive performances and practicing effective “self talk” are but a few of the methods sports psychologists use. Some specific strategies include: -After a mistake or failure, refocus immediately on a past success. -Visualize yourself succeeding on the next sale, meeting, play or game. -Record or refer to your past peak performances, on video or in writing.

In my own work with athletes, business people and performing artists, I use “hypnosis”, “cognitive behavioral therapy” and “mental conditioning” to restore and improve performance. My mental skills training program (TENNISMIND- Dr.Robert Heller) provides short lessons or suggestions to train effective coping strategies.

For additional information or comments on this article go to


Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Robert Heller”s  book “Weight Management”. 

In America and many other countries having a great body is associated with being thin. A popular saying is “You can never be too rich or too thin”. When taken to an extreme, this obsession with thinness results in an unhealthy pursuit of excessive weight loss. 

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa. A condition where individuals see themselves as overweight even though, objectively, they are quite thin. They tend to exercise compulsively, and eat very little. In some cases, they can starve themselves to death.

Bulimia. A condition where individuals eat excessive amounts of food and then cause themselves to throw up. They may stick their fingers down their throat or abuse laxatives, enemas or diuretics. 

Binge Eating. A compulsive behavior characterized by out of control and excessive periods of eating. For example, eating a gallon of ice cream at one sitting. 

Characteristics of Eating Disorders

–          90% are female adolescents

–          More commonly see in gymnasts, swimmers and figure skaters.

–          Anorexics tend to be perfectionists.

–          Bulimics tend to be impulsive.

–          Low self-esteem

 Sometimes a healthy desire to look good and feel fit transforms into an unhealthy obsession with food, the body and self-esteem. In an effort to be fit, fast and compete effectively in certain sports, teens may go to an unhealthy extreme. Parents and coaches need to keep a watchful eye and intervene early in the process. 

Self-help programs are NOT recommended. Seek professional help. Full blown conditions usually require medical, psychiatric and psychological treatment.

Childhood Obesity and Tennis

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions and continues to spiral out of control. Many factors contribute to this program. The USPTA, the largest tennis teaching professional organization sees Tennis as a healthy outlet to help fight obesity. Obviously, enrolling more children at younger ages is also good business for the tennis profession, providing jobs and increased income. While staying and keeping active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, there are greater long term opportunities in enrolling kids in a good tennis program. As a potential role model, the tennis professional could introduce and reinforce healthy eating and drinking habits for a healthy and strong body and be “alert” to attitudes and behaviors in children that are or could be problematic later on. 

Often times, obesity is connected to emotional factors such as low self esteem, anxiety, depression and related issues. Early detection and treatment might help in preventing the development of obesity when combined with a healthy lifestyle of exercise and eating. 

Troubled children are not that hard to spot: overly withdrawn, problems with peers, impulse control and so on. Being alert to these symptoms and a willingness to talk to kids and their parents can make a big difference in kids getting the help they need to get on track.

As a psychologist and sports psychologist I know it is much easier to prevent children from becoming obese than dealing with them later on as obese adults.

Mental Skills Toughness for Tennis

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

When sports announcers talk about mental toughness in individual players, they usually speak in generalities as if mental skills was a single attribute or skill, which it is not. Mental skills refer to a variety of attitudes, behaviors and coping skills which are usually taught and not inherent to the individual. Just as tennis skills consists of various shots along with strategy, foot speed and endurance, mental skills consists of techniques like relaxation and emotional regulation, concentration and imagery training and a host of other skills and training methods which might borrow from hypnosis, cognitive therapy and counseling. 

Sports psychologists help athletes to identify their mental strengths and weaknesses and develop a systematic plan to strengthen skills essential to success in competition. In this way the sports psychologist is like a mental coach or mental trainer and can support the work of the individual or team coach. 

In today’s highly competitive athletic arena, mental toughness often determines the outcome more than raw skills. Working with a competent mental conditioning coach give the player and the team, “the winning edge” when it counts most.

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