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4 Tips to Improve Your Mental Toughness For Athletics

psychologyStanding out in athletics is difficult no matter what point you are in life. Whether you’re trying to make the JV basketball team or you’re getting ready to pitch Game 1 of the World Series, if your mental toughness isn’t up to par, you’re probably not going to be very successful.

Most elite athletes report that at least 50% of their superior athletic performance is the result of psychology factors or mental factors. That’s why mental toughness is so essential — here are some tips to improve your own metal stability and prepare you for a successful athletic career or moment.

Practice Makes Perfect

Your mental skill has to be present on the field, yes, but you’ll never be able to perform at the best of your ability without practicing as much as possible. As you’re practicing, you’ll be learning the game or sport better each time you work out or go over your playbook, which will only increase your mental capabilities.

Relax, Relax, Relax

Training yourself to relax, especially during high-pressure situations, is an absolute must if you want to succeed in athletics. You’ll surely find yourself in extremely anxious situations while playing your sport (game on the line, final stretch of a race, etc.), so being able to relax during these moments will surely help you succeed.

Speak With a Sports Psychologist

Professional psychologists can help you not only feel better about yourself on the court, field, rink, or diamond, but they will help you in all areas of life. There are a lot of stresses involved with athletics at every single level — so talking through those difficulties can certainly help clear your head and prepare you for success.

Have a Short Memory

Part of the psychology factor pertaining to athletic performance is the ability to forget your mistakes and actually learn from them. For example, Tom Brady can throw five interceptions in a game and lose one week but won’t let that ruin his overall performance. He’ll likely come right back even more determined than before and succeed on the field because of his mental toughness.

Don’t let your anxieties and nerves get in your way of your athletic performance. Improve your mental stability before your next game or competition. If you want to learn more about sports psychology and how it will help you perform on and off the field, contact Sheryl Smith, Phd today.

3 Reasons Mindfulness Will Make You A Better Athlete

psychologistMindfulness is an essential part to success. This is especially true for those in the sports industry. Competition is a key component to the sports industry. In order to be in the zone for these competitions, an athlete must practice, workout, analyze their opponent, and most of all ready their mind.

Training the body for taking on the competition is just one part of athleticism. But preparing the mind to stay focused and confident while on the field or the court is also important. Here are three reasons why you’ll want the help of sports psychology before you get ready to conquer the field:

  1. Developing coping mechanisms.
    Athletes benefit from seeing a sports psychologist because they’re given ways to cope when they inevitably experience adversity. People with and without mental illness often crumble under pressure because they don’t have the necessary coping mechanisms to handle their stress or anxiety. For athletes, this often means losing the ability to focus and play effectively. A sports psychologist can help an athlete understand the challenges they’re facing and what strategies they can come up with in order to face them and play well.
  2. Redirecting your focus.
    A sports psychologist can help an athlete refocus their skills during the competition and remain focused during the pre-game. Focus is essential to the execution of one’s skills. Whether you’re in an office or on the court, if you’re focused on your mistakes rather than the product then you’ll fail to succeed in your task. Sports psychology teaches athletes to keep their focus from sliding toward their insecurities, which could distract them from success.
  3. Develop confidence for full-athletic transition.
    Confidence is often built using a specific mindset. Sports psychologists work with athletes to develop a mindset built on game plans, practice, and preparation to help them perform at their peak ability. By having confidence in their skills, athletes can draw themselves away from life problems and focus solely on the game at hand.

Of those suffering from anxiety, up to 60% showed improvement after doing meditation for six to nine months. By seeing a sports psychologist, you can help to reduce your own anxiety on the field and gain the mental strength to keep going even when you feel like you want to quit. Sports psychology can help you cope with your insecurities and boost your confidence and focus on the court, which will boost your way to success.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sports Psychologists, Answered

psychologistDid you know that more elite athletes report almost 50% of superior athletic performance is a result of mental or psychological preparation? That’s right! In some cases, mind over matter really is important in the athletic world. And that’s why sports psychologists exist.
Despite the fact that mental power is an important factor in athletic performance, it’s common to still have questions about how sports psychology actually plays a role in that. So to get some of the confusion out of the way, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked sports psychology questions and answered them just for you.
What exactly does a sports psychologist help with?
We discussed mental performance before, but there are different psychological factors that can contribute to this performance. In sports psychology, as in ordinary psychology, it really depends on the person. So the answer to this question is plain and simple: sports psychologists take the needs of their clients into account and work towards solutions to those specific mental blocks.
Why do athletes seek out sports psychology?
In truth, each athlete may seek out sports psychology help for a different reason. No two sports are exactly alike, and no two athletes are either. However, there are some fairly common reasons that stand out from the rest. Some of these reasons include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Recovery from a serious injury
  • Transitioning to a higher competitive level
  • Mental toughness
  • Issues with perfectionism
  • Coping with setbacks

Does seeing a sports psychologist indicate mental weakness?
Absolutely not. Seeking out psychological help is done for a countless number of reasons, such as those listed above. The truth is that sports psychology treatment often has nothing to do with weakness at all. Rather, it has everything to do with a desire to better yourself in your chosen profession and in life.
The life of an athlete certainly isn’t something to sneeze at. From sports that are extremely demanding physically to competitions that are mentally exhausting, athletes often need help too. If you’re experiencing changes and want to mentally grow with them, you should consider seeking out a sports psychologist.

How do you perform when you feel that you are falling short?

What does the feeling of being disappointed in yourself do to your movements and decisions?

For example:

You have just given up a point (or a goal) due to your error, or what turned out to be a bad decision.

Now the score is against you because of something that you tried that didn’t work out.






You took a risk and bet on your skills, or strategy, and it didn’t work out.

What happens next inside your mind?


Do you spend some time;

  • telling yourself what a useless idiot you are?
  • fighting against the idea that you are not as good as you think you are?
  • experiencing disappointment with yourself/
  • worrying about being a disappointment to others?

or do you

  • shift into the learning mode you have been practicing and design a response to that error that makes you stronger/faster/smarter?

Are you a perfectionist?


Perfectionism makes this worse. Every single error triggers self-criticism and self-doubt.


The danger here is that your self-criticism and rising self-doubt

  • impair your ability to pay attention to the essential elements that allow you to perform well in the moment, and
  • cause you to take fewer risks.

Eventually, you will find yourself playing so conservatively that the only skills you are using now are the ones you felt comfortable with several years ago.

You have regressed to the player you were years ago. In this way you are getting further away from your skills as an athlete.



Focus Training.




Identifying the key elements of your successful performance and practicing refocusing on them after a distraction, makes your positive focus stronger. Having strong focus makes it so that distractions are less able to derail your performance. You stay connected to your strengths instead of losing touch with them.




Growth mindset.




Everything you try and fail at gives you good information for the next attempt.
The key is to look for this important information even when the failure stings. Our natural tendency is to avoid paying attention to the unpleasant error.
Practicing shifting into a growth mindset will help you deal constructively with errors.

Eventually, you will have the sense of impending growth along with the sting of the mistake.


And you will be less inclined to stop taking risks.

Improve your skills by making mistakes

    What do you want?

Identify how you want to grow in your sport.

    What are you willing to risk in order to grow?

  •  Are you willing to risk your identity as the sports phenom in your family, on your team, in your town?
  • Are you willing to risk your reputation as the ‘star’ in return for being an even better learner?


    What are you not willing to risk right now? Where do you need security and how does having security help you extend yourself?

If you notice that you are not willing to risk your reputation in order to grow, this is an important      piece of information.


Notice what it does to your performance when you are playing in a situation that puts your reputation at risk.

Does this type of pressure tend to make you play small?

If you want to be more able to take risks with your ‘star’ reputation in order to reap the benefits of learning from mistakes, here is something to do that will help you:

  • Strengthen your leadership qualities.
    • Pick a teammate or two and help them learn what you know. Get some of your pride from raising up the newbies.
    • Use your social skills and befriend a teammate who could use some help in this area.
    • Help a teammate be calm under pressure by being reassuring about their skills.
    • You will need these skills if you want to be Captain or a Coach in the future.
    • Model learning from mistakes for your teammates. (Deliberately taking the risks that you envision as helping you progress, responding with self-acceptance instead of self criticism, Praising this process in others instead of criticizing them.

    What types of mistakes do you want to accumulate so you can learn from them?

  • over- hitting?
  • under-hitting
  • being too conservative?
  • being too aggressive?
  • Being too flexible?
  • Being too inflexible?

Practicing and performing with a growth mindset allows you to handle mistakes constructively.

What Can Sports Psychologists Do for Athletes?

sports psychologistsAthletes seek out the assistance of sports psychologists for a multitude of reasons. Whether they’re having a performance issue that they want to address or there’s a general desire for improvement, sports psychology can be a solution for many athletes. Here’s a quick overview of what sports psychologists can do for athletes.
Enhance Performance
Enhancing performance is one of the most common reasons athletes will come to discuss different types of sports psychology. And one of the first skills they typically work on is mental imagery. This practice consists of five main categories: cognitive-specific, cognitive-general, motivational-specific, motivational-general mastery, and motivational-general arousal. Depending on the athlete’s specific goal, their sessions could fall into any one of these categories.
Recover from Injuries
Injuries may take a visible physical toll on an athlete, but there’s often a hidden psychological impact, as well. It’s the psychological harm that sports psychologists are tasked with healing. Things such as tolerating pain, adjusting to new limitations, and other performance issues will need to be addressed if an athlete wants to reach their highest potential after an injury.
Cope Under Pressure
Athletes are often under extraordinary amounts of pressure while they’re competing. Solo athletes in particular often struggle when coping with pressure. Rather than having a team to rely on, these athletes take 100% of the brunt of failure and the responsibility of success. Learning how to cope with this kind of pressure in a healthy, productive manner can not only improve performance, it can improve an athlete’s quality of life.
Enhance Motivation
Basic psychology has proven that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation. In short, true motivation comes from within. Unfortunately, mustering this kind of motivation takes practice. But help from a skilled professional or clinical psychologist can unlock an athlete’s best potential and inner motivation. Without this kind of assistance, many athletes may lose interest and motivation to perfect their performance.
Seeing a psychologist for sports is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something that can help improve athletes’ performance beyond what they ever thought they could accomplish. Never underestimate the power of mental training!

3 Common Myths About Psychotherapy You Need To Stop Believing

psychotherapyWhen it comes to psychotherapy, many people don’t quite know what it is or how it can help them. But the fact is, psychotherapy has many different uses — 60% of anxiety prone people showed marked improvements in anxiety levels after 6-9 months of meditation, and there are plenty of other types of psychotherapy as well. Here are some common myths about psychotherapy.

  1. Myth: Any type of therapy is a sign of weakness.
    This myth is absolutely absurd, but it’s out there. In reality, many people need help overcoming mental troubles, and one of the best ways to get insight is by consulting a professional in the industry. Whether you’re interested in sports psychology techniques or want to talk to a licensed clinical psychologist, talking to a professional in the industry is always the right choice.
  2. Myth: Psychotherapy “fixes” people
    Although it may seem like psychotherapists and sports psychologists are miracle workers, it does take effort from the person receiving the therapy. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen without effort. Psychotherapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, nor is it a miracle cure for serious diseases or ailments. says, “For psychotherapy to work, you need to be an active participant, bringing your expertise about what life is like for you. The best solutions and insights will come from you, with the therapist acting more like a midwife than a psychic surgeon. In this way, you gain what you need to lead a better life, and are not dependent on the therapist to tell you how to live.”
  3. Myth: Psychotherapy results are always instantly visible
    Like physical medical treatment, results aren’t always visible right away, and it normally takes many sessions to notice visible improvement. Every single person reacts differently to different psychologists, and although it may take time to find the right one, results can be impressive when the patient has undergone enough treatment. Take time when evaluating whether or not sessions are successful. When patients keep attending sessions, results becoming more and more evident.

Ultimately, it’s important to understand the basics of psychotherapy before undergoing the treatment. For more information about the types of sports psychology, contact Sheryl Smith PhD.

3 Extraordinary Qualities of Mentally Tough Athletes

mental toughness trainingAthletes are often looked up to as role models, but it’s not always their athletic ability and on-field accomplishments that make them so admirable. The athletes that are the best in the world at their sport have impeccable mental toughness thanks to years of intense mental toughness training. The majority of elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is a direct result of psychological and mental contributing factors.

Here are some qualities of athletes who have undergone mental toughness training and are now the best of the best.


No matter how many adversities these athletes face during their lifetime, they are always able to bounce back and handle their tasks to the best of their ability. Resiliency is what separates the best in the world from just about everyone else. Life happens to everyone and it can be extremely difficult to respond to certain hardships, but the mentally tough are always able to do so, with great ability, while the feeble-minded usually end up having to quit.

Calm, Cool, and Collected

In addition to bouncing back from adversity, mentally tough athletes are able to stay relaxed under immense pressure as well. From Olympic competitors to Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, these athletes have to compete on the world stage, with millions of eyes on them and the weight of entire nations on their shoulders. This kind of pressure is enough to cause anyone to fold and mess up, but the best athletes in the world are the best for a reason and they are able to get the job done in these difficult situations.


The simple act of putting in the work is usually enough to separate the very best of the best as well. Talent certainly plays a part, but someone can have all the talent in the world and never achieve anything if they don’t put in the effort. Mental toughness training requires these athletes to both mentally and physically strain themselves for hours each day, everyday, for years and years, until they are the best in the world.

The importance of mental training for athletes cannot be understated. If you’re an athlete and want to improve your mental skills, it’s time to put in the work. Contact Sheryl Smith PhD today!

Grace Under Pressure: Useful Mental Tips from Olympic Athletes

sports psychologistApproximately 83% of coaches rank “mental toughness” as the most important psychological characteristic for an athlete to have, but getting to a point where you’re mentally tough can be difficult, especially without the help of a sports psychologist. But grace under pressure can certainly be achieved, according to some of the greatest athletes in the world.

Whether you’re a student athlete or training for the big leagues, here are some pieces of mental advice from a few Olympic athletes that could get you started on the path to excellent grace under pressure.

Allyson Felix
Felix is a track-and-field superstar, and she says the most effective mental tool for her is tuning out all other distractions.

” I don’t hear any noise around me. I’m completely just dialed in to what I have to do,” she said in an interview withSports Illustrated.

Michael Phelps
The 2016 Olympics marked Phelps’ fifth time competing in the worldwide event. But in 2012, his coach Bob Bowman spoke to the Washington Post about his mental tricks to stay focused under the pressure of a swimming event.

“He will see exactly the perfect race … and then he will go through scenarios: What if things don’t go well?” Bowman said.

Unlike Felix, Phelps spends time beforehand mentally preparing for potential stressors. This takes a lot of psychology and mental toughness training, especially because some of the scenarios may be particularly stressful to imagine.

Kayla Harrison
Harrison became the first American to win gold in judo during the 2012 Olympics. Instead of visualizing everything that could go wrong like Phelps does, Harrison told the Washington Post that she likes to picture only the positive outcomes to calm herself.

“I picture myself bombing the girl in the final and standing on top of the podium … and feeling the gold medal go around my neck,” she said. “I visualize all of that every night.”

Harrison’s mental skills involve using positive thoughts to release calming feelings. Performing these exercise every night has helped Harrison learn how to stay calm in times of extreme pressure like those when she’s competing.

There are multiple types of mental toughness training you can run through with a sports psychologist, but perhaps you can take inspiration from these medal-winning Olympic athletes to start forming your own mental training routine.

Is anger affecting your sport performance?

Sport psychologists commonly see athletes who have been referred to them for anger problems. In some cases, their inability to control their angry behaviors has cost them penalty minutes and hurt the team. In other cases, the fury that they experience diminishes their ability to pay attention to what is happening on the field and make wise decisions quickly.
But anger doesn’t have to be only a problem. When harnessed effectively anger can be fuel, according to New Jersey sport psychologist Dr. Mitch Abrams.
In sports, ” there’s a fine line between dangerous anger and productive anger” that can be empowering, Abrams says. The key element in determining the difference is the ability to channel the direction of the anger.
You want to be guiding and allowing your anger instead of it controlling you. This takes practice and awareness.
Mindfulness*. The key element in this type of anger management is mindfulness. Knowing yourself and how close to your tipping point you are. Often this means that you have experienced going overboard several times so that you become more aware of where your tipping point is.
Abrams suggests that athletes pay attention to the type of thoughts they are experiencing. If they start to think about retribution and physical harm to an opponent, that is a sign that their rage has become detrimental to their ability to pay attention to the important elements of what is happening right now.
Being mindfully aware of your anger gives you the emotional distance that allows you to remember what you value most. And what you value most is performing your best under adversity and helping your team. This perspective helps you channel your fury into power when you are fatigued.
Harnessing your anger can bring you confidence as you pull yourself back over the brink of being out of control. If anger has been harming your sport performance, you will benefit from daily mindfulness practice.
*Mindfulness- the full awareness of your present moment experience. This ability, and attention control, is strengthened by daily mindfulness meditation practice.