What is the one defining characteristic shared by every one of the world's greatest athletes? Mental toughness.
Michael Phelps. Tom Brady. Michael Jordan. Serena Williams. Tiger Woods. The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. Russell Wilson. All of these athletes have benefited from mental skills coaching to perform at their best when it mattered most.
Now, athletes at Seton Hall University have access to the same type of mental skills training and performance coaching that elite performers have in sports, the military, and the business world.
Dr. Bryan Price, the executive director of the Buccino Leadership Institute, has been working with Seton Hall athletes to enhance their mental game and their performance on the athletic field.
"I benefited so much from West Point's Center for Enhanced Performance as a cadet athlete, a faculty member, and a coach during my time at the U.S. Military Academy," said Price. "The Center for Enhanced Performance provided mental skills training to the Army's elite Olympic athletes and then Division-I teams like our baseball team. The skills we learned definitely gave us a mental edge over our competition, so I wanted to pay it forward and share those same skills with some of our athletes here at Seton Hall."
As an assistant baseball coach at West Point, Price worked with the Center for Enhanced Performance on building the team's mental skills. He had the opportunity to meet with top sports psychologists like Ken Ravizza, who was hailed as an important component of the Chicago Cubs during their World Series title run in 2016. These experiences encouraged Price to seek the formal training that would allow him to pass along some of what he'd learned.
"As a former Division-I baseball player and coach, I felt as though I had a lot of practitioner experience," Price said. "But I wanted to get graduate training in sports psychology to understand the concepts and theories behind elite performance." Following his graduate work in sports psychology, as well as a five-month leadership coaching certification course, Price felt ready to offer his services to Seton Hall's athletes.
Price, who came to Seton Hall after retiring from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel following a 20-year career, made an open invitation to Seton Hall's athletes during the Patrick Murray and Mary Ann Plaff Murray Leadership Forum in February. He encouraged Pirate athletes to reach out if they were interested in mental skills training.
Pirate Athletes Seek Out Mental Training
The first athlete to do so was Mark Kantzler, a rising sophomore swimmer from Largo, Florida. With hopes of becoming a Big East champion, Kantlzer wanted to gain an edge on his competition and maximize his mental game. Other athletes followed suit, including golfers, volleyball players, and other swimmers.
The most enthusiastic proponent of mental skills training was Natalie Desjardins, head coach for the Seton Hall Women's Golf team. Desjardins contacted Price and together they organized multiple team sessions focused on the various aspects of golf's mental game. She also encouraged members of her team to work with Price in individual sessions.
In the team sessions Price, who coaches high school, college, and professional athletes at Top Mental Game in Sea Girt, N.J., discussed the importance of mindset in elite performance, setting goals, the power of positive self-talk, and how to bounce back after setbacks.
Athletes in the one-on-one sessions not only received individualized attention on their mental game, but they also received cutting-edge heart rate variability (HRV) training. Using specialized biometric feedback software, Price can show athletes how various visualization and imagery exercises influence their nervous system. Athletes can then experiment with what exercises work best so they can train their brain to perform at their best when it matters most.
Women's Golf Team Improves Mental Game
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Price's mental skills regimen includes the creation of personalized visualization/imagery scripts that athletes can play before practices and competitions to put themselves in the proper mindset. His office features a futuristic "egg" pod outfitted with Bluetooth surround-sound where athletes can be completely immersed in their audio scripts and track how their bodies respond via the biometric feedback.
In total, Price spent over 25 hours working team and individual sessions for Coach Desjardins' team during the Spring semester. And the results?
The women's golf team won the William and Mary Invitational, and junior Mia Kness (Venetia, PA) became the second golfer in Seton Hall history to win two individual tournament titles. Two weeks later, they became the first team in Seton Hall history to score a team round under par. In that same tournament, Kness shot a 67 for her second round, setting the record for the lowest round in program history.
Despite these successes, Price was quick to deflect any credit. "Although no one was happier with the team's successes than me, I wasn't the one hitting off the tee or sinking big putts. That's all Coach D (Desjardins) and the players. If I was able to provide some mental tools and mindset skills along the way that helped them endure the inevitable highs and lows of golf, I'd be happy with that. But we are just getting started. It was really fun to work with Coach D and this special group."
As a standout player in college who was not only named the NEC Player of the Year but also NEC Coach of the Year at LIU-Brooklyn, Desjardins knows the importance of the mental game, and is excited about building on the work she and Price did with the team for next year. "Bryan understands the importance of mental training in order to reach your greatest potential. He cares about his athletes and has played a key role in our success thus far. We look forward to continuing our relationship with him in order to bring the team to new heights."
Mia Kness, winner of the William & Mary tournament, had high praise for what Price was able to do for her game in a short period of time.
"I have been playing competitive golf now for 8 years and within just a few sessions Dr. Price gave me a whole different outlook on the game. He gave me various mental strategies such as visualization, positive self-talk, and relaxation techniques that have helped me overcome many obstacles in my daily life and on the golf course. Working with Dr. Price has helped my play and mindset tremendously."
Carolina Ronchel Salas (Huelva, Spain), one of two Pirates on the All-Big East team this season, not only saw positive changes in her golf game, but in her life outside of golf. "I started working with Dr. Price in March," she said, "and I can really see the improvement in my attitude on the course, my thoughts, and how to control myself in different situations."
Salas then added, "my mental game has improved significantly, and with it my golf game. I learned how my mind influences my performance and the importance of training it [my mind] as much as my golf game. But it is not all about golf - Dr. Price also taught me how to set and accomplish goals in my life."
While his primary duties remain making the Buccino Leadership Institute the most effective undergraduate leadership development program in the country, Price plans to continue working with Seton Hall athletes in the future. "Whether you are a team, coach, or an individual who is interested in performing at your best and improving your mental game," says Price, "please don't hesitate to reach out. I had a lot of fun working with Seton Hall athletes this year and I'm here to help."