Four Case Studies Related to Applied Sports Psychology and Mental Skills


1 | Courting the Present The Challenge

The Challenge

After winning the first USTA District Championship from their town, a 2.5 women’s doubles team contacted Head Coaching for advice as they prepared for Sectionals. This doubles pair suspected that the entire team’s outcome depended on their last match at Sectionals. In addition to the inordinate amount of pressure that created, the pair was matched with an outstanding server—an opponent who had easily won all of her service games and was now serving for the match that determined who would win.

The Head Coach Approach

Instead of fearing their opponent, the doubles teammates remembered what they had learned in their Head Coaching sessions with Dr. Petro: remain in the present. As a result, rather than dreading the serve and consuming valuable energy with fear and negativity, they engaged in positive self-talk and reminded themselves to concentrate on getting the ball back over the net. They also switched their focus— they may not be able to control their opponent, but they can control their own behavior. Dr. Petro’s sessions had prepared them for this match-defining moment. In fact, the doubles teammates said:

“We have attended three of Sharon’s sessions and have found them to be useful in teaching us some of the mental skills that are helpful during tough matches. On the court we have discovered first hand how improving our mental strength can help us beat players with more skill!”

–Brenda Myers, Captain, Keely Hass, Assistant Captain
Boar’s Head Sports Club, Women’s 2.5 team

The Results

The teammates broke their opponent’s serve and went on to win the set and the entire match in a third set tiebreaker. Even though the women believed that their opponent’s tennis skills were stronger, they practiced what they had learned—to remain in the present—and they pulled through to achieve the win. This doubles team went on to Nationals.


2 | A Strategy for Success

The Challenge

A 3.5 club tennis player came to Head Coaching with a long memory for failure and a short memory for success. She was ruminating about an important match she had lost in a district tournament—the previous season! During this significant episode, she had won the first set and was up 5-1 in the second set when she lost the next six games. Unable to let go, she was consumed with disappointment and anger more than a year later and this was preventing her from reaching her full potential in the current season.

The Head Coach Approach

At Head Coaching, we worked with this client to emphasize one of the most important principles of focusing—stay in the present! Dr. Petro accentuated the fact that, while it is important to learn from past experiences, it is even more important to be able to let disappointing performances go, and refocus on the present. In addition, Dr. Petro initiated a “pat on the back” strategy for the client’s sport successes. This forced her to concentrate on her positive skills and allowed her to have a stronger (and longer) memory for her successes instead of holding on to her past performance mistakes.

The Results

As a result of Dr. Petro’s work with this client, she is better able to focus on her present situation when she is on the court. Her concentration and her game have both improved; she is now winning more matches and having a lot more fun playing the game!


3 | Setting Goals for the Goalie

The Challenge

A high school soccer player came to Head Coaching with a self-described “lack of confidence.” Before the start of the season, this player’s coach had switched his position—from midfield to goalkeeper. The player was angry at this sudden switch; later, however, it became apparent that this anger was the manifestation of his fear of letting his team down. He had played goalie for his team years before and could only remember the mistakes he had made in this position.

The Head Coach Approach

Dr. Petro worked with this athlete to change his focus and thought processes about the sudden position switch. She encouraged him to:

  • Revisit the successes he had experienced when playing goalie.
  • Realize that the success or failure of the team did not depend on his skills alone
  • Change his self-talk to a more positive script

The Results

The athlete had an exceptional season and, as a result, is currently looking at college soccer programs that will welcome him as their goalkeeper.


4 | Coach Communication

The Challenge

Head Coaching was called in to elevate the playing level of a nationally ranked collegiate athletic team. The team’s coach, a former athlete who had been successful at the highest level of competition in this sport, had hired Head Coaching because she knew the team had potential but felt that her frustration at not being able to achieve a higher status was impeding them from achieving their goals. Upon speaking with the coach and assessing the team’s situation, it became apparent that the coach’s personal strong competitive drive was directing her coaching communications—to the detriment of the team. Her personal competitiveness was preventing her from effectively leading the team to victory.

The Head Coach Approach

Dr. Petro recognized that the coach would immediately benefit from learning how to redirect her passion for the sport in a positive direction. Head Coaching developed a comprehensive plan to improve the coach’s communication skills, teaching methods and leadership framework. The coach was given specific suggestions to follow when communicating with the team including:

  • Present information in greater detail
  • Listen to feedback from the players
  • Confer regularly with the team to assess whether what she communicated had been translated accurately to the athletes

The Results

That season the team won their first conference championship. The next year the team competed in the final four of the NCAA tournament, and the coach was selected conference coach of the year.