Dr. William Wiener is a New York City-based psychologist located on the Upper West Side.
For the past 15 years, Dr. William Wiener has used his expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy to provide treatment for anxiety, depression, OCD, and anger management without the use of medication. He has also worked as a sport psychologist, helping athletes to overcome the mental pressures that hinder them from reaching and competing at their potential. He has served as a consultant for pros from various professional leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL) as well as various news outlets who consult him to comment on current events in sports.
Fascinating and thought provoking peace on youth sports
nytimes.com Most children play organized sports in Norway, but enjoyment is prized more than winning. And the manic drive for scholarships is alien. Are there lessons for the United States?
Disputing myths about female coaches in the NBA - "for as much progress as we've made as a league over these last few years... we still have a ways to go."
I had a nice chat with Ernie Anastos about athletes and mental health.
Unnoticed Performances - Motivation Killers
In the final game of the 2017 NBA finals, JR Smith was blazing hot. He made seven of eight three point attempts, shot nine for 11 overall, and scored 25 points. Preparation and hard work were evident in swish after swish. His Cavs lost to the Warriors however, and Smiths' virtuoso performance was quickly forgotten. Do you remember Paul O'Neill in the 1997 American League playoffs? Against the Cleveland Indians, he posted a .421 avg., and hit consecutive home runs in games one, two, and three (grand slam). His Yankee team lost that series, and O'Neill's outstanding play is little more than an an footnote in playoff history.
In an athlete's world, particularly in team sports, great performances can easily go unnoticed. When athletes prepare with blood and sweat then perform under the lights, it can be profoundly deflating to come up empty. Athletes often become demotivated when this happens, and a sense of hopelessness can set in.
An elite, mid-distance runner with whom I worked broke her personal record at a national event by almost two seconds, and placed second. At the same meet, another runner produced a shocking, record-breaking performance that unexpectedly created a press frenzy. My client took several months to get back to running. A professional hockey player scored goals in two consecutive games. The next day, he was unceremoniously traded, for future draft picks. On his new team he failed to score in the remaining 37 games. Another client, a young minor league baseball player, hit a robust three for four in an important game that his team ultimately lost. After the game, in an effort to spread the blame, a frustrated and furious coach berated each player extensively. My client never recovered, "If he doesn't notice when I produce like that, why hang around?". He ultimately left the team.,
Athletes, like all animals, are motivated by reward. When they perform well, they expect to be rewarded. We all do. Why work hard to produce great performances if there is a significant chance they will not be unnoticed, and go unrewarded? "Why should I even try?" is the unconscious line of thinking. For young athletes especially, unnoticed great performances can lead to hopelessness and decreased motivation. For athletes that are in it for the long haul, developing the mental skills to respond effectively is critical.
Here's how successful elite athletes respond to unnoticed performances, and stay hungry:
1. They allow themselves to acknowledge feelings of disappointment, without letting those feelings overwhelm them.
2. They remind themselves that maintaining positive thinking in the face of unfairness is an essential mental skill for elite athletes.
3. They quietly celebrate their own effort and performance.
4. They don't place blame on others.
5. They acknowledge and respect the "ups and downs of the game".
6. They remind themselves of the importance of focusing only on what one can control.
7. They lose themselves in something unrelated to sport or a while, then return with a fresh, intense desire to improve and excel!
“Negative emotions grab people’s attention more so there’s a perception that the best way to get what you want out of employees or players is by negativity or threats, or being stressful or intense. But in terms of bonding, loyalty, commitment to a team or a group and personal development over time, negativity doesn’t work as well as positivity.” -PCA National Advisory Board Member, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
I'm quoted in this timely piece in the NY Daily News.
nydailynews.com The way the NFL currently operates, apparently, is a scary microcosm of how things go in the outside world.
Virtual reality techniques increasingly integrated into preparation. I'm quoted in this interesting piece.
well.blogs.nytimes.com After a disappointing London Olympics, the triathlete Gwen Jorgensen began working on her mental race, adopting visualization techniques, mindfulness exercises and other mental strategies to prepare her for the Rio Olympics.
Motivation and Bitterness - Lessons from Stephen Curry
Most amazing about Stephen Curry, NBA MVP, is that out of high school he was not offered a scholarship by any big name schools. No one believed he could excel as a college basketball player. Curry truly experienced unfairness. Despite the disrespect, his talent and hard work emerged, and his well-deserved success followed. In the words or Rasheed Wallace, "Ball don't lie". His journey makes clear that athletes must absorb unfairness without losing a confidence that hard work will result in something positive, something important.
Curry's parents were both star athletes. His mother, Sonya, played volleyball at Virginia Tech, and his well-known father, Dell, played six years in the NBA. This makes the fact that he was overlooked even more astounding. What did all the experts miss? Despite his history of being underestimated, watching Curry, and listening to him, he never leaves the impression that he is playing to prove haters and doubters wrong. He's not bitter, and he never seemed to pay too much attention to being underestimated. Curry just kept working hard and having fun, and a career took off in fabulous fashion.
When athletes are asked what truly motivates them, why they are driving so hard? Many reply "I want to prove the doubters wrong..." Proving yourself to others is a weak goal to focus on because it is outside an athlete's control. - That coach you wanted to prove wrong, she just took a position elsewhere, and has already forgotten you. Also, your team suffered injuries and your fabulous, improved play has gone largely unnoticed. Lastly, your dad (the older he gets, the better he was) it seems, can never be impressed, or proven wrong.
When the goal is to prove yourself to others, uncontrollable factors often get in the way. This can lead athletes to profound feelings of dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Notably, the number of depressed, self-destructive athletes is on the rise (and in the news). Athletes thrive over time and stay mentally strong when they work to meet goals that are reachable and rewarding. Not when they are trying to prove doubters wrong. As Arthur Ashe once said, "You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is the real joy". Curry exudes this. Aspiring athletes should take note.
I share some thoughts in this interesting football piece.
gearpatrol.com We spoke with experts about the biggest scandals in the NFL and how they impact the coming football season, from Deflategate to concussions.
devzone.positivecoach.org Statistics on the chance to go pro prove that it's wise to focus on effort and life lessons, not just talent.
ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted a copy of an NFL player's medical records (without permission). That's a disturbing event, and hopefully not a new trend. It's not likely to inspire athletes to seek help, especially mental health help. It will be interesting to see what the discipline will be for selling those records. The buyer will go unscathed.
fansided.com New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul chose to have one of his fingers amputated after a fireworks accident, but were his HIPAA rights violated to break the news? When Jason Pierre-Paul blew up his hand in a fireworks accident, we didn’t know the full extent of the injury until ESPN inside…
Mouth gaurds are trending in the NBA, and my thoughts about it are mentioned. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/magazine/stephen-currys-mouth-guard-an-investigation.html
nytimes.com On the oral fixations of athletes.
Emotional Intelligence for Athletes
By William Wiener, Ph.D.
In competitive sports, emotional intelligence plays a critical role in the determining individual and team success. Emotional intelligence refers to the capacity for managing emotions well in our selves and in our relationships. Increasingly, teams are recognizing the need for good chemistry. Coaches want athletes who possess not only talent, but also the ability to relate well and work effectively with others. Athletes who do not let their emotions get the best of them, especially during competition, are more likely to succeed in sports and in life. Skills to improve emotional intelligence can be developed just like physical skills. Today’s competitive climate presents a unique set of challenges to an athlete’s ability to control emotions. The pressure, frustrations, and team dynamics can be intense. The better-equipped athletes are to cope with these challenges, the better their chances for individual and team success.
Playing with emotion is of course an important part of competition. Intensity level and desire often separate winners form losers. When athletes are not in control of their emotions however, the results can be destructive and sometimes disastrous. When athletes complain about calls or yell at teammates, team cohesion and flow can be profoundly disrupted. Venting a lot of negative emotion during competition rarely has an upside. While athletes need to express emotions, they also must be responsible for controlling them.
Athletes can learn to anticipate their impulses, and briefly remove themselves form situations when they feel their temperatures rising. They can come to better understand their own triggers and develop adaptive, goal-oriented responses to frustrating situations. Developing reliable mental skills can help players to cope more effectively with the adversity and frustration that is part of the game.
Tension or freezing up is another emotion that negatively affects an athlete’s performance. Pressure on athletes can be immense, with family, coaching staff, and fans all scrutinizing their performance. Athletes at all levels need skills to cope down the stretch. “I choked reported one well-known basketball player”. I was thinking ‘I can’t blow this shot because the whole building will be disappointed’, the pressure just got to me. I aimed my shot, rather than shooting naturally”. Breathing, self-talk and imagery are skills athletes can develop in order to avoid over-thinking and choking.
The way in which athletes come to think about criticism and unfairness is critical. Those athletes who believe that their talents should never be underestimated or devalued are in for difficult emotional times. Conversely, those who learn to accept being devalued as part of being an athlete will be less distressed and more goal-oriented.
Winning often hinges on how well teammates are able to communicate and work together as a unite. Individuals with divers talent levels and sometimes backgrounds must function cohesively. Athletes who listen well, and learn to look at situations form the perspectives of others will be best able to contribute to their teams. This is not about being nice. Only when athletes understand what teammates and coaches are going through will they be able to offer effective suggestions for change. When athletes feel understood by others, they are far more receptive to incorporating requests. On and off the field of competition, considering the viewpoints of others is an essential ingredient for communication and team success.
Too often athlete personality styles are seen as fixed and impossible to change. Increasingly, teams are finding that individuals can indeed improve their emotional intelligence and develop mental skills that enable them to compete at improved levels.
OVERCOMING TEST ANXIETY
by William Wiener, Ph.D.
In today’s climate of academic competition, pressure on students to perform well is at an all-time high. At ever younger ages students are aware of the far-reaching implications of their test scores. Not surprisingly test anxiety is becoming and increasingly recognizable phenomenon. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and psychologists are all reporting increasing numbers of students who are unable to perform well on tests despite extensive preparation and mastery over the material. Because of test anxiety, many students fail to earn grades that reflect their true abilities. This problem can be puzzling and frustrating to parents and to students alike.
Why test anxiety develops in an individual student may be difficult to determine. Parents who have gone out to their way to communicate supportive, non-pressured attitudes toward test scores are often dismayed and confused when their children become test-anxious. Student anxieties may indeed come from sources outside the home. A competitive school/social atmosphere, high-achieving siblings, a history of academic difficulty, and the unique thinking style of a student can all contribute to the development of test anxiety.
Test anxiety is experienced in many different ways. Some students report felling “sick” during tests but quickly recover for more enjoyable activities. Understandably, this often confuses parents. Such symptoms of test anxiety as panic, nausea, sweating, muscle tension, and frequent need to use the restrooms are indistinguishable, especially for younger children, from being sick.
Mental blocking or “blanking out” is another debilitating problem associated with test anxiety. Students become so anxious that they are distracted by their thoughts and symptoms and are unable to effectively problem-solve. Solutions to test questions sometimes come to them following the exam, when anxiety levels have decreased.
Because discussion itself can provoke stress, parents and students often avoid discussing test anxiety altogether. A common fear is that calling attention to the problem may worsen matters. This generally is not the case. Below are suggestions on how to address test anxiety with your child:
• Talk to your child about test anxiety. Students are often confused and embarrassed by the symptoms they experience. Simply giving your child the opportunity to freely discuss the difficulties will help to decrease their anxiety levels.
• Make to expectations known. In their minds, children sometimes overestimate their parents’ expectations. In the absence of discussion, some children believe that if they fail to achieve certain grades, their parents will be eternally dissatisfied and angry. Remind them you don’t demand perfect test scores. Rather you expect that they conscientiously prepare themselves and that they consistently put in good effort towards their studies.
• Conquer fearing the fear. Students with test anxiety often fear getting nervous more that they fear test questions. Help them to understand that getting nervous is okay, and does not mean that they are doomed to failure. Students with a history of “falling apart” should anticipate an initial wave of anxiety when they sit down to take a test. Help them to understand that they can effectively respond to their anxieties and redirect their attention to the test in from on them.
• Restructure basic thoughts. Help your child to develop some positive coping statements they can use to respond to negative, self-defeating thoughts, for example: “I’ve studied hard and therefore can do my best.” “I want to perform well, so I need to focus on the test in from on me, and not my self-defeating thoughts.” “ I don’t have to answer each and every question correctly in order to score well.”
• Try some behavioral exercises. When physical symptoms of anxiety emerge, it’s often helpful to breathe easy (rhythmically and little more deeply than usual). Closing their eyes and imagining a peaceful place may also ease anxieties and help students to redirect their attention to the task at hand.
• Share with them your experiences of performance anxiety. Recalling this will encourage communication and help you to identify with your child’s experience. Your sharing will help them to normalize feelings of anxiety. You may also remember useful coping techniques to share with your child.
• Help your child prepare a study schedule. Student preparation time remains the best single predictor of test performance. Help your child to develop a realistic, workable study schedule. This will minimize conflicts, facilitate studying, and help them to feel comfortable with the amount of effort they have invested in preparing.
• Consider professional help. Some students develop anxiety-related behaviors that build on themselves rapidly and prove difficult to control. If symptoms persist, psychologists specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy can generally offer effective help in a short-term treatment program.
William Wiener, Ph.D. is cognitive-behavioral psychologist in private practice in New York City.
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