Interview with Dr. Cal Botterill, Professor of Sports Psychology, University of Winnipeg

Dr. Cal Botterill of the University of Winnipeg has a wealth of experience in the field of sports psychology.  Highlights of his career include working with numerous national and professional sports teams and Olympic athletes.  Catch the entire interview below.

Ryan started by asking how he can help to improve an athlete’s game.  “…a big part of the work are those psychological skills that can help you function a little better,” said Dr. Botterill, “and, as well, I developed an idea called ‘Perspective’ where the way you look at the world can often have an effect on the way things go.”

Ryan asked how available sports psychologists are to athletes.  “The one thing about the field is that ideally if you have the support when you’re younger, it’s the best, so that you end up coming through without the frustrations and being scarred so that you’re career goes more smoothly but we haven’t really got a lot of people functioning at the level yet but maybe one day,” said Dr. Botterill.

Ryan asked what age athletes should consider some form of psychological training.  “I think that for the most part, the earlier the better,” said Dr. Botterill.  “Especially in those sports where there’s so much public scrutiny like if you’re child is in figure skating or gymnastics, where it’s such a subjectively ranked sport and it’s easy for pressure to build or perceived pressure to be felt by the child.”

Ryan asked if athletes typically visit a sports psychologist because they’re slumping or because they want to improve their game.  “It’s probably one of the reasons but it’s a little unfortunate but it’s true,” said Dr. Botterill.  “In the ideal world,  you would be working with them while they’re still in the early years and help them interpret everything as some sort of a growth experience and as something positive.”

Ryan asked what the most common problem young athletes have in managing their mental game.  “I think the number one thing is this business of falling into a have-to pattern,” said Dr. Botterill.  “When we we’re kids and we’re just playing out on the street and playing a game, it’s all want-to.  We love the sport, we’re busy engaging, we’re trying different things.  Sometimes when it gets too organized, too much pressure, everybody starts to look like, oh we have to do this, we have to do that.  Next thing you know, the things that was making them so fluid and so focused on what they were doing start to disappear and and they start to press.  Then the tension and the negative images in their mind really interfere.  So, I think if we could change that one thing around in most young athletes I’m sure a high percentage of them would perform better.”

Ryan asked about superstitions.  “Well, I think they’re definitely rampant all through sport,” said Dr. Botterill.   “The biggest thing I found is to separate superstition from routine because routine can be good.  Routine gives you a feeling of familiarity, readiness, and so on.”

Ryan asked about Dr. Botterills approach when working with athletes of individual sports rather than team sports.  “One of the things I got the opportunity to do was go to the Calgary Olympic Centre in 1997 for a 3-year leave and work primarily in the centre with athletes and they asked me to work with the speed skaters,” said Dr. Botterill.  “For the most part, everybody thought it was an (individual) sport… but it’s really a team sport.  You’re competing and training with one another every day and if you don’t have a good team environment, it makes a big difference.  We really worked on the team aspects and it made a big difference.”

Ryan asked who was the best athlete out there in terms of a strong mental approach to the game.  “As an athlete, Jay Triano would be very, very hard to beat.  Catriona Le May Doan was amazing in two gold medals, two different Olympics.  I really enjoyed Chandra Crawford, gold medalist in cross-country skiing… and then of course, the ’94 (New York) Rangers were amazing when they won the cup, that was a special experience to be a part of,” said Botterill.  “Hard for me to single out one, I just really feel fortunate I’ve had so many opportunities and so many great athletes to learn from.  Especially early in your career, you learn more from them than they learn from you.  Then as a result after awhile, you become a resource because you’ve learned so many things that can help others.”

Dr. Botterill also authored Perspective:  The Key to Life (shown below), “…lessons and insights on how we can enhance our perspective and live and perform to our full potential.”

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