Dr. G’s Comment to OutsideOnline.Com Article “Why Mindfulness Is Your New Secret Weapon”

Outsideonline.com recently published a great article “Why Mindfulness Is Your New Secret Weapon” which features three books, all of which are great resources for informing and educating athletes on various aspects of mental training and sport psychology. I greatly appreciate that mindfulness is getting its due recognition in the sports arena. I will always advocate for athletes having a mindfulness and/or meditation practice. However, when I read this piece the theme of mindfulness was overshadowed by the summarizing statement by the author, Nick Heil, which sparked my need for comment on my blog. The author stated:

“But sometimes our best effort requires more than a well-constructed workout plan. It may require understanding and managing whatever psychological demons threaten to make our hard work feel even harder…All three authors seem to agree that your head requires the same kind of dedicated work as your body. Alas, none of them offer any sort of comprehensive mindset-training program; rather, tidbits of advice, like breathing exercises and drills to improve concentration, are embedded in the chapters. The takeaway comes down to how well an athlete can identify recurring pitfalls and pull focus away from them: Do you go out too strong? Are your starting-line nerves debilitating? And so on. Mental fitness, says Fitzgerald, means “becoming your own sports psychologist” and developing coping mechanisms to help you suffer better. Which, while not entirely satisfying, is a good start. With traditional training strategies for physical fitness, nutrition, and sleep becoming more dialed and demystified, the mind is the next frontier for significant performance gains.”

In my opinion the author, Nick Heil, has it right, most books will offer “advice, exercises, drills…” and will not offer “any sort of comprehensive mindset-training program” that’s because mental skills training is analogous to physical skills training. Most athletes would agree that working with sport specific coach will yield the best results as the sport coach can identify personal strengths and weakness and then develop a plan that meets the performance needs of that athletes, mental skills training is the same (at least in my approach to working with athletes).

Therefore, I personally do not agree with the statement by Matt Fitzgerald of “becoming your own sport psychologist” for the same reason that I am sure a sport specific coach would not encourage you to be your own coach (from knowledge provided from a book). I have studied, researched, and I am clinically licensed to practice in the field of psychology and sport psychology. I have over 10 years of combined experience doing what I do. Therefore when I work with an athlete to target their “psychological demons” and “identify recurring pitfalls” I do so with all my experience, knowledge, education, training, and, not just from one book or course or just based on my experience as an athlete. I would not have a job (as well as many other well known applied sport psychologists, many of which work with the USOC) if it were that easy for an athlete to identify and intervene in patterns that are negatively impacting their sport performance and/or address specific, and appropriate, interventions that can enhance an athlete’s performance. This is a very individualized process. With all that said, at some point in the process I will “work myself out of a job,” meaning that the athlete will have developed the skills and self-trust to depend more on themselves and their skills, than on me needing to guide their process.

While I appreciate mainstream media outlets giving credence to articles targeting the mental aspect of sport performance, I do think that sometimes they over simplify or minimize the role that a sport psychologist/mental performance coach plays in that process.

I appreciate you all reading my comment. It is in no way personal qualm with the authors. Just my two cents from a professional that is in the “trenches” with athletes day-in and day-out.

-Dr. G

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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is sport and performance psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California and works with elite sport teams and athletes across the country. She is competitive athlete herself and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family and traveling.