Athlete’s Mental Skills

Athlete’s Mental Skills

Across the world of elite sport, a problem pops up over and over again, athlete’s mental game

Top athletes under-perform when expectations are highest. One thing goes wrong, then another, then another. Soon, the higher-ranking opponent collapses and no one is really sure why.

“The core of the problem is the wrong view of how the human mind actually works. Feelings and emotions are the foundation to thought – not the other way around. We have a flat earth-round earth moment right now where most advisors fear the round earth yet it’s exactly the path to greater horizons and specifically the path for athletes to use to outperform under pressure.”

That is according to Denise Shull, a Performance Coach who serves as the Principal of the ReThink Group, a New York-based human capital consultancy that leverages the latest neuroscience and psychological research into creating new levels of human performance.

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Attention Deficit Disorder Test

ADHD/Attention Deficit Disorder Test

Do you often find yourself unable to concentrate even when the task at hand is extremely important? Do you find yourself daydreaming at inappropriate moments? Is your work, your home life, your relationship or any other area suffering as a result of these problems?  

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Mental Health Care

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Mental Health Care: A Giant Opportunity

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Mental Health Care

“Hey Siri, am I depressed?” When I posed this question to my iPhone, Siri’s reply was “I can’t really say, Jennifer.”

Someday I think, software programs like Siri or Alexa may be able to talk to patients about their mental health symptoms to assist human therapists.

Artificial intelligence’s (AI) transformative power is reverberating across many industries, but in one—healthcare—its impact promises to be truly life-changing. From hospital care to clinical research, drug development and insurance, AI applications are revolutionizing how the health sector works to reduce spending and improve patient outcomes.

The total public and private sector investment in healthcare AI is stunning: All told, it is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021, according to some estimates. Even more staggering, Accenture predicts that the top AI applications may result in annual savings of $150 billion by 2026.

To learn more, I spoke with Adam Miner, PsyD, an instructor and co-director of Stanford’s Virtual Reality-Immersive Technology Clinic, who is working to improve conversational AI to recognize and respond to health issues.

What do you do as an AI psychologist?

“AI psychology isn’t a new specialty yet, but I do see it as a growing interdisciplinary need. I work to improve mental health access and quality through safe and effective artificial intelligence. I use methods from social science and computer science to answer questions about AI and vulnerable groups who may benefit or be harmed.”


How did you become interested in this field?

“During my training as a clinical psychologist, I had patients who waited years to tell anyone about their problems for many different reasons. I believe the role of a clinician isn’t to blame people who don’t come into the hospital. Instead, we should look for opportunities to provide care when people are ready and willing to ask for it, even if that is through machines.

VI was reading research from different fields like communication and computer science and I was struck by the idea that people may confide intimate feelings to computers and be impacted by how computers respond. I started testing different digital assistants, like Siri, to see how they responded to sensitive health questions. The potential for good outcomes — as well as bad — quickly came into focus.”


Why is technology needed to assess the mental health of patients?

“We have a mental health crisis and existing barriers to care — like social stigma, cost and treatment access. Technology, specifically AI, has been called on to help. The big hope is that AI-based systems, unlike human clinicians, would never get tired, be available wherever and whenever the patient needs and know more than any human could ever know.

However, we need to avoid inflated expectations. There are real risks around privacy, ineffective care and worsening disparities for vulnerable populations. There’s a lot of excitement, but also a gap in knowledge. We don’t yet fully understand all the complexities of human–AI interactions.

People may not feel judged when they talk to a machine the same way they do when they talk to a human — the conversation may feel more private. But it may in fact be more public because information could be shared in unexpected ways or with unintended parties, such as advertisers or insurance companies.”

What are you hoping to accomplish with AI?

“If successful, AI could help improve access in three key ways. First, it could reach people who aren’t accessing traditional, clinic-based care for financial, geographic or other reasons like social anxiety. Second, it could help create a ‘learning healthcare system’ in which patient data is used to improve evidence-based care and clinician training.

Lastly, I have an ethical duty to practice culturally sensitive care as a licensed clinical psychologist. But a patient might use a word to describe anxiety that I don’t know and I might miss the symptom. AI, if designed well, could recognize cultural idioms of distress or speak multiple languages better than I ever will. But AI isn’t magic.

We’ll need to thoughtfully design and train AI to do well with different genders, ethnicities, races and ages to prevent further marginalizing vulnerable groups.

If AI could help with diagnostic assessments, it might allow people to access care who otherwise wouldn’t. This may help avoid downstream health emergencies like suicide.”


How long until AI is used in the clinic?

“I hesitate to give any timeline, as AI can mean so many different things. But a few key challenges need to be addressed before wide deployment, including the privacy issues, the impact of AI-mediated communications on clinician-patient relationships and the inclusion of cultural respect.

The clinician–patient relationship is often overlooked when imagining a future with AI. We know from research that people can feel an emotional connection to health-focused conversational AI.

What we don’t know is whether this will strengthen or weaken the patient-clinician relationship, which is central to both patient care and a clinician’s sense of self. If patients lose trust in mental health providers, it will cause real and lasting harm.”

  • This is a reposting of Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine




Do You Have What it Takes For Greatness?

What makes someone with early potential develop that talent in a way that results in high performance or greatness?

The volume, The Psychology of High Performance: Developing Human Potential into Domain-Specific Talent, addresses that question by examining outstanding performance across five different domains: academic disciplines (mathematics and psychology), arts production (culinary arts and drawing/painting), arts performance (dance and acting), professions (medicine, software engineering, and professional teams), and sport (golf and team sports).

The book was, in part, inspired by a famous study by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues in 1985, which retrospectively examined the trajectories of world-class athletes, artists, scholars and professionals. The work, the authors write, “remains a valid and elegant reporting of the developmental stages of instruction experienced by his study participants. What was missing … is an explicit description of psychosocial dimensions of eminent achievement.”

The study of expertise has expanded in recent years to examine similarities and differences across multiple domains (see the Journal of Expertise), and this edited volume brings together scholars across various disciplines. Rena, Paula, and Frank kindly responded to three questions regarding their new book.


What have we learned since Bloom’s original contribution on the psychology of high performance?

Ironically, one of the major things that we have learned since Bloom’s (1985) study is how much he got correct. The importance of looking at talent withindomains; providing the right resources both within and outside of school; the importance of the family, especially in the earliest years; the right teachers and mentors at particular stages on the developmental trajectory in a domain; and a community of learners are still key factors in the advancement of high performance.

Since 1985, we have since learned that psychosocial skills and insider knowledge interact with ability to enhance the likelihood of progress to the next level of talent development, and we do have some ideas about which psychosocial skills matter broadly across domains.

We still need to identify psychosocial skills unique to domains and who is best placed to convey these skills and knowledge. Also, we have little to go on regarding developmental benchmarks for talent development, largely because we assume that present performance is the best predictor of future performance—but it may be that present performance is not the sole predictor.

A better predictor may be the capacity to develop and maintain critical psychosocial skills.  For example, what happens to a talented individual who loses passion for the domain, stops practicing intensely, or is unable to focus?


Used with permission
What are the commonalities for talent development when considering multiple domains?

All domains change over time in response to societal demands. For example, medicine has needed to increase sub-specialization and pay more attention in training protocols to interacting and communicating with patients.

Aesthetics within fields of performance also change and as a result, preparation changes (witness that in the education of artists, the basic skill of drawing has become optional in the curriculum and preference is given to learning what you need to know to do the art you want to do).

Commonalities across talent development domains can be divided into several categories. The first is the personal category. In addition to domain-specific ability and creativity, passion, persistence in the face of failure or setbacks, and engaging in the work of the discipline or field over time are useful across domains.

The second category is environmental. Social, emotional, and financial support are critical.  Even in domains where the tools or equipment that is required is relatively inexpensive, the resource of time is key, and time is dependent on a certain amount of fiscal resources.

The third factor is chance, which involves both the personal and environmental. The individual developing talent needs to be on the lookout for opportunities and ready and willing to take up opportunities as they arise. There are a lot of talented individuals aiming for the top and typically there are more talented individuals than there are opportunities.

It is important to note that domains differ in important ways as well. For example, talent trajectories begin, peak, and end at different times. And within domains, there are early and late specialization fields, those that focus more on teamwork and others that are more individual, those that expect large commitments to education and those that do not, and those that require a great deal of disciplined or deliberate practice and those that require less.

The next steps for the field will be to categorize these similarities and differences based on research and the best practices presented in this book and translate this information into a testable model.


What can we learn from talent selection and development from sports that has the potential to be applied in academic settings?

Sports provides several key lessons. First, the domain of sport relies more on sport-specific criteria than do academic fields. They use actual performance as a selection tool. Individuals are asked to play the sport, often with other equally talented athletes who are trying out, and those who perform best are selected. Teachers (coaches) do the selection with pretty good accuracy.

Second is the importance of ongoing disciplined practice. We use the term disciplined rather than deliberate practice because the nature of the “practice” that one needs to engage in to succeed in physics or acting may be very different than the deliberate practice required in sport, but it is still practice in the discipline.

Sport has long recognized the importance of psychosocial skills like coping with performance anxiety—particularly at the elite levels of competition. Sports take place in front of audiences where one has supporters and individuals who are not rooting for you and you have got to learn to be able to “shut out” distractions and get the job done. Similarly, games are played almost weekly or even more frequently, and athletes have got to put their best selves on the field or court on every occasion. Thus, an athlete is trained to “pick oneself up” after losses, understand the lessons the loss provides, and move forward to try to win the next game.  Sports psychologists are integrated into this important component of training. We leave the development of these skills to chance for academically talented individuals, but we could place more of a focus on developing them.

Sport also seems to have many different avenues for gaining experience in the early years—through school teams, park district activities, club sports, and so on. These opportunities are open to all children and get more selective as they progress.

In other words, “on ramps” are readily available. Parents know and accept the idea of starting young children with exposure and progressing to increasingly more selective and competitive opportunities. We do not have such “on ramps” in academics and parents do not have the same knowledge or acceptance of the idea.

However, we argue that many of the advantages of sport come with it being a performance domain, and other performance domains such as elite music performance also offer useful lessons for academic domains. As in sport, in developing elite musical talent, there are explicit criteria for selection based on performance, and diminished reliance on abstract tests. Teachers are often practicing professionals and provide individualized instruction – much of the talent development work is conducted one-on-one.

Teacher selection is also key and sometimes more important than the reputation of the music institution. And beyond one-on-one lessons, there are master classes sharing instruction with all the students of one teacher. Additionally, for a student to progress, he or she needs to pass muster every year in front of the whole department.

Finally, there are “Reality 101” classes requiring students learn how to behave in professional environments, how to handle stress, how to get an agent, and other practical skills required to facilitate success.

These skills would also be useful in academic domains and universities are now beginning to have classes on succeeding in academia or translating your doctoral degree into success outside the academy.



Overcome Frustration With this 5 Tricks

Here’s the dictionary definition of frustration: “The feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of an inability to change or achieve something.”

Sound familiar? It sure does to me, especially in the context of health.

But you can change the fact that you live with chronic pain and illness every day. I know, I did. Now, I could relate many instances of when frustration has boiled over into anger, often followed by tears.

The problem with frustration—no matter in what context—is that being “upset or annoyed” adds a second layer of suffering to the emotional suffering you’re already caught up in.

In my experience, frustration serves no useful purpose. Quite the opposite: It clouds the mind, making it hard to see if there’s constructive action you could take to improve your situation.

Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies to minimize the impact of frustration in my life. (These suggestions apply to any source of frustration, whether in relation to your health or not.)

1. Recognize that you’re not alone.

Everyone gets frustrated at times. Knowing this can keep you from adding yet a third layer of emotional suffering in the form of that nasty culprit self-blame. Even the Dalai Lama said rthat he can still get angry at times. If he gets angry, he must also know what frustration feels like! So be sure not to make things worse by blaming yourself when this unwelcome emotional state comes calling.

2. Don’t treat the feeling as if it’s set in stone.

Impermanence is a universal law. Nothing stays the same for long. Of course, impermanence can be a source of sadness; but I like to say it can also be your friend.

Don’t set your frustration in stone by telling yourself that it’s a permanent feature of your personality. If you’re thinking, “But I’m always frustrated,” first of all, it’s probably not true. And second, even if it were true, you can change your response when this unpleasant emotion shows up (and this is true of any unpleasant emotion).

This is because, as we’re learning from neuroscientists, the mind is malleable; this means that you can change even your most deeply ingrained habits.

An effective way not to “set your frustration in stone” is to step back mentally, and take out self-referential terms, such as “I” or “me.” Simply say to yourself: “Frustration is present at the moment.” Then you won’t think of it as a permanent feature of who you are.

Holding this stressful emotion lightly in this way loosens its grip and makes it easier for you to move on with your day.

3. Work on developing patience when frustration (or any painful emotion) is present.

When a painful emotion arises, trying to force it away tends to intensify it. This is certainly true with frustration. The alternative is to recognize its impermanent nature and patiently wait for it to blow out of your mind, like a storm that passes overhead.

4. Contact a friend or relative who doesn’t mind listening to you.

Think about whether there’s someone you could contact who will understand what you’re going through—perhaps someone you know who’s recently been faced with an experience similar to yours.

It’s amazing how talking (or emailing or texting) with someone who shares your frustration can suddenly make it bearable, and allow you to patiently wait it out as in #3 above.

5. Administer self-compassion immediately.

Self-compassion is my go-to-practice in any stressful situation, including when I find myself caught up in an unpleasant emotion, such as frustration. All self-compassion asks is that you be kind to yourself. This means not blaming yourself for what emotions you’re experiencing at the moment: all kinds of emotions arise and pass without being invited … so, no blame!

Self-compassion also includes doing something nice for yourself, whether it’s lying down and listening to some music, watching a funny show on TV, eating a treat. Each of us has that special thing we can do for ourselves that soothes the mental pain that accompanies unpleasant emotions.

Finally, try speaking silently or softly to yourself in a compassionate and understanding voice: “It’s hard to be in so much pain. No wonder I get frustrated at times.”

When you give voice to your feelings in this way, you’re letting yourself know that you care about your suffering.

This alone will ease your emotional pain.

I hope these five suggestions have been helpful.
My best to everyone.




Best Game

Your Best Game is All In Your Head

What allows an athlete to play the best possible game ? His ability to visualize the outcome in his mind.

Your brain is the physical expression of your mind.

“Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have,” wrote Darrin Donnelly. “It affects everything.”

Elite athletes and sports psychologists know that talent and hard work will get an athlete in the door, but attitude will be the greatest measure of success. Lawrie Montague and David Milne noted that one of the biggest challenges an athlete faces is to stay true to their “course of learning without being side-tracked along the way.”

Thinking interferes with performance. The more you are distracted, the less you are capable of learning. So if you strive toward success, you must decide how to think on the field of competition. Your mental focus becomes your destiny. Success begins in your mind. But, so does failure.

Certainly, you can focus on the mechanics. All athletes know practice hones specific skill sets. The idea that “practice makes perfect” is a false concept; practice makes permanent. Yet, practice does train the brain not to overthink. It reinforces, repeats movements, and is proactive. For example, a golfer hitting balls on the practice range reinforces his or her timing and technique to create a repeatable swing.

However, hard work does not guarantee success. Doing the wrong things in practice can ruin your performance. Poor techniques become ingrained in the mind and difficult to overcome. Additionally, tweaking with technique may correct one fault but may produce problems in other areas (usually from overuse or neglect in other areas).

Tweaking techniques cause inconsistency. You may not immediately see the results. Thus, more tweaking is done because you see no noticeable change. No change erroneously means more tweaking must be done. Every time you tweak, and change is not noticeable, you lose trust.


Best Game

Bob Rotella said, “To improve, you must practice. But the quality of your practice is more important than the quality.”

The best way to improve your game is to improve your mental game. To be successful, an athlete must work hard and work smart. Tim Grover, a trainer to elite athletes as Michael Jordan and Dwayne Wade, noted, “to be the best, whether in sports or business or any other aspect of life, it’s never enough to just get to the top; you have to stay there, and then you have to climb higher.” You need to be relentless. You need to be mentally tough.

Improving your mental side of the game is just as important as the physical side.

To develop mental toughness means to improve your confidence, play with trust, sharpen your focus, keep your emotions in check, stay in the present, reduce anxiety, improve learning, and build trust. Athletes, who practice and acquire strong mental skills, learn to sharpen their minds and focus on the little things.


Here are eight mental training tips that can help.
  • Set goals — Realistic and measurable.
  • Commit to your sport — Do what it’ll take to be the best physically and mentally.
  • Be confident — A positive attitude and success begin in the mind.
  • Mental composure — Anxiety and pressure can be overcome. Become aware of what you are feeling and decide how to respond. Turn anxiety into positive energy (“I care about this …”).
  • Coping through difficult situations — Choose how to respond in different situations.
  • Challenges are opportunities — Rise to the challenge and view challenges as opportunities for positive outcomes.
  • Visualize — Imagine becoming successful at a task. There is no risk of physical injury. See yourself successfully winning a race, batting a ball, scoring the winning goal.
  • Relax — Learn to breathe. Practice relaxation techniques.

These eight tips are not the only tools an athlete can use to improve his or her mental game. However, they will provide the beginning of the strong foundation of success. As Glover noted, “Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.”


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA