My Journey in Sport Psych

My journey in Sport Psychology began as an undergraduate Physical Education major at Springfield College and continued at USC where I earned my Ph.D. in Sport Philosophy with an emphasis on examining the meaning athletes find in sport participation. The journey really took off when I was a university professor at Cal State Fullerton, teaching classes in sport philosophy as well as hatha yoga. There were a number of the Men’s and Women’s Gymnastic team in my classes and they began to implement class material into their gymnastics performance. Their coach, Dick Wolfe, was intrigued and asked to sit in on the yoga classes; he saw the value in the lessons being taught and asked me to start working with the team.

When the Cal State Fullerton baseball coach, Augie Garrido, heard about my work with the gymnasts, he came to observe practice and my work with the team. When he saw the concentration and focus and the way they dealt with their fears he said “If you can help a guy on the high bar deal with his fears, you can help my baseball players deal more effectively with the fears they have in the batters box and on the field.” That is how I got started in Sport Psychology.

I was using my work from my Doctoral dissertation on “Peak Experiences in Sport”, my work in yoga, the book The Inner Game of Tennis, and things I was reading in Eastern Philosophy and integrating these into my philosophy of performance. At the same time I was familiarizing myself with sport psychology literature, which at that time was highly academic. The vast majority of my learning came by going to practices and games and observing the coaches and the athletes and learning from their experience. This has always been my approach: have the athletes learn from their experience in sport and through this they learn about themselves, their teammates, and their sport. If you are learning and gaining information, then you are getting better, and that is what a lot of my work has focused on.

This orientation drove me as I studied the academic research and qualitative studies in the field, but the most valuable information came from what I learned from coaches and athletes through observations, interviews, and collaborating together to enhance performance. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of constantly learning from the coaches and athletes that I work with, as well as my colleagues and peers over the years. The sharing of ideas with other people doing the work is key; just talking about what worked, what didn’t work, what they were doing, what I was doing. It was just a wonderful creative time.