Coaches versus Sport Psychology Consultants

I’m writing this post because there is some confusion regarding the role of a sport psychology consultant. For simplicity, I refer to any trainer, whether teacher or coach as a coach. Coaches teach skills. Coaches also help athletes to improve upon existing skills. Further, they provide feedback when an athlete executes a skill incorrectly or is inefficient in body motion and energy expenditure. Coaches also teach strategy and, and perhaps this is where the confusion comes from, they teach athletes mental skills. In essence, a coach provides EVERYTHING the athlete needs to perform well.

Unfortunately, despite all these benefits, it’s not enough. Athletes still under perform, particularly when forced to perform in the coach’s absence. The reason for this in my view is the athlete’s inability to manage performance without the coach. Essentially, the coach becomes the athlete’s ego, the captain guiding the ship safely to shore. To avoid a rough landing, some athletes need sport psychology consultants. Sport psychology consultants teach athletes how to manage themselves. Using the coach’s instructions, the sport psychology consultant teaches the athlete tools that will help the athlete perform well when the coach is not around. The athlete, then, learns to internalize the coach’s instructions. It’s really that simple.

What makes a good sport psychology consultant then? A good sport psychology consultant is a good teacher. This individual is pleased when clients don’t need the consultant any longer. Paradoxically, it’s only then (when the consultant is no longer employed by the athlete) that the consultant’s work is truly done.


Nature’s duality

Life is wonderful and miserable at the same time. That’s because duality is inevitable in nature. Light is counterbalanced by darkness. For every large individual there is a small individual. For every angry driver, there is a calm and placid person driving in the right lane of life. Indeed, life is filled with dualities.Yet opposites aren’t as different as they seem to be on the surface. Life naturally presents opposites and on multiple dimensions. These opposites allow us to find a happy median, somewhere in between the two, a place that is actually more than just a place; it’s a greater third thing, something better than either position alone. This divine third thing is a special reward for delving into and accepting one’s opposite. It takes a special person to go into the depths of the opposite and to emerge from it as a new whole being. Actually, there is a natural propensity to do so, although we fight against it for fear of losing the self to some primordial urges and becoming the feared monster of fairy tales old. We have hoped to rid ourselves of our primordial selves, but we cannot no matter how hard we pretend we can.

The healthiest individual has learned to swim in darkness. This individual fears not losing the self and does not need a flashlight to see in the dark, for this self knows that darkness is as much a part of the whole as the visible self; this self is comfortable without light and that is quite special. Darkness and light together create something special, and knowing one’s opposite makes one appreciate the complexities of people. The healthiest individual knows that the self’s brothers and sisters struggle between these opposites, and the healthiest self appreciates that people avoid confronting opposites to avoid revealing one’s true nature. Indeed, lust and greed are avoided to preserve society’s peaceful median. The Truth is, though, that the greatest possible society is only achieved by incorporating the opposite. When darkness is seen as kin rather than evil, life becomes stronger and we flourish. Knowing one has animal desires as well as supposedly civilized needs allows one to feel at peace in either state. Accepting reality is the essence of a peaceful mental state. Appreciating this complexity instead of avoiding our true nature is what civilized existence is actually all about, although the supposedly civilized individuals wouldn’t understand this. It’s quite sad. As for you, my faithful friend, s/he who wants to achieve the highest of spiritual states, don’t let the fearful ones tell you otherwise and for goodness sakes, don’t let them get you down.


We often see athletes getting fired up for a game. In football, for instance, players huddle up before kickoff. Sometimes you see them bouncing up and down as if they are ready to rush off toward a death battle, just like the ones in the movie Braveheart. Freedom! It’s really quite impressive, but is it effective? Think about it. There’s this tremendous build up of energy that needs to be released. The autonomic nervous system fills the body with stress hormones, preparing one for serious action. Yet, with the exception of the special team players, most football players will see not action for some time, especially field goal kickers and and the second string quarterback.

Time deflates the sympathetic nervous system’s intensity, bringing on the parasympathetic response and its peaceful restorative state. In other words, the body goes from preparedness to hit to preparedness to sit! Yet, it’s not just sports such as football in which intensity is misplaced. In sports like tennis, intensity has a place. However, it takes time and experience to understand when and how to apply intensity in tennis. Take the serve for instance, it’s best to be relaxed when tossing the ball but then explode when actually serving. Similarly, when preparing to hit the forehand, a nice relaxed backswing is better than an intense and powerful backswing. Indeed, I don’t even know what the latter means. Striking the ball with power, however, is good.

Intensity is often used to mask anxiety. When we are nervous, we have several options. The first option is to run away, the ‘flight’ in the ‘fight or flight’ response. The second is to pump ourselves up, essentially re-conceptualizing our anxiety into intensity. The third is to calm down. Unless there’s an immediate outlet for intensity, such as punching a heavy bag, or unless fighting is unavoidable, it’s best to relax. Using relaxation techniques prepare the individual to approach the competitive situation mindfully, focusing attention on critical task cues, and preparing the body to employ intensity when really necessary. Returning to tennis and the forehand, when a tennis player encodes cues indicating that a forehand is immanent, the first step is to initiate the backswing, racquet head high, elbow extended, body moving to the correct position to ensure the extended racquet will met the ball correctly. When done correctly, the body is aligned to meet the ball such that the trajectory of the struck ball matches the tennis player’s game plan, for instance landing to the opponent’s backhand side. When the ball is at the correct distance from the strike point, somewhere just in front of the tennis player’s body, the racquet head will drop below the ball and the swing is initiated. If the tennis player is good, the motion will maximize racquet speed by using torso rotation and forward momentum. It’s only during this final portion when the racquet is moving forward, on it’s low to high trajectory, that the tennis player will act with maximum intensity. Finally, to ensure the ball returns to the court after being hit with such great speed and power, the racquet head will climb to an apex, ending with the racquet’s butt facing the target, as if the tennis player were about to kiss the bicep.

Once the ball has been hit, intensity is reduced as the tennis player returns to a ready position, a position that prepares the athlete for what comes next, and this depends upon the opponent’s response to the stroke just hit. If however the player does not reduce intensity after the shot and the situation dictates a soft response, such as a drop shot, this response will be difficult to execute as the body is simply too pumped up to hit such a soft shot. In this scenario, it is possible that even if the tennis player is in the correct position to respond, the response will be too hard and the ball will sail out or be placed in a favorable position for the opponent to capitalize upon.

Intensity in sports like tennis must be saved for the appropriate moments. Good tennis players and athletes in general, learn to conserve energy and apply maximal effort only at the right moment. This requires a great deal of training as only under the guidance of an expert will one learn when to explode and when to prepare. When playing tennis, I like to break down my shots into preparation and execution. When preparing I want to ensure my body is in perfect position to execute the stroke. To do so, I visualize the prototypical shot as demonstrated by one of my many instructors over the years. When executing, I explode into the shot, still focusing on executing the shot in the prototypical fashion. The only difference is that I add the explosion. Then, I end the shot in a way that will ensure the ball lands within the court, outside the service line and just inside the baseline. This is not really easy to do for many tennis players. Indeed, I witness many athletes at lower tennis levels being overly intense when they lack the ability to control the shot. For instance, if one has not mastered topspin, unless the ball is being hit from high to low, the ball will not return into the court.

I find it amusing when I watch tennis players hit balls hard without topspin and then complain that the ball didn’t go in, or even attempt to will the ball to land in the court when it has absolutely no chance of doing so. If one has yet to master topspin, it’s best to master it. If one has a match in the mean time, crank down on the intensity. Once one masters topspin, and has learned to hit the prototypical ground strokes, one will have learned to manage intensity, as it’s only necessary to be intense when delivering the blow. Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist, wrote that when one strikes the opponent, the entire energy of the body is channeled to the point of contact. Yet before that, one is in a very peaceful but prepared state. One conserves energy so that one can deliver that perfect blow and focus attention on more peaceful pursuits. Peace is also the essence of tennis. One is mindful of the situation and responds in a well prepared fashion and with intensity but only as the situation dictates. There is much wisdom in the skilled tennis player.

My goal with this post was to demonstrate that although intensity is a necessary part of sport, it should only occur when required. At all other times, one must be aware and prepare to respond as the situation requires. Too much intensity will detract from one’s ability to successfully prepare and execute when needed. Aware and Prepare; I like that!


Happy Thanksgiving! By the way, don’t eat too much.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It’s a time to be with friends and family and to recall why we are so happy that we no longer live with our families. Well, it’s true isn’t it? I recall going home for the holidays and wanting to leave as quickly as I got there. That of course doesn’t mean that I didn’t love my mother but we are independent adults and, well, we did spend years and years living under their roofs!

Thanksgiving is full of relatives indeed, yet it’s also a time we fill our belies with good food. My mom used to make the best gravy with ground beef in it. It was as good as the turkey! She also put bacon on top of the turkey, a recipe secret I’ve shared with many. It makes the skin so crispy and it’s always a pleasure to steal and eat a well cooked piece of bacon! However, all those calories consumed have to go somewhere. Unless you are a triathlete or an extreme endurance athlete, there’s no way you will burn as many calories as you consume on Thanksgiving. Can you say belly? So, here’s the basic formula for weight maintenance. You really don’t need to know anything more. It’s calories consumed minus calories expended. If this values is positive, expect weight gain over the long haul. If the value is negative, expect weight loss. If the outcome is zero, expect maintenance.That’s it! Knowing this formula is far more valuable than any fake diet you will hear advertised on the radio or see on TV.

Few of us weigh exactly what we should. It’s hard to do. There is a range for health that is far more complicated than a simple Body Mass Index (BMI). It involves body composition as well; percent body fat. Once we know what our healthy weight, BMI, and body composition is, we should strive to stay within the healthy range. A good site for information on healthy eating and health in general is Next, learn about calories and eat only as much as you need to achieve your goals. If, for instance, your goal is to lose weight, make sure that your caloric expenditure exceeds your caloric intake. If your goal is to gain weight, make sure that your caloric intake is higher than your caloric expenditure. Of course if your goal is to maintain weight, keep a healthy balance between the two.You can have lots of fun with this. When I am below my ideal, I amp up the calories and eat all sorts of goodies!

As for today, Thanksgiving, start by eating a healthy dose of food. Eat slowly so that your body can process your intake as it does naturally. Pay attention to your body’s signals too. Your body is a complicated biologic machine that knows how to regulate itself. It however allows for executive override. Thus, you (the Self) can override the body’s natural processes. Overweight individuals do so by ignoring body signals that indicate satiation. Today, give your brain a rest and listen to your body. When it says you are full, stop eating. There will be plenty of leftovers for later. So, you can have more tomorrow and the next day.Turkey sandwiches are really good! If you are trying to lose weight, stick with white meat instead of the fattier dark meat.

Enjoy this holiday, as family members will not be around forever. I know it can be trying at times, and we will be tempted to run away as soon as we get too comfortable, but it’s only one day a year. If you need a break then, get outside and burn some calories. It’ll give you more room for all those wonderful treats cooks are busily preparing now. Mostly, use today as a starting point for a life of health and well being!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Characteristics of the Health Self

Fifteen Characteristics of a Healthy Self

In 2000, I attended the inaugural conference of the Self Research Centre outside Sydney Australia.  For the conference, I wrote a paper discussing the structure and functions of the self, and based upon my literature review, concluded the paper by introducing15 characteristics of a healthy self.  I am presenting the fifteen characteristics here for your reading pleasure and debate.

An individual with a healthy sense of self:


  1. has a strong sense of autonomy without sacrificing the benefits of culture
  2. is spontaneous in expressing feelings, and is able to express feelings deeply and with aliveness
  3. is creative
  4. is capable of identifying unique desires and defending them when necessary
  5. has an uncanny sense of self-awareness, not fearing the shadow side of the self
  6. has self-conceptions in line with reality
  7. is capable of maintaining a positive pleasure to pain balance, experiencing normal levels of depression and anxiety
  8. feels entitled to mastery experiences and pleasure
  9. is able to spend quality time alone, privately and in public (e.g., going to restaurants or movies alone)
  10. is capable of commitment to goals and others
  11. can count on others when he needs social support
  12. is capable of role playing, displaying false selves when needed, but not allowing them to interfere with achievement of valued objectives
  13. is problem focused; can maintain focus on critical tasks without ruminating on the inane
  14. has frequent experience of the Oceanic Feeling, a sublime union with the surroundings
  15. accepts others regardless of differences