On this episode of the show, I’m interviewing sport psychologist, Dr. Dirk Downing. Dr. Downing is the mental performance coach at Zoning In Peak Performance Coaching.

Dr. Dirk Downing grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri where he pursued an active lifestyle through golf, swimming, diving, baseball, basketball, and football.​These experiences led Dirk to a career in Sport Psychology.

Dr. Dirk offers sport psychology consulting based on the proven effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This approach teaches individuals how to change thoughts that hinder their performance. Athletes of all skill levels can be unaware of how their thinking can impact performance. Given that every athlete is a little different, he provides a tailored approach that focuses on only the relevant mental skills and strategies necessary to improve performance. 

Dr. Dirk knows each athlete is different. Each athlete requires and deserves an individualized consulting style. In his practice, Dr. Dirk works with clients closely to implement these mental skills.  Once learned, Dr. Dirk believes in working with athletes on game & sport specific scenarios where these skills can be placed into action. 

Website: https://www.zoninginppc.com/
Email: dirkmd23@gmail.com

This episode has been transcribed by Otter. ai

Hello, and welcome to STL Active St Louis’s premier health and wellness podcast. STL Active aims to give listeners in the St. Louis area the information they need to succeed and progress with their health and fitness.

This podcast is brought to you by Stlouispt.com. And hosted by Doctor of Physical Therapy, Greg, Judice.

Hey everyone, it’s Dr. Greg, owner, and physical therapist at Judice Sports and Rehab. On this episode of the show, I’m interviewing Dr. Dirk Downing from zoning in peak performance coaching. Dr. Downing is a mental performance coach and sports psychologist specializing in golfers. We discuss his passion for golf and his passion for maximizing the performance for athletes in any sport. Without further ado, let’s get into the interview with Dr. Dirk Downing. Alright, guys, I would like to welcome to the show Dr. Dirk Downing from zoning in peak performance coaching.

Welcome to the show. Thanks, Greg.

Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Absolutely. We’re excited. Dirk and I have known each other for the last year, year and a half or so. And thought it would be a great idea to have him on the show. We know each other outside of work activities. And you know, I am excited to have him on the show and why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself and let’s get going. Alright,
so yeah, I’m Dr. Dirk Downing, owner and founder of zoning in peak performance coaching, and a little bit about myself. I grew up you know, as an athlete, I did a lot of sports when I was young, swimming, diving, football, basketball, baseball, kind of dabbled with everything, but I really specialized in golf as a junior in high school player. And you know, with golf, I loved it so much. I was kind of doing a lot of junior tournaments as Tiger was kind of in his heyday. And so it was fun. For me. It was a good experience I had watching him be great. It was also really cool. It was a good activity that I did with my dad and my brother growing up and we would travel to tournaments. We had a great time I worked really hard at it. If you’d asked me any, anytime before the age of 16 I would say I’m going to be on the PGA Tour. I was living it I was loving it. You know my dad would drop me and my brother off at the course on his way into work he would pick us up on the way home and we were out there getting after and we had a great time. So then, you know kind of when push comes to shove I was working really hard. I was a really good Junior player who was leading my high school team but in these bigger tournaments, I would often kind of underperform for my standards. And you know, I thought I was doing everything I could you know, I was working really hard. I wanted it so bad. And so I was always pretty disappointed in those moments. And you know, I had the opportunity to go to some smaller schools for golf, but kind of chose the Mizzou route to kind of stay near friends and family and kind of hung up the professional golf dream at that point. Went to Mizzou ended up deciding on psychology, which was kind of the most fascinating pursuit at that time, but at that point in undergrad had no idea what I wanted to do with it. And then kind of long story short, graduated and decided on sports psychology, which low and behold, I found out that Mizzou was one of the best places to study sports psychology. And so the reason I say that is because the mentor of our program at the time that the Director Dr. Rick McGuire, was a legend in the field and he was a former track and field coach still is a legend in the field, by the way, but he’s a former track and field coach at Mizzou. And so all of those coaches trusted him. And so compared to some other reputable places to study sports psychology, you know, in the country, we were able to have an amazing applied experience at Mizzou where we could get hands-on experience talking to these elite athletes and coaches you know, on an individual and team level and I was fortunate enough to be able to work with the women’s and men’s golf team for years at Mizzou, as well as the women’s soccer team and those experiences, taught me so much about you know what I do today. sports psychology is a field where there’s a lot of theory that we use in our work, but a lot of it is kind of the art of talking to people influencing people, motivating people. And that stuff that you know, these applied experiences helped me with so much. So, after Mizzou, I started I graduated with a Ph.D. in 2017 started my own practice in St. Louis. And that’s what I’m working on today. Still working on to this day. I work primarily in the individual capacity, but I do a lot of teamwork as well. I work with a multitude of athletes, a lot of golfers but also some other athletes as well. Like recently, I started working with a lot of cross country athletes, for example.
Okay, that’s awesome. So, after high school, how did you decide on it? You said it was kind of like the most fascinating, but was there any history, family history of like, interest in psychology,
I would always say, My mom is kind of a pseudo psychologist in our family, she’s always sending me articles. And, you know, we would oftentimes kind of talk about thinking in our family, we’d have these crazy conversations at dinner about trains of thought you kind of call that metacognition, of thinking about your thinking. And so as always, like, fascinated by that concept. And, you know, an undergrad, it was just compared to some of the alternatives that definitely seemed like the most appropriate thing to pursue. But at that point, I was thinking, you know, I’ll probably be a counseling psychologist because I actually wasn’t aware of sports psychology till I graduated undergrad. Interesting. Okay.

So once you decided to go to Mizzou, obviously, that that decision was kind of because it’s close, you know, it was convenient, it was close. But, you know, afterward, you found out that it was one of the best places to study sports psychology. How did you kind of make that transition from, I’m just going to be a psychologist, right, a clinical psychologist to sport psychology.

Yeah, so I kind of was thinking when I graduated, I was planning on a gap year, I knew I had to go back psychology is one of those degrees, where yet you have to kind of go back to school to earn a decent living and, and so I was, you know, kind of deciding between clinical psychology, maybe IO, industrial-organizational psychology, where you go in and work with businesses, there were a lot of options, some that I was aware of. But overall, with the clinical route, I was a little hesitant because it seemed it seemed like it would be a lot to have, you know, for example, five clients in a day, everybody’s struggling with some intense, psycho-emotional issues, you know, and to those that work with that clientele all the time. I think those people are saying, son, and we need those people. But it seemed pretty daunting as a 21-year-old thinking about a career of that, and thinking ahead to maybe having a family and being able to compartmentalize work, and family. And so I was kind of looking for an alternative way to use psychology and kind of discovered psychology, sports psychology, kind of through that process.
So with all that being said, is there a difference when it comes to like the theory and the knowledge that you gained through school, to clinical psychology versus sports psychology? Or let’s even go a step deeper than that? Right? Sometimes I would say that psychology professions get a bad rap, right? You get the go to the shrink, right? What’s the difference in psychiatry versus psychology? And then how does what you do incorporate into those things.

So psychiatry, to my knowledge, really, um, they deal with the medication part of psychology. So if people require medication, psychiatrists have the knowledge base in psychology to actually work, work with people through talking through doing different forms of therapy, Person Center, cognitive behavioral therapy, things I learned in my program as well. But they also have the ability to prescribe medication. Now, if we’re talking about psychology versus sport psychology, this is a conversation I usually clear up with my clients on day one. Traditional psychology attempts to help people that are really struggling, how can we help these people feel but get back to normal? How can we kind of alleviate these negative symptoms? And there’s a lot of that in our world that’s needed. But sports psychology is kind of of the same realm as positive psychology, which was kind of came to fruition in the 1970s by a psychologist named Dr. Martin Seligman. And he was like one set of let helping these bottom tier people feel normal. And bottom tier is not a good way to say it, these people that are struggling, how can we help them alleviate their symptoms? Why not? Look at the top tier people, the individuals that are performing at a very high level. You know, these athletes, these musicians, these CEOs, these people that are achieving a lot, but it’s not just about the achievement, they’re also flourishing in their lives where they’re, they have this sense of well being like they’re exactly where they need to be. And they’re living it. How can we learn from these people and give this to everyone so everybody can look to optimize or maximize their potential rather than Simply alleviate negative symptoms. So it’s definitely a more positive spin, a positive way to think about psychology and that was very attractive to me. How can I help people optimize their game rather than simply, you know, feel normal?

So, when it comes to sports, I guess, when someone is looking to hire you as their counselor, do you say, psychologist? What do you? What do you call yourself when you’re marketing?

Yeah, identify, identify as a mental performance coach, okay, we toss that name out in our program a lot, because a lot of the clientele clients that we might be trying to acquire might be a little hesitant to go see a shrink, or someone where, you know, confidentiality is respected. And you go see that guy or that woman when things are wrong. A lot of these athletes might not want to admit that anything is wrong, even when that might be the case. So if they can go work with a mental coach, mental performance coach, it’s more appealing. And so that’s kind of the, the term that I’ve used lately.

Okay. So when just kind of stepping back just a hair, you were saying it’s, you know, some of the folks that are struggling, trying to get back to quote, normal, versus people that are average to above average, trying to get to the next level, when someone is hiring you as their coach. I guess what, how often is it that that second level, or that second example where they’re truly trying to get to the next level versus someone who’s done well, in the past struggling and trying to get back to the glory days? I guess you could say? Because it seems like either one would apply, but you’re using the principles of the highest performers to help everybody improve? Absolutely. That’s
a great question. You know, I think a lot of people coming in to work with me for the first time were recommended by their coach or their family because something was going wrong. And so they very much think of my services kind of a fix-it mentality. And usually on that first session, I I’m, I advocate for, you know, definitely, we can help you in the short term. But this is a build it framework where we establish these mental skills that we will be developing over time. And the beauty of that framework is that we’re helping people of all levels, we’re helping people that just want a tournament get even better, we’re helping the people that are really struggling, we’re, you know, we’re helping everybody and, you know, living this Personally, I think that for me to improve myself, even to quote-unquote, fix some negative parts about myself, if I can approach what I’m going to do, it helps so much more than attempting to fix my errors. I kind of think about that as, Are you trying to achieve a standard? Or are you trying to go for mastery, get a little bit better every day? improve? Keep learning Carol Dweck always talks about in her book mindset, she talks about growth, mindset versus fixed mindset. So we’re always looking to improve a little bit every day. And in that case, it applies to everyone people that are really struggling people that are at the top of their game. And it’s always this journey, rather than simply this place where we finally reach the finish line. And then there’s no more mental work to do I always believe that people can always get better with their mental game, no matter where they’re at currently.
The fix-it mentality is, I Well, let me just say I love your last statement there. Because the fix-it mentality doesn’t work for any health profession. Truly. I mean, you think of my profession if someone waits until their nagging injury becomes a severe injury takes a lot longer to fix that versus dealing with it beforehand. That’s true. You know, people go to the dentist once or twice a year to get their teeth clean to prevent the big bill in five years, when they’ve got a bunch of cavities. Right. So I think when it comes to helping yourself, whether that’s mentally physically, everything that you know that that second way of doing things, you said the build it mentality, that growth mentality, it has to be there, and it can apply to any situation truly.
Absolutely. And I don’t want you guys to take it the wrong way. I think, you know, at the end of the calendar year for a golf season, for example, it’s okay to look at your weaknesses and say, Well, how do I want to allocate my time in this next year, you know, but then as you’re working to build those weaknesses, we want to look to maximize that part of your game rather than to just appeal to these standards. And it’s kind of the nature of golf, which maybe we’ll get to a little bit later in this conversation where you need to behave this creative outlook on these individual shots as opposed to just achieving a standard because no lie on the golf course is ever the same. So you have to bring this creativity this optimism to each shot that might be different than some other walks of life. Some other sports some other pursuits.
Yeah, I love that. Okay, so you mentioned golf might be a little bit different than other sports. So maybe go into that. How is sports psychology when it comes to golf different than sports psychology for basketball?

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, you know, we often talk about closed skill sports versus open skill. And what we mean by closed skill is the nature of golf, you’re essentially doing a bunch of many performances within the realm of the whole performance, which is the golf round, the number that you will be, you know, judged by that matters in your tournament and whatnot. You’re doing this performance, you’re taking a break, and then you’re doing another performance. Similar, close skill, sports might be a baseball pitcher, if you’re serving in tennis, or volleyball, things of that nature were pre-shot routine, these cues you can do prior to this performance is very important. These other, sports are what we call open skill sports, where you’re kind of in the flow of a basketball game, a soccer game, you’re having to be reactionary a lot. And it’s constant. And so the nature of, you know, the work as a sports psychologist, to work with these different groups of people, you kind of have to wear different hats. But with golf, what’s hard about it is you have these shots that you have to engage in. But then you have this time to deal with where you’re, a lot of times you think about a shot that might be really bad that you just hit. And I’m not saying that’s not necessarily a good mental strategy. But in the world of golf, that’s a very common golfer will know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to kind of overcome those. And so a lot of my work is coming up with good strategies for between your shots, to give yourself kind of that mental break that clarity, so that you can maintain engagement. For Ford, sometimes these high school players I work with, have to be out there for about six hours just because of the nature of the round. So kind of a marathon, not a sprint mentality, and looking to conserve that mental energy is a big part of what I do.
So I guess what I mean, not that you need to be giving out free advice here on the show, but like, how does someone compartmentalize each of those mini-performances?

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m a big believer in using mental cues. And so it’s one of those things where, you know, we could be working together in a session and I could give you a cue, it might not work for you tomorrow, or the next day, you’re gonna have to what we call pair the queue with what happens after with the mentality that you’re shifting to, takes a discipline, but it’s one of those things where practice makes perfect. So say you’re on the teach the tee box and golf and you hit a bad shot. Maybe you’ve been missing the ball left, but you thought you had it figured out on the range. You miss-hit, it goes left again. And you know, the classic is like, well, there’s that left Miss again, I thought I was over this. And it’s easy to kind of mope to your second shot. Well that moping all that hunched over shoulders, head down is not going to necessarily prepare you to deliver your best performance for that next shot. So I call this a post-shot strategy. You hit the shot, you give yourself a human reaction because we all put a lot of time into our craft. And so to kind of be stoic, I don’t think is realistic or helpful. Give yourself a moment to have a reaction. If you make a hole in one, you better be having a reaction. You know, it’s an amazing part of the game. Then you learn from the shot good or bad or in between? That was my left shot. What did it feel like? What would it feel like to hit that shot that I was grooving on the driving range just before? Well, I gotta clear my hips a little bit more while I was rushing on that swing. So what would it feel like to to have a more smooth tempo and whenever you identify the error, it’s really important to quickly shift your focus to what you should be doing rather than what you want to avoid, you always want to approach your goals rather than avoid the consequences? And then after you’ve learned from that, you do something that you do every time you put your club back in your bag, maybe that’s your mental cue, or maybe you take your glove off. There are these sounds these things that we do every time you pick one. So I would identify one that’s appropriate for the client I’m working with. And then I would say, Okay, this is your cue, you got to work to pair it with what happens next. So every time you take your glove off, we’re going to practice shifting our focus. And generally, I recommend using, you know, kind of a mindfulness strategy between our shots where we lock in our breathing. We focus on the beauty of the golf course. Maybe we even just feel our right foot, heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe. There are lots of These mindfulness strategies that kind of calm our minds. This can be challenging for people who really like to use their mind and think a lot of thoughts. But it’s kind of exactly what we need to do to maintain that energy. And then you get a few steps away from your next shot, and your mind’s got a new productive thing to focus on. What am I going to do with this shot? How am I going to approach it? So we’re essentially lining up these productive thoughts throughout the whole round of golf. And that post-shot routine is just an example of that.

So I think everything you just said is gold. But it’s all individualized, right? You giving that advice to me is not going to help my golf game right now. Because I am not picturing what my cue would be or what I should be doing or what my next shot should be in each individual situation. So when you’re working with folks, it’s not like you’re just giving this blanket advice, right? Everything’s individualized, correct? Absolutely.
That’s a great question. And I tried to clear that up in the first day, I say, you know, our work together is a collaboration, I have an expertise in sports psychology, but you’re the expert of your own mental game and your experience out there. And so it’s going to take us working together to really come up with strategies that are great for just you. And I kind of have an interesting story about this. where, you know, beyond the post-shot routine, a lot of times we’ll use language to kind of pump ourselves up or to calm ourselves down, depending upon what’s needed. So sometimes we’re, we’re tired, or we’re upset, we haven’t been playing well, we get a little lethargic, we just start are slow, we’re not. And you know that you’re not, your energy is not where it needs to be to have your max performance. So then we would have these strategies that help pick us up. And so the strategy I always use, and I tell my clients, this is a strategy that works for me, but it might not work for you. I’m just using this as an example. But I, you know, was a Roman with my brother and another kid from our high school golf team at Mizzou. And it’d be the end of a long work week on Friday, and I kind of be pretty tired and I’d be sitting with my brother hanging out. And my roommate, Gabe would come in. He would come in the door and in a loud whisper, he would be like, fellas, let’s go. And, you know, no matter how tired I was, at that moment, all the hair would stand up on my arm and I would just be ready to hang out with Gabe, you know, and his extroverted, energetic mentality is something that I’ll never forget. And I stay in touch with him this day, we don’t see each other as much. But your flash forward two years after that moment, I’m out on the MKT trail in Columbia, Missouri training for a marathon. I was going to run 16 miles that day, but it was mile 12. All the muscles in my body, everything was hurting. I was trying to justify, well, can I end a little early today and up my training next week, all these negative thoughts that kind of quit normally. And then it flashback to that moment, and Gabe, his energy and let’s go. And all of a sudden, you know, I see the tree in the distance. And I’m like, you know what, I probably can get to that tree. You know, what, what’s another couple of miles? You know what, I’m not really even that tired. So it’s a very powerful phrase. But that’s my phrase because that’s a unique moment that I had with my brother and gave at Mizzou. And so I use that kind of as a starting point for clients to start thinking, what are these moments? What are these inside jokes that I have, that I can use in these moments where I need them? So we identify them? And then we’re not just stuck? Trying to figure it out in a moment, we already have this plan. Okay, if I get tired on the golf course, I need more energy. Here’s my go-to. And that’s kind of the process that I use with But to answer your question is very individualized, right, literally,
because your cue is way different than what mine might be. If you said let’s go with a whisper to me, I’d be like, what are your weird weirdo? You know?

No, yeah, and I’m just picking on you here. But like, that doesn’t mean anything to me. But it’s, it’s internal to you, it makes sense to you, it pumps you up for an extra four miles or to hit the next drive down the center or whatever it might be. Right. That’s awesome. And I think, you know, when it comes to helping yourself, it needs to be individualized. You know, not everybody needs the exact same training program. Not everybody needs the exact same PT not everybody needs the exact same psychology work. So yeah, so I can definitely appreciate that. Well, I thought we could go more than 20 minutes before we brought up disc golf. But I have a specific question. So just to introduce the readers to Dirk a little listeners a little further to Dirk. Dirk and I play disc golf together. We’re, we’re friends outside of the clinic. And so we play disc golf every once in a while. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically golf but with a frisbee and you’re throwing it into a metal basket instead of hitting a ball into a hole. So that’s the very basics of it. But the mentality is, I would assume, asking you very similar to golf.
Absolutely. And that’s one of the things that kind of intrigued me about disc golf A while ago, I was kind of at the end of my dissertation days, and I was waiting, I actually interviewed PGA Tour players to complete my dissertation. So you know, those guys are busy, hard to get a hold of. So I was a little bit at a standstill, and so kind of sought refuge on the disc golf course, kind of towards the end of my dissertation days, but it’s a great opportunity to crack on practice, the stuff that I advocate for with clients, I really, I enjoy being a performer to this day, because I don’t want to just be a psychologist that’s advising, I want to really be in the trenches with these guys, these girls, figuring out, you know, the unique challenges for example, I just started with cross country people, I went out and ran a five k A few weeks ago, just to that second mile on the cross country is tough. Because the first mile you’re excited the third mile, it’s almost done. Second mile is tough. But back to disc golf, absolutely pre shot routine stuff to deal with between shots, having this outcome pop in your head, Can I shoot 500 par today, I haven’t ever shot that, that’d be so fun. that distracts you from the next shot that you have. So it’s a great opportunity to lock it back in the present moment. And the flow of disc golf is you know, it’s it’s golf. So it’s a very similar in. And first I got a I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this personally, Greg, but I was a little hesitant, skeptical of like, Oh, is this a real thing, but you know, watching these guys at the top levels, it’s a very, you know, high level, you have to develop these skills, you know, with all parts of the game, it’s very nuanced. And it requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of training. And so that’s always been fascinating for me to do something engaging something that you can feel that improvement a little bit steady every every day over time.

Absolutely. And, you know, I have a question for me, and maybe you’ll be able to kind of give, what would you do for someone in this situation? So on the disc golf course, over the last, let’s say, three months?
Mm hmm.
In the last five rounds that I’ve played, I’ve been three under three, six, and finish even par. Right around, you know, one over one under, but how can I come out so hot, and then immediately fall apart for the last 12 holes? It just, it’s just so frustrating. Because, like, if I can play that, well, for the first six, why can’t I finish it? Five to 10? Under? You know, I it’s not that I necessarily fall apart, but there’s just those minor mistakes that turn into a bogey, you know, and so, you know, for me, what would I know? You don’t you know, you’re not assessing me here on the on the recording, but like, for someone who can do it, right, you have the skill to do that. But you you lose it somewhere along the way. What would that? I guess, what advice would you give in that situation?
Yeah, and Greg, you know, I don’t know if it’s satisfying to hear, but you’re not alone. that’s a common tendency for a lot of golfers that I work with, you know, and how we go about solving this issue, if you will, or improving. There’s two parts to what I do. So we’re building these mental skills that you’ll be able to use in the moment when you’re on whole six. But you have to know that you need to use the skill. And so that part of my job is building self-awareness. So when we’re working together, it’s not just about well, I struggle in the beginning, I would want to know, what’s it feel like when you get three down? And is that different than how you’ve been feeling before? You know, and I would guess it is different, we start thinking more about how good Could it be, which has an impact on our heart rate, our our arousal level, and so then their strategies to calm ourselves down in those moments. So we’re kind of going at it two ways, we’re building the skill to be able to calm yourself down, lock back on back in on the present moment, stay humble, stay focused, but we’re also building the ability to know yourself on hold six when you’re three down and recognize I’m not the same as I was on hold one that got me to this position. I’ve got to dial it back in I’ve got to calm myself down. And so it’s a process and the way you know, this is this part of it too, is a nuanced because people have different expectations, you know, and but generally speaking, if we get if we have a very hot round, and we’re at a place we’ve never been before, that’s that’s a tough mental part of the game too. And if we have a tough start to the round, you know, that can be another tough, you know, it’s interesting, people start off really bad and sometimes they tend to do do better after that those moments because it’s kind of like well, it couldn’t get any worse frees them up to just play their best game. So we explore that we learn and then we develop specific strategies for you on hole six, or for whatever the circumstance might be. Some people struggle finishing around strong. So knowing yourself in those moments is huge. And then I would I would also give you training exercises to do in practice where we would attempt to similar allayed this feeling of being really low and scoring well, and then pushing yourself to continue to do that. And a lot of this is through experiential learning that we would grow, like even at the highest levels of the PGA Tour, you got guys that have been winning their whole lives. And they’re figuring they’re trying to figure it out on Sunday, it might take them years, because they might have the lead after Saturday. And they’re in that moment for the first time or the first 10 times, and they’re playing up against, you know, the best players in the world. And it’s a moment they haven’t been to. So in those moments, you know, we’re often not going to perform up to our expectations, it’s tough, but the people that end up succeeding in the long run are the ones that can take those moments, learn from them, learn about themselves, develop strategies to continue to improve a little bit. We’re not going zero to 100 we’re just getting a little bit better every day.

Yeah, definitely appreciate that. You know, it’s something I I try to get better at, but I definitely don’t pretend to want to be a professional, you know, it’d be, it’d be cool to do but yeah, I don’t have the, the time or the energy to practice like the professional. So, you know, it’s hard to get there. But it’s just, you know, it’s it’s good to like self evaluate, and try to figure out what you can do to help yourself when it comes to that, for sure. So whether it’s golf or disc golf, right, you’d mentioned that once someone makes that shot, whether it’s a great shot, and they get the hole in one or a terrible shot, and they’re in a horrible position after going out of bounds. They have the human emotion and then resetting. That’s kind of where I’m going with the question is, you know, when I’m thinking of the professional disc golfers, you’ve got the polar opposites of Nikko and Calvin Hmm. Right. And I’m sure there’s a polar opposite in golf, right? Somebody who’s highly emotional, reacts huge to everything good or bad. Versus the person who’s robotic. There’s no emotion positive or negative. They make their shot they walk up, they make their shot. Yeah. Is that is that just ingrained in people? Is that something that can you train that? I guess, quote, robotic pneus to for people to be able to completely distance themselves from their own performance?

Well, you know, I The example I use in ball golf, as disc, golfers call it is a guy by the name of Retief Goosen was winning these us opens when I was growing up. And he was that kind of that steady, Eddie didn’t show a lot of emotion type of type of player. And everybody was kind of saying, well, that’s kind of the emotion you need. That’s the, that’s the mentality that you need to win these us opens where the conditions are the most extreme, US Open, for those of you that don’t know, they try to have the winning score, round, even par. There’s, a lot of times these guys are going to shoot between 10 and 20. Under on any given tournament. So very tough conditions, tough, rough. Just tough situations out there. And the person that can be steady usually thrives. But what I would say about adopting personalities that are maybe different than your own. A lot of times it’s that’s a tough place to be. And I think that was kind of a little bit of my detriment in some of these bigger events growing up for personally. So I’m going to be trying to act too much like Tiger Woods, you know, I would look to Him. And we talked about the athletes with the Killer Instinct like pet tiger, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan in that category, versus the athletes that are more even keel go with the flow, maybe looking to master their own game rather than dominate the competition. And so what I would advise everybody listening is you know, you got to look inwardly you got to use the best part of you on the golf course. And so if you’re, you’re a person that’s fiery competitor and you have the emotion on your sleeve, it’s okay to show a little bit of that Sergio Garcia, john ROM names that come to mind immediately on the PGA Tour. These guys that are just not afraid to show a little emotion. And if they tried to act like you know, Brooks CAPTCHA, or Retief Goosen, they probably wouldn’t bring out their best game just like it for teef tried to let out a bunch of emotion that maybe he’s not feeling, it wouldn’t help his game. So I would say, you got to tailor to yourself.
And that makes sense. And and, and that’s kind of been my impression is, you know, the highly emotional guys. They need to get that out, so that they can reset. And so trying to suppress it, it’s just going to make them play worse. Yeah. So and what I would say definitely appreciate that finish.
That thought too, is like when you know, Tiger Miss hits a shot. I mean, he’s aggressive, kind of with his disgust. But it’s never like, you suck. It’s like, come on, you’re better than so even how you let out this emotion, the way that you do it matters. You’re never telling, you know, telling everybody in yourself that you’re not good enough. It’s all about like, you’re better than this. Let’s make it happen. Let’s make the plan to to improve and it doesn’t sound like it’s a very positive thing to say. But for him, it’s exactly what he needs in that moment. So we can get back contract and lock in that focus like that. Yeah, very good. So backstepping a little bit here. We’ve talked about golf, a lot disc golf. Those are closed, correct. Closed activity, low skill, close skill. Okay, so what would the difference be for open skilled sports?
Yeah, so from a sports psychology practitioner standpoint, you know, talk about the different hats, you know, you were, with the open skill sports really count, we’re talking about team sports, here, there’s a there’s a level of team cohesion coach player dynamics, relationships, that’s a big part of the equation, kind of as the team feels, everybody feels you know, and we, we challenge ourselves as individuals to bring that positive energy to this group of people that we’re, we’re working with on a team, we recognize that the way we hold ourselves emotionally, and our expressions have a ripple effect. And so there’s an individual accountability, but we do things as a team to kind of build that cohesion, the camaraderie. And that’s a big part of it. And then also, you know, sports psychology practitioners will often be the middleman between the coach and the players, no matter how much of an open door policy a coach might have their controlling playing time. And so sometimes it’s helpful to have that third party expert in the room that can kind of advocate for the players to the coach and vice vice versa, go into the players and saying, you know, that, here’s how it is for the coach, you know, because a lot of times, they might not be quite aware of what’s going on. So that can be incredibly valuable for a group of people, whether it’s sports or even beyond in organizations, and whatnot. Okay,
that that’s good to know. Because I would imagine that the team aspect makes it that much more difficult. You know, did you watch the, the Michael Jordan documentary?

I did, yeah. Yeah.

And so, you know, him motivating or demotivating his teammates as it might have been, in some situations, you know, makes a huge difference on how people are playing, but he is so steady with himself that he kind of raises everybody raises everyone up. So yeah, you know, that’s, that’s a fascinating way to look at it.

Definitely. And you know, I was just having this conversation with a client the other day, but, you know, you don’t always have to be great. A great articulator, a great speaker, to be a leader on the team, because how you hold yourself in practice, how hard you work, people, people take note of that. And so even if you’re not necessarily an upperclassman, if we’re talking about high school, or college, or you’re not necessarily the traditional leader of your team, if you have a week of practice, and you’re bringing it and they see it in your face, it’s hard to not take note of that, and have that influence your own game. And so it’s, I try to get people out of this mentality of well, I can’t really I don’t feel comfortable talking to people, how could I lead? There’s a lot of ways to do that.
Like, so, when it comes to zoning in and your business? Who is your I know, we’ve talked golf, I know we’ve talked cross country, but who is your perfect client? names, obviously, but like if you could describe your perfect client?
Yeah, so that’s a good question. I my my business is evolving so much now that I’m getting a lot of new clients. But I guess for now, it’s connector people have been very helpful. So people that are coaches of you know, college, high school athletes are obviously great clients, golf instructors, people that, that do some coaching on the side that they’re obviously great. But yeah, I guess the the dream client for me, you know, where I’m going with my business is I want to be able to work with the top guys on the PGA Tour, you know, and so, right now, I work with a lot of elite high school and college level players. So, you know, hopefully one of those guys will make it or one of those ladies will make it. But yeah, that’s kind of where my where my business is going. And right now, I’m just kind of focusing on refining my craft and learning a little bit, you know, as a practitioner, I, I bring the expertise to the table, but I learned from every client because everybody’s a little different. And so I try to embrace new opportunity. And even though I’m specialized with golf, taking it on myself to work with other clients, I think is very much expanded my abilities as a as a practitioner and a mental coach. Okay.
So when it comes to, you know, the perfect person finding you, right, when when does um, either a client or a parent or a coach? When do they know it’s time to see you? Because I would imagine a lot of times they know they need something. Hmm. But how do they know they need you?
Yeah, so that’s part of my job is to kind of educate people on the nature of my work and if people would know that they would would need me at a certain time, it would kind of make me think that things are going horribly wrong. And since I’m in that build it framework, I generally say the best time to start working with me would be a month prior to a competitive season, where we have time to build these mental skills and get them kind of polished. So that when the season happens, we can build that awareness to be like, Okay, how are these skills applying to your games to your performances? How can we move on from there? But yeah, if someone’s ever down, they enjoyed a sport. And they’re not having that fun anymore, or their level of performance has dropped severely recently, and it doesn’t feel like it’s a technical issue, it’s more of a mental issue, you know, if they feel like they’re just not, they’re not in it the same way they always have been. I think that’s a great, you know, telltale sign to, to see a sports psychologist and work with work with someone.
So, we keep coming back to that build that mentality. And and like I said, I just love that. Is there are other professionals that don’t have sports psychologists? Or, you know, is there? What’s the evidence show for folks that do work with sports psychologists in the professional realm versus those that don’t?
Yeah, well, in the sport of golf, I think it is becoming so widely accepted, appropriate and advantageous to work with a mental coach. So by now, it’s so many of these guys are doing it that it’s kind of hard to see what would happen if they weren’t doing and it’s one of those, you know, things where it’s really hard to replicate that experiment, you know, what would it be like, if you didn’t work with Dr. Dirk, you know, type of deal. But I think it’s just evidence, it’s effective, because of all the popularity of utilizing this stuff. And I think people are more and more of the belief that the mind plays such a huge role in performance, not just with performance when the whistle blows, or when you tee off on the first hole. But the performance that is every moment in practice leading up to the game, how quality is your practice, a lot of people don’t even think about it that way. But sports psychologists can just help you so much with your mental game as it relates to every part of your sport, including the parts that don’t involve the actual competition.
And I like that, you know, the, the thing that came to mind, there was the the 10,000 our theory, right? If you practice anything for 10,000 hours, you’ll, you’ll become an expert. But you could probably practice for 5000 hours, incredibly well, and become more of an expert than someone who’s been doing it for 15,000 hours as kind of half assing it? Absolutely. So I think that intentionality is huge there. And you know, being able to stay focused and stay in the game for that. So you’re able to give strategies for that kind of thing. Absolutely. That’s
a big part of my work is that I help advise people with their practice regimen. And I, I tried to get it in a way to where eventually they’re becoming the master of their own practice. But I think if you’re really serious about improving at a high level and continuing to improve, you have to start being creative with your practice, there’s a there’s a theory, it’s called the ok plateau, is this idea that when you first start any pursuit, it’s easy to feel that leveling up in the first year, first month, you go from nothing to a moderate skill level really quickly. And that that kind of bump up in your skill level feels amazing. But then when you get to the elite level, or even the high school level, you’re your your progress starts flatlining a little bit, you’re still getting better. But instead of going from, you know, 15, over par to five over par in the span of a year, you’re trying to whittle that five to zero, you’re trying to get a little bit better, you’re just not seeing the same level of improvement. And so it’s hard, because practice starts to feel more monotonous. You feel like you’re going through the motions. And then you actually start practicing bad mental habits when you lose that engagement. So I’m always creating new drills that facilitate that engagement. I’m creating drills that really challenged people to unleash the top part of their game and their mental game. And then we’re being adaptable. Because that drill that I just recommended last month, you might get it might get a little stale this month, and then how can we add to that, and, you know, with practice to its balance, I mean, going back to the 10,000 hour rule. If you were a machine and you only practice the worst part of your game all the time, eventually practice would be miserable. So you have to figure out how to make it fun to that’s part of the whole thing, because we’re looking for long term motivation. You’re in it for this long haul. And so you structure your practice to where you have, you know, these tough drills maybe right after your warm up so it’s right in the beginning, when you have the most energy, then you do something fun after that, and maybe you go back it really depends on the client I’m working with but we’re looking to tailor the practices to, to kind of maximize the hour that you have, or the two hours.
So that’s fascinating. I love that. And so I would I would immediately went to me, there was I hated practicing baseball, right. And I was a big baseball player all through high school hated practice every time unless I was hitting actively. Because that was what I was good at. Yeah, right. Yeah, that was fun to me. But fielding practice? No, not my thing. You know, any bump drills? Now? That’s really boring. I don’t want to do that. How? Obviously, you have to practice all these things? I mean, is there ever an opportunity to work with a coach to tailor practices towards most people’s most athletes, desires, skills, likes, dislikes, to where the practice is more engaging? Is that is that a is that part of sports? psychology is working with the coaches.

Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, I think the coaches are the figures, the the people in these athletes lives that are seeing them every day. So you know, if you’re working with someone weekly, or you’re going out to a few practices, even if you’re very involved, as a as a sports psychologist, you’re not going to see him as much as the coach. And if the coach is not on board, it can often undermine a lot of what you’re working on. And so providing education to coaches is a big part of what we do. And, you know, you want the coach to perform as a coach. So you’re not necessarily giving them your way, but you’re trying to empower them to be the best coach they can be. And then you tell you talk about all the theory and the relevancy of, of what, you know, a lot of the concepts I’m using personally with these clients, and maybe they can adapt those to fit their own needs. But I think great coaches, you know, have influenced sports psychologists over the years to we learn from these Pete Carroll’s of the world, that are just empowering their guys. They’re making things fresh in practice, they’re keeping things fun. They’re challenging, everything that you would think of as a great coach. But yeah, I think it’s kind of very nice relationships for psychologists and coach, we’re both are learning from each other, and helping out. But yeah, absolutely. It’s a big part of our work to kind of, especially with these open skill sports, these team sports to go work with the coach, as well. That is awesome. I will tell you, I had a very narrow view of what you did. And and so this is awesome. I’m learning a lot. And we could probably talk for two more hours. And for sure, you’re just educating me on all of the different opportunities that athletes have to get better. Yeah, that’s awesome. I don’t want to run out of time, though. So I do want to kind of shift gears here a little bit to how we overlap, right as physical therapy, and psychology specifically sports psychology, when it comes to overcoming an injury. How would you envision us overlapping if we had a similar client? Make up a scenario and tell me how you would envision that? Yeah,

 So I was fortunate enough, a few years ago to work at a rehab clinic. And so they would go, they would run on the anti gravity treadmill, they would be doing a lot of rehab. And then they would, you know, sit down with me for, you know, 45 minutes or so and talk about kind of, as you recover from an injury, every workout every time you’re, you’re doing these exercises, you got to but think about that as a performance where distractions can come in your mind. And how you overcome those how you strategize to stay in it is huge. And so I think the mental component of that as you recover and get back to 100%, but then also trusting the injured part of your body to deliver when the competition is actually on the line can be really tough. I mean, you’ve been, you feel you’re cleared to go by, you know, all the doctors and you’re ready to play, but then at first timeout back out on the field, is it really going to hold up? Is my knee really going to hold up? You know, so, it building your mind through that whole process to be able to deliver in that moment? I think, definitely, that’s where the overlap is. And also, you know, at Mizzou, we are kind of a philosophy was that the student athlete was at this center of the equation where we had all these experts, the coaches, sports psychologists, the PT, everybody around and we were all collaborating because that person is taping up and athletes, you know, leg foot is a going to get a lot of great information from the athlete. It’s a it’s a real vulnerable moment, they’ll open up and so I would often collaborate with the PT and how’s it going for Jasmine? How was your attitude today and we would be able to collaborate and that’s one of the benefits of my work as a mental performance coach. Not a licensed counselor, because I am able to talk to parents talk to coaches collaborate, and actually, I think make a lot of change happen rather than have to be bound by confidentiality.

That’s a good point. And, you know, for me, when I’m dealing with someone who’s got an injury, and it’s time to get back to running or get back to cutting drills, or whatever, after saying ACL surgery, that’s one of the most common ones that the athletes fearful, they have a lot of fear beliefs, and, you know, they don’t trust their knee, they don’t trust their body, they don’t trust their doctor, they don’t trust their coach. And, you know, it’s my job to an extent to help them build that, that trust, whether it’s in themselves or in their, you know, their surroundings. But I can definitely see there being a huge benefit to collaborating in those situations. Because, you know, I’m not a sports psychologist, and I’m not, you know, trained in psychology more than just, here’s what your body can do. And I’m teaching you to trust it with movement, teaching you to trust it with strength. But there’s way more to it than that.

Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s the job of the sport psychologists to kind of collaborate with the other people involved in the athlete’s life. And to let them know the big part of an injury oftentimes is like, kind of a loss of identity. Here, you’re working with these athletes that have pursued something so much they’re away from their team while they’re rehabbing. I remember, you know, working with the soccer team at Mizzou, I mean, some of these girls would have to stay home when the team was on the road. And they didn’t know anybody else in the zoo. And it’s easy as a coach to be like, well, she has a bad attitude. She’s not working hard on her training. But that’s kind of my job is like, Well, hey, coach, she’s never really had this experience in her life. She doesn’t have any friends around her. This is tough. And so we got to be respectful. And we got to creatively find ways to make her feel more involved, whether it’s a getting her on FaceTime, as we’re all you know, eating dinner, doing, you know, activities, when we all get back where we can include everybody. And that sense of fulfillment, the sense of team can give these injured players more motivation to recover quicker, and help the team out faster.
And that mean that that can apply to any sport you think of the professional guys for even the St. Louis Cardinals there. Some of them are doing their rehab in Florida. Yeah. I mean, they’re not connected at all to their teammates. That’s got to be hard.
Oh, absolutely.  And just being separated, and that that loneliness of Well, I’m dealing with an injury, they all get to play the sport we’re being paid to play. You know, I can imagine that’s a pretty big detriment on their mental health.

Yep, absolutely.

All right. Well, I do want to respect your time. I know you got to get out of here. This is a fascinating conversation. I have learned a lot hopefully all of our listeners have as well. Is there anything? We’ve got probably about five minutes. Is there anything else that you wanted to share? Yeah, the floor is yours?

Well, yeah, I think I’ve gotten a lot of long-winded statements. But I Dr. Greg, really appreciate you having me on. I guess, kind of a last Colonel I’d leave is, you know, going back to the individuality part of what I do that there’s a lot of these skills that you can learn in the short term, and they’re going to give you an immediate, immediate, you know, bump up in your performance, but to be able to really maximize your mental game, it takes you being able to understand yourself. And so when you have those moments where you really struggle, if we don’t necessarily just throw that into the pile of that was a failure. What kind of failure was that? I missed the ball left off the tee, was that as left as it was on the first hole? What was different about that? If we always are the understanding ourselves in these moments, then we’re better equipped to really never have these moments happen again, or are so few and far between. So don’t be afraid to take a deep dive inward. And I’m happy to help you through that process if you ever want to. So, if people do want to work with you, how do they get in contact? Absolutely. So I’d love it if you guys email me at dirkmd23@gmail.com Or you could visit my website www.zoninginppc.com  And I’d love to get in touch with you that way we can set up an appointment or we can do a complimentary chat on the phone to see if it would be a good fit.

Awesome. Dirk, I appreciate you being here. This has been great. I’ve learned a lot as I said. I appreciate it. All right. Thanks
a lot, Greg. I’ll do it anytime. Absolutely. This has been STL Active.

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