ATHLETIC CASE STUDIES

PERFORMANCE STORIES

HELPING A COLLEGE SOCCER PLAYER OVERCOME ANXIETY 


CLIENT AND PRESENTING CONCERN

A college soccer player was referred to me for anxiety issues. The anxiety she experienced put her body into physiological distress during games. She would experience sweaty palms, a raised heart rate and shortness of breathe, causing her to hyperventilate. She would have to pull herself out of the games. Not only was she suffering, but her team also suffered with her being absent from the field. 

 

SITUATION 

In working one- on- one with the athlete, we discussed and examined her anxiety episodes. It was discovered that her anxiety consistently occurred during the games that her father attended.  Her father was a huge soccer fan and she was like the “little boy” her father never had. The anxiety stemmed from her strong desire to please her father and felt she was sometimes playing more for him than herself. It was determined that she loved soccer and wanted to keep playing, but without the anxiety. When she experienced the anxiety during games, she would hear her father’s voice in her head criticizing the team and her performance. Her father would constantly approach her after games with his negative input. If there was positive input for her performance, her father would take credit for that and give her responsibility for the poor performance. She also felt that if she didn’t discuss soccer with her father, she would have nothing else to bond with him about. The relationship would be over. That was a lot of pressure stemming from just having her father attend her games. She felt that a poor relationship with her father was better than no relationship at all. We first examined what she did want from her father. That included: Constructive criticism, walking away and talking later if he was upset with the performance, having him just let things go, praise, giving her credit for a good performance, and having a relationship with him. She could no longer play with him attending her games and something had to be done immediately. 

 

RESULT / TOOL KIT

We discussed the options to deal with her dad. Until that got resolved, she was not allowed to play, which ultimately hurt the performance of the team. It was decided that she didn’t want to tell her dad not to come to her games. Other options were, writing him a letter, drawing up a contract for him on how to interact with her if he attended her games, a mediated conversation with him or doing some role playing, which would give her confidence to talk with her father about this matter. She opted to interact in some role playing with me to practice having a conversation with her father about this matter. She had the conversation with her father during a lunch together. He had no idea the impact his words and actions had on her performance.  I have worked with them in establishing healthy communication boundaries. She’s currently playing without hearing her father’s voice in her head, worrying what he thinks and wanting his approval. Through some work, she now plays solely for the love of the sport and herself. We also discussed different techniques that she could use to help focus her mind and shut out outside distractions. These techniques involved: broad to narrow focus, positive mantras, imagery and expending energy only on the things she could control. 


HELPING A YOUNG IRISH DANCER PREPARE AND SHINE FOR NATIONALS


CLIENT AND PRESENTING CONCERN

An 8 year old Irish dancer was getting ready for her first national competition in two months in Chicago. She had three scheduled competitions to get her ready for her national performance. Her mom brought her to me because, although her technique was excellent, her coach felt she was not “showy” enough during her performances. Being vibrant and exuding enjoyment and confidence, via her face and body, during her performances, was extremely important, especially at nationals.


SITUATION

When working with young children, the parent’s attitudes and perspectives towards their children’s performance is assessed to see the impact and/or influence they may be having on their child’s performance. These parent’s had a healthy and supportive approach to their daughter’s Irish dancing.  In working with the young dancer, some specific traits were identified that were keeping her from being “showy” in her performance. She was a perfectionist, she was afraid to make mistakes during a performance, she had low confidence and was shy. She was also fearful and slightly intimidated of the judges watching her.  My main goal for my dancer was to handle her fear of mistakes and discover confidence, allowing to transcend into a more “showy” performance. 


RESULT / TOOL KIT 

For the young Irish dancer, I wanted her to give herself permission to shine and feel worthy of shining during her performances. Over the next several weeks  we dealt with the issues that were hindering her from “shining” in her performances. To deal with her confidence issue, I first had to discover what her beliefs and thoughts on confidence were. I had her draw pictures of what confidence looked like and write a list of words that described what confidence was. I then had her dress up in her costume that she would be wearing for nationals and take a picture of herself when her body and face were exuding confidence, energy and enjoyment. She then wrote down positive and powerful words next to the picture that described what she saw in herself. The picture and her written words would be a source of empowerment and confidence for her. They evidenced that she could “shine” during a performance.  Since she was able to associate herself with being confident, she was also asked to develop three specific types of mantras to be posted around her house. These mantras were to help build her confidence and positive feelings towards her upcoming performances. They were to be posted in the car, her room, the kitchen and bathroom mirror to be viewed and read at certain times of day. She was also to make copies of her picture that showed her as a “shining” performer and post them around with the mantras. With the confidence being built up, she felt  better about herself and gave herself permission to “shine” during her performances. In relation to her fear of making mistakes, mistakes were broken down as opportunities to learn, grow and have fun. She was reminded to keep things simple. To overcome her fear of the judges, she did some visualization work and some mock performances with her parents pretending to be the judges. She also described judges as being powerful. We did some perspective training to show that she had all the power, not the judges. She had control of her performance, not the judges. 

She was also introduced to setting a measurable and attainable goal for practice and each performance to help her focus and notice progress. She performed with increased confidence, less fear and was able to “shine” in a way fit for a national performance. She increased her scores and met her goals for each performance and practice. She did a 100% turnaround from being a shy performer, with fears and little to no “showmanship”, to becoming a well rounded performer. Her instructor thought she was like a new dancer with a confident, “shining” presence on stage that helped to increase the quality of her performances, obtain higher scores and perform commendably at nationals. She also used a pre-performance routine to help calm her nerves and provide some consistency and familiarity to her national performance. 


HELPING A BASEBALL CATCHER DEVELOP LEADERSHIP AND AGGRESSIVENESS


CLIENT AND PRESENTING CONCERN

A college baseball catcher approached me because he felt that his performance on the field wasn’t aggressive enough. As a catcher, he felt he needed to be more of a leader on the field. He recognized that he had extremely negative self-talk and would mentally get down on himself, causing him to feel slightly depressed. 

  

SITUATION

Sometimes while working with a client, it’s important to get an accurate assessment of their perception of their performance. What they think is happening, or their perception of what is happening, may be a lot different than what is actually happening. I assess their perception of their performance by either talking with their coaches and sometimes teammates. I will always view their performance to see what’s really going on. I determined that he had an accurate perception of his performance. The next step was to identify what was behind his lack of aggressiveness, lack of leadership and negative self talk. I wanted to help him understand and work through these mental performance blocks. Through a series of sessions, it was determined that he had a lot of fearful and doubtful thoughts enter his head while catching. These thoughts stifled his aggressiveness, limited his ability to lead and fed his negativity. It was important that he recognized his fear and understood it. We diffused the power of his fear by discussing it and becoming aware of it. It revolved around a couple of factors. He had a fear of overthrowing the ball and allowing the runner to advance. On the other hand, if he never threw the ball, the runner would advance anyways. One of the biggest compliments to a catcher is to instill doubt in the minds of the runner in their ability to beat out the catcher’s throw. He needed to balance the fear of making a bad throw and letting the runner advance vs. the discomfort of being passive and not attempting the throw at all. Through some work and mental techniques, he discovered that it was less of a mistake if he threw the ball aggressively and it didn’t hit its mark than it was to be passive and not throw the ball at all. We needed to build his confidence, simplify his mental thoughts and keep the negativity out of his head. 


RESULT / TOOL KIT

I wanted him to get in touch with his assertive side (as opposed to aggressive side) and some of his leadership qualities. I had him identify times outside of his playing when he was assertive and exhibited leadership skills.  Identifying, practicing and seeing those qualities work successfully outside of his sport, allowed him to realize he did possess those qualities. Now we needed to get them to be productive for him on the field. We developed a Pre-performance routine to help raise his energy level to a level necessary to play as a leader and with assertiveness. We used a succession of cue words to help focus his mind and body to perform as one and to keep the negative thoughts out. We did visualization and performance drills to assist in having him feel confident and comfortable behind the plate. These drills also kept his mind busy and focused, allowing his mind and body to perform as one.  With the help of these activities, he became more confident, which counteracted the negativity and helped him become more assertive and take on a leadership role with his team. I assigned him leadership tasks to execute when interacting with the team in practice. Using these leadership tasks during practice provided him with a sense of comfort to execute them during the games. We used mantras to help him feel confident and powerful and used broad to narrow focusing techniques to improve his productivity behind the plate and to confidently execute his throws without much thought. He also developed his own catching motto that motivated and defined, in his mind, how he wanted to play and be perceived as a catcher. He used these tools and we adjusted and changed things as needed to get his mind fit. He became the starting catcher by mid-season and became a prominent and vocal role model for his team.