Sports Psychology, Peak Performance and Overcoming Fears & Blocks

User Menu 2

Sports Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Injuries and performance fears/blocks (Special issue)

Sports Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Injuries and performance fears/blocks (Special issue)


On April 12, 2003 Chicago Cubs’, ‘corky’, controversial homerun slugger, Sammy Sosa was corked (sorry, I couldn’t resist) in the head by a pitch. Since that beaning, “Slamming Sammy” has been more like “Fanning Sammy.” He’s hit only one home run, has struck out 40 times and is in the midst of a prolonged batting slump. Simply put, he hasn’t been the same since he was injured. In this special issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we’re going to explore EXACTLY WHY. What a lot of athletes, parents and coaches don’t realize is that underpinning most repetitive performance problems, slumps and blocks is one or more physical or mental injuries or “trauma.” The trauma can be an actual physical injury like a broken wrist, torn ACL, badly sprained ankle, a painful collision with an opponent, a bad fall off the horse, or, like in Sammy’s case, getting hit by a pitch. The trauma can also be more psychological and emotional rather than physical. For example, sometimes the fear associated with a fall in the gym is much more profound than the actual physical injuries sustained. Or in other situations, the athlete can be badly embarrassed or humiliated in front of his teammates by his coach or suffer some other form of negative performance experience, i.e choking, failing, getting cut from a team, etc. These physical and emotional traumatic experiences seem to lodge themselves in the athlete’s mind and body (neurology and physiology), immediately showing up as performance problems right after the trauma, or lying dormant for any number of weeks or months before rearing their ugly little head. These kinds of trauma-based performance slumps are particularly resistant to more normal kinds of intervention by parents, coaches or even other sports psychologists. It seems that no matter what the athlete, parents or coaches try, the performance block or slump will not release its’ nasty grip. Of course, the athlete’s futile efforts to extricate himself only leads him deeper and deeper into the maze of increasing frustration, decreasing self-confidence and increasing anxiety that always seems to make the whole situation that much worse.

For years I have been battling all kinds of performance problems in athletes as well as other performers outside of sports, (public speakers, test takers, performing artists, etc.). With many kinds of performance difficulties I have had great success. However, with these fear based, trauma induced performance problems I have had only mixed results. It has been a very humbling and frustrating experience for me. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my share of successes, but as far as I was concerned, there weren’t enough of them in these situations. It just seemed that these SPORTS PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) problems resisted the treatment model that I had developed and perfected over the years. That left me feeling intensely frustrated and inadequate. Why? I am a puzzle solver. This is what I do. I love solving performance problems. When I can’t, it makes me very unhappy. My unhappiness and frustration led me on a quest for answers. I knew that I was missing something very important. I just knew that there had to be a more effective way of working with these more resistant, trauma-based problems. Sometime last year, I found exactly what I had been looking for….the solution to Sports PTSD! EMDR and The Grand System.


For most of her soccer career, Meg was an all-star keeper. She had great reflexes, tremendous speed and a good head for the game. Her instincts were uncanny and she elevated the play of any team she was a part of. Right through junior soccer, ODP and high school ball she dominated the competition and controlled the game. She always seemed to be one of the best players out there on the pitch. One reason for this was that Meg was simply fearless in the net. She never hesitated to move off the line when the situation called for it and her aggressive play intimidated opponents, distracting them into thinking about her instead of what they were doing. She was All-State in high school four years in a row, got a full ride to a top Division I program and had a very successful collegiate career, playing on a National Championship team and being named Collegiate All American several years in a row.  Meg had been on the U18 National team going into college and continued to play at a national level right up until the accident. She was so close to making the world cup team when it happened.

It had been a fiercely fought game up to that point and she had already made two spectacular saves. The other team was bringing the ball up to her left, when one of their forwards hit a cross in an attempt to set up a streaking teammate. As the situation called for, Meg came out fast and aggressively to the ball and collided hard with this player. The sound of the collision was so loud that Meg’s teammates on offense at the other end of the field could actually hear it. Both athletes went down in a tangle of arms and legs. The opposing player although badly shaken, eventually got back up. However, Meg still lay on the ground writhing in pain, holding her right knee and screaming uncontrollably. She had broken her kneecap and ripped her ACL in the process. While she knew she was badly hurt, she never could have guessed that she was out for the season and then some.

The rehab process was long, hard and extremely painful. The physical pain was the least of Meg’s discomfort and that was certainly no picnic. Her rehab sessions were so excruciating that they frequently left her in tears, and this from an athlete who prided herself on being hard-nosed and tough. However, her physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional turmoil that the injury had caused her. For the very first time in her life troubling self-doubts crept in. She was frustrated that she couldn’t play and increasingly concerned at how long she had to be out of the game. She’d missed a game or two during her career, but had never been this badly injured that she had to be out almost a year. She worried about her comeback. She worried about whether her knee would heal properly and hold up under the physical demands of her game. She worried about losing a spot on the National team. Not being able to train was driving her absolutely crazy and, for the very first time since she had started playing this game, she worried about her competition and not measuring up.

As her knee gradually healed, she increased the intensity and breadth of her training.  It was a happy day when she was finally able to get back into the net and start training again against real shooters and real shots instead of the imaginary ones that she had been “practicing” against in her imagination almost every day since her injury. Her confidence started to grow and it didn’t take her very long before she started feeling like her old self again. Finally, after almost an entire calendar year off from competition, she was back between the posts ready for her first high-level scrimmage at a national team training camp. She felt good physically, was in incredible shape and maybe even stronger than she had been before her accident. She was psyched to be playing again and couldn’t wait to reassert her dominance as THE keeper on the team.

However, somewhere inside something wasn’t right. While she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, there was something uncomfortable nagging at her. In the back of her mind there was a kernel of doubt beginning to fester. It’s not that she could clearly articulate it. She just felt it, beginning to gradually settle over her like some black cloud. Very early in the first half of the scrimmage she was faced with her first real challenge. The opposing striker had broken free and was closing on goal. Meg came out to meet her but there was something distinctly wrong about her challenge. Meg had come off the line late and in doing so was unusually tentative. This was NOT characteristic of her typical style of play. Watching from the sidelines the coaches later told her that she looked almost “gun-shy”, like she was afraid of getting re-injured. A few minutes later, when the opposing team crossed the ball in front of her net she was not her old aggressive self. Instead of coming out hard and challenging the opponent, she hung back. It was this second incident that really got her attention and was most disturbing to her. She always came out on crosses. What was going on?

As she later described the situation to me, she talked about having this little fear “in the back of my mind that I just couldn’t shake.” She felt like somehow she was going to get injured all over again. She knew the fear wasn’t rational. She knew her knee had healed completely. She knew that she was in great shape and had recovered fully. She knew what she was supposed to do tactically. In fact, her superior knowledge and instincts were second nature. However, something was holding her back, overriding her natural instincts and no amount of inner pleading, prodding or ranting and raving could get her to go out and do what she knew she needed to. After several scrimmages and two games she had not been able to shake the uneasiness that she felt whenever she stepped into goal. In fact, it seemed to only get worse. While the coaches were understanding of her situation, they simply couldn’t afford to keep her in goal if she was going to be playing so tentatively. When she was unable to regain her starting spot her confidence plummeted. What she couldn’t understand was, why, after almost two years was she still feeling so tentative between the posts…………?

Paul was a talented high school baseball player who was referred to me by his coach because of an uncharacteristic and prolonged batting slump during the athlete’s all- important junior year. Paul had started on varsity as a freshman and batted .418 leading his team in both batting average and runs batted in. He continued his torrid pace into sophomore year and was the leading hitter on the team going into conference playoffs. An aggressive and smart hitter, Paul was tough to strike out, boasting the lowest strikeout stats on the team. He put opposing pitchers under tremendous pressure because of this and his patience up at the plate. When runners were on, Paul was even more deadly and had hit himself into the cleanup position on one of the better high school squads in the conference.

In the first game of the playoffs during his sophomore year, Paul went 4 for 5 with two doubles, two singles and 4 runs batted in to almost single-handedly lead his team into the second round. Paul was absolutely on fire. In the next quarterfinal match-up he went two for four driving in the game-winning run. The problem really had its’ roots in his first at-bat in the next game, the semi finals. Paul was facing a big lefty who threw with a lot of speed but not very much control. In fact, this pitcher had a reputation for wildness all around the league. It wasn’t as if this hurler was doing it on purpose. Truth be told, he just didn’t have enough control to hit people on purpose. He was just simply a bit out of control.

When Paul stepped up to the plate there was a runner on first. He quickly got ahead in the count 3 balls, 1 strike. The way Paul described it, the next pitch looked like a straight fastball. It was his pitch, no problem at all. However, as Paul went to turn on it, the pitch ran in on him, hitting him on both hands, shattering one of his knuckles of his right hand and badly bruising his left thumb.

Paul tried to finish out the game but his right hand was so swollen and painful that he couldn’t even pick up a bat. End of playoffs! End of season! End of his personal dream to play in the Championship game! With the extent of his injury, he was out of commission for a good six weeks. When he had fully healed and finally got himself back into playing shape sometime in the middle of summer league play, he was no longer the same ball player. He was far more tentative up at the plate and would take his stance much further from the plate than he used to. He almost looked like he was leaning back on his heels as the pitcher began his delivery. To make matters worse Paul seemed to stop trusting his instincts and now spent a lot of time up at the plate over-thinking and trying to guess what pitches were going to be thrown at him. As a result he got caught looking a lot, something that rarely happened to him before the accident. When he did swing, his timing was way off and his swing looked rushed. As a result, Paul’s batting average dropped off the face of the earth.

However, what was far more painful for Paul than his shrinking batting average was how he now felt up at the plate. He was no longer that carefree, aggressive hitter. He hated that he couldn’t just get up there and swing the bat. It felt like he was holding back somehow. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was this lingering tendril of fear that would wrap itself around his hands and arms and not let go. He was convinced he was going to get hit again and badly hurt. No matter how much he tried to reassure himself or build up his confidence, Paul just couldn’t seem to shake free of that dumb little nagging fear. Even doing some intensive work with his old hitting coach didn’t seem to help very much. What panicked Paul the most was that this was his junior year and the most important time to impress the college scouts. With his hitting going down the tubes, he worried that the better baseball programs would no longer be interested in him……

The incident happened almost two years ago and yet it was still as fresh in Amanda’s mind as if it had happened just yesterday. Amanda was learning a very simple release move from low bar to high bar. She had done it several times before, but today, for some reason she was far more scared. Perhaps this was because her trusted coach wasn’t in the gym and instead she had to work with someone that she didn’t really know that well. To make matters worse, he had gone and set the bars as far apart as they could possibly go. This was a problem for Amanda who was a relatively small girl. In fact, when she worked with Jaime, her regular coach the bars were never that far apart. Amanda instinctively knew that this was going to be a stretch for her and that it wasn’t safe. I suppose you could say that this is what ignited her fear.

To prove some obscure point her male coach insisted that all the girls use this distance, regardless of their size. This freaked Amanda out and as her turn approached, she became more and more fearful. By the time that it was her turn to go, her nervousness was close to paralyzing. She fearfully asked the coach if he could please move the bars closer together. He refused, explaining to her that she was perfectly capable of making this distance. In response, Amanda just stood there, petrified. Her coach tried to be supportive but there was a noticeable strain of impatience in his voice. When she refused to go, explaining that the bars were too far apart, his veneer of patience and understanding cracked. He began a power struggle with her, insisting that she go. This only scared the girl even more and she dug her heels in, once again refusing to go. Then the coach turned nasty and began to berate Amanda in front of her teammates. He told her that she was a “chicken” and that even the youngest team member could do what she was so afraid of. The tension between the two of them escalated as it was played out in front of the other eight girls on the team.

Once again the coach demanded that Amanda go for the skill. Once more she refused. He began to raise his voice and then threatened to move her down to a lower group with the “little girls” unless she went. He told her that the rest of the team would just have to stand there and wait for however long it took until she stopped being a chicken and went. Amanda’s fear was now heading off the charts at this point and her instincts told her not to budge. However, the coach only increased the pressure, embarrassing her further and demanding that she go. Her teammates, in an attempt to be positive and supportive said, “C’mon Amanda! You can do this. Just try!” However, the poor girl felt no support from her friends, only more pressure. Feeling cornered, with her coach threatening her even more and, against her better judgment she forced herself to throw the skill.

With adrenalin overflowing her system, she threw herself from the low bar to the high bar with such force that she completely overshot her target, her hands easily ripping off the high bar as she flew by. She landed in a heap on her face, getting the wind knocked out of her and immediately burst into tears. Her coach quickly came over to her and when he saw that other than being scared she was OK said, “You know, Amanda, you’re just going to have to get back up there and do it again!” Despite the fact that she had only bruised her chin and side, she hadn’t really suffered any serious injury. However, from that point on, Amanda refused to jump from the low bar to the high bar. It didn’t even matter if the coaches put the bars as close together as possible and spotted her, she still refused to go.

There was absolutely no question that Amanda had the ability to physically execute the skill. However, she claimed that she was far too afraid to do it. She no longer cared what the coaches said or did to her. There was no way she would ever do that skill again! Very simply, the little girl had been traumatized by this experience with her coach. It wasn’t the actual fall that scared her. It wasn’t the actual skill that was frightening. It was more the pressure, threats and humiliation at the hands of this coach that had really lodged themselves into Amanda’s psyche.

Meg, Paul and Amanda demonstrate the devastating effects of SPORTS PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) a frequently occurring, “trauma based” performance problem in athletes. In SPORTS PTSD, the physical and/or emotional trauma gets stuck in the athlete’s neurology and physiology. In plain English this means that the trauma gets embedded into the athlete’s mind and body, and no amount of external or internal threats, cajoling, bribes, pressure or assurances of safety can change this situation for the athlete. Without a chance to adequately work the traumatic experience through it ends up significantly interfering with subsequent performances long into the future. Frequently the athlete isn’t even aware that these past injuries or trauma are fueling her current problems. She may report being scared, feeling tentative or out of sync. She may refer to something bothering her, “in the back of my mind.” She may talk about needing to “have my brain changed.” Or she may just complain of low self-confidence. Coaches and parents can plainly see that something isn’t quite right and while they may be able to make educated guesses about why the athlete may be tentative or afraid, they can’t understand why the problem still persists or what can be done to constructively change it. Why? The trauma is alive and well within the athlete stealing her heart and courage, feeding her tentativeness and making a smooth, fluid execution impossible. How does this work?


On one hand, the mental effects of a past emotional or physical trauma or injury on an athlete’s present performances are relatively straightforward. For example, if I’m worried about re-injury, failure or getting yelled at and embarrassed by my coach again, then my pre- and during performance self-talk and concentration will focus on all these wrong things. Because my concentration is off, I will unknowingly begin to undermine my self-confidence and send my anxiety level soaring through the roof. As I get more and more nervous, my muscles will automatically tighten, making it impossible for me to execute smoothly and effectively. Tight muscles always lead to stiff, mechanical and shorter movements, slowed down reflexes and reaction time, slower foot speed and body movement, mistiming, and sub-par execution. So on a more conscious mind-body level, worry about the trauma or failing again will completely disrupt my attempts to return my performance to normal. Unfortunately, this is not all that the blocked and fearful athlete is dealing with. More subtle physical after-effects of the trauma are also operating within his body, just outside of the athlete’s awareness. Let me explain.

All traumas produce an instinctive, physiological fear reaction within the human organism. For example, when an individual is confronted by an attacker, he automatically responds defensively by either pulling his arms in to protect himself from a blow or holding his arms straight out in a defensive position with his hands up and wrists laid back, palms facing outward. In addition, the individual defensively rises up and rocks back on his heels. A similar defensive response can be seen when an athlete falls and attempts to break the fall by extending both arms outward, with wrists and palms laid back.

After a physical or emotional trauma, these instinctive bodily reactions to fear can get unconsciously triggered whenever the athlete is in certain stressful, performance situations reminiscent of the original trauma. For example, the athlete has to return to the same environment where he sustained his injury, I.e. the batter stepping into the batter’s box, the skier getting in the starting gate, the gymnast having to get back up on beam or the soccer keeper stepping back into goal. When this physical response to fear is internally triggered, the athlete’s muscles begin to work against themselves. Let me use throwing as an example:

Throwing a baseball or softball accurately requires that the ball player follow through in a downward motion with his/her arm and hand, snapping the wrist downward in the process of a smooth follow-through. However, this natural throwing motion is actually counter to the upward and backward arm, hand and wrist motions seen in the fear response. It’s not as if the athlete’s arms literally move into that protective, defensive position. It’s far subtler than that. The result: Tension in the throwing motion, which completely disrupts the throwing mechanics causing a slow-down in ball speed as well as accuracy and control problem. What does this look like?

Think about the outfielder or catcher who finds himself suddenly double pumping the ball every time he/she goes to throw it. Better yet, think about Chuck Knoblach’s throwing problems when he was the second baseman for the Yankees. Knoblach was continually throwing the ball wildly over the first baseman’s head into the stands. Why? One set of muscles was trying to respond with a smooth and fluid execution while another part was responding in an opposing way out of tension and fear, (perhaps of messing up again and humiliating himself in the media fishbowl that is Yankee Stadium). A similar internal muscular battle can be seen in the skier who has suffered a serious injury from a bad fall and now is trying to return to top racing form. Despite his training to stay low, lean into the slope and attack the course, his instinctive, fear-response muscle memory from the prior trauma is unconsciously operating to keep him sitting up too high and leaning too far back on his skis. As a consequence his times are consistently and disappointingly slow.


Physically the human organism has a built in tendency towards health. When we are sick or injured our natural body defenses automatically kick in and mobilize to fight infection and help us heal. For example, if you’re cut, there is an immediate increase in blood flow to the wound site, accompanied by an influx of white blood cells to help battle infection. In addition, the clotting process begins and the body sets in motion its’ own self-healing process. The human body has all the resources within it to promote healing.

This same type of natural healing process operates for psychological and emotional experiences that we have in our life. In other words, we are always trying to “digest” various experiences, assimilating the good parts to distill out the learning, and then eliminating the bad parts. This “natural assimilation process” allows us to then look back on an experience that we had in the past and be left with only a memory, and without much distressing affect or emotion. However, this natural assimilation process gets interrupted when an individual experiences a trauma. The trauma can be physical like a bad fall, broken bone or otherwise painful injury. The trauma can be emotional/psychological like a bad scare, humiliation at the hands of a coach or any negative performance experience like choking or a tough loss. Most often these traumas are combinations of the two. Whether physical or emotional/psychological, the trauma can be considered either major or minor. A major trauma is a life threatening experience, severe injury, or sexual abuse. A minor trauma could be an insignificant injury, not making varsity, or something as small as committing an error and feeling embarrassed in front of your peers.

Regardless of the trauma, the individual is unable to “digest” or work through the traumatic experience. As a result of the natural assimilation process being interrupted, the traumatic experience stays in the athlete’s system in an isolated state in his neurology and physiology with the same powerful physical feelings, emotions and images. Because the negative experience remains isolated, the athlete is unable to make use of prior or subsequent positive learning. For example an athlete may know it’s safe to dive, may be consciously aware that she has the technique to execute this dive correctly. However, she is unable to utilize that knowledge to break through her fears and block.

When the athlete either consciously thinks back to the trauma or is unconsciously reminded of it, he doesn’t just call up a visual memory. Instead, he “re-experiences” the trauma emotionally and physically. At times his/her experience can be so vivid that it feels as if the athlete is actually going through the experience all over again. An example: A gymnast dislocated both of her arms and shattered her right one in a very bad fall off of bars. She worked very hard to get herself back in the gym and regain her confidence on the apparatus. It took her almost the entire next year to get over her fears to the point where she was finally able to throw the skill that she had originally injured herself on. Then one night, approximately one year after this accident she had a vivid nightmare in which she experienced herself suffering the very same injury, but this time on floor. She awoke in a state of panic, terrified that the accident was indeed going to happen to her all over again. This gymnast could barely get herself to the gym the next day and her fears were so overpowering and debilitating that she wasn’t even able to attempt the simplest of her skills with a spot from the coach. After several weeks of this paralyzing fear she was totally discouraged and ready to quit the sport for good.

The re-experiencing of a traumatic evident is actually a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) episode. The athlete in this situation is just like the combat veteran who, upon hearing a loud noise, suddenly begins to re-experience himself “back in the battle” with all its’ attendant images, emotions, physical feelings and smells. Truth be told, our gymnast had never really gotten over or assimilated her original accident. Sure, she had willed herself to “work through” her fears and clawed her way back so that she could finally do her skills. However, the actual “progress” that she had made was more like a house of cards. The original trauma that she had undergone was still very much “alive and well” in her neurology and physiology and was quickly and easily brought back to her in all its’ disruptive power by the dream. In this case, if she hadn’t had the dream, another fall or near miss would have done the very same thing to her.

In the past, these kinds of cases would have completely stymied and frustrated me because I would have only worked on them near the surface, rather than at their core. In this way I would have been like a gardener pulling weeds but leaving the roots. In no time at all, the nuisance plant reemerges as a whole. I may have helped a gymnast temporarily recover from her fear only to be faced with an even stronger one the next time that athlete had a close call or another fall. Once her terror remerged in all its’ vividness and power, I would have felt as inadequate, stuck and helpless as this poor gymnast did. The bottom line is very simple: Unless you deal with the underlying trauma that the athlete experienced, you’re pulling up weeds without the roots.


Last year I attended a performance enhancement workshop given by Dr. David Grand that opened my eyes and completely changed the way that I look at sports psychology and performance problems. Dr. Grand’s specialty is using EMDR for performance enhancement with athletes and other performers outside of sports. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a treatment method discovered in California in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro, a clinical psychologist. It has revolutionized the treatment of PTSD (resulting from traumas such as accidents, muggings, natural disasters and combat experiences), which now can be successfully resolved by application of EMDR in days instead of months or years. Dr. Grand has done some critically important pioneering work in the field of sports psychology using EMDR. His method of working, called the Grand System is the most powerful tool in performance enhancement work that I’ve come across in my 20 years in this field.

To better understand how EMDR works with athletes, let’s briefly look more closely at the neurophysiological effects of trauma. During and after a negative performance experience (i.e. choking, a humiliating failure, an injury, etc.) the athlete’s brain secretes progressively increasing levels of a chemical called norepinephrine, a stimulant neurotransmitter associated with trauma. Norepinephrine then leads to a state of hyper-alertness and intense anxiety. In addition, this neurotransmitter contributes to a looped replaying of the distressing event(s) in the athlete’s mind. Think of the impact such a continuous replaying of a significant trauma would have on the average athlete. The athlete gets caught in a self-perpetuating, negative spiral. He becomes more and more anxious, can’t concentrate and is overwhelmed by negative thinking and self-doubts. The performance effects of this negative spiral are obvious: Consistently poor performance.


EMDR utilizes what’s called “bilateral stimulation” of the brain to restore the natural assimilation process and help the athlete successfully process through the traumatic event or negative performance experience. Bilateral stimulation of the brain means alternating, left to right eye movements, alternating left to right tactile stimulation or left to right auditory stimulation, (the athlete listens to a specially designed CD that plays back and forth from the left ear to the right). This “bilateral stimulation” of the brain is said to help resynchronize the firing of the two brain hemispheres and aids in restoring the brain wave activity and chemical secretions to a normal state.

During an EMDR session, the athlete is helped to focus on his traumatic experiences along with his distorted beliefs, emotions and fears, as well as what he’s feeling physically in his body. Gradually a complete reprocessing of the event and its’ attached memories occurs while the accompanying feelings from the trauma are altered and released. The athlete’s negative beliefs and distortions are then corrected and replaced by a more realistic and positive appraisal of the traumatic experience, (i.e "I’m a talented athlete who just had a bad day" or “That’s is the past and I’m safe now. I can go hard without fear of re-injury.”). The Grand system of Sports EMDR physiologically accomplishes a rebalancing, restores the previous level of performance and fosters enhanced performance in the future.

Sports EMDR gets at the problem right at its’ roots and helps completely remove it from the athlete’s mind and body. According to Dr. Grand, “people ‘bring to the plate’ all of their life experiences...EMDR reaches deep into the nervous system and lets people work on releasing traumatic memories. They begin to make a connection between the memory and what they are experiencing in the present." By releasing the traumatic memories and the physical sensations that go with them, the athlete becomes freed up enough to begin to perform at his potential again.


So many fear-based blocks do not make any logical sense to the adults involved. Parents and coaches can clearly see that there seems to be no apparent reason for the athlete to continue to struggle. As a consequence, they may begin to pressure the athlete or attribute her performance difficulties to being “willful” or “stubborn.” This reaction from the athlete’s parents or coaches only adds insult to injury. In fact, it frequently serves as yet another source of trauma for the athlete and its’ disruptive effects get stacked upon the original trauma. The end result: She gets even more stuck and her performance deteriorates further!

Understand that no athlete in her right mind would consciously choose to be stuck, paralyzed by fears or consistently fall apart under pressure. Also, know that your being unable to understand why the athlete is struggling when you think that she shouldn’t be, does NOT help that athlete get unstuck in any way! Demanding that she simply “do it” or “go for it” is of absolutely NO use to her. If she could go for it, play better or be more aggressive, then she would! If it were as simple as making a conscious decision to not be afraid up at the plate or to throw her round-off, back handspring, back tuck, then she would! As I’ve explained, the roots of the problem run much deeper than that. The athlete needs help in removing the trauma from her mind and body. As an appropriate adult, you must be supportive, kind and understanding. Impatience and intolerance of these kinds of performance problems will only serve to compound the problem.



Dr. Goldberg is a noted sports psychology expert Read more about Dr. G