When Parents Go Mental

I saw this in the NY Times today and was just speechless – parents sending their kids to sports psychologists:

The idea that mental coaching can help the youngest athletes has pervaded the upper reaches of the country’s zealous youth sports culture. In the pursuit of college scholarships and top spots on premier travel clubs, the families of young athletes routinely pay for personal strength coaches, conditioning coaches, specialized skill coaches like pitching or hitting instructors, nutritionists and recruiting consultants. Now, the personal sports psychologist has joined the entourage.

“Parents tell me that they’ve put so much money into their child’s athletic development that they’re not going to leave any stone unturned if it might help them achieve,” said Marty Ewing, a former president of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. “And obviously, we do have ways to help enrich performance.”

I’m sorry – but sending a 9 year old to a sports psychologist is crazy. Best quote from the article:

Dr. Gould said the parents of a 14-year-old tennis player were concerned their son was not focused all the time. His response was, ” ‘Yeah, he’s 14 – that’s pretty normal.’ ”

Pretty much. I can see if a child is having a major mental block over something and it prevents them from even participating in a sport they love. MAYBE then it would make sense – but 12 sessions at $225 a pop?


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  1. I’m a big proponent of mental skills training for elite athletes. Dr. Collen Hacker had a tremendous influence on the 1999 Women’s World Cup team. Every player on the team raved about the help Hacker gave. First, she got to know the players, then she devised ways to help them with what they perceived as their weaknesses. Hacker used “cues” to help them. For example, one player, a striker, had trouble staying mentally in the game after a bad touch, pass or shot. For that player, reaching down grabbing a hunk of grass and throwing it away was enough to “throw away” the bad play and move on.

    Other players pulled their socks up as a signal to themselves to give more effort (kind of like Duke basketball players slapping the floor on defense). Some found certain colors in the stands when they needed to relax and be less tense. Yes, they seem like gimmicks, but Hacker was skilled enough at what she did make the gimmicks work.

    As for a 9 year old? Give me a break. It goes to show you that people try to sell a service have never gone bankrupt underestimating the desperation of sports parents. PT Barnum would be proud.

  2. Yup – I agree that at a certain level it makes sense. But geez – have some perspective.

    That said – there are probably some simple tricks that coaches themselves could learn to try and help kids move on after bad plays, etc. But not at hundreds of dollars an hour! :)