Tag: Dr. Justin Anderson

You think you know what it’s like and you think you’ve played under pressure, but you haven’t.”

These were the recent words of professional golfer Rory McIlroy, who just won the PGA Tour Championship last week and has his sights set on the Ryder Cup this week. Great champions and high level athletes seem to have a very unique perspective and relationship with this emotional-biochemical-physical-body-reaction thing we call pressure. It’s the mindset approach and optimization that allows these champions to be aware and respond effectively that makes all the difference in their performance.

Pressure is very real and exists for all of us. It stems from thousands of years of evolution of our brains seeking to protect us; essentially, from failure. As an Olympian, not throwing a javelin far enough may result in a silver or bronze medal; as a caveman, it likely resulted in a lost meal, injury or even death. Unfortunately, our brains haven’t quite caught up to that evolutionary safeguard, which today, can significantly impact how we perform in high-pressure situations (likely not involving saber-toothed tigers).

As Dr. Justin Anderson (Sport Psychologist and Founder of Premier Sport Psychology) puts it, “Pressure just is. It’s there. I don’t define it as good or bad. If you’re playing in a pressure situation, it just means that it matters and that you’ve likely done something pretty great to get there. At the end of the day, pressure is just context; the task remains the same.

Think about it this way: If we put a board on the ground and asked you to walk across it, would you be able to do so without touching the ground or falling? You likely very well could. Now if we were to raise the board 5 feet off the ground and ask you to walk across, would you? You might be more hesitant. You likely could do it, but at a risk of falling. What if we raised it 10 or 15 more feet off the ground? Would you walk across the board then? At that point, you probably wouldn’t dare walk across – rightfully citing injury or fear. But why not step up to the challenge when the bar has been raised? The board is the same width as it was before when it was sitting on the ground – it’s simply the context that is different. The difference is the pressure you feel to perform, and to perform well (i.e., without making a mistake).

We can anticipate pressure and we know that it will be there at the Ryder Cup. What we see in this particular setting that is unique for many golfers is that golf, which is traditionally an individual sport, will now become a team sport. In addition to the pressure they likely already feel, the golfers will now feel a team aspect: a pressure to perform well and a responsibility to the team. What they do now matters not just for them, but for others, too.

The key for any athlete in dealing with pressure is really pretty simple, and might even seem counter-intuitive. The key is not to try to make pressure work for or against you in that moment. If you’re focusing on what to do with the pressure, then you’re distracting yourself from the task at hand and instead putting your attention on the pressure. Instead, think about what your job is in that moment, for example; first driving (finding a target on the fairway and getting the ball there) and then putting (rolling the ball on a specific line to fall in the dead center of the cup). That’s it. Think, “Regardless of how I feel, regardless of the pressure, regardless of the context, I want to put the ball on that line.”

And that’s where the mindset training comes into play. At Premier Sport Psychology, we work with countless professional golfers on how to sharpen their ability to focus on simply the task at hand. When they do that, the rest begins to fall away – leaving only a single task for them to accomplish and pressure left to deal with itself – or even better, their opponents. Those who work to optimize their mindset and who know there will always be pressure are the ones who not only compete, but also succeed at high levels.


We have an updated page devoted to answering your questions about the field here.

With sport psychology a rapidly expanding field, with scores of professional teams hiring specialists to work with their athletes on their mental game, many are wondering how one makes a career in sport psychology and what it takes. Below are some commonly asked questions and answers to help get you started.

What are sport psychologists and how do they differ from mental game coaches?

Most generally, sport psychologists are licensed psychologists who are trained in psychological skills training, athletes’ mental health, team dynamics in sports settings, psychological factors that influence performance, assessment of psychological and performance variables, and more. Mental game coaches also work with athletes on the performance side of sport, but they do not have specific training in mental health and are not licensed. You know the old saying that every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square? Every sport psychologist is a mental game coach, but not every mental game coach is a sport psychologist. For more information about sport psychology, click here.

Do I need to go to graduate school to become a sport psychologist?

Yes. In order to become a full-fledged licensed psychologist, you’ll need to earn either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and then complete further requirements for licensure depending on which state you want to practice in.

Is there only one set path to becoming a sport psychologist/mental skills coach?

Absolutely not! Our sport psychologists have all had very unique experiences. Learn more about how they got where they are by clicking below.

Dr. Justin Anderson

Dr. Carlin Anderson

Dr. Alexandra Wagener

As a student, what kind of experience should I be trying to get?

As far as experience goes, working with athletes of any level will help you along the road, as will doing research. Reach out to various sport psychologists and firms for advice and to see if they have any internships—many will post information on their websites. In order to find sport psychologists, quick Google searches will take you a long way, and check out AASP’s (Association for Applied Sport Psychology) website.

I want to open up my own sport psychology practice. Any advice on what I need to know?

Make sure you know how to run a business and who you can reach out to for help. While a doctorate degree will help you become a sport psychologist, it won’t necessarily help you with the day-to-day operations of owning your own company.

I’d like to work with elite athletes—how can I get there?

First, realize that many people want to work with elite and professional athletes, so don’t be upset if it doesn’t happen right away! You need time to prove yourself and get the most experience that you can. Work with colleges and universities: try to get a position on their medical staff and work with athletes there. It may not happen right away, but you can put in the time and the effort!

Good luck to all on your sport psychology journey, and check back for future blogs answering more questions! Again, if you have a question, please let us know via Facebook or Twitter

We’ve all been there: a negative state of mind when the game isn’t going well. It’s easy to get to that place, too. It starts with an error, a bad play, or some missed shots. Before you know it, your athletes are walking away from the competition with their heads hung low. If there’s anything that has the ability to spread quickly and to set in and take hold in our minds, it’s negative thinking. However, there is a silver lining. Dr. Justin Anderson, a licensed sport psychologist, has some key advice for coaches:

“The best thing that you can do for your athletes when they’ve hit a rough patch is to simplify the game. Give them one task to focus on; one goal that they can attain. It’s important to bring their minds back to one task that is important now.”

He suggests that instead of focusing on the end result, a win, break it down by giving your athletes a goal: getting positive yardage on the next drive or a defensive stand before the period runs out. When your athletes are in the moment and focusing on what they need to do right then and there, they’re going to perform much differently. When athletes have goals to build on, they can start building some really good momentum. He furthers this with a couple of quotes from Coach John Wooden, who is not only famous for his NCAA wins, but also for his many poignant, inspiring words:

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

In his years of being an athlete and a sport psychologist, Dr. Justin knows how easy it is for an athlete to get overwhelmed. Coaches sometimes focus too much on the negative. It’s obvious that as a coach, your goals for your athletes are to have them compete well and to hopefully win, but it doesn’t always improve your athletes’ performance when they’re being drilled on what they’re doing wrong.

“The players already know that they aren’t supposed to fumble or that they’re supposed to make their shots. As a coach, you need to make a point to tell them what to do instead of what not to do.”

Next time your athletes are down, take a deep breath, and bring them back up. Give them a moment to be in. Know that your athletes have the ability to perform better and that looking toward success instead of pointing out failures is what can bring out the best in them. Small victories can easily boost morale and be a huge game changer. Keep the goal simple, but make sure that it’s something they can build on–getting that positive momentum going can be crucial.