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Long term vs Quick Solutions in Sport Psychology - Junior Hockey News

Published: Monday, 10 Sep 2012
By: Mike Margolies

Recently there has been some discussion on mental skills training among some of us that are practitioners of the dark arts. (You will need to read my book "The Athlete within You"  to get the inside joke, as I often refer to my transition from wanting to be a college coach to being persuaded by my mentors to come over to the dark side (Academia and Sport Psych).

Much of the discussion has been about quick fixes vs. long-term results. Too many people, not just athletes are looking for instant gratification and instant results. When I work with athletes I am helping them get long-term results, but quickly.  No this is not an OxyMoron. It is simply that in traditional psychotherapy progress takes place over the long haul. Sport Psychology and mental skills training are not traditional psychotherapy, so I believe we must look at our area a bit differently. Sport Psych is an educational process that uses psychological research, philosophy and technique to help athletes learn to perform at a higher level. It is a process and contrary to some beliefs, magic is not involved.


I am making this point because while I do believe helping hockey players is a process, I also believe it is an accelerated one. Think of it from the perspective of the professional hockey player. If they are not performing to their own or the management's expectations, very shortly they are going to be looking for a new job. So mental training needs to have an effect rather quickly or the player might not need our services. There is not much difference if we consider youth players trying to make the team they want to play on or the adult golfer that would just want to break 85 to make them a more popular business partner on the golf course.

Now I have helped many athletes get past issues in single sessions. I recently worked with a gymnast that could not release from the uneven bars. It took me just 10 minutes to help her with that. She was off and competing at the state level the next day. We spent another 5 weeks making sure that her mental skills were where they needed to be for her journey to Nationals after that. My point is that we can get some instant results, but in order to maintain and yes perform at a higher level, work must be done over a longer period of time. I offer programs in six session packages because that is economically viable for most of my clients. I also offer year programs. The only time I see someone on a single session is to make sure that we are the right fit for each other.

Another reason I work with athletes for longer time periods is because it is easy to give lip service to mental training, but it requires commitment and conviction to make it work for you. Everyone buys into the fact that a huge part of performance at every level is mental, but commitment to following a plan is hard. Go back and re read my "Remember  the Coin" offerings posted a little while ago.  And that is a seven-day test.  Skill improvement takes time and it takes time to see real long-term results.

I've often used an analogy to explain resistance to sport psychology by comparing it to physical training with a personal trainer. You use a personal trainer. To make it simple they give you a 10 pound dumbbell and tell you to do 3 sets of 10 twice a week (bicep curls) for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks they hand you a 15 pound dumbbell. Wow you just got stronger. Real results in a relatively short space of time. You see others doing it and they are getting stronger and fitter. Easy!

Now you work with a sport psychology consultant like me. I give you an exercise to practice for the next two weeks (metal exercise). During the week that follows, you notice you are starting to play better. But because you can't draw a line connecting the dots, your improvement is more difficult to rationalize.

One thing I find interesting is that when you stop doing bicep curls you will shortly get weaker again. Depending on the mental exercise you were being taught, if it had the impact we were looking for, your performance will likely continue in the direction you wanted it to go, given that you stayed with the training long enough for it to have an impact.  Very subtle difference I think you will find. Let's say it was getting over a small fear. Once you have gotten past that, you are unlikely to head back in that direction.

Another thing with mental training programs to be effective they have more components than one on one consulting sessions. Sometimes there are sessions at practice. Sometimes there are sessions at competitions. There will always be homework exercises to work on until the new mental skills become habituated and the athletes thought processes have improved.

One other benefit of this type of program is accountability. With your coach you are held accountable for what you do during competition and practice. Coaches rarely are in a position to really monitor or focus on an athlete's mental training and so for the time that an athlete is in a mental training program they are held accountable. This is very important because it reinforces the importance to the athlete to be ever vigilant that they are focused on their mental skills, as well as their physical improvement. In the end this can have a great impact on the athlete's entire career.

I'll try and post something before I leave to spend a week working with the Cheyenne Stampede. If you are interested in my working with your team just check in with me at The Mental Game .


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* Article disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Mike Margolies, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.com. JuniorHockey.com does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.

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