Interview with Dr. Michael Gervais about Sport Psychology

Dr. Michael Gervais, as the CEO of Pinnacle Performance, Inc., is an authority on the psychology of performance excellence. Throughout the past ten years, Michael has consulted with numerous NHL, NBA, NFL, MLS, AVP, Mixed Martial Arts fighters, Olympic, collegiate, and high school athletes. He is a published, peer-reviewed author of sport psychology systems for innovative strategies toward performance excellence. Mike is an internationally recognized speaker on issues related to human performance.

Here are my 5 questions with Michael and his answers:

1) Under the constraint of having to pick only one, what one change can an average athlete make to improve his or her overall performance?

Enhanced perspective; I know it might sound a bit esoteric, but one of the greatest tools that athletes can add to their “toolbox” is the interpersonal depth that comes from experience in life, with an openness toward growth (i.e., change)… which, at some level, requires risk… risk of being uncomfortable, risk of pushing outside of comfort zones, risk of failure, risk of not meeting “goals”. The process of enhancing perspective is a life-long journey… with perspective being defined as the ability to continually better understand how you “fit” into the grander scheme of things… whether that be in sport, business, or life. So, I guess I’m not really providing a concrete recipe for improved performance, but rather suggesting that with a posture of being open to change and a continual passion for rich experiences, people naturally grow and enhanced performance is often a pleasant by-product.

2) With regards to performance, what is your favorite natural supplement?

Most people think of supplements as some sort of dietary enhancer. I see it just a bit differently. For me, a supplement is anything that enhances performance when it’s added to the mix – and in that context – my favorite supplement for performance is anything that keeps the body loose, yet retains technical movement. And this is going to sound way too simple, but the most powerful supplement is our inner dialog. That little running script, while running, can be our greatest ally or our worst enemy. The good news is that we can train that dialog to be our greatest “supplement” towards enhanced performance. That is a big part of high performance psychology… getting your mind and body aligned so that your performance becomes more fluid.

3) What is the biggest mistake you see in novice athletes?

This question ties back to the first question — novice athletes, by definition, lack experience which greatly decreases their ability to set realistic, yet challenging (performance-based) goals. A second mistake that I see many athletes make is paying way too much attention to the variables that are not within their control. It is really important to have a clear understanding of what is with-in. and what is outside of one’s control. Once this is established, the mentally tough athlete becomes absorbed in developing, with excellence, each variable that is within his/her control.

4) What does imagery mean to you and how can athletes use imagery to help them achieve their goals?

Imagery is the process of using all five senses to create experiences in your mind. To simplify, these images become the “software” programming for your neurological and muscular system. That being said, your body doesn’t really know the difference between the pictures that you create in your mind and the real experience. Think about that… your body, when the images seem “real”, can’t tell if you’re actually in the event or simply creating it in you mind. Pretty powerful! These pictures (images) come from the words you use (your thoughts)… so it becomes very important to be aware of your thoughts, to become aware of your pictures, to become aware of these “invisible” habits that are continually programming your neurological and muscular system. If you have clear goals, the benefit of having successful images/thoughts speaks for itself.

5) What is your favorite professional success story?

I’ve been blessed… I have many “favorite” success stories… and in particular with one female ice skater who changed the perspective of what others thought was not possible. More specifically, this athlete (competing at the world level) was able to do for her sport, what Roger Bannister was able to do for running. She did something that completely changed the way the sport can be done… this change unlocked a new vision, a new image for others. She was able to see what others couldn’t see… she was able to trust that vision… to trust her training… and perform a feat that still to this day has not been done on the world stage. That being said, the reason that this story stays present with me is because she really had to work for it… along her path of excellence, she experienced many personal struggles… and in the face of each of them, she was able to anchor her inner belief, and truly become absorbed in the day-to-day pursuit of personal excellence… Being part of her journey has been an amazing experience that has forever shaped how I understand the exploration of personal potential… and the courage it takes to follow that calling.