Getting their heads in the game
It was Yogi Berra, that old rogue baseball philosopher, who once said: “Half of this game is 90-percent mental.”
He was talking about baseball, of course. But the Hall of Famer’s offbeat sense of wisdom can easily be applied across the sports spectrum.
Perhaps the Liberty Hill High School boys and girls soccer teams had Berra’s timeless quote in mind when they recently began work with a licensed sports psychologist with the regular season just around the corner.
Arlene Bauer, who is AASP (American Association of Sports Psychologists) certified and has worked for the last seven years as a sports psychologist in the US Army, has volunteered her time to work with boys and girls soccer at LHHS as they prepare for the upcoming season. Bauer’s biggest focus has been on improving “interdependence and mindfulness,” as she put it. The end goal, she said, is to help each player reach his or her full potential by preaching the virtues of a positive, productive mindset.
Each session lasts about an hour. Bauer began by meeting with each team for two consecutive days and now visits the school once every week or so. She will continue to work with both teams for the duration of the season, though the sessions will likely recur less frequently when the season begins in earnest because, as Bauer put it, “they’ll be so busy.”
“The preseason is the best time to work on the mental side of the game,” she said. “It’s when they have the most free time.”
Darren Bauer, head coach of both the boys and girls soccer teams and Arlene’s husband, decided to have Arlene meet with the teams because the “mental part of the game has started to be a big focus in all sports.” He said the sessions have brought both teams closer together and have helped the players “better understand” one another.
“To gain an edge mentally can sometimes overcome an edge someone might have on you ability-wise,” he said. “I wanted to give both teams the chance to gain that edge over other teams. If we can be mentally strong, then some of the other stuff comes easier.”
Coach Bauer not only preached the value of addressing the mental side of the game as it applies on the field, but also within the wider scope of life in general.
“The end goal would be for both teams to be more mentally prepared and focused for each game,” said coach Bauer. “In the end though, these skills can be carried over into everything in life to help them prepare and focus better. My ultimate goal for our soccer program is to better prepare each student athlete for their future and I believe these sessions will help.”
So what does sports psychology look like in practice?
One exercise the girls varsity soccer team did was write their strengths on a posterboard in the locker room in an effort to increase self-confidence. Ms. Bauer also had the players meditate while “focusing on the breath, or choosing a mantra” to repeat and internalize. Meditation, among other benefits, can help the players find a sense of inner calm during stressful situations on the field.
The reaction has been largely positive. Ms. Bauer said several players have texted her to ask about “good strategies” for getting the most out of the experience and noted that they were “attentive and asked a lot of questions” during the sessions.
Ms. Bauer began as an athletic training major before developing an interest in sports psychology after taking an elective on the subject. She was “hooked,” as she put it, from then on, noting that as an athletic trainer she saw the “importance of the mental side of the game constantly, especially with kids dealing with injuries.”
Ms. Bauer earned her bachelor’s degree from Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee, and her master’s degree from Barry University in Miami, Florida. She considers sports psychology as her life’s work and is “constantly trying to find new ways to do my job better.
“I’m passionate about kids doing this type of training because I wish I had it in high school,” she said. “When I have free time, I try to work with high school kids as much as possible. It’s just something I love doing.”