Melanie Loftus ’05 was hush-hush about her mind coach at first; her friends were curious.
Loftus works with her mind coach, Marilyne Woodsmall, in both personal sessions and by means of CDs Woodsmall has produced. Loftus said the purpose of a mind coach is to help achieve wellness and balance at the spiritual, emotional and intellectual levels as well as the physical.
When Loftus arrived at Yale as a diving recruit and heard of Woodsmall from other divers in the area, Loftus began consulting with Woodsmall and the two have been working together ever since. Loftus said her friends have come to recognize what a mind coach is and why she finds hers helpful.
“When I explained, they definitely understood,” Loftus said. “It makes sense for at least my competition and my sport, because diving is where it really comes down to your ability to compete — [it’s] a very mental sport.”
Her mind coach not only helps her relax and perform better in competition, Loftus said, but also gives her the tools she needs to achieve her goals in everyday life.
“Most people are spiritually or emotionally imbalanced,” Woodsmall said. “The point of a mind coach is getting all those levels into balance.”
Woodsmall, who has legally trademarked the term “mind coach,” works with PGA golfers and college athletes, but her clients also include businesspeople and others interested in achieving success. She said her advice comes from years of studying successful people in different areas, forming models that others can repeat and combining the models with “spiritual wisdom.”
“People who are really good at what they do usually know what they do, they just don’t know how they do it,” Woodsmall said. “So that’s the essence of modeling, determining how the expert does what he does.”
Woodsmall has compiled three CDs after years of modeling behavior. On her CDs, which she calls “a sensory soundscape that brings relaxation and allows people to receive information at a subconscious level,” Woodsmall presents her “magic formulas” devised for success.
“It is your duty to nobly and aptly display and develop your talents as the reflection of the wonderful gifts of the universe,” Woodsmall says in one of her CDs.
Other elements of the mind coach’s counseling include relaxation and an understanding of what Woodsmall calls “true success.” She said society is filled with negative, materialistic ideas and young people in particular are in need of guidance.
Jim Pyrch, who coached Loftus at Yale for two years, said he believes most athletes can benefit from working with a mind coach or a similar professional, often referred to as a sports psychologist.
“Instead of having a long, drawn-out process of trying to correct fears or anxiety over a particular aspect of the competition or practice, they have helped eliminate it and shorten the time period,” Pyrch says. “That helps the athlete.”
Last July, Pyrch left Yale for Macalaster College and he is currently coaching diver Tom Davidson in preparation for the Olympic trials.
Pyrch said other Yale athletes have seen and benefitted from sports psychologists, who can also be helpful to coaches in assessing and working through athletes’ various problems.
Unlike Woodsmall’s “mind coaching,” sports psychologists are a more mainstream source of mental guidance for athletes.
Sports psychologists help with mental technique
Golf is another performance-intensive sport in which athletes have profited from a focus on the mental aspect of the game. Yale women’s golf coach Mary Moan said when she played competitively, she found professional coaches with knowledge of mental technique helpful.
While Moan said this type of coaching has helped many athletes focus, determine weaknesses and improve performance, some may become too dependent on the idea of mental technique.
“I think it depends on the individual, some people might hold onto it too tightly and just not go out and play,” Moan said.
Lauren Ressler ’06, a member of the golf team, said she believes golf is one of the most mentally challenging sports and a mental coach can help players relax and visualize success. However, she said Yale does not provide this kind of service to its athletes.
“Yale doesn’t have a sports psychologist on staff, which is terrible,” Ressler said.
She said many other schools provide their athletes with a professional mental training staff and she does not understand why Yale chooses not to do so.
“It’s just so funny because Yale is such a high-level institution for the mind, you would think it would be a piece of cake to get a sports psychologist in here,” Ressler said.
University Health Services’ Chief of Athletic Medicine Dr. Barry Goldberg, said sports psychologists can be helpful to some athletes, particularly those with high levels of stress, but added that he has not seen great demand for mental coaching at Yale.
“A lot of the athletes who have these problems will seek professional help in the mental hygiene section,” Goldberg said. “In a lot of these areas, a good therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist can handle the issues.”
Mental health in the Ancient Eight
Other Ivy League universities have chosen a variety of methods to specifically address issues of mental health and focus for athletes.
In 1998, Harvard’s University Health Service became affiliated with the Mind/Body Health Institute, which emphasizes the link between mental and physical health. The staff assists all interested students and faculty with relaxation techniques and stress management.
Cornell’s Office of Student-Athletic Services, while mainly focused on helping athletes balance commitments to their sports with their academic goals, has also provided workshops and seminars that address sports psychology.
Both Moan and Pyrch said coaching with a mental focus has existed for a long time, but they have seen it become significantly more popular within the last 10 years, as it has been associated with athletic success.
Loftus said her mind coach has helped her take control of her own life and improved both her well-being and her athletic performance.
“I think that for people in this day and age it’s a really interesting idea because for so long athletes have always worked with technique coaches, but you don’t really hear about working with mind coaches — but it’s just as important if not more,” Loftus said.
She said she believes other athletes could also benefit from the help of a mind coach.
“Sometimes they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing any more, and sometimes it can be just going through the motions,” Loftus said. “You don’t know what you want out of a sport, what you want out of life.”
But Woodsmall’s CDs do come with a warning for anyone interested in listening: “Beware: These CDs are imbued with a special vibration that is bringing joy and balance into your life!”
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