This is Your Brain on Sports – book review

"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 [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:01-07:00 May 24th, 2016|Coaching, General, Goal Setting, Sports Psychology|0 Comments

Sport Psychology is about Fun

Continuing our 5 Things You Need to Know About Sport Psychology... #1 - Sport Psychology is not “psychology” #2 - Sport Psychology is as much proactive measure as it is a reactive one we now bring you #3 - Sport Psychology is about Fun The reason that people play sports, coach sports, watch sports, and get their kids involved in sports boils down to one thing:  having fun.  Sure, there are other very valuable reasons - to be active, to meet new people, to be part of something bigger than yourself, to compete, to learn - but what is the common denominator for all these reasons?  Because it's fun. Whether you are a young athlete, a professional athlete, a coach, or a sports parent, keeping this in mind is crucial to the athlete's performance and success. Young Athletes In study after study, survey after survey, fun is one of the top reason kids give for participating in youth sports is fun. But what is fun?  According to a George Washington University study: "The 11 fun factors lie within the fundamental tenets and include Being a good sport, Trying hard, Positive coaching, Learning and improving, Game time support, Games, Practices, Team friendships, Mental bonuses, Team rituals, and Swag." Professional Athletes But is sports supposed to be 'fun' for the pros?  Isn't it their job? Sometimes hard work isn't fun, right?  Well, let's let a couple of professional athletes have to say about their participation in sports. Derek Jeter:  "The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward." Lionel Messi: "Football is a game. I'm trying to have fun on [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:02-07:00 March 19th, 2015|Confidence, General, Positive Thinking, Sports Psychology|0 Comments

Sport Psychology is Proactive too

Last week's issue covered the fact that:   #1 - Sport Psychology is not “psychology” Not only is sport psychology not psychology, it is also not just a measure of last resort. There can be a tendency to think of sport psychology only as a reactive measure - when the athlete is struggling mightily with performance. But working on the mental game is valuable as a proactive tool too. Let’s look at the Mental Game on this spectrum: In our experience at SPINw, the majority of our athletes are on the lower end of this spectrum.  They are usually trending toward the Struggling mode or worse.  But we do serve as a proactive measure as well. For young athletes, as they grow physically, become more skilled technically, and learn their sport tactically, the psychological aspect of sports can't be ignored. The older a player gets, the more pressure, the higher the stakes become, they  must have the tools to handle.  For older athletes, a strong mental game is needed to keep consistency in performance. A Proactive Success Story I once worked with a high school quarterback who was up toward the higher end of the spectrum and told me the reason he came in was because he “heard sport psychology could help make me a better player.”  Simple.  He was a confident kid, but this was his first year to potentially be a starter.  He was in a preseason battle to win the starting job and wanted to do everything he could to give him a competitive edge. We worked together on setting goals for the season to sharpen his focus.  He worked on improving his leadership skills to communicate better and get the most out [...]

Sport Psychology is not “psychology”

*This is Part 1 of the 5 Things You Need to Know About Sport Psychology Series* Last year, I wrote an article asking if 2014 was the Year of Sport Psychology.  While sport psychology has enjoyed great gains lately, the field is still somewhat of a mystery to most.  I suspect if you’re reading this, you have the basic understanding of the importance of the mental game, but here are 5 things you need to know to have a deeper understanding of how sport psychology can help improve your mental game and overall performance. #1 - Sport Psychology is not “psychology” psychology This is typically the biggest misconception is about the field as a whole.  According to, here is the definition: psychology  [sahy-kol-uh-jee] 1.  the science of the mind or of mental states and processes. 2.  the science of human and animal behavior. 3.  the sum or characteristics of the mental states and processes of a person or class of persons, or of the mental states and processes involved in a field of activity:  the psychology of a soldier; the psychology of politics. 4.  mental ploys or strategy:   He used psychology on his parents to get a larger allowance. While all of these definitions are good descriptions of how sport psychology works, it's important to make the distinction.  The field of psychology is pretty diverse - there are psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors.   Many practitioners in psychology diagnose and treat mental disorders, usually according the DSM-5. In sport psychology, professionals are more closely related to coaches than these other titles. Mental Skills Coach, Mental Toughness Coach, or Mental Conditioning Coach might be a better way to define our work. We work with athletes [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:02-07:00 February 23rd, 2015|General, Sports Psychology|3 Comments

Sports by the Numbers

Sports by the Numbers The competitive nature of sports is constantly evolving.  The best of the best are looking for the little changes, or sometimes the big changes, that will set them apart from the rest.  Sport psychology is a great field for this - how to become more mentally tough than your opponent and how to find those team motivation techniques that will make the difference. People don't traditionally think of the field of economics as a way to win.  But more and more, economists are answering the questions of what makes a team win for less.  Here are two examples: A little late I know, but I finally checked out the baseball movie Moneyball this week.  I'm not a big Hollywood blockbuster movie guy, so I kind of wrote this one of when it came out.  My dad gave me the movie not too long ago so I gave it a watch.  I was really happily surprised by how well done it was.   I was a sport psychology graduate student living in Oakland during the season portrayed in Moneyball.  I knew about the winning streak and vaguely about the moneyball aspect of it, and watching the movie, really enjoyed seeing how it all went down. As someone in the field of sport psychology, I appreciated some of the other lessons:  problem-solving, team building techniques, setting goals and sticking to them, and focusing on the process to gain results. Buy Moneyball through our SPINw Store Movie Page. This movie reminded me of a book that I read last winter when I was in Barcelona.   Soccernomics is a great book covering the economics of, you guessed it, soccer.  There was a lot in it [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:05-07:00 May 28th, 2013|General|0 Comments

Sports Parents FAQ – part 1

SPINw clients come in all ages, genders, and skill levels.  Often we work with middle school and high school athletes, and when we do, the parents play a huge role in the process.  With all athletes 18 years old and younger, we meet with the parents and athlete together before beginning our work with the athlete.  We also meet again at the end of the sessions to go over next steps and how the parent can best continue to support their young athlete. In addition to individual, team, and coaching sessions, we run parent education seminars for youth clubs and organizations.  Our goal is to give sports parents the awareness and tools they need to be supportive and helpful to the athletes, teams and organizations. That said, here are some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from and about parents, with answers from SPINw's Brian Baxter, Jimmy Yoo, and Elliott Waksman. Q: What is wrong with these parents?! Why do they get so worked up over their kids' sports? Brian:  This is a pretty typical question we get.  While the stereotypical irate sport parent may get all the headlines, the majority of sports parents are really positive and supportive.  That said, from time to time, most parents can get caught up in the action when their kids are involved.  I have had poor parent behavior at sports events described as "sideline rage" - like a driver may experience "road rage."  It's an emotional reaction to something that someone has done to "Me!"  Therefore, make sure that you let the sport event be about your child, and not you personally. Q: How do I know if my child is succeeding in his sport?  Jimmy:  [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:05-07:00 April 23rd, 2013|General|0 Comments

Sports Parents FAQ – part 2 – Motivation

MOTIVATION A frequent theme of questions we get from parents centers on the athlete's motivation, or sometimes the seeming lack thereof.  In our experiences, an athlete lacking in motivation or effort may simply be suffering for lack of confidence and not necessarily motivation.  Athletes are invidiuals and tend to be motivated uniquely.  That said, there are some basic rules of thumb on the most effective way to tap into motivation. Q: Is it okay to give my child $ or gifts for on-field performance? Brian:  The sport psychology version of this question is "is it okay to use external motivators to improve my athlete's motivation and therefore, performance?"  The main goal should be to help foster the athlete's internal motivation - that is - the fire, passion, and enjoyment within to participate and excel in their sport.  Using monetary rewards or gifts is a form of external motivation.  As a general rule, external motivation may work in the short term, but does not work for the long term.  If used correctly, an athlete's internal motivation will improve, but it has to be done with care. More often than not, the use of $ and gifts turns into a net negative, causing: *focus on the wrong things *jealousy among teammates, *going against the coach's wishes, and *selfish play. If the external motivators become the driver of performance, it will be expected time after time.  If the athlete can only become motivated by external factors, well, you can see where it might go.  If an external motivator is used, be sure to tie it into how the performance makes the athlete feel internally:  proud, confident, happy, etc.  Make that internal reward really known and appreciated. Q: My [...]

By | 2013-10-22T12:32:00-07:00 April 22nd, 2013|General|0 Comments

Sports Parents FAQ – part 3 – Coaching

COACHING Another theme we are approached about by parents has to do with their child's coach.  How players interact and communicate with their coaches (and vice versa) is obviously an enormous factor in the enjoyment, motivation, development and success in sports.  Part of the job of being a good sports parent is to help your athlete as they experience different team environments, coaching styles, and coaching decisions along the way. Q: What are your opinions on coaching your own kid? Brian: Coaching your own child in sports can be a hugely rewarding experience, and most recreational sports organizations depend on parent coaches.  There are some things to watch out for, however, and knowing when to pass your child on to the next coach is crucial. At SPINw, we have had several cases where the parent/coach-player relationship caused a lot of stress for everyone involved, and hurt the performance and development of the player. In my experience in youth soccer, the general rule of thumb is for a coach to work with a team for 2 years and then move them on.  This is a seemingly good rule of thumb for other sports we have worked with, as well.  The most important thing for a parent-coach to keep in mind is this: separate the two jobs!  When it's time for practice or game, be the coach.  Once practice/game is over, be dad or mom.  Financial guru Dave Ramsey has a funny story about a man who hired his son to work at his company.  Unfortunately, the son was a terrible employee and the dad had the uneviable task of having to fire his son.  So he bought 2 hats - one said "DAD"  and the other [...]

By | 2013-11-15T12:48:35-07:00 April 21st, 2013|General|0 Comments

Sports Parents FAQ – part 4 – Support

SUPPORT As mentioned in the first segment, most sports parents are not the stereoypical pain-in-the-neck parents who are living vicariously through their children.  Most are highly supportive, love their kids immensly, and want the best for their kids.  A lot of the questions we get from parents is simply how to best support their kids in sports.  When to push, when to prod, when to ask questions, and when to just leave them alone! Q: I want to know how my teenager's day went - when is the best time to check in? Elliott: I will often facilitate a problem solving activity with sport families. Recently, my client and the mother agreed to only chat about the day’s practice or competition over dinner, rather than immediately after the child walk in the house. The student-athlete responded much better without cold clothes and a hungry stomach. Q: After games, we sometimes get into arguments, how can I better handle after-game situations? Elliott: I recommend to the parents of my clients to stick to the normal routine no matter the outcome of the game. If you go to lunch after a win, do the same after a loss. Otherwise, the student-athlete might relate the activities after the game with winning and losing. Q: How should I best support my athlete emotionally?  Jimmy: Encourage them and be a good listener:  parents are the main source of emotional support.  You can play a vital role by encouraging your young athlete and providing an avenue for them to express their frustrations, fears, and successes.

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:05-07:00 April 20th, 2013|General|0 Comments

Book Review: Must Win: A Season of Survival for a Town and it’s Team

SPINw Book Review From the book Must Win - A Season of Survival for a Town and it's Team by Drew Jubera Since Friday Night Lights was published in 2000, a wave of books following a sports team for a season or more have come out. Books such as Hurricane Season, The Blind Side, The Boys from Little Mexico, and even Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer come to mind. There are also some amazing documentaries out there, such as Hoop Dreams and Undefeated. These books and movies go beyond the sports on the field, mixing in athlete's and coaches' backstories, plus historic, geographical, and social issues to provide context for the team's stories. Must Win follows this tradition. In Must Win, author Drew Jubera follows a year in the life of the 2010 Valdosta Wildcats, the winningest high school football team in the nation's history. Following in the footsteps of 2 legendary coaches - Hader and Brazemore - there are several coaches who have been hired and fired after 2-3 year stints, unable to live up to the expectations of their predecessors. A new school in the area, Lowndes County High, has taken the mantle of the best team in Valdosta over the past 10 years. This book starts with the hiring of a new coach, Rance Gillespie, and follows the team throughout the season into the playoffs. In the book, the sport psychology stuff is never mentioned explicitly, but it's in there. It starts with Coach Gillespie's changing of the attitude of the players, coaches, and hopefully the town in general. He knows that before he can win any games, he must win over the trust and respect of the players. His practice philosophy works [...]

By | 2017-08-21T14:18:05-07:00 January 4th, 2013|General|0 Comments