mindfulness & sport psychology: a q&a with mental performance consultant devin markle
Great coaches aren’t just telling you what to do, they are telling you what to feel when doing it correctly.-Anonymous
We all strive to be better versions of ourselves. We all want to optimize our performance whether that be on the playing field, in the gym, at work, in our family lives, etc. More than not, these improvements start by better understanding our mindset. I recently caught up with Devin Markle, a Certified Mental Performance Consultant, to discuss topics around mindfulness and how these concepts can be applied to our everyday lives.
Devin earned her Master’s degree in Counseling and Sport Psychology from Boston University. Following her training at Boston University, Devin earned certification by the Association of Applied Sport Psychology as a Certified Mental Performance Consultant. She is also completing her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. Devin has worked with individuals and teams as well as C Level Executives. She has experience working with athletes at every level, from youth development programs, high school and college, to Olympic and professional athletes. She has developed curriculums for NFL and NBA Pre-Draft programs, with athletes continuing their work with her after joining a professional team. It is her continued enthusiasm and love of sports that fuel her commitment to work with athletes in the pursuit of their goals.
What made you want to pursue sports psychology?
After playing lacrosse in college I realized that I had spent hours on the field and gym but the key factor was having a strong mindset. So often we are told “just be confident” or “get focused.” I wanted to be able to teach athletes HOW to do just that to reach peak performance. I also realized there was a connection between how I approached sport and how I approached my professional life so I wanted to continue to build those skills.
What is Sport Psychology?
The Applied Association of Sport Psychology defines sport psychology as "extending theory and research into the field to educate coaches, athletes, parents, exercisers, fitness professionals, and athletic trainers about the psychological aspects of their sport or activity. A primary goal of professionals in applied sport and exercise psychology is to facilitate optimal involvement, performance, and enjoyment in sport and exercise. Although there are many specific concepts within applied sport and exercise psychology (e.g., goal setting, concentration, motivation, relaxation, imagery), the general goal is to teach mental skills necessary to perform consistently in training and competition, increase adherence to exercise programs, and to help individuals realize their potential.” In more simple words, our thoughts impact our feelings and as athletes, impact our performance. As a Certified Mental Performance Consultant, my goal is to train athletes to master mental skills in order to feel at the top of their game and perform to the best of their abilities.
Do you have a specific focus within your field of work?
I work with many different athletes and topics, however, I focus a lot of time with adolescent athletes and those at transitional periods. For example, high school to college, college to professional, and through the retirement process.
What type of clients do you work with?
I have been fortunate enough to work with a diverse field of athletes. My youngest athletes have been 5-6 years old and my oldest being in their 60s. I have also worked with various sports from fencing, volleyball, moto-cross, & esports, to more traditional sports such as basketball, football, golf, soccer, & lacrosse. In addition, I have worked with various levels of competition from elite Olympians and professional athletes to youth athletes just being introduced to sport.
What does mindfulness mean to you?
I was very fortunate to be trained and introduced to the concept of mindfulness by Dr. Amy Baltzell. (Check out her book Mindfulness and Performance). With this training, I have studied mindfulness and the numerous definitions and origins of the practice in-depth. However, I think it is important to KEEP IT SIMPLE. To me, mindfulness at its core is about being present-minded in an open and active way. When clients ask me so what does that mean or look like, my favorite challenge to give them is to answer these simple questions:
“How many steps does it take from your bedroom to the bathroom in the morning?”
“How many stoplights are there from your house to your office?”
Often during these mundane activities, we are on “autopilot” or thinking about the next thing on the to-do list. Mindfulness is acknowledging what is occurring in a judgment-free, present-focused, mindset. We all tend to “mental time travel,” meaning thinking of the past or future. Try to stay on the here and now.
This video is a great resource to learn about Mindfulness.
How is Sport Psychology applicable to the general population?
One of my favorite things about Sport Psychology is that it is so applicable to everyone! In one way or another, we perform daily whether that is as athletes, entrepreneurs, executives, employees, parents, students, etc. All of the skills that I teach in sport psychology can transfer to life performance. We can all benefit from increasing our focus and intention, setting clear goals, and reducing our anxieties.
Mental health is obviously a hot topic in sports. How do you think we can improve awareness?
I am happy to say that mental health is finally a topic being discussed in sport. I tell my clients all the time that they are not robots. They are humans so why wouldn’t mental health impact them or the people around them? I think we can continue to improve awareness by talking about it. Talking about it not just negatively, but in positive moments as well. It takes effort to live a fulfilled life. Taking action through learning proper health skills (yes, these are skills to learn) is crucial to understand. NBA superstar Kevin Love summarized it perfectly when he recently said, “Everyone is going through something” when asked about mental health in sports. It is powerful to hear from professional athletes given their platform, but it must be acknowledged at all levels. Understanding the individual is the first step. From there we can determine the best path to optimization.
Are there any conditions you think are overlooked/ not talked about enough in your field of work?
I believe that we have made great progress in the field especially with iconic athletes starting to openly discuss topics like depression and performance anxiety. However, I still think there is a lot more to discuss with overtraining and burnout. Perfectionism has become an idealized trait, but far too often I see it as a deterrent to high achievers actually achieving. I focus a lot on balance and this is for ALL ages.
Do you have any book recommendations or tips for people interested in learning more?
Mindfulness and Performance, Edited by Amy L. Baltzell Mind Gym by Gary Mack
-Start your morning off with setting an intention -Take breaks throughout the day to breath and recenter yourself -Be present in your communication, this means being actively engaged in listening -Multitasking is not the best way -Reflect at the end of the day
It is believed that more than fifty percent of all professional athletes suffer from performance anxiety. We all can relate to that same feeling of pressure on many levels. It is no coincidence that some of the best athletes to ever live credit a large part of their success to their mental conditioning. Russell Wilson, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, Aaron Judge, Justin Rose, Novak Djokovic are just a few among a growing population of athletes who are now talking openly about their competitive advantage gained through working with a Sport Psychologist. We can all benefit from applying these concepts of Sports Psychology to our everyday lives.