When people think of sport psychology, they often envision a rousing speech given by someone akin to a motivational speaker. This is occasionally true, as there is a time and a place for most things. However, the motivation felt after a rousing speech is often fleeting. Instead, what is often needed from a sport psychology practitioner is consistent guidance and support. In this article series, I have discussed my sport psychology work with a community college softball team based in Los Angeles. I worked with this team once a week for about two years. During this team, I tried to offer whatever support I could that was within my scope.
Who was the team?
In part 1 of the series, I introduced the team. I had the privilege of working with a very dedicated team of athletes comprised mostly of players with little to no competitive softball experience. They struggled with a variety of issues on and off the field. However, they persevered through a long season in which they won their final game.
What is a growth mindset?
In part 2 of the series, I discussed the team’s adoption of the growth mindset. When a softball player is in a growth mindset, she believes that talent or ability on softball can grow incrementally over time through learning and effort. Athletes in a growth mindset are more likely to be inspired by difficult challenges and are more resilient in the face of setbacks than athletes in what is called a fixed mindset.
What is team cohesion?
In part 3 of the series, I discussed the work the team and I did to increase their team cohesion. We worked on not only bonding as a team but also improving task cohesion, which is the ability of a group of people to accomplish a task together. Our main method of improving team cohesion was to play initiative games, which are seemingly silly games that require people to work together to solve problems or achieve goals.
What are mental skills?
In part 4 of the series, I discussed the team’s work developing mental skills or strategies for managing thoughts and feelings in way that is optimal for performance. The majority of these mental skills were derived from the work of Ken Ravizza, a pioneer in the field of sport psychology.
What about mental health?
In part 5 of the series, I discussed how I offered mental health support when appropriate. Although listening to someone non-judgmentally may not seem like much, it can go a long way to help someone feel supported and ease their emotional suffering.
How else can you support a team?
Since my meetings with the team were limited to 30 minutes a week, I needed to be creative in finding ways to support them outside of that time. I started by sending them weekly emails which included brief summaries of the lessons taught that week. On occasion, I would also email them inspirational Youtube videos or infographics that I developed to assist them in learning the mental skills we were practicing. Occasionally, the players email me asking me for advice related to college or careers.
My intention was to give them any support that I could reasonably provide. As a sport psychology professional, I often observe games quietly, preferring to not draw attention to myself. However, one day I realized that they typically had few fans in attendance at their games, with the exception of a handful of family members. I decided that loudly clapping and cheering, although not entirely professional, could be another important means of support I could offer. Moreover, I learned that in the chaos of the season, they had never had a photographer take photos during a game. I then used my camera phone to snap over a hundred photos during a game. Although the photos were not professional quality, I was able to use Google Photos to make each player an individualized GIF of herself performing.
I am very proud of the hard work and commitment demonstrated by the team that season. To this day, the work we did together has been the highlight of my career.
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of 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, El Segundo and all over California.