Dr. Jarrod Spencer is a licensed Sports Psychologist and Founder of Mind of the Athlete, LLC., a sports psychology company committed to improving the emotional health of athletes. His office is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and he and his family reside in the nearby Lehigh Valley. He is the author of “Mind Of The Athlete – Clearer Mind, Better Performance.”
Sports psychology and the mind-body connection is still in its relative infancy. In my practice, I work with a diverse variety of athletes, including several amateur (high school and college) golfers. Most of these individuals are scholarship players looking for every edge to raise their game to the next level and achieve their goals.
An athlete will come to a sports psychologist primarily through a coach, trainer or instructor who will vouch for that sports psychologist and, as such, I maintain relationships with several PGA Professionals in my area as a referral source. They have the vital conversation of mental game and how best to handle adversity (and success) on the golf course, and my skills and expertise come into play.
The initial conversation between me and the athlete is 100 percent about me learning their story as deeply and meaningfully as I can. I spend that first hour asking questions to get a thorough evaluation. When they walk out the door, I want them to feel like I have a good knowledge of their situation. I do this using a gift I have of remembering what I hear – I don’t take a single note. I look them in the eye, ask my questions and summarize their story from the time they were born to the minute they walked through my door that day. They feel very comfortable in a brief period of time, which makes our work together more effective and we often see expedited results. “This guy heard me, he understands me, he gets me – this is my guy.” That’s the goal for the first session.
It’s during the second session that we get deeper into how I can most effectively serve their needs. I tell them they were probably driving to my office that day hoping Jarrod can really help them solve BLANK. I ask them the big question, “What is that BLANK?”
It could be anxiety, nervousness, sleep, pressure at home or with family. Most golfers struggle with emotional endurance. They’re usually good on the front nine, but become mentally fatigued somewhere on the back nine. Mental mistakes and uncontrolled emotions lead to bad decisions and ill-fated golf shots.
Rectifying this deficiency is all about a simple philosophy: clearer mind, better performance. For many golfers, the clearer their pre-conscious mind is, the less emotional drain they experience. There’s less tension and stress, which gives them increased emotional stamina and the ability to handle conflict or adversity. I help athletes clear their pre-conscious mind and, by doing so, they feel and perform better.
It is vital for golfers to keep their thoughts in the present, not lamenting over the bogey they just had or pondering what’s in store on that difficult hole coming up soon. It’s not a cliche to say, “stay in the moment”. This is more easily facilitated with better sleep that will allow them to manage their emotional energy and shift their thinking from negative to positive.
In my professional practice, I only accept new clients who will dedicate their time to completing the Mind of the Athlete coaching program. It’s a clear seven-step program that builds upon the information derived from initial sessions. After seven sessions, they feel less stuck than they were two or three months earlier. In fact, some athletes have reaped the full benefits during that brief period of time and feel good about applying the concepts that we discussed on their own. Other athletes, many of them in fact, understand the long-term benefits, and continue to work with me on a regular basis. In between our sessions, my athletes have access to worksheets, videos and audio recordings of vital information that reinforces the topics we discuss face-to-face.
Considering the pandemic that we have endured for the past 18 months, mental health has never been more important than it is right now. The mental health crisis that exists today is absolutely overwhelming. You can apply all the technical skills and physical attributes that are needed for high-level performance, but if the athlete is not developing his or her mind, it’s probably not going to work out to their satisfaction. We’ve known this for a long time, but 2020 and 2021 have shone a greater light on the topic.