Psychology of High Performance Sport with Dr. Thomas Patrick

Bildschirmfoto 2018-03-21 um 13.52.11

title photo by US ARMY Tim Hipps under WikiCommons Attribution 2.0 Generic License


Dr. Thomas Patrick is a sports psychologist by trade. He worked with the New Zealand All Blacks and several other elite organisations from MLS to Olympic Teams. He served as the High Performance Director for ASPETAR in Qatar, where we initially met, and currently is the High Performance Director at the South Australian Sports Institute. I met with him in Adelaide this time to discuss the role of sports psychology in the High Performance training process.


We covered : 

  • the difference between clinical psychology and sports psychology
  • Optimising the environment vs. individual consultations as main priority of sports psychologist 
  • Application of mindfulness and meditation in high performance sport
  • the winning culture of the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team
  • Creating a winning culture

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May the flow be with you!






The Order & Kaos of Human Potential – the podcast about the science and the art, the known and the unknown territories of human performance and health.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Welcome back to The Order & Kaos of Human Potential. I’m going to Gerrit Keferstein and today I’m greeting you out of the beautiful city of Adelaide in South Australia where I met with longtime friend and currently a high-performance director at the Southern Australian Sports Institute, Dr. Thomas Patrick. He’s a sports psychologist by trade and he’s originally from Canada but he worked in so many countries with so many different diverse groups of athletes and teams, we probably couldn’t count the number of medals that he was involved with on all four or maybe five hands we probably need for that. He’s worked in Canada. He had a short stint in Australia as a high-performance director. He worked in Argentina. He worked in Florida for Major League Soccer. He worked in New Zealand for the All Blacks for several years. And who worked in Qatar at the Aspetar Sports Medical Clinic.  And now he’s back in Australia.  For the last two and a half years he’s the high performance director at the Southern Australian Sports Institute, overseeing many different Olympic sports, working towards Tokyo 2020. And this morning we went to the Superdome which is the indoor cycling facility of Cycling Australia and the Southern Australian Sports Institute. And on the way back, that’s maybe a 40-minute ride by car, to the institute, we took the time to record a podcast for you on sports psychology, on Tom’s ideas, principles and methodologies in sports psychology, how sports psychology ties in with the rest of the high-performance environment and also what to look for in a good sports psychologist because it’s a very diverse field and he has a specific take on what it takes to be a good psychologist in the high performance environment.



                            So, enjoy.



                            Tom, you taught about that high performance stuff a lot. You talked about it the last couple days many times. Your original background is in sports psychology and you’ve been around the globe a lot you.  You’ve worked in New Zealand, you’ve worked in Florida, you’ve worked in Argentina, we’ve met in Qatar and now you’re in Australia. You’re currently a high-performance director overseeing many different sports but you started in sports psychology. What do you see the role of Sports Psychology in high performance?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     I think sports psychologist and the sport psychology are of equal importance to the other areas. I think it needs to work closely with the coaches, the other sports scientists to support medical practitioners as an integrated team member and they need to be responsible obviously for the psychological preparation and development of the athletes but more importantly maybe to encrypt the coaches with the capability to be able to really drive the psychological development of the athletes and of performance because no matter what, the coaches are with the athletes every day. So, the contact time, the opportunity is always with the coaches but I think another important role that I feel maybe gets lost a bit when the field presents too many clinical psychologists is understanding the psychological dynamics and the psychological effects that are taking place, be it in the environment or as part of a major games opportunity. And I think sports psychologists need to make sure that they have the experience and expertise to actually have value in these in these areas.



Gerrit Keferstein:    When you say clinical psychologist is for coaches to understand, what’s the clinical psychologist when you think where it doesn’t fit into a sports environment?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     I think a lot of times just as in the medical model, psychology was really there to fix problems and that was challenge a few years ago when you had the positive psychology paradigm shift which was quite interesting with Seligman who was a psychologist himself and he switched and then when he was the president of the American Psychological Association, basically, I think threw a bit of a spanner so to speak in the works and challenged the entire, I think, delivery of psychology to think about being more about creating resilient people.



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, it’s not about fixing problems.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Exactly, that’s right. Because human existence have problems. As they say, Buddhism says life is suffering …



Gerrit Keferstein:    Life is suffering unless you do something about it.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Exactly. So, we shouldn’t try to avoid the suffering. We should be working towards accepting and being able to have solutions around dealing capably with the setbacks, with suffering, with the performance challenges etc. So, I think sports psychologists have the opportunity, historically they were more trained as physical educators. And so, they actually came at psychology a bit differently.  And then you had this challenge between clinical psychologists and the sports psychologists about who’s qualified. Well, to be a sports psychologist you should be a registered clinical psychologist and what we’ve seen is in fact they have tremendous limitations in their ability to work in high performance environments. They think very structured, they think about number of sessions. Of course, I’m painting a general picture but I think a high-performance sports psychologist needs to practice differently. They need to be thinking about themselves as maybe a coach but their specialty is on the psychological component, right? And so, you need to be immersed in the environment.  You need to be a part of the coaching staff.  You need to be at training.  You need to see the athletes under stress.  You need to help debrief that performance opportunity and maybe it’s just 10 minutes versus having that athlete drive to see you in your office.



Gerrit Keferstein:    And not a Tuesday or Thursday at 6 o’clock session for one hour. It’s more of an immersing process. Yesterday you said something interesting where you said in sports psychology it’s much about shaping the environment…



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.



Gerrit Keferstein:    … in a positive way, in a productive way, in a high performance way.  It’s not so much about the actual counseling.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  A few of the real special opportunities I’ve had in my career, it’s where you’re immersed in a world-class environment and then you learn about what the high-performance behaviors are that are the norm, that’s the culture.  My work with New Zealand Rugby, the whole culture is about world class and it’s about being the best in the world and simple things, simple gestures like showing up in the environment and making sure that you connect with every single person you see every day which is a handshake with eye contact and it’s basically a way of saying to each other “I’m here. I’m here. I’m ready.”



Gerrit Keferstein:    And making sure the other one’s hear as well.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.



Gerrit Keferstein:    We need each other.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Exactly. And so, that’s just a little simple example but for me, it’s very powerful because you really felt like you were a part of a team and you felt a real sense of shared commitment that “We were really here to do something, okay?” And you don’t see that in many environments, okay?  So, that tells you that we have a chance because actually we’re different.  High performance needs to be different.  If it doesn’t feel different, then it’s mediocrity, it’s what everyone else is doing. 



Gerrit Keferstein:    It should feel unusual.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     It has to be because what we’re trying to do is unusual.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Uncommon, amongst uncommon people.


<<08:32 >>

Dr. Tom Patrick:     Most in high performance, most people are … Sure there are countries like New Zealand Rugby, for example, Canadian ice hockey, there’s examples where it’s about the gold. They’re actually winning. They don’t want a bronze. They have to learn to have the maturity to go after a bronze if that’s what’s on offer but they’re really actually trying to win but for other sports and other countries, getting on the podium is very special. And usually after an Olympic Games, there’s only three people that are happy and sometimes not even three, right? So, I think the idea of, again, the psychological dynamics, the psychological effects is about what types of shared beliefs, what types of shared performance behaviors have we instilled and embedded in our performance environments that if adhered to on a consistent continual basis starts to separate us from the others. And I think that’s what I’ve always looked at. I have a special opportunity here in Adelaide with the men’s team endurance in track cycling. Again, they have an expectation for Tokyo that they will win the gold. They are after nothing but and the whole organization is trying to achieve it.



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, it’s about “You’re going for the gold. So, you got to go for the gold every day and every single thing.  You can’t expect mediocrity whether you’re meeting somebody in the morning, whether you have an exercise and strength conditioning, whether you do physical therapy or whether you have a track session.”



Dr. Tom Patrick:     And one of the challenges that I shared from a high-performance psychology point of view was that those players engage in continual performance readiness because every one of those opportunities matters. And the test, for example, is when I would walk by the strength conditioning facility at the velodrome and if I see them doing their strength conditioning, does it look like they are world leading. Are they lifting? Are they achieving perfection? Are they driving each other to the bigger lifts, for example? Does it look and feel different or does it look the same as everyone else at the Sports Institute where I work? And if it’s the same, that means we must be off track. We can’t be on track because actually to me it’s missed opportunities to develop…



Gerrit Keferstein:    What do you think is a good way for a coach to act in the situation where you see this mediocrity because there’s some philosophies that say “Well, you’ve got to have some timestamp where you come in, you do the work and you come back, you might not always have gold medal days.”



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Yes, that’s fine.



Gerrit Keferstein:    How should you treat that as a coach?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     You said something really interesting yesterday that it’s about the intention.  Did you arrive with the intention to achieve world-leading performance today? You might have but your fatigue just won’t let you do it. That’s okay.  Did you find your physical potential today? And sometimes it’s that the coaches have to share responsibility that they’ve just actually pushed too hard and that session we scheduled on Wednesday morning in fact was too difficult to do.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Let’s stick to that. I’m interested in the really psychological technical aspect here because you said, well, we can have the intent to do something really great but our bodies might be fatigued. Is it possible to also have the psychological fatigue where it’s really hard for us to develop the intent for that where we went through many weeks of hard training and we just want a day were our minds can be free again? Is it possible to have this type of psychological fatigue where you can’t get this motivation?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Look, I think one of the things that I embed in performance readiness for athletes is their, I think, purposeful engagement and mindful meditation which means that no matter how you’re feeling, no matter what’s just happened to you that you’re now immersing yourself in the present moment and that there’s a process in place for that athlete to get themselves to a mental state where they’re about to fully immerse themselves in what’s now. And that ability, I think, to just go and see what’s possible today versus judging it and evaluating it based on “I feel tired” and if we let that fatigue or our thinking interfere with our intention, then that could be the reason why we don’t achieve our performance in Tokyo because you’re going to feel scared, you’re going to feel maybe a bit tired or maybe you don’t feel quite right but that doesn’t mean you still can’t perform at that level. So, you basically are learning that you won’t be the limitation. Something else will be the limitation but it’s not going to be you. So, that’s an example of performance behavior, I think, from a sports psychology perspective about embedding our mindful meditation practice as part of performance readiness.



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, mindful meditation and the judgment free part as something to learn during mindful motivation being a really high performance ability.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right, absolutely.



Gerrit Keferstein:    You just do it.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s exactly it.



Gerrit Keferstein:    I don’t care how it feels.  If it feels good or bad, I’m not here to judge it.  I need to do it.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  We work a lot of with our beach volleyball programs because in sports like volleyball, there are not games that are perfect, there’s just so many different dynamics and then you’ve got two people on the other side of the net that are trying to make your life difficult.  And then you might not quite suit the other team well because maybe their middle block is 2.15 meters and you don’t have a player that can really take on that middle block. So, you have to make adjustments. And you know the middle blocks are going to get blocks. And so, if we keep evaluating and judging all of those times, all of those points where the ball comes down on our side quickly and then that affects the next point. 



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, you said environments are really important from a psychological aspect.  You said the judgment-free capacity of learning mindfulness meditation is really important.  So, how do we combine that, how can we put some of those mindful meditation aspects into the environment? Specifically what does a coach have to do in his coaching environment day-to-day practice without doing actual meditation but introducing some of those principles of judgment-free practice? How would he have to act towards the players in practice, after practice, at debriefing? What are some court tips you have?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     We talked about the performance readiness front.  I think that’s critical. I think it’s demanding the players embed the mindfulness within their in-between point routines. So, for example, after every single point we have to actually be aware. So, you have to check – Are we frustrated, are we good? And then there needs to be acceptance. So, no matter what’s just happened to us, we have to now accept. It happens. It’s finished. And then those players need to have just a quick contact. So, are we still together? And then it’s about “Okay, the next point.” And so, by the time we have to return serve because it makes more importance, of course although we want consistency, of course [inaudible] more value when we lose the point than when we win the point, and it’s making sure that we’re now ready to immerse our concentration and our focus of attention only on the ball so that we can pick up the ball, pick up the cues about where the ball is going to be so that we can make the best possible pass we can. So, we embed the mindful meditation, the mindfulness process within the in-between points preparation and then making sure that we debrief the training or the competition.  And one of the philosophies that I’ve developed over the years is that we leave performance in the performance environment. There is no relationship between how much we think about what just happened to us or what’s about to happen to us tomorrow when we’re in our recovery moments.  It actually just interferes with our ability to be ready.  And so, the minute the performance finishes, we have to let the performance go and then when I get in my car to drive home, for example, be in the car. And then when I’m at home, be home.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Tom, it sounds so simple but that’s it’s very, very difficult to achieve that. How do you achieve that?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     We can go back to what you were sharing earlier which is how do the coaches facilitate mindfulness and that’s to make sure that you do a really robust thorough debrief of what just took place that day.  Make sure you check in with the players emotionally.  “Okay, how did you feel about today?” Not always “How did we do today?” “How do we feel today?” – “Oh, felt really frustrated with what we did” or “I felt frustrated with what I did,” right? Or ‘I felt frustrated with the training that was there. I didn’t feel like it helped us improve in something. So, we had acknowledged the feelings.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Is it important to give the player some meaning at that point sort of “What does it mean that you feel that way?” or some context to it?


<<17:46 >>

Dr. Tom Patrick:     It can be but we don’t always have the answer and I think what’s important is that at least the players have had an opportunity to express themselves, express how they’re feeling and that just allows us a bit of the beginnings around letting go, that “My feelings have been validated,” that “I’ve had a chance to express them through communication.”  And so, now at least I’m not leaving training, let’s say, at a 9 out of 10 level but I’m leaving training maybe to 4 out of 10.  Now it’s much more possible to actually through the driving home and then when I open the door to the house, it’s much more possible to use something symbolic like that door opening and as I step through into the house to be the way of finishing the letting go, right?  It’s like “Okay, now be at home.”  And every athlete I’ve worked with is different but we do try to embed mindfulness as a way of living, not just practicing meditation approach. So, I make sure that if we eat, eat your meal; don’t eat your meal and watch TV, okay?  If you want to watch TV, watch TV but don’t watch TV and be on your phone.  So, the little things to try and really ensure that that player can just immerse themselves in the present moment.  So, I do try to, I think, take a broader approach to instilling that mindfulness into their day-to-day routines. It’s helpful.



Gerrit Keferstein:    It’s not about the 20-minute meditation.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     No, it’s more than that.



Gerrit Keferstein:    It’s about daily minute-by-minute habits.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  That’s right.  Absolutely.



Gerrit Keferstein:    You’ve worked with some sports that are really tough environments.  You’ve worked with New Zealand All Blacks’ Rugby and you came in there as a triathlete, as a sports psychologist triathlete which are both probably pretty, some prejudice you probably had to deal with and it’s hard to get into that environment.  How did you approach that?  What were you first steps of building rapport with those players and getting them to buy into that mindfulness concept and how it improves their performance?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     The first step is to, I think, listen and observe and not feel that you need to share something too quickly. Spend a lot of time talking to the coaches to get a real good understanding of the dynamics and who the key players are. And then from a sports psychologist gaining entry, building rapport point of view, you really have to try to find who those key players are on the team and you have to try to build a relationship with them first.  If you’re able to start working with the senior leaders, the rest will come. What you can unfortunately end up finding yourself in as a sports psychologist is working with the first year players or the players that aren’t going to start because of course they’re always looking to find something.



Gerrit Keferstein:    They want everything.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right but the thing is from a legitimacy point of view, if the senior leaders aren’t willing to work with you, then it’s going to be difficult.  So, that’s, I think, the first component. The second one is once you feel like you’ve got some clarity, you have to be willing to act because if you’re just hanging out a lot, the players will eventually turn you off. And I think it’s really understanding where there is opportunity for impact and influence. So, it’s a bit of you having to lean on your experience and knowing that “Okay, well, here’s the senior player.  He’s world class, tight head, prop.” And you’re saying “Well, his recovery right now, his recovery strategies and approaches are not good enough, okay? And so, you identify that by looking at simple things like maybe you were monitoring his sleep and his sleep start to drop.  It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with him.  And so, you shoulder tap after the training and you say “I’ve noticed your sleep’s dropped over the last three nights.  What’s going on?’ And it just was a real relevant conversation that he after building a bit of a rapport was willing to have.  And one of the things that I’ve always established, going back to the comment I made earlier about practicing in the environment, was that I would get the coaches to allow me to be able to have access to the athletes.  So, for example, like I mentioned, if I saw that a player’s performance dropped or that they needed to have a follow-up, I was able to just go up to that player after training and shoulder tap and say “Hey, we need to have a talk” because I positioned myself as a member of the coaching staff and. It’s not “Oh, here comes the psychologist.”



Gerrit Keferstein:    The outsider, yeah.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     It’s the “Oh, Tom’s on the coaching staff.  Tom’s responsible for this area, okay?” And there’s some areas like sleep as an example, nobody owns sleep.  It’s not a sports psychology, it’s a biological phenomenon.  It could be that the doctor is the one that is first line but usually when we have poor sleep, in my experience, it has a lot to do with our behavioral processes, our decision making or it can be that we’re not in a good state, we’re having relationship problems, we’re having performance challenges, we’re thinking too much before bed.  And so, it produces a conversation that at least I can start to have in the first instance.  We could find out that in fact everything’s okay and maybe it’s a bit of an overtraining issue, okay?  Well, then we get the doc involved.  So, at some point maybe it involves an interdisciplinary approach.  I might bring the doc in early to decide “I think we need to get the sleep cycle disturbed and get it back on track and for us to do that, we might need a pharmacological approach in combined with a new-pharmacological approach that I would drive” but at the end of the day we’re playing on Saturday.  So, we might have a joint partnership there.  And, again, the players see the value in, they see the other team members working together.  There’s a lot more trust that Tom’s working closely with the doctor and everyone’s on the same page and Tom knows what the coaches know.



Gerrit Keferstein:    And when they see the coaches trust you, they start trusting you.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  It’s such an important point you just mentioned there because if the coach doesn’t engage you and you’re just something after on the side, the players really get the message.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Yeah, I see a couple of times many organizations where they bring in the sports psychologist but the sports psychologist basically is there and he’s just working with the players but the coach doesn’t want to engage with them.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.



Gerrit Keferstein:    That just doesn’t work.  The players want to have nothing to do.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  And it’s a bit of a balance in the sports psychologist line of work because as you get more closer to their coaches, then you have to make sure that the players don’t lose trust.  They still want to know there’s a bit of confidentiality there where they can put some stuff on the table with you and that stuff will be left with you and the sports psychologist.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Except for just not sharing sensitive stuff over the years, the players, obviously they will learn to trust you but is there anything else you can do short term to develop that trust? You straight up tell them “Well, I’m not going to tell that to the coach.”



Dr. Tom Patrick:     I think they’ve seen that you’re able to keep that personal thing personal. I think it’s a more generic thing like they trust you in your commitment level to what everyone’s doing.  I’ll give you an example.  When I worked with swimming, I didn’t come out to the afternoon sessions.  I came out to the 5:30 in the morning sessions, showing the athletes that I’m in.  So, I’m willing to do the difficult ones and I come out to the Saturday morning session, not the Friday afternoon session, then I leave at 5:00, right?  It’s all in.



Gerrit Keferstein:    You put your skin in the game.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Yeah exactly.



Gerrit Keferstein:    On the same boat.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.  I think it’s critical though that’s not a confidentiality issue.  That’s just that the players trusts that you’re really a part of this, you’re really committed to doing the hard yards, the hard work.



Gerrit Keferstein:    That’s so important in high performance.  It’s such a close environment.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right. 



Gerrit Keferstein:    We don’t want anybody on board who’s not commitment to nothing. We don’t want fans.  We want just people that really want to bring something to the table and bring value.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     The other thing is longevity.  And then of course you’re not in a situation forever because things change, coaches change, they might want to bring in different people.  Of course you have these issues.  It’s a bit more stable in Olympic Institute environments. I make sure that, for example, if you start something with an Olympic cycle that you finish it. So, you don’t go in, you work for a year and a half and then you stop and then you go do another thing.  No, it’s like we have time, I’m here all the way through Tokyo, for example.  We’re not going to stop.  And, again, that instills some trust that you’re going to be around.  So, those things are important too. I think sports psychologists do their best work when they’re in long-term situations because it can take quite a while.  And I reflect on my work in professional sports like not only working with some of the All Black players but working within the Blues Franchise, for example, in New Zealand. And it’s about trying to work through all of those processes that we were speaking about.  And then you get to actually evaluate and debrief everything after the season. And then you get to decide as a professional “Okay, what changes I’m going to make for the next season?” And then you’ve got an opportunity to make those changes.  And so, how you practice in year two was considerably better and more effective than in year one.  And you want to get to that point where you get to actually do and achieve that improved level of engagement with the program, the coaches and the athletes but if you’re always coming in for just a season, you could arguably have spent a good amount of that season just gaining entry, just learning about the sport, just understanding what those players’ needs are, right? So, my best experiences in my career have been where I’ve been in place for a longer term.



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, as with all things coaching, be it strength conditioning, be it technical coaching, be it nutrition coaching, the impact is not done by this one thing we did.  It’s not this one intervention we did, this one special two-week block we did.  It’s those small little things just add up over the months, over the years.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right.



Gerrit Keferstein:    I want to come back to that clinical psychology aspect because I think that it’s also one thing that helps you to build rapport and build trust. Players, they don’t want to engage with the psychologist because they don’t feel like they need to fix things but if you’re the psychologist who comes in “I’m not here to fix you.  You don’t need fixing.  No, that’s not what I’m here for.  I’m here for performance and there’s some things we can do to get that.”



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s right, yeah. And I think that’s where you really have to be clear around how you position yourself with the players, how you’re introduced into the environment and that you at times do have to actually go to that point where you have to take them back through just what is a sports psychologist, what do we do and then importantly what do I want to do and what am I here to do and how I do my work because they may have had various different experiences. And there is absolutely a role for the clinical psychologist and I’ve always operated where I’ve had a good strong network because at the end of the day, you’re not an expert at everything.  And players are people and if there’s a player suffering and you feel and suspect strongly of a presenting clinical issue, you need to get them some clinical help and clinical support.  And if you’ve already introduced yourself into the environment as the performance psychologist, you really shouldn’t also be treating depression.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Even though you could probably do that, you still refer out.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     You would refer out, I think, from an ethical professional view.  I think as well, even if I was a practicing clinical psychologists, just what are you actually feeling your capability and expertise really lies, can you actually do everything? I’ve seen clinical psychologist go from anxiety to depression to relationship management and you think “How could you possibly be an expert in all of those different areas that are at times quite diverse?” You would think that a clinical psychologist refers out too. So, for me it’s about having a bit of an extended network but then if you refer an athlete out, you’re going to maybe triangulate the work and you go “Well, you go see them but we work together. You’re not alone, right?” But you’re very clear where your expertise lies and stuff, your scope for practice, etc. I mean I’m a registered psychologist but I’m not registered in Australia because I’m not wanting to practice as a registered psychologist but I could be registered if I chose but I’m not interested in doing that type of work.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Basically all coaches know the importance of the mental game and a lot of coaches want to find somebody to work with.  They have their assistant coaches, they have their strength conditioning coaches, they have their nutritionist but they want to have somebody on board for the mental game. There’s all sorts of professions out there.  There are psychologists but there are also so-called mental coaches and different professions that deal with that stuff and I think there’s so many different roles that somebody who works on the mental game can be engaged in, can be one-on-one work with the players and can work in front of the whole team as kind of like the motivation guy.  They can work behind the scenes coaching the coaching staff in terms of shaping the environment.  So, with all that complexity, how can a head coach make a good decision on where to start and where to find the right people?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     That’s a great question. It’s a difficult field to navigate.  I think it’s a lot simpler to understand what a strength conditioning coach does, who is a sports psychologist and where are they.  In many countries in the world they have an authority or an accredited body that actually can tell you that this person’s a sports psychologist, this one is not but, again, when you start getting into titles like mental coaches, etc., I think the first thing to do is the coach needs to understand what their needs are in terms of “Where are my strengths and weaknesses? What am I looking for in bringing a person in?” and that they find someone who is comfortable being in the engine room versus being in the frontline. So, if the person starts to want to take responsibility form, as you shared, the motivation of the team and this is their view, I would discourage it.  I think that the motivation comes from the coaches and the players and our job is to facilitate them getting to that place.  It’s not our job to be in the frontline.  And so, are you comfortable working behind the scenes? Are you comfortable working without acknowledgement? Do you know what I mean?  Of course you can be on the coaching staff, as I shared, but there’s a bit of humility, I think, in terms of the way the role is delivered. I think that’s very important.  I think the second thing is that it’s about getting referrals.  So, if you hire somebody who’s going to be in this space, really looking at their experience, understanding who they’ve worked with before and trying to talk to those groups, those teams, those coaches and athletes and getting a sense that they actually had an impact and influence to performance behavior because a lot of times you can be associated with a team and did very little. And are you able to measure your impact? Was the sports psychologist able to also identify the areas where they were not being able to impact? And put that on the table and say “I’m not able to change this behavior. I’m struggling getting this athlete …”



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, bringing a mental guy or a psychologist guy, bringing him in and asking him “What is it that you’re not good at?”



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Yes, that’s right, sure.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Where are your weaknesses?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     What is it you won’t be able to do or what have you never been able to do so far in your career? Because it’s complicated and you start working across different sports and, as you shared, my experiences in rugby or working in different cultures, it’s another challenge where you’re just like “Okay, how do I do sports psychology in an Islamic state?” when I worked in Qatar.  “How do I work with Muslims?” and thinking that in the year one, like I mentioned earlier, you don’t have all the answers.  So, you would think, it would take a little bit of time before you might be affective, okay?  So, that’s another important element, I think, that coaches need to be encouraged to really reach out and look at who those sports psychologists they worked with before and make sure that they’re the right fit for the athletes and coaches.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Do you think it’s important that the sports psychologist has some immersive experience in high performance as an athlete himself?  They should be able to feel what it feels like for the players.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     I think it’s absolutely something you would want to see if you can find it. I think if someone’s had a good experience in a high performance environment, as you mentioned a couple of days ago in our conversation, surely there is value there.  If you are a ballet dancer in an international company or if you are a professional musician, you must have some understanding of performance and being able to perform on demand, the performance challenge…



Gerrit Keferstein:    So, it doesn’t have to be sport as long as it’s about being the best in the world at something?



Dr. Tom Patrick:     I think so.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Then you understand the pressures.



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Yeah, do they have performance excellence?  I even met with a Chris Hadfield who was a MIR astronaut from Canada to find out how NASA prepared themselves for the MIR station and there’s a lot of excellence there.  Certainly lots of value there.  So, if you happen to work with the astronauts for their preparation, you would have some value from day one.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Yeah, definitely. Awesome, Tom. Thank you for time. 



Dr. Tom Patrick:     Thank you, Gerrit. It’s been a pleasure.



Gerrit Keferstein:    Awesome. Thank you.



                            Good. that’s a wrap.  I hope you enjoyed the discussion just as much I did. If you did, please go to iTunes, leave a nice review there. That would really help me out, go a long way to promote this podcast, find some more cool people to talk to and leave you some good content really.  So, again, go to iTunes.  You actually do it like you go and like open iTunes now, you click on review and leave a review.  It’s a 2-minute thing, probably a 30-second thing.  Go there, leave a review, click submit or whatever that button is, I don’t know, and help us out to help you out.  Help me to help you.


                            And if you want to give us some feedback, shoot me a message at Twitter.  My name is @GKeferstein. And I’m always happy to receive suggestions from you in terms of who I should go and talk to.  I look forward to it and also looking forward to seeing and hearing and listening to you, actually you listen to me, you tuning, look forward to you tuning in next time. See you on the other side.


If you enjoyed the podcast and the conversation, then the first thing you should do is subscribe to it on iTunes and you’re always going to be up-to-date when there’s new episodes coming out. And you can check out the home page at and my regular blog post where I give you updates on new podcasts I’m running. The other thing you could do is really leave a review on iTunes. That would really help me. If you find the podcast to be shitty, leave a shitty review. That’s fine. If you find it to be great, leave a great review and actually any review.  I’ll be happy about any review. So, the shitty reviews help me to get better and the good reviews help me to promote this podcast. So, it’s all good. And you can hook me up on Twitter @GKeferstein and shoot me message, give me feedback.  What I’m always looking forward to is if you have suggestions for people that I should really meet, that I should go visit or I should invite people that have to tell a story that’s relevant to human potential. And if you want to find other ways that you can support this project and this podcast, you can always go to So, hang in there and I’m looking forward to see you next time.


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Tags : all blackshigh performancemindfulnessolympicsperformance docperformance medicinepsychologysports psychologyThomas Patrickwinning culture

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