Success in athletics is as much about the brain as it is about the body.
And sometimes, the body takes a back seat.
That was the message sports psychology consultant and life skills coach Jim Skelton had for student-athletes and their coaches during two, three-hour presentations last month.
Skelton, highly-regarded in the field, has worked with a long list of collegiate and professional teams — from the Cleveland Indians to California State University — and addressed the Chaminade community as it bolsters athletics programming and facilities.
During Skelton’s Feb. 14 talk with student-athletes, Skelton delved into everything from championship culture to developing an “amazing attitude” to sticking to habits of excellence.
Nina Torio, who plays volleyball for the Silverswords, said she walked away from the presentation with a new appreciation for mental fitness in sports.
Torio, a business administration major on track to graduate in 2020, said she was especially intrigued by Skelton’s description of the “process” of building great athletes and teams.
Her takeaway: Successful athletes aren’t born — they’re made (thanks to lots of practice).
“The message that Jim talked about that resonated in me the most was the importance of the mental game,” she said. “Sometimes, the biggest battle and obstacle can within ourselves — negative thoughts, doubts, an ‘I can’t do this’ mentality.’”
But Skelton, she said, encouraged attendees to establish — and practice maintaining — positive mental routines and habits.
“If we practice positive thinking and a ‘bounce back’ attitude, nothing can stop us from reaching the goals we set for ourselves,” Torio said, adding that Skelton’s points on the importance of character (and character building) in sports weren’t lost on her, either.
“Many of the things we learn from our respective sports can translate to the real world,” she said. “Teamwork, a strong mindset, and culture building are incredible life skills and qualities. It is up to me to shift from old habits and create a new standard of thinking and focus.”
While Skelton has worked with top collegiate and professional teams, he’s quick to point out that his interest in athletics has never simply been about elite sports. Rather, his passion lies in helping those from all different backgrounds and skill levels get real joy from competition.
One of his favorite quotes, after all, is from Nelson Mandela: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
Kaitlin Kim, an elementary education student set to graduate in December, can appreciate that.
During Skelton’s student-athlete session, she said, she got some new tools to help her get through particularly stressful games or plays — including a handy breathing exercise — and a new understanding of when to push hard and when to let things go.
She plays softball for Chaminade.
And that’s a sport, she said, that’s “95 percent mental and 5 percent physical.”
“I liked (Skelton’s message) that we can control things that are in our control,” Kim said, “and to not get upset over things that are not in our control.”
Things, she added (a bit mischievously), like umpire strike zones and questionable calls.