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Sports Psychologist Dr. Eddie O'Connor

Explore the questions below to learn more about the Performance Excellence Center, including Dr. Eddie’s best mental toughness tips and videos.

Please feel free to contact us with your additional questions, whether it’s how to become a better athlete, or how to help your child athlete succeed.

Why is it important to work with a certified sport psychologist?

Certification by and membership in the Association for Applied Sport Psychology indicates a high level of professional achievement. Certified consultants are those who have met very high standards in the practice of applying sports psychology principles.

This video explains more about the importance of holding this credential.

What is mental toughness?

It’s what you DO in life that matters more than anything. DO-ing when you don’t want to or don’t feel up to it is what makes you mentally tough.

You can succeed in exercise when you feel lousy. You can continue working when you feel tired. You can focus on your goal when you feel pressure, but doing so requires you to stop thinking and feeling.

This philosophy may go against everything you’ve heard, read or experienced. It’s true that people can accomplish great things when they’re focused and confident. But no one can be focused and confident all the time. That’s where mental toughness comes into play.

When you’re feeling nervous, angry or worried, giving in to your thoughts and feelings is your weakness. That’s when you need to “get out of your mind” and concentrate on doing the task at hand. That’s mental toughness.

Learn more about mental toughness: Subscribe to the Mental Toughness newsletter and watch Dr. Eddie’s Mental Toughness lecture to students at Grand Rapids Community College.

 

What are some strategies to help me to play my best?

Below are 10 strategies to help you perform at your highest level:

1. Play to your own standard of excellence, not to the level of your opponent.
2. Be committed, even when you aren’t motivated.
3. Maintain a positive focus and effort at all times, especially after mistakes. Being positive brings up your teammates. Being negative brings up your opponents.
4. Have a specific goal for every practice. Be sure to review why you are a better athlete after each practice.
5. Practice how you want to play. Give full physical and mental effort at all times.
6. When under pressure, define and focus on your specific job.
7. Know that competitive anxiety is normal and prepares you for battle.
8. Prepare, prepare and prepare some more. Nothing is better to build confidence and avoid mistakes.
9. Take a deep breath to refocus on the “here and now.” The present moment is the ideal focus for best performance.
10. Your mind is designed to warn you of danger, causing negative thinking. It’s often best to just ignore your mind when it worries.

 

What are guidelines for coaching excellence?

As a coach, you are challenged to develop the skills and minds of your athletes. You play the role of mentor, leader and psychologist. Dr. Eddie can teach you the specific skills needed to maximize your athletes’ development while improving your coaching effectiveness.

Suggestions to get you started:

1. Define success as:
• giving full effort
• personal improvement of skills
• execution of strategies

2. Keep winning in perspective. You can’t control the outcome. Focus on the process.

3. Identify your athletes’ motivations for playing. Structure practice to fulfill those driving forces. Fun was ranked as the top reason, followed by improving skills.

4. Set SMART goals to motivate athletes:
• Specific (avoid “do your best” goals)
• Measurable (able to track behavioral progress)
• Achievable (challenging, but realistic)
• Relevant (important to the athlete or team)
• Time-limited (set deadlines for achievement)

5. Emphasize internal rewards (fun, love of the game, personal improvement) over external rewards (fame, scholarships).

6. Create a practice environment where each athlete becomes more motivated and confident:
• Notice when athletes do something correctly and frequently praise them for it.
• Reward effort as much as outcome.

7. Create a task-focused team climate where athletes practice to get better (vs. defeat others), compete against themselves (vs. each other) and help others to reach their potential.

8. Respond to mistakes by:
• Complimenting the athlete on something well done (effort, etc.)
• Giving future-oriented instruction (technical skill)
• Ending with encouragement

What behaviors should I avoid as the parent of a child athlete?

It’s natural for a loving parent to want his or her child to succeed in sports as with all other aspects of life. Unfortunately, that love can lead parents to behave in ways that hurt a child’s development and the parent-child relationship.

Those behaviors may include:
• Coaching from the sidelines
• Yelling at referees
• Reinforcing only winning or successful outcomes
• Overly investing in sport and/or assuming too much responsibility for the child’s participation (this is known as over-identification)
• Demanding perfection

Rather than raising a champion, such behaviors can lead to performance anxiety and a failure for a child to live up to his or her potential. Worse still, this can bring anger and tension into the parent-child relationship.

It’s common for parents to invest in their child’s performance. You make great sacrifices of your time and money because you love them. Strong emotions in response to what happens to your child is natural (a process called identification). Over-identification can lead parents to focus on their own emotions and goals rather than their child’s. This can hurt and frustrate your child-athlete.

As a parent, what can I do to raise a happy and successful child-athlete?

There are behaviors you can follow to help support your child-athlete and encourage him or her to succeed and reach full potential. Below are a few positive steps you can implement.

1. Fun and skill development should be the top priority at all levels of play.

2. Jens Omli in 2006 interviewed 73 athletes, ages 3-14 years. These kids said they wanted parents to silently and attentively watch them play, breaking from the quiet only to cheer good plays.

3. Resist the urge to yell. Children can’t hear the difference between positive, negative and instructional yelling, and the action itself can be embarrassing for them.

4. Kids report the top two negative parent behaviors are coaching from the sidelines and yelling at the refs. Sideline coaching can confuse the child and undermine the coach. Kids feel badly for the refs when parents abuse them.

5. Kids need balance. As a parent, you have the unique ability to provide encouragement, support and a break from sport.

6. Reinforce effort and skills, not winning. This keeps children from learning that your “love” (e.g., positive words, hugs, treats) is dependent on an outcome for which they have no control. You can help your child to achieve more by reinforcing the process of effort and skill execution regardless of the outcome.

7. Focus on what you child is doing right. He or she is more likely to repeat these successful behaviors.

8. Let the coach do his or her job. If you don’t feel the coach is qualified, find another coach or league. Otherwise, let the coach perform without interfering. Both your child and the coach will appreciate it and perform better.