Jason Cohen, Psy.D, M.A.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

  • Enhance Performance
  • Increase Focus, Reduce Anxiety
  • Maintain Motivation
  • Use Stress Associated with Competition to your Advantage
  • Set Goals & Achieve Them
  • Overcome Psychological Factors & Reach Full Potential

The Role of a Sports Psychologist

Your coaches likely focus on the physical aspects of the sport – skills training and conditioning. Some sports make use of coaches that focus on specific areas of the game or sport (e.g., starts for track athletes and swimmers; defensive coach for football). Many athletes have a nutritionist who assists in dietary regimen. Some have a coach specifically for strength and conditioning. Physical aspects are covered! But what about the mental game. You have all the skills for success, but can you bring it when it is go time? Can you maintain sufficient motivation to show up each day? What about the pressure? These are a few of the areas a psychologist can help with.

My Approach

Drawing on my experience as a former Division I athlete and work with athletes ranging from those who are elite and nationally ranked to those aspiring to reach that level, I am well aware of the commitment, determination, and rewards associated with competitive sports. As I have stated throughout this website, my approach is active and you will likely find many similarities between the physical rigors of training you put yourself through and the cognitive aspects of my approach to sports psychology.

See videos below!

Optimal Perfromance & Arousal

In 1908, Yerkes & Dodson proposed that performance increases with arousal, but only to a certain point. If excitement or stimulation is too low, an athlete lacks sufficient focus for optimal performance and is distracted by irrelevant factors. At moderate levels of arousal, the athlete is “in the zone”. When arousal levels are high, their focus is too narrow, similar to tunnel vision and they are likely to miss important cues.

Additional research yielded more refined information. Activities that are highly complex require lower levels of arousal for optimal performance while activities with less complexity require higher levels of arousal for optimal performance.  For illustrative purposes, professional linebackers and quarterbacks exhibit very different levels of arousal. Click for graphical depiction.

Among other factors to consider is how well learned the skill is, the incentives at stake, and social pressure. For example, performance is optimized if the skill is well learned, and incentives and social pressure are high. When the athlete is a beginner, the opposite is true. In many cases this explains why some athletes perform best in practice.  

Creating the Optimal State of Focus/Videos

The goal is to have the athlete in an optimal state of focus, not relaxation, where brain waves, respiration and heart rate are synchronized. To do this, I use state-of-the-art equipment, cognitive behavioral theory and a combination of bio/neurofeedback, classical and operant conditioning, and mental rehearsal. The lessons learned in competitive sports (e.g., hard work pays off, setting and reaching goals, turning a loss into a win) are transferable to success in life in general. You will find this to be true with the skills we work on.  

Below you will find 2 videos. The 1st video is of an athlete during their first session. You may note the choppy, inconsistent lines on the graph and the height of the red bar in comparison to the blue and green bars on the lower right side of the screen. The 2nd video is during their 3rd session. Take note of the height of the green bar in relation to the blue and red bars and the smooth lines which are a drastic departure from the first session. This is a clear indication of how the techniques we have worked on are placing them in an optimal state of focus and level of arousal for competition, albiet we still have work to do.

Session 1

Note the inconsistency in the line which indicates a brain waves, respiration and pulse are not synchronized.

Session 3

Note the smoother, more consistent lines indicative of synchronization between brain waves, respiration and pulse. Such a pattern is approaching an optimal level of focus.

Of note, individual depicted in the videos is a nationally ranked athlete who recently began to feel the pressure of obtaining a college scholarship and in response to that began to false start with increasing frequency. Video of their progress was chosen simply because it reflects the realistic outcomes that can be obtained in a short period of time. In the weeks following the 3rd session video, the athlete was able to consistently accomplish a prolonged state of optimal focus with relative ease. 

©Copyright 2013 Jason Cohen, Psy.D., M.A. All Rights Reserved.

Psychologist offering psychotherapy, therapy, counseling, psychological testing, sports psychology, forensic psychology, expert witness in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Arroyo Grande, Templeton, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, California