Today, most sportsmen understand that the battle isn’t just won in the field, but in the mind as well.
But these famous sports psychologists didn’t have an easy ride, sports psychology wasn’t always a well-respected science.
In fact, it didn’t start out particularly well – initially, most people resisted the idea of some kind of mental gymnastics that could somehow make a person run faster, be stronger and jump higher without actual time spent on the training floor.
However, when detailed reports concerning increased athletic performance in relation to greater mental capacity began to pile up, the sports world could no longer turn a blind eye.
Here, we talk about 10 of the very men and women who delve into the minds of the greatest athletes.
As a young man pursuing his undergraduate degree at Greenville College, Coleman Roberts Griffith displayed a deep interest in athletic activities; he was a member of the baseball and basketball teams and was an organiser of various gymnastic events.
He kept this passion in sports and athleticism when he went on to the University of Illinois, where he earned a PhD in Psychology and began his detailed research into the psychology of the athlete.
His extensive research caused him to develop completely new tests to measure a vast range of physical and psychological factors that could affect an athlete’s performance in the field.
Eventually, this research allowed him to produce two publications – ‘The Psychology of Coaching’ in 1926 and ‘The Psychology of Athletics’ in 1928 – both of which were huge contributions to the field and cemented his role later on as founder of American Sports Psychology.
As a Director of the High-Performance Psychology Program at DISC Sports & Spine Center and official medical services provider for Red Bull’s North American athletes, Dr Michael Gervais isn’t just a psychologist – he’s a secret weapon.
Elite athletes, all driven individuals with a terrible desire to succeed, are all ears when it comes to Michael’s psychological advice.
In 2010, it was Michael himself who was called in to salvage what was then a hopeless situation – Project Stratos.
Austrian BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner had come to completely fear his space suit. Two weeks of intensive consultation later, Felix took on his space suit like it had never fazed him.
In 2012, he made the jump and broke the sound barrier, unafraid.
Dr Caroline Silby wasn’t always just a mental doctor – she started out as an athlete of the National Skating Team, was sent to the 1984 Olympic Trials and then went on to serve on the U.S. Figure Skating Association Board of Directors and Athlete Advisory Council.
Her actual experience as an elite athlete combined with her years of rigorous academic training (in which she earned a Ph.D. in sports psychology at the University of Virginia) allowed her to become a sought after expert that appeared on numerous television programs.
In 2001, her time and effort culminated in the publication of ‘Games Girls Play: Understanding and Guiding Young Female Athletes’ a highly rated paper that gave average mom and dads the skills to prepare for the kinds of obstacles a female athlete would face growing up.
John F Murray
Labelled the superstar of his field as with titles like “The Rodger Federer of Sports Psychologists” and “The Freud of Football”, John F. Murray is a highly successful Florida based clinical and sports performance psychologist. He authored his first book – ‘Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game’ – in 1999.
He then became the first to introduce the concept of scoring mental performance with his Mental Performance Index (MPI), a tool he developed that added precision and standardization to analysing team performance in American Football.
Currently, his clientele has expanded to include athletes of all types of sports, even non-athletes and business executives.
Having worked with sports psychology clients for 20 years and privately practiced for 28, Dr Steidinger has worked with both professional and amateur-level athletes in numerous sports such as running, cycling (road and mountain), boxing and golf.
Her academic expertise is validated by none other than the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), an international professional organization of sport and exercise psychology. It was from the AASP that she earned her title as a Certified Consultant.
In 2014, Dr Steidinger published ‘Sisterhood in Sports: How Female Athletes Collaborate and Compete’, a book that reveals how subtle differences in gender affect the female sporting competitor in their athletic performance.
Gio Valiante is concurrently a full-time professor at Rollins College as well as the mental game consultant to the Golf Channel, Golf Digest and the University of Florida.
Although he has worked with big name companies like Coca Cola, Red Bull and the Orlando Magic, his greatest work lies in his successful sessions with Golf’s premier players – Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Health Slocum and so many more – who went on to win numerous competitions.
His research into the field resulted in the publication of ‘Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game’ in 2005, wherein he provides a detailed plan for instilling the best mental state for golfers under tremendous competition pressure.
He earned his Ph.D. in 1972 at the University of Alberta and over 40 years later, he still is one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychology of excellence. A renowned leader due to the sheer number of years he has put in to the field.
Dr. Orlick has spent a good part of his life working with thousands of Olympic and Professional-level athletes to deal with the challenge in getting the absolute best out of themselves.
He started the Zone of Excellence, a website dedicated to helping people of all ages achieve excellence, and also published such acclaimed books as ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’, ‘Embracing Your Potential’ and ‘Embracing Your Potential’.
Alan Goldberg has been a sports psychologist for over 32 years, having committed all that time into ensuring the proper development of youth sports through his unique programs. His speciality lies in assisting individuals with overcoming common sports fears and blocks, and engaging them to push past frequent performance plateaus.
Dr Goldberg frequently writes for national publications like Collegiate Baseball, Swimming World, International Gymnast and many more.
He works with athletes from every sport across every level, from mere junior competitors to Olympic titans. He also consults with coaches and parents in order to develop healthy, successful relationships with athletes and children.
David L Cook
David L. Cook isn’t just one of the country’s top sports psychologists, he’s also the president of the Peak Performance Firm.
He has been a psychologist not just for professional basketball teams, he’s even trained several U.S Olympians as well as more than a hundred PGA Players.
In 2011, he authored his own novel, ‘Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia’¸ of which was adapted into the Christian sports drama film ‘Seven Days in Utopia’. He also published the hardcover book, ‘The Psychology of Tournament Golf’, wherein he shares PGA Tour tested strategies for golfers to benefit from.
Dr JoAnn is an internationally recognized, licensed sports psychologist and former world-class athlete. As a past winner of the San Francisco Marathon with a sterling timing of 2:42:20 and as a 2nd place holder in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, her experience as an athlete gives her valuable insight to the mind-set of sporting elite.
Currently, she serves as a medical staff member at Stanford University Medical Centre but in her 20 years of clinical practice, she has worked with Olympic level athletes, business executives and other professionals in what are other high stress, pressure cooker careers.
Her recent book – ‘Olympic Thinking’ is a comprehensive step-by-step program to help individuals focus mentally and achieve excellence.