Recently, CBT SoCal’s Dr. Jason von Stietz met with the men’s and women’s tennis teams from Whittier College, a NCAA Division III program. The team is comprised of players hailing from all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Guam, as well as all across the United States. Tennis players compete while dealing with a variety of distractions such as hecklers, parents arguing with each other in the stands, and impartial referees. Distractions such as these often make it difficult to concentrate, leading to self-doubt and anxiety. Athletes at the NCAA level must find ways to deal with the distractions and psychological pressure while continuing to perform at their best.
Dr. von Stietz helped the tennis players to improve their ability to focus under pressure using a method often practiced by high level athletes and performers: improvisational comedy. Improv comedy forces participants to focus on the present moment while risking judgment and embarrassment as others watch. Dr. von Stietz led the teams through various improv comedy exercises. For example, one exercise involved the players working together to develop an “ancient Whittier College proverb.” In this exercise, each player took a turn spontaneously adding one word to the proverb, while trying to work with teammates to create a proverb with a coherent and useful message. In this exercise, one player might start the proverb by saying the word, “Always.” The next player might say, “work.” After which a third player might say the word, “hard”, which would create the proverb, “Always work hard.” Some of the proverbs created during this exercise could be considered “wise” such as the aforementioned message, “Always work hard.” Other proverbs contained somewhat less wisdom such as, “Head the ball with two knees.” However, the purpose of the exercise was not necessarily to create “ancient proverbs.” The purpose was to practice staying focused on the task at hand in a high pressure situation. Improv comedy requires participants to commit to their task while risking failure and embarrassment, which is very similar to sport.
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He works in the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and El Segundo.