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At “Chalk Talk” with St. Louis Rams head coach, Steve Spagnuolo

June 23, 2010

I’m writing to you from a PR junket of sorts with St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The majority of Q&A, so far, is revolving around psychological themes. Mr. Spagnuolo has discussed leadership, player motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), the importance of character and values, consistency, handling player defiance, the effects of egos on team cohesion, communication, an average day his coaching life, and much more. Coach is relating a lot of it to business as well – many business leaders in the audience. You should be here!

Lakers’ Ron Artest, his psychiatrist, reaction, & sport psychology – an insider’s perspective…

June 18, 2010

In case you haven’t heard, Ron Artest’s post-game interview seems to be getting almost as much attention as the Lakers’ game 7 win over the Celtics. Case in point, “Ron Artest” is still trending on Twitter. Artest responded to a reporter with a traditional statement about the people he wanted to thank and included one not-so-traditional individual: his psychiatrist, whom, he added, helped him relax in the commotion of the playoffs. Watch the actual interview below.

What has followed is a mixed bag of positive & negative YouTube (YT) comments, tweets (T), and media remarks (MR) such as:

YT – “He is seeing a psychiatrist??? A psychologist is the less serious one right?
So he’s really crazy?”

YT – “He worked with someone to help him control his emotions in overwhelming
situations. That’s a great idea. I don’t know why everyones ripping on him. It was
smart, and it worked.”

T – “…i think it’s great he thanked [his] psychiatrist” (via @mrbispo)

T – “You know you’re crazy when you just win the NBA Championship and you
thank your psychiatrist!! hahaha Ron Artest, you’re a fool.” (via @stephandkaeli)

MR – “Is sports therapy going mainstream?” (article by Neil Katz, with some nice
commentary by sport psychology consultant, Dr. Nicole Miller)

MR – “Ron Artest kept the crazy in check to become a champion” (article by
Paula Duffy)

Perhaps part of the uproar is because “Ron Artest” made the comment, but it wasn’t the first time he discussed his sport psychology work with the media. Just checkout this LA Times blog entry from October 2009. In contrast, we often hear, for example, top PGA pros discussing work with sport psychologists without incident. I think this dialogue provides some interesting talking points about the state of sport psychology.

First, the word “mainstream” (as in, “Is ‘sports therapy’ going mainstream?”) can have a few connotations. One is “alternative” or “new age” versus mainstream. In this sense, we might explain sport psychology as the psychological science of peak performance and athletic participation (and injury rehabilitation, coaching, and much more). There are, for example, thousands, if not tens of thousands, of studies and academic journal articles, numerous international organizations and annual conferences, offices at the US Olympic Training Centers, and over a hundred graduate programs. It is an interdisciplinary area, combining psychology and sports science, dating as far back as the 1890’s (Google “Norman Triplett”).

If we’re talking “mainstream” in the sense of widespread usage, then we may say, “yes, it’s definitely becoming more and more mainstream.” Sport psychology is following, perhaps, a similar path as athletic training, sports nutrition, or exercise physiology. Those services were once almost exclusively found at the elite and professional levels of sport. As those fields grew, especially on college campuses, the availability of the services began to trickle down through collegiate programs to high schools and even local gyms. Sport psychology is following a similar, arguably predictable, pattern.

The mixed reaction to Artest’s comments, I believe, also reflects the gap often found between the perception many people have about how elite athletes train and the real methods of elite training. This gap, for example, is frequently highlighted in the microcosm of my conversations with people when they first learn I work in sport (and high performance) psychology. Two common initial responses: (1) Sport psychology? Is there really such a thing? Hahaha, you’re kidding right? Or (2) Oh, cool.

Response number one (i.e., never heard of it, thinks it must be a joke) is almost invariably the response of someone who has either not been involved in athletics, or who has never really trained with a scientific approach or been exposed to elite sport environments. Response number two (i.e., simple acknowledgment) is usually from people who have trained at a collegiate level or higher – and, more and more frequently, high school athletes… evidence of the trickle down pattern. In fact, my clients often include junior elites.

From an insider perspective, it’s great to see the discussion, positive or negative – even though I know many to most professional athletes have worked with a sport psychology consultant at some point in their careers, and many teams and most sports governing bodies currently employee them. I’m confident the understanding of sport psychology will become clearer in time as a result.

One thing is almost certain, though…… Ron Artest’s psychiatrist’s phone is ringing off the hook with new clients.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Media professionals should feel free to quote my blog with a proper citation (please notify me) or contact me directly for interviews or my press kit. You can also get regular updates and connect with me via:

Change is curiously difficult for most of us…

June 15, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about change and what it takes to make substantial changes in our lives. I recently spoke with a couple people who have lost over 110lbs each. One person made numerous, drastic lifestyle changes last Fall, and the other took a steady but more gradual approach. I also know numerous other people who have lost 110+lbs. each – except they’ve lost the same 10lbs 11 times over.

Weight loss, however, is a not so small microcosm of life change in general. Some people seem to be primed for change while others seem to be in a more start-stall phase (hm, doctoral dissertation?). I love to ask people what finally made them grab the bull by the horns – for the drastic change weight loss friend, it was the death of a close relative. In future blogs, I’ll explore some theories of change (e.g., transtheoretical model) and try to recruit some of my health psychology friends for their thoughts… right now, I’d love to hear about what’s helped or hindered you: what major changes have you made, what made the difference, or what do you think has prevented you from changing?

PS – 6.5 months left for your 2010 goals!!

World Cup Series: Good coaching psychology or “over the top”?

June 12, 2010

It has been reported that various World Cup teams have certain restrictions (and even total bans) on players’ use of social media (e.g., Twitter) and internet. Do you think this is good coaching psychology that will help keep players focused? Or do you think the restrictions are going too far and may keep players from having a stress outlet? Anyone know which teams have which restrictions? Here’s an article on

Workshop accepted, co-presenter on CNN

June 8, 2010

I’m grateful to have my workshop accepted for presentation at the 2010 Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) annual international conference (via blind peer review): “Teaching Sport Psychology in Interdisciplinary Environments: Challenges, Opportunities, Applications, and Outreach.” Special thanks and congratulations to my co-presenter / 2nd author, Conrad Woolsey, PhD, at OSU, who was just quoted on CNN (in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s blog)!!:

Performance without a performer

May 8, 2009

Most of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as “the Zone,” “flow,” or “peak experience.” Whether playing sports, playing an instrument, selling, presenting, or executing some other task, we’ve likely had those special streaks of great yet struggle-free performances. Flow has been examined in many studies found in sport and performance psychology literature. Athletes, performing artists, executives, surgeons, and other performers frequently describe the experience as a top performance in which maximal output and concentration are achieved with minimal effort. There is often a sense of absorption in the activity, as if the “self” or sense of “I” melts away and only the performance is left. The experience may feel like a “performance without a performer,” to play on Mark Epstein’s, MD, book title, “Thoughts Without A Thinker.” Some people even describe the performance as a mystical experience.

In contrast, many self-help books and performance interventions have a disproportionate focus on building up the “self”: self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-control through, for example, the use of self-talk. These interventions definitely have a valid and effective use, but a subtle shift in thinking may also be of great value. A sport psychology professor of mine frequently quipped, “Drop the ‘self’ in self-esteem and self-confidence and focus instead on esteem and confidence” …in other words, how we feel in general, not just how feel about ourselves.

Let me give you a few basic performance examples. If you’re a golfer, and your concentration during your swing is split between swing mechanics (or some other task related cue) and the words you are speaking in your mind (whether positive or negative self-talk), part of your attention is arguably off-task. Your shot may suffer. If you’re an entrepreneur or sales executive, and your concentration during a presentation is split between feelings of insecurity (e.g., you’re still trying to sell yourself in your mind) and the audience’s particular questions or reactions (e.g., a smile, a lean forward), you may miss important opportunities to capitalize on their interests. In sport and performance psychology collaboration, mental strategies and skills like these are integrated and practiced like physical skills in sport.

A number of other fascinating observations have been made about common flow traits such as an adequate challenge level of the task, the tendency of the task to match the performer’s belief in his or her ability to execute that task, and more. I will revisit “the Zone” in future posts. In the mean time, you may be interested in a classic book examining peak performances across a variety of activities called, Flow, by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (frequently referred to as Dr. C.). You can browse related books on my recommended reading lists (books I’ve read, with commentary) and my Amazon hodgepodge reading list (books that have piqued my interests but I haven’t read). You can also register for the AllWorld.Newsletter (email) or AllWorld.ActionWire (sms) to be notified of new selections, including the publication date of my chapter.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of flow. Please leave a comment telling us about your peak performance!

Jamie Foxx opens up about a childhood fear…

April 8, 2009

I recently saw Jamie Foxx open up about a childhood fear of “going crazy” in an Entertainment Tonight interview for The Soloist. I thought it was cool he was so candid about his humanity and his experiences:

“I had a childhood fear of losing my mind,” he says. “When I was 18 years old something bad happened to me in college. Someone slipped something to me (a drug). I flipped out. For 11 months I wondered if I’d come out of it. I thought I was going to be crazy.”

I can’t find the posted video or the ET transcript yet, but you can read more here:

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