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Overcoming Negative Thinking While Running

Published February 5, 2015

By Cindra Kamphoff

Struggling with negative thoughts during long workouts? Cindra Kamphoff offers a few suggestions for how to embrace discomfort and use self-talk to stay positive.

Published in: Athletes

Auto Racing & Mental Skills

Published February 5, 2015

By Tami Eggleston

Tami Eggleston gives a few tips on how auto racers (and other athletes) can use mental skills to help them get the most out of their practices.

Published in: Mental Skills Training, Athletes

Coaches Have Their Own Needs

Published January 23, 2015

By Burton Giges M.D.

Sport psychology offers many suggestions for providing psychological services for athletes who need assistance with problems in performance, communication, time management, transitions, relationships and health issues. Unfortunately, the same volume of interest has not been shown in attending to similar problems and needs of coaches. Although sport psychology does offer programs and techniques for coaches to deal with student-athlete well-being, there is relatively little about how coaches themselves can be helped to cope with the stresses of coaching and still meet their own needs.

Psychological needs

Coaches are performers, educators, administrators, leaders, planners, motivators, negotiators, managers, and listeners, but they are also people. As such, they bring to their roles and tasks fundamentally the same psychological needs as other professions. These needs include security, self-worth, identity, autonomy, mastery, intimacy, belonging, and a sense of meaning or purpose. It is important to understand how significantly these basic human needs influence coaches' performance.

When a team does well, most coaches feel good about themselves, and may experience a significant increase in their self-esteem. Some coaches also find satisfaction in how they go about coaching, not just in winning. When challenged by planning for a difficult competition, coaches have an opportunity to experience their sense of mastery. Their need to belong may be satisfied by being part of a closely-knit organization, although some coaches would not have this need high on their list of priorities. In addition, teaching athletes new skills, tactics, strategies, and values can be highly satisfying and beneficial to a coach's sense of self-worth.

Psychological needs are just as fundamental to growth as are physical needs. Unless both are met adequately, growth may be impaired. One approach that can be used to improve the experience of coaches is to increase their self-awareness.


Self-awareness involves knowledge of one's own behavior, thoughts, feelings, needs and wants. It can lead to a fuller knowledge of oneself, and a greater appreciation of one's complexity and wholeness. A major advantage of such knowledge is an increased ability to be in charge of oneself, enabling individuals to be less distracted by their own feelings, wants, and values, and better able to respond to others effectively. It is important that self-awareness be non-judgmental. Within each of us is the capacity to observe what we do, what we think, what we feel, and what we want. This observer part of us neither approves nor disapproves. It does what is called "neutral noticing:" no criticism, no reprimand, no disapproval, and no judgment.

Self-awareness can lead to improvement in coaching performance. Without it, feelings can surface in unexpected or undesired ways. For example, unawareness of fear can lead to controlling or dominating behavior. Unawareness of guilt or shame can result in defensiveness or blaming others. Consider coaches who might realize that their plan did not work, but to avoid feeling guilty about selecting a poor strategy, they blame their athletes for not trying hard enough. In this example, if the coaches were aware of their guilt feeling, they might choose to deal with the situation differently. Awareness of guilt might be difficult, however, for coaches who are unable to accept responsibility for their mistakes. In addition, if a coach is not aware of her or his wants, a feeling of powerlessness, or a self-perception as a victim can result. When coaches forget why they coach and what they want from coaching, they may feel trapped when they face difficult situations, and be unable to see alternative choices.

Self-awareness also provides an opportunity for change. Most often, we become aware of a problem behavior after it occurs. When this happens, we may say "I see that I did that." With a commitment to change and repeated awareness of the behavior, awareness begins to occur earlier. When it is present during the behavior, we may say "I see that I am doing that right now." With additional time and practice, awareness moves earlier in time, until it is present before the undesired behavior occurs. At this point, we can say "I see that I am about to do that." When awareness precedes the behavior, a choice can be made to behave differently. This is an opportunity for change and is represented by the statement "I can do it differently."

Unfortunately, the self-awareness that is necessary to identify and manage personal concerns is often not emphasized in traditional coach education programs. Occasionally, coaches in training are introduced to the importance of self-awareness, and understanding their coping patterns. Some coach education programs even provide participants opportunities for self-examination. Self-awareness, however, is more than a one-time activity or exercise. True awareness of oneself, including the advantages and disadvantages of one's personal style, is an ongoing process that requires work and effort over time.

Because of the impact coaches have on their athletes, it is important for coaches to know their own feelings, needs, and wants, in order to be able to give priority to their athletes' needs. Gaining information about oneself should be a continuous goal, but coaches, because of the position of power that they hold, often do not get much direct feedback from players or their assistant coaches.

Psychological barriers

In a growth and development model, a basic assumption is that we all have an inherent capacity for optimal functioning, and would be able to do so if nothing interfered. Optimal coaching is more likely to occur in the absence of obstacles. More specifically, whether a coach's task is preparing practice routines, planning game strategies, or becoming more self-aware, distractions diminish effectiveness. Just as physical barriers (e.g. fatigue, illness, or injury) can interfere with performance, so too can psychological barriers. When psychological barriers impair self-awareness, they can result in energy-draining distractions that interfere with focusing on important tasks. Barriers can arise from problems with family, administrators, colleagues, or athletes. In addition, barriers to self-awareness can develop from personal issues; that is, from the coach's own thoughts, feelings, behavior, or wants. For example, thinking barriers include self-doubt, self-criticism, low self-confidence, or perfectionism. Feeling barriers could be anxiety, guilt, anger, shame, sadness, or emotional hurt. Behavioral barriers are overworking, impulsiveness, poor communication, or giving up. Psychological barriers related to what we want include poor motivation, loss of desire or commitment, or conflicting interests.

When barriers block self-awareness, removing them can restore that awareness. Sport psychology can be helpful in accomplishing this goal.

*Adapted from an article in The Sport Psychologist, December 2004, 18, 4, 430-444, by Burt Giges and Albert J. Petitpas, Springfield College, and Ralph A. Vernacchia, Western Washington University. See original article for complete references.

About the Author

Burton Giges M.D. is Clinical Professor in the Athletic Counseling Program, Department of Psychology at Springfield College, MA, Past-President of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He serves as Special Consultant to the USA Track and Field Sport Psychology Program, and is on the Editorial Board of The Sport Psychologist. Formerly, he was Consultant to the Westchester Track Club in NY, the Women's Track and Field team at Springfield College, and team physician for a high school football team in NY. Dr. Giges has conducted workshops in many different universities around the country, has been a keynote speaker at sport psychology conferences, and for many years taught a Lab in Counseling Athletes at Springfield College, MA.

The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) promotes ethical practice, science and advocacy in the field of sport and exercise psychology. Since 1986, AASP has been an international, multidisciplinary, professional organization that offers certification to qualified professionals in the field of sport and exercise psychology. With more than 2,000 members in 54 countries, AASP is a worldwide leader, sharing research and resources with the public via its website,

Published in: Coaches

Sheryl Swoopes Achieves Greatness Through Sport Psychology

Published January 16, 2015

By Yopko Penhallurick LLC

Regarded as one of the best female basketball players of all time, Sheryl Swoopes accepted the Performance Excellence Award at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology's (AASP) annual conference in Las Vegas in October 2014.

Swoopes' journey to greatness took off when she became the first player to sign with the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1996. Since then, she excelled at her sport, earning four WNBA championships, three Most Valuable Player awards and three Olympic Gold Medals.

Swoopes' enormously successful basketball career solidified her selection as the AASP Performance Excellence Award recipient. The Performance Excellence Award aims to reward individuals who embody exemplary psychological principles associated with performance excellence. These principles may be demonstrated through the recipient's consistent achievement, merit or leadership over the course of their career.

"When I got the news about the award I reflected on my life," said Swoopes. "I looked at how far I've come and where I am headed—the good and bad. All of my life experiences happened for a reason, but they've shaped me for who I am today. Determination, focus, facing challenges with perseverance and hard work and sacrifice are the four reasons critical to driving performance excellence in my life," explained Swoopes.

Becoming Mentally Ready

Part of Swoopes' athletic success can be credited to a deep preparedness that comes not only from physical, but psychological training. After she failed to qualify for the USA Olympic Trials and World Championships, Swoopes asked the judging committee what it would take to make the team. Swoopes soon learned she was physically prepared to compete at the next level, but not mentally prepared.

"I needed to seek help because I had a lot of issues in my life that were overwhelming. When I finally decided to open up to my clinical sport psychologist, I learned to deal with all the distractions in my life on and off court," said Swoopes.

Becoming the head women's basketball coach at Loyola University Chicago in 2013, Swoopes recognizes the importance of mental strengthening in student-athletes.

"It is important for my players to have someone besides their coach to talk to," Swoopes said. "I believe sport psychologists should be mandatory in all universities."

As of 2013, between 38 to 61 percent of NCAA Division I institutions and between 10 to 23 percent of both Division II and Division III reported having access to sport psychological services.

Are you an athlete or coach? Find educational resources and articles in the AASP Resource Center.

Published in: Athletes, Performance Psychology

Understanding Student-Athlete Burnout

Published January 16, 2015

By Keith A. Kaufman, Ph.D.

The human body needs recovery to thrive. Without it, performance can begin to suffer and/or an athlete can start breaking down. The state of burnout is often regarded as the endpoint of this breakdown process and is characterized by the absence of motivation as well as complete mental and physical exhaustion. What leads to burnout is too much training stress coupled with too little recovery. Training stress can come from a variety of sources on and off the field, such as physical training, travel, academic or social demands.

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There is a school of thought in American sport today that "more is better." Parents and coaches, perhaps dreaming of the spoils of athletic success, are encouraging kids at increasingly younger ages to specialize in a particular sport and to commit to year-round training in it. Cutting-edge physical training programs frequently require overloading athletes to obtain maximum training gains. The pressures to do and achieve more keep growing, and far too rarely is consideration given to the costs of operating in this non-stop fashion. In reality, however, the human body needs recovery to thrive. Without it, performance can begin to suffer and/or an athlete can start breaking down. The state of burnout is often regarded as the endpoint of this breakdown process and is characterized by the absence of motivation as well as complete mental and physical exhaustion.

What leads to burnout is too much training stress coupled with too little recovery. Training stress can come from a variety of sources on and off the field, such as physical, travel, time, academic or social demands (e.g., Metzler, 2002). Multiple models have been developed to explain how the burnout process unfolds. One of them, proposed by Silva (1990), conceptualizes burnout as a training stress syndrome where too much stress can first produce staleness, then overtraining, and eventually burnout. Staleness is defined by a clear drop in athlete motivation and a plateau in performance. Overtrained athletes often exhibit psychophysiological malfunctions and performance declines. According to Silva and many other sport scientists who have studied burnout, the only way to halt this cycle is to rest, usually not a satisfying prescription to athletes who feel they cannot stop and want to "push through" their negative symptoms. Raedeke (1997) has suggested that an x-factor in burnout could be a sense of being trapped by circumstances within a sport. In other words, an athlete may recognize a need to stop, but feel compelled to continue (e.g., to keep a scholarship or starting role), which can further exacerbate training stress.

Another factor that can contribute to burnout is the nature of an athlete's motivation. Youths in our culture typically get involved with sports for intrinsic reasons like having fun, learning new skills, getting exercise and making new friends (e.g., Ewing & Seefeldt, 1989). Intrinsic motivation has been linked to superior athletic performance, including the peak performance state known as flow (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). However, what tends to happen as athletes advance through levels of competition is that their motivation shifts toward extrinsic rewards such as trophies, scholarships, money, celebrity or approval. Participation stops being only about the joy of partaking in the sport itself and becomes more about what can be obtained through the sport, a change that often brings a ton of added pressure with it. Athletes can sometimes end up feeling controlled by the very rewards they are pursuing, which may undermine their raw desire to participate in their sport and create a sense of being trapped, potentially fueling burnout (Weinberg & Gould, 2011).

Research on the prevalence of staleness, overtraining and burnout is sparse. Silva (1990) surveyed student-athletes from the Atlantic Coast Conference and found that 72 percent endorsed experiencing some staleness during their sport seasons, 66 percent believed they had experienced overtraining (with the average being two experiences during their college careers), and 47 percent reported feeling burned out at some point during their collegiate career. Gustafsson, Kentta, Hassmen, and Lindquist (2007) studied 980 elite adolescent athletes and found that 1 percent to 9percent of female athletes and 2 percent to 6 percent of male atheltes had experienced symptoms of high-level burnout. Certain burnout cycle symptoms can look a lot like clinical depression, so it is valid to wonder how our understanding of its prevalence has been impacted by misdiagnosis. In my practice, I have encountered athletes who had been diagnosed with depression and even put on antidepressant medication by mental health professionals, when, in fact, they were burning out in their sport. Making this differential diagnosis can be difficult, but it is critical to ensuring that the proper course of treatment is followed.

It is important that athletics staff educate themselves about the symptoms of burnout and actively monitor student-athletes with whom they work for signs of this cycle occurring. Among the red flags to watch out for are changes in emotions (e.g., irritability, moodiness, disinterest), cognitive functioning (e.g., difficulties concentrating), decreases in strength and coordination, physiological changes (e.g., appetite loss, increased resting heart rate), and greater susceptibility to illness (Etzel, Watson, Visek, & Maniar, 2006). As Reynolds (2008) put it, there is no mystery about the prescription for treating burnout: rest, rest and more rest. Other potential interventions may include setting short-term goals to bolster motivation, incorporating fun activities into the rigors of training, and practicing stress-reduction techniques like meditation and visualization (Weinberg & Gould, 2011). Mindfulness-based interventions, like Kaufman, Glass, and Pineau's (in press) Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE), could be an emerging approach to help prevent and treat burnout. A recent TIME Magazine cover story (Pickert, 2014) praised mindfulness as a means to pause and recover in an era when it feels like stopping and unplugging is an impossibility. More is better continues to be emphasized in the world of sport, but the reality is that sometimes, less is more.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Etzel, E. F., Watson, J. C., Visek, A. J., Maniar, S. D. (2006). Understanding and promoting college student-athlete health: Essential issues for student affairs professionals. NASPA Journal, 43, 518-546.

Ewing, M. E., & Seefeldt, V. (1989). Participation and attrition patterns in American agency- sponsored and interscholastic sports: An executive summary. Final Report. North Palm Beach, FL: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Gustafsson, H., Kentta, G., Hassmen, P., & Lindquist, C. (2007). Prevalence of burnout in competitive adolescent athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 21-27.

Kaufman, K. A., Glass, C. R., & Pineau, T. R. (in press). Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement: A mindfulness-based mental training program for athletes. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Metzler, J. (2002). Applying motivational principles to individual athletes. In J. M. Silva & D. E. Stevens (Eds.), Psychological foundations of sport (pp. 80-106). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Pickert, K. (2014, February 3). The mindful revolution: Finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently. TIME Magazine, 40-46.

Raedeke, T. (1997). Is athlete burnout more than just stress? A sport commitment perspective. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 19, 396-417.

Reynolds, G. (2008, March 2). Crash and burnout. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Silva, J. M. (1990). An analysis of the training stress syndrome in competitive athletics. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2, 5-20.

Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

About Dr. Kaufman

Dr. Keith A. Kaufman is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the mental training of athletes and others who wish to improve their health and performance. He has office locations in Washington, DC and Alexandria, Virginia, and is a Research Associate at Catholic University. Dr. Kaufman has co-developed an influential training program for athletes called Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE). Dr. Kaufman received his B.A. in both Psychology and Exercise & Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received the Patrick F. Earey Award to the outstanding senior Exercise & Sport Science major. He obtained his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Catholic University. Dr. Kaufman can be contacted through his websites: and

Published in: Coaches, Athletes, Parents & Youth Sport