Sports Psych – How To Select A Sports Shrink by Doug Hankes, Ph. D. (2003)


A brief history lesson, we all get bored with history, but just to kind of give you an idea where the sports psychology field has come from; the first research was done way back in the late 1800’s. Norman Triplett was actually a social psychologist. He was interested in the idea of social facilitation. He noticed that bike riders seemed to be able to ride faster when they were in a group rather than by themselves. This is true with them on the track at the same time and when they were not. It was not like the Pella tone where you get in and you are drafting. But if you had two cyclists on a track at the same time and they were not drafting they would ride faster than if you just put them on the track by themselves. They rode by themselves so there was something about this idea of people watching or people you know just in the same area with you.

He also did an interesting study with children where he had them reeling in a fishing line as fast as they could, by themselves. I want you to reel this in as fast as you can and also had them with somebody else. They were not competing, but just doing the same activity and gave them both the same instruction to reel it in as fast as you can. And again – surprise – surprise – when you have people around you, you perform faster.

Coleman Griffith is kind of considered the father of modern day sports psychology and he wrote two books that are classics, “The Psychology of Coaching” and “The Psychology of Athletics”, one of his claims to fame. He also created the first sports psychology laboratory at the University of Illinois. One of his claims to fame was he worked with the Chicago Cubs way back when. Since he worked with them I do not think they have won a World Series, but I believe, if I am not mistaken, he was the Chicago Cubs sports psychologist when they did win a World Series.

More of a modern day figure in applied sports psychology is Bruce Ogelbee who actually just recently died a couple of weeks ago. He was a longtime Professor at San Jose State and wrote a book, “Problem Athletes and How to Handle them.” It was a real loss to the field of sports psychology. Well into his early 80’s he was still attending the big applied sports psychology conferences and mentoring other sports psychologists and was available to them. Again, in his 80’s he was completely fit and sharp as a tack. But right there in the mid-60’s, we started seeing sports psychology as a field starting to grow. Then in 1980 the United States Olympic Committee developed the first sports psychology advisory board and that is really where now at a National/International level. Individuals within the sport are saying this is probably something we need to be doing with out athletes – this mental training – this sports psychology.

There are three broad areas of sports psychology. There are probably more folks in research in academia right now. They are typically housed in kinesiology or physical education departments. Their primary function or role is to teach under graduates and graduate students and do research. The second bigger area and I think we are seeing much more growth here is the idea of education and performance enhancement. We are still aware of the research, but these individuals are doing the hands-on stuff with athletes and coaches teaching them the particular psychological skills. The third major area is the clinical or counseling realm. These are the folks who are working with athletes that have psychological difficulties just like the rest – maybe more so.

Athletes get generalized anxiety disorders. They get depressed. They have eating disorders. They have substance abuse problems and because they are athletes sometimes there can be a unique twist to this in terms of how you treat them. Those are the pretty broad areas and especially in two and three you get a lot of overlap. One of the comments I made Thursday is the Sports Psychologists on staff in Colorado Springs, Kirsten Petersen. I was talking with her recently and I asked her how often she was really doing just straight performance enhancement stuff. And how much of it is more the clinical or counseling stuff. She said really at the training site she would spend about ¾ of her time on the clinical counseling end of it. Meaning, if I have a relationship breakup or if my marriage is going the tubes is this going to affect my training? Yeah, it very well might be and so there is a lot of overlap in those two areas.

All right, who is a qualified sports psychology consultant? We got about a 50/50 split in terms of the folks that are doing sports psychology. Some are trained primarily in the sports side, some students are coming out of physical education programs and we have about half again that are coming out of psychology programs. But I do want to note the term psychologist. You may have somebody that is presenting himself or herself as a sports psychologist. Psychologist is a restricted legal term. You must have a PhD in psychology in order to call yourself a psychologist. So I can’t be coming out of a sport science program and legally call myself a sports psychologist. You can see where this can create some problems for people who are doing sports psychology work, but really aren’t supposed to be calling themselves sports psychologists.

One of the things that I am going to emphasize is that there are good folks doing work that come out of both of these academic disciplines. It is really kind of a hybrid field. It’s rather unique that you have two very different types of training and people doing similar sort of things. I don’t know if you can see – this old shoe cartoon and the picture says, “my curve ball is way off.” The catcher says, “I see and how does this make you feel”? The pitcher replies, “it makes me feel inadequate – mostly because of a false sense of failure brought on by not getting enough attention from my uncle as a child.” The catcher says, “hey, are you trying to practice catching without a license?” Again, here is the whole idea that you do get a lot of psychology people saying to the kinesiology people, hey you are doing stuff you are not trained to do and so that debate continues.

We are seeing much more people doing what I did, which are try to get training in both kinesiology and the psychology. What it does is it makes you an old man before they call you Dr. Hankes because it takes so long to complete all this sort of stuff. So, euphemism for sports psychology consultants, any of you can go out tomorrow and put your ad in the yellow pages and call yourself this, okay? No particular training necessary. You all can do it and nobody is going to say boo to you.

Now sometimes we will utilize these things in terms of how we describe ourselves to coaches and athletes because of that stigmatizing psychologist part. Something must be wrong if I am working with a psychologist so you may say I am a mental skills coach or a mental trainer, consultant, etc. But none of these require any special training at all. You would hope that they have special training, but there is no guarantee. I like that peak performance consultant.

This is a slide I threw up Thursday. I think it is the only repeat slide and it is one of the things you will want to think about when you are deciding whether or not you want to work with somebody. This is also the whole idea of sports psychology consultants presenting themselves as “special”. They have got something secret to offer that only they have. Guru status is good for the guru. If I have something that you want then you need me. So we have some very entrepuneural type people working in the field of sports psychology that are kind of charlatans in a sense in that they are wanting to earn money. They want to make a living and so making yourself out to be the guru is good for the guru.

At least in my work and I think in most sports psychologists, you want athletes to be able to do this on their own eventually. You don’t want them to have to keep coming back to you all the time. A lot of my work is done with teaching an athlete or teaching a coach how to teach the athlete particular types of skills and in serving as a consultant. Not necessarily needing to see the athlete on a weekly basis or frequently.

A lot of times the athletes I work with, and this is true with the swimmers and divers at Auburn University, I may present a particular concept and then it is really up to them whether or not they want to come back in and work and individualize and try to sort thru whether or not this is something that is going to be useful for them.

Gurus rarely acknowledge failure, but they sure will acknowledge success. I use the example of Davis Love in the first round of the PGA Championship and the sports psychologist taking credit for that (great performance). Then in the second round when he ballooned up to about a 75 there was no quote from the sports psychologist saying you know that mental stuff just, I really fell down with Davis the second round.

It is interesting in the PGA; almost every golfer has as part of their entourage a sports psychologist. And believe me, it is lucrative. When you think about what separates the golfers it is one stroke and if you have somebody that you think is helping you get that extra stroke, which is a valuable, valuable person. True too, the farther along we get in terms of “elite ness” – you know there is such little difference between the very best and the not quite so. And that is where that whole mental stuff I think really can help with age groupers.

It is good stuff with age groupers but in terms of performance the impact that it has really at the highest level you see that. Here is a good guru cartoon. The Centerfielder is going back, way back to a horrible memory that has been repressed for many years so again, I can pull something out of you or give you something that you can utilize that is going to ‘ You need me’ and that is going to make you special too.

Just a little bit more history, in 1986 AAASP (Association for the Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology) was created. I don’t know in the coaching field, I guess ASCA. There probably are some other coaching organizations that are big. I am not as familiar with your field, but in sports psychology if you are in the mainstream you belong to AAASP. It is the organization to be associated with. It is about the same size as this. It is about 750 to 1000 conference and yesterday too, some of the best-attended speakers that we have are typically the coaches. The coaches and the athletes come and talk. In fact, Doc Councilman spoke at AAASP. It has been at least ten years ago, but it was one of the best presentations I ever heard was the coach.

The other big organization APA Division 47 (American Psychology Association Division 47) was established right after AAASP. A lot of people will be members of both of these organizations. Division 47 which implies that within the American Psychological Association there are 50 some odd divisions and so Division 47 is a small little piece in the big world of APA, but that is an important association when you are assessing if somebody is legitimate or not.

In 1991 APA created a certification on designations. Now in 2003 do we see a problem here? Anybody see a problem? Okay, we have had this certification status for 12-13 years and there are less than 200 of us. That is bad. If you hire an athletic trainer you are going to want to see ATC at the end, you are not going to hire them unless they have that. Unfortunately, we have done a terrible job of marketing and getting the message across to coaches and athletes what type of training they need to have.

The reason why there are less than 200 consultants is – lets see the next slide – basically this is just the list of what you have to do in order to get certified. You literally almost have to have two PhD’s. Within the last six months have we created a master certification so we are going to see an increased number of people who are going to be certified with a Master’s degree. But up until six months ago you had to have a PhD – a Doctorate degree, EDD of some sort. That was a minimum requirement and you had to have graduate work – not only in psychology, but also the sports sciences and so it was just a bear.

Now the really nice piece about this is that if you get to work with an AAASP certified consultant is this individual has been supervised with at least 400 hours of somebody either directly watching you or indirectly working with you who is already a consultant or somebody in the sports psychology field who has actually watched you do your work. They go and hear you do presentations. They see you work with teams. They look at the individual work that you do one on one and that is done through video taping or audio taping but you can know that this person has gone through a lot of hoops to get to this point, that supervised experience, that is a biggie.

So, assessing legitimacy, one of the first things you want to do, if somebody approaches you are ask about their credentials. You would want to hear some of these ancones, I am a member of AAASP, and I am a member of APA Division 47. Here is another one; I am working towards certification that is huge. They may not be there but at least they are working towards this.

Another organization is NASFTA, North American Society for the psychology of sport and physical Activity that is a mouthful. NASTFA was probably the first North American sports psychology organization, but that is much more of a research emphasis and actually we have splintered off from that with people more interested in doing applied work. In the end you really have more of the applied folks. That means nothing to anybody and the reason why they came up with this title again is because we have a 50/50 split between physical education and psychology folks.

The psychologists are saying you cannot call yourselves sports psychologists. You do not have a PhD in psychology so we had to come up with this, Certified Consultant. Which nobody knows what it is because we want to include kinesiology. Somebody listed in the USOC sports psychology registry, that is also somebody who has been approved to work with Olympic and PAN AM teams. To be on the USOC registry one of the things you have to do is have this. Certification so even the USOC is acknowledging this is the route you need to go. Ask about their clientele and experience. Generally, academic credentials or reputation does not impress coaches. They want results, whether or not you have PhD at the end of your name or not. But the degree and certification does imply training. It does not guarantee competency. There are certified consultants I would never refer an athlete to. I mean they went through the hoops, but in terms of their interpersonal skills, how they work, just wouldn’t want your athletes working with them. But it does help you know that you have got somebody who has put a lot of time and effort into their training.

Some other considerations: delineating whom the client is. I will use Auburn for an example. I am employed by Auburn University, more specifically Student Counseling Services; the Athletic department does not employ me. If employed by the athletic department who would my client be? Is it the AD, is it an associate AD, is it the coaches I work with or is it the athlete? One of the things as a psychologist in dealing with the idea of confidentiality is I cannot share information without the consent of the client. Whether it’s an athlete or a student. You can understand as coaches; sometimes you would want to know what the hell are they talking to that sports psychology consultant about. That might be information you would want as a coach so you need to delineate who the client is. The consultant, the sports psychologist will work with how that is communicated to the athlete.

I primarily work for more than athlete-centered models. Meaning because the athletic department – sometimes some of the things I tell athletes the coach would not want me to be saying because it affects them; does not employ me negatively affects them. But athletes that come to work with me, those are the folks I am most worried about, their welfare and their performance. Now this is an interesting concept to me and actually this is what my dissertation was on. Is it important for the sports psychology person that is working with you – their athletic background?

Okay. Is it important that I am a former swimmer? Is that going to be helpful? It could be. You know I have never been a diver. I spent a lot of time with the divers at Auburn University and I have never gone off that 10-meter platform – yes? (a question from the room – cannot understand) I will talk a little bit about the research that I did and I was looking at Division I athletes and we were looking at the importance of credentials for the athletes. Does it make any difference whether they had a PhD or a Bachelors degree?

Did it make any difference whether or not they had an elite athletic background versus just a recreational athletic background and also looked at interpersonal skills and what we found is that with Division I athletes that their degree didn’t really matter and it didn’t matter either whether or not they had been an elite athlete (Olympic caliber athlete) to them in terms of their work with the consultant. It didn’t make any difference to them, except if their elite background experience was in the sport of the person they work with.

So for swimmers if I was a former world champion in the 50-meter freestyle and I come in to work with your team, at least initially, my legitimacy is raised. I mean, I have been there and I have done it. But that if it is not within your own sport no, it doesn’t. I think that what is most important is the idea that – I mean as a sports psychology person I cant be – nobody can be an expert in every sport. And I have worked with some really strange sports. I have a friend who is a sports psychology consultant and works with a competitive bagpipe team. I didn’t even know that this competition existed, but he is working with bagpipers and then I have worked with a bull rider. I have never been on a bull and I am never going to be on a bull. I think what is of most use for the coaches; you want a sports psychology consultant who is going to be interested in that sport and showing a willingness to learn it. Now they may not be able to grasp every type of technique or everything having to do with it but you got to be able to speak some of the language. If I come in and talk to the swimmers and I do not know what a taper is – I mean –you got to know a few things. My previous swimming experience way back when – when I was still doing some triathlons – that was my experience with swimming so I am not an elite swimmer by any stretch.

Question from the floor – a lot of times it is just a matter of listening. If it is a sport I know some of the language of and the same with the divers but the more you are around the more you pick up on it. I think the athletes that too. That you are in there trying to learn this with them and that is something that you get past fairly easily, but if you have somebody who is not showing any interest in the sport and that happens sometimes.

Yes, (question) what it indicated – it all came down to interpersonal skills. The athletes had to feel like this was someone they could connect with. This was the one factor overall that just came out clearly. It didn’t make any difference to their training. It didn’t make any difference their elite status. You know, if athletes didn’t feel like they had a connection with the consultant then it wasn’t going to work. And the techniques – they (the athletes) wouldn’t even listen; they would just push you away automatically. I mean they want that genuineness – they want that empathy. You really need to have the training. You just can’t have good people because we know – (from the floor – in other words it doesn’t matter whether you were a psychologist and you were an excellent swimmer or an excellent football player or whatever – if you are a good psychologist and you are trained and you do this well – that is all you are going to use).

That is very important yes, I would love to be able to walk in with whatever athlete or team I am working with and say you know I am an expert in your sport. It would be a plus. One of the ways that does get in the say too that I mentioned Thursday is that though my past athletic background might get in the way of the way I perceive you. Meaning my experiences are the same as your experiences and we know that is not the case. Good question.

Another question from the floor – well I could probably answer that my time spent with the team, as I said Thursday, they are one of the more psychologically sophisticated coaching staffs I have worked with. I have spent more time with the divers; in terms of doing any team-wide interventions, I haven’t. More from the floor – with the divers I work with the entire team. With the swimmers it has been much more on an individual basis. I was talking to Kathy and Jeff earlier, there are some swimmers I have worked with that they do not even know I have worked with them. I mean, Dave doesn’t even know. They have come to me themselves without a referral from the coach just kind of word of mouth from talking with the divers. Those that are specifically referred to me I will try to get the athlete’s consent and talk with Dave or Kim or whoever it might be.

Those that come in for a straight performance enhancement on an individual basis and they have not told anybody. They don’t communicate that back to them but that is one of the things too I think, I have been around long enough too where you develop this trust and I think the coaching staff knows I am not going to do anything. I am going to be thinking about the athlete’s welfare first, but I am also going to be trying my damndest not to hurt anything that the coaches are trying to do with the athletes. I mean Ralph would not be surprised to hear that some of his swimmers come in and bitch about him sometimes, they do. That is what athletes do I guarantee it. At some point when I am working with athletes that is going to happen and you know and Jeff Shea for the diving coach I know he wouldn’t mind me saying this, he knows that his divers come in and bitch about him all the time. I mean that is part of it.

Again, one of the things when I started working with Jeff and the divers, was Jeff specifically requested that. You know I want you to communicate to me the types of things that you see me doing on the deck and how I talk to my athletes – how that might be improved. Now a couple of folks on the staff do have sports psychology backgrounds with the swim team and so you know why they are good at it. I think some of them are just naturally good at it. They just got good people skills and some have a bit of formal training in that, but that is not uncommon for me to work with coaches too. That is not unusual. You know it takes a coach who is really pretty secure about them too though to make that request. We have kind of talked on some of these concepts already but you know developing collaborative relationships – very important and that is with both athlete and coaches. This is the whole idea too of seeking to understand first without imposing.

I think if you do have the opportunity to have somebody come in. Sometimes the consultant feels like they have to make a big splash or big bang and they maybe try to do more than what is necessary. You know I think really coming in and just watching and again with the diving team that is a lot of what I did initially was just kind of watch – watch and listen.

The pool deck can get crowded so for sports psychologists the idea is being accessible but not being in the way. This is true of folks working at the Olympic level with elite athletes too. Let the coaches do what the coaches do best, let the athletes do what they do best and your being available without getting in the way. The pressure is pretty great especially at a D1 (NCAA Division I) school where their jobs are dependent upon the success of their athletes. I don’t know if there is this type of pressure for club coaching too. I guess there probably would be I mean their jobs are dependent on the success of their athletes too. Bottom line and that even with me saying I am an athlete centered person. I want to do best for the athlete you need to be very sensitive to what you know the pressures to the coaches that are imposed on them.

This is a hypothetical. What if Auburn’s best swimmer comes in and says I am sick and tired of this, I don’t want to do it anymore. And we spend a couple of sessions just focused on they want to give up their sport and this is the team’s biggest point scorer. Yes I am going to try to be sensitive to the coach and how this is going to impact them and sometimes that happens too. The athlete decides to drop out but only after we study it for a very long time. We should talk about the guru. If you have got somebody whom you are working with that is taking credit that is a problem. A good sports psychology consultant in my mind is somebody who is in the background – he is in the background. Nobody has the answer. Nobody has the secret magic.

Motivational speakers – I want to clarify that a little bit too. There is nothing wrong with motivational speakers. Having people come in on a one time basis. That is fine, but know that those one time shots that when people come in, they are not necessarily going to have that impact. What the athletes’ want, generally they want to have some relationship with it and that develops over time so and you don’t get that with a motivational speaker.

It is helpful, but not necessarily for long term and we don’t have any accurate assessments in predicting athlete talent. I mean we are working on that. There are some talent identification programs. I know the national diving – they are working a lot on this right now and there is some psychological assessment and we are finding characteristics and traits that identify athletes, but nobody right now has a paper and pencil test or I can’t hold up the Rorschach ink blots and have the athlete go yeah it looks like a butterfly and that means they are going to be world caliber – it doesn’t exist at this point.

The sports psychology registry certified consultant registry is a good place to find somebody who is qualified. Those of you who are age group coaches or club coaches if you have a physical education department near you they will have a physical education program and a psychology program. More than likely there will be somebody in there that has an interest in sport.

Now they may not have all of this training, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this wouldn’t be somebody that might be useful, particularly graduate students. Graduate students are often times very expert. They just happen to still be a student and they are more than willing to donate their time. They want access to athletes. That is one of the big issues for sports psychology consultants is how do you get your foot in the door.

Question form the floor: Do they need hours too? Answer: Yes, ideally when they are working toward certification status they want to be doing it during graduate school. Now the question you want to ask is, who is supervising you? You wouldn’t necessarily want a masters level student who is just winging it. You know, they have read a couple of books on sports psychology and they go, yeah this looks pretty simple.

I can do this because some of the stuff is relatively simple, but they need to be supervised when they are doing it so you just want to ask – have you got a professor or somebody that is supervising you and if they say yes, then you can you check and just make sure that is happening. You get some energetic graduate students they can do incredible work and they will work with your youth swimmers I mean they – it is really seductive to you know want to work with the Olympic world championship elite folks because you know we get – I talk about this with the swim team. My connection to them is small. I help out.

There are a lot of resources that the swimming team uses, but you do kind of bask in that reflected glory. Gosh, I helped with the national champions – men’s and women’s and you feel good about that. But I have worked with some of the swimmers who are not even going to qualify for NCAA’s but I was able to help them swim as best they could and that feels great too.

So working with sports psychologist you are going to find plenty of people who are going to be happy to work with your youth and wanting to get that experience. So your college or university is a good resource. And the best probably is word of mouth. You do want to see the training, but you know that is how you are assessing whom to work with. Lets see, I can’t remember if I have another slide or not – no – that is it.

I didn’t even have some summing up remarks or anything. Yes – question from the floor – that’s a good point – I would imagine that most of the sports psychology folks in there are probably AAASP certified would be my guess, I could be wrong but that is an excellent resource.

Q. When does an athlete really need a sports psychologist? When? Well, I am biased. I think they all need a sports psychologist. I mentioned Thursday what sports psychology consultants talk about – the thirds rule. That is you are going to have about 1/3 of your athletes who when they start hearing some of this stuff get really juiced and excited about it and they want to learn this part of the mental side of their sport and those are the easiest to work with. You just can’t give them enough information and show them enough things.

Then you have about a third that you know this may be helpful. I will kind of wait and see attitude and then you have a third that they are mentally tough. They have got good mental skills and they have developed them on their own. I think you can particularly help with athletes who have reached a plateau. Those I think, when they are not seeing any more improvement that that can be a good time to intervene and they are usually ripe for wanting to do something different too.

Athletes and coaches a lot of times fall into the trap when performance gets stuck by adding more physical stuff where you know you are just breaking down the athlete. They are getting more and more frustrated when lets try something different here. Lets do something on the mental side so that would be one particular time.

Some of the research I had gone over on Thursday too, as world champions and Olympians look back. One of the things that they are very clear about is I wished I had learned the psychological mental side of my sport much earlier as a youth, as an age grouper. I wish I had started getting some of this stuff earlier rather than later. In kids they get a big kick out of this too so I think the younger you can start the better. But it’s not always performance enhancement. It is not always trying to fix something that is wrong.

Let’s add this in, Sports hypnosis. Yes, well I will do the hypnosis part first. It can be helpful. Hypnosis – it really is so similar. I mean a lot of what I would do is you watch; they would say it is hypnosis. It is a guided imagery and they are so similar to the hypnosis piece. I do not present it as hypnosis I talk about guided imagery. And it can be useful but it is not a magical type (I am going to hypnotize you and you are going to swim faster). It obviously does not work that way but it is one tool that can be useful. I don’t know that there is necessarily – actually that is a good question.

One of the things that you also do not want to see in a consultant is that they have a cookie cutter approach to what it is. That they are going to do the same thing with every athlete. You know, they got there – I showed the tower of 10 thing but they are a piece of that. Pieces of that that I am going to emphasize with some athletes and not with other athletes and so I don’t know that there is one technique that I would say you know above and beyond you know this is the most useful.

I think that imagery and visualization teaching is pretty powerful stuff. I do a lot of cognitive behavioral type things so self talk. I like to spend a lot of time on self-talk. How the athletes talk to themselves. So probably of the two I utilize most would be something to do with self-talk, coping affirmations, just the things that you say to yourself in the course of practicing or competing. They have a big impact and helping athletes utilize imagery. Part of learning to visualize and image is the foundation skill right there is you have to teach them how to relax first. The relaxation piece makes the imagery or the visualization that much more powerful. There is a lot of overlap too. It is not just one thing.

Question: if there was one book that you thought would be most helpful to some of the coaches. They may not have the resources monetarily or geographically to engage some of these psychology folks. I have done some of the work with self talk and coping affirmation and I felt it focusing on. What would a book that covers some of these techniques that you use? What would be the best book to have? I realize that it is not going to begin to do necessarily what you do but it would take the person down that road as a student?

Answer: Terri Orlich has several books that are excellent. They are not swimming specific. I am not aware of swimming specific one. Terry Orlick is a Canadian sports psychologist. Human Kinetics has a booth here and I saw several of their books. Some them are specific. They speak to the coaches and some of them speak to the athlete and so either one of those. It would still be useful for you. Terry Orlick’s stuff is very good. Allen Goldberg’s’ stuff is good and he spoke and he has spoken here before. His stuff is pretty straightforward and understandable and it is easy to utilize. Shane Murphy, he is the former chief was the first sports psychologist at the USOC at Colorado Springs. He has a book called the “Achievement Zone.” It is good stuff. There are so many good books and if you start reading a lot of these you will start seeing that it is very, very similar. You have developed your own language for it. If anybody else has any other questions I would be happy (to answer them). You could come on up and again thanks for the opportunity and glad to have shared some information with you.

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