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Roll ‘Bama Roll Reading Room: The Genius of Athletes — popular psychology done right

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A good self-help primer taken from sports psychology

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Sports psychology is a far older field than you would imagine — its beginnings predate even classic Skinnerian operant conditioning. However, for almost a century, it remained on the fringes of the field, until it gained popularity after it came to light that the US National Olympic team employed a small army of psychologists. The USNT’s results were astounding, winning a record 83 medals as the host nation, eclipsing even the Soviet Empire’s 80 medals during the boycott year of 1980. No doubt, their performance began to get owners and managers and GMs interested in the field.

Two decades ago the nascent field of Sports Psychology was a misunderstood one, and — if we’re being honest — was one without much of a clinical foundation, that tip-toed into the metaphysical far too often, and left much to be desired in its efficacy...assuming one could even assess that efficacy with any sort of empirical rigor.

Now, however, the field has certainly matured. Call it an homage to its scientifically-obsessed Edwardian-era roots. What began as flaky admixture of modalities, has now seen the merger of data-crunching kinesiology and exercise science with that of cognitive-behavioral therapies, biofeedback, and other behaviorism techniques.

At stake? Optimizing the best performance that an athlete can achieve. If only such mechanisms were available to the average schlub, right?

Enter The Genius of Athletes: What World-Class Competitors Know That Can Change Your Life, by Scott Douglas (an outstanding data-focused performance journalist for periodicals like Runners World) and Dr. Noel Brick, PhD, a professor of sports and exercise performance at the University of Ulster. (ASIN: B08GFBN638, The Experiment Publisher (UK), 264 pp. hardcover, MSRP @21.99)

What this handy little tome does is nothing less than help individuals hack their brains in daily life, albeit without the fun of acid and Mr. Ed Marathon (seriously, you have to watch Mr. Ed on acid once in your life). Moreover, it does so coming from a performance-based approach, with therapeutic efficacy behind the skills and techniques shared by the authors.

There are outstanding chapters and vignettes on: goal-setting, chunking vs. dreaming, visualizing performance and success, resiliency, planning for success, identifying obstacles as well as negative thoughts and behavioral patterns that present a barrier, optimization of discrete tasks, self-talk, living in the moment, learning from failures, avoiding repetitive mistake-making, identifying commonalities of error in performance or processing, strength profiling, honestly taking stock of your weakness...and, of course, knowing when to quit.

Perhaps most importantly, Genius of Athletes, is written in a very accessible style that presupposes no experience (or need) for therapy, and treats itself as a toolkit: and there’s a task for every tool and a tool for every task.

Dr. Brick and Mr. Douglas don’t take it upon themselves to tell you when each tool would be best suited for your cognitive processing or individual situation; it is a journey through a museum of self-exploration and individual problem-solving. But it is up to you to buy the ticket, choose which exhibits you wish to see, and then what you will take away from them.

Far from being nebulous overgeneralizations of many self-help manuals, the syncretic and multidisciplinary approach taken in Genius... is concrete, empirically-grounded, is ultimate aimed at problem solvers, and probably most appeals to those who already know what they want, but just need some additional tools to help them succeed.

For popularized psychology, you can’t ask for more. I highly recommend it.