As a lifelong athlete, Marshall Mintz, PsyD, has always had a sense for the positive role of fitness and exercise in enhancing one's functioning. During college, Mintz competed in the national championships as a member of his school's Division I rowing team and took sport science courses to bone up on anatomy and physiology. He then went on to pursue a doctorate in psychology and complete an internship and two postdocs in behavioral medicine and human performance.
But when Mintz entered private practice 25 years ago, his sporting interests took a back seat to more traditional psychotherapy work, mostly with nonathletes. That all changed in 1993 when Mintz faced a family tragedy that made him realize just how important the mind-body connection might be: His wife, Amy, was diagnosed with cancer, and he took on primary parenting responsibilities for his two young children.
"That personal family experience made me keenly aware of how powerful performance psychology can be," recalls Mintz, managing partner of Springfield Psychological Associates, with offices in Springfield and Randolph, N.J.
Sticking to an exercise routine and focusing on his own well-being throughout the ordeal helped him continue to perform well at work and be there for his kids and avoid "curling up in a corner and sucking on my toes," he says.
Since then, Mintz has come to believe there's an inner athlete in all of us, and he's out to help people find it. For 12 years, he has worked with a diverse set of athletes, including professional and amateur golfers, collegiate swimmers, high school soccer players and, most recently, the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team, to enhance their performance, on and off the playing field.
Today, sport and exercise psychology services make up nearly 40 percent of Mintz's practice, and he holds a consultant certification from the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). He's also become an advocate and speaker for the discipline: He has chaired the Practice Committee of APA's Div. 47 (Exercise and Sport) and the New Jersey Psychological Association's Sport Psychology Committee. And he keeps himself grounded in the profession by continuing to compete in sports as a high-level amateur golfer and through regular exercise.
"I enjoy helping others get excited thinking about their potential," Mintz says.
The convergence of Mintz's professional interests with his wife's death in 1996 led him to develop a performance psychology seminar called "Mind Your Game," designed to be adaptable to nearly every sport. The workshop encourages clients to focus on individual movements, be they golf swings or swimming strokes, that when put together accumulate to be a round of golf or a swim meet. While developing long-term performance goals is important, Mintz says, "where the rubber meets the road is right in front of you." Concentrating on very manageable and highly effective actions often produces the best outcomes, he says.
Mintz began to build his sport practice by renting space at country clubs to provide "Mind Your Game" to local amateur and professional golfers. From there, he reached out to YMCAs and other exercise and sport facilities and offered to lead workshops for members and facility trainers on exercise and fitness motivation, goal setting and other personal wellness matters. Word of mouth and a Web presence (www.apapo.org/Drmarshallmintz) helped him build a long list of clients.
Last year, for example, Mintz began working with "Joe," a talented but self-conscious teenage swimmer who was having trouble performing at meets. By conducting a family assessment, Mintz discovered Joe was the middle of three high-performing siblings, and felt anxious about standing out because his role had always been the "forgotten middle child," Mintz says. He encouraged Joe to find solitude when preparing for meets and to avoid team interactions that might cause him to lose focus. Mintz also used focused imagery to help him visualize completing each stroke of the race, realize his potential for success and finish his races strong. Outside the pool, he helped the swimmer build an identity separate from his family role and improve his self-esteem.
"During the course of a year he was able to qualify for the national championships and become a Division I scholarship athlete," Mintz says.
Practitioners who want to work in sport, performance or exercise psychology should first get involved in Div. 47 and consider AASP certification. As division members, they can find mentors to help them develop their professional identities, advises Mintz. For example, practitioners might find it beneficial to develop their skills in such specific areas as exercise and fitness motivation or athletic injury and rehabilitation, as a way to stand out.
To recruit clients, Mintz recommends that psychologists volunteer to give presentations at gyms, recreational facilities or local athletic leagues and initiate community wellness programs.
But he cautions that while more people may be interested in enhancing their fitness and sport behavior now than they were 20 years ago, it's still a relatively small group. Education through health-related marketing efforts continues to be key, he says.
"Unless someone gets a horrible blood-pressure reading at their annual physical or develops heart disease, diabetes or depression, or acknowledges impaired performance, they may not seek out help," Mintz says. "The hard part is trying to lower the threshold at which people seek assistance to enhance their personal effectiveness."
Div. 47 (Exercise and Sport): http://www.apa47.org/.
American College of Sports Medicine: www.acsm.org.
Association for Applied Sport Psychology: www.appliedsportpsych.org. The organization's 2008 Annual Conference is Sept. 24-27 in St. Louis.
North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity: www.naspspa.org. The society's 2009 conference takes place June 11-14, 2009, in Austin, Texas.
International Journal of Sport Psychology: www.ijsp-online.com.
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology: www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/10413200.asp
Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology: www.humankinetics.com/jsep.
The Sport Psychologist: www.humankinetics.com/TSP.
Tenenbaum, G. & Eklund, R.C. (Eds.). (2007) Handbook of Sport Psychology (3rd ed.). New York: Wiley
Van Raalte, J.L. & Brewer, B.W. (Eds.). (2002) Exploring Sport and Exercise Psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: APA.