Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group, LLC Blog

Who Are Your Goals For?

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 @ 08:03 AM

by Adam Naylor


goal setting


I had the opportunity yesterday to share some ideas on lessons from the playing field that could assist in patient care at the Massachusetts Veteran Affair’s Medical Center.  I truly could not have been more humbled by the attention and the enthusiasm he healthcare professionals showed towards the ideas presented.  The lunchtime grand round session broke off into a brainstorming session about goal setting.

The general feeling expressed to me was that goals were valuable, the medical community encourages goals to be set, and the process had become fulfilling and limited in its benefit to patients.  In order to encourage evidence-based practice and to embrace technology, docs are encouraged to complete some sort of an app with/about their patients documenting goals for treatment and the upcoming months.  Not a bad idea… but one that struggles due to the “Jekyll and Hyde Nature of Goal Setting” and the challenges of technology.  Yet, all of the practitioners wanted goal setting to work well for their patients.

From sitting and listening, the nagging problem with “modern” approaches to goal setting came into focus.  I witness this similar story play out in sports medicine settings on a regular basis.  SMART goal setting is preached to and embraced by practitioners, yet its outcomes seem so… watered down.  Rather than being a double shot of espresso to boost motivation and provide clarity, transparent decaf that does little to change the patient’s psychological status quo is being served.

Goals have dynamic power. They can…

  • Enhance motivation
  • Fine tune focus
  • Enhance learning
  • Nurture self-awareness
  • Improve communication
  • Minimize confusion
  • Calm nerves
  • Clarify direction
  • Build confidence

They can… but are they?

When considering the use of goals in the industrial-medical complex (and elsewhere) the question I stumbled to was, “Who benefits from this goal setting process?”  

Continue to read this article by clicking HERE.



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Priming Performance: Developing Competitors, Coaches, and Sports Communities

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 @ 07:12 AM


Bobby Knight


by Dr. Adam Naylor, CC-AASP

Self-control on the playing field is over-rated… or at least active efforts towards it.  There is no doubt that unchecked anger and drifting attention are detriments to performance.  Yet, how to achieve positive emotions and a resilient focus needs to be considered.  In many regards keeping one’s cool when referees make undesirable calls and maintaining concentration in the face of particularly pesky opponents happens well before the ball is officially put in play.

In essence the most impressive displays of mental toughness occur rather effortlessly… or to be more precise, they are displays of automatic self-control.  This is not to say that in-game cue words, mental imagery, or diaphragmatic breathing are not helpful, but they simply too often lack the robust benefits that effortless self-control mechanisms deliver.  Active efforts to control one’s self reduce the ability to successfully control one’s self in the future.  Plainly put, each time a conscious effort is made to regulate emotions there is a cost to future cognitive abilities… attention is a bit more likely to wander… frustration creeps in more easily…. decision making becomes a bit less precise.  Just like physical muscles, mental muscles fatigue.

This is not an invitation towards wanton disregard for self-control, but rather a consideration of the benefits of priming performances in advance.  It ought to come of little surprise that the environments in which one trains and competes have incredibly formative roles in an athlete’s development.  It is clear how technical proficiency improves under the tutelage of a coach’s keen eye.  It is also apparent how shared goals and aspirations of teammates can unify and rally a team.  Now becoming more clear is how social environments can lead to successful management of emotions and attitudes.

Subtle cues and modeled behaviors can develop emotionally resilient competitors.  Without words, social norms quietly teach individuals how to regulate feelings such as anger.  Consider this on and around the playing field.  Coaches that model a stiff upper lip when disappointed will find players who follow this focused lead.  Conversely, sports parents that are quick to blame coaches for their child’s modest playing time are likely to develop athletes that are quick to play victim in the face of challenge.  Sports culture of coaches and teammates that gravitate towards calm in the face of challenge reinforces these behaviors.  The mental game is contagious… sport communities can spread strength or instability.

Recent research has gone as far as to highlight that the specific words that are heard and read literally are able to prime emotional performances.  Kevin Rounding and his colleagues found that when sacred words (“Bible, “divine,” etc.) were subtly layered into sentence unscrambling tasks research participants had deep wells of self-control following their reading.  Religion aside, Iris Mauss and her colleagues found that people’s anger could be automatically controlled when primed with words such as “cool,” “restrains,” and “disciplined.”  In a somewhat cunning manner, such studies suggest that thoughtful and consistent use of particular language by coaches and sports organizations can reap great mental toughness benefits.  This is far different than a passionate lecture about the importance of controlling one’s emotions.  Quite literally the coach that embeds specific words of self-control into pre-game speeches could potentially see fewer penalties and greater resilience from his team on the field.

The sporting landscape is filled with examples of poor emotional regulation – from Bobby Knight’s chair throwing incident to parent misbehavior at youth baseball games to hockey violence committed out of frustration.  Close inspection also reveals that too often the words of competition can be filled with themes of unrestrained aggression  – one can only imagine the language, layered throughout the locker rooms involved in NFL bounty-gate.  Aggressive play is important, but competing with unrestrained emotion leads to more failures than successes.  I am a strong advocate of priming performance, sporting environments that give themselves regular doses of emotional regulating cues find focus and well directed energy on the field.

Originally published at Psychology Today’s The Sporting Life November 2012.


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Coach Like A Marine

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Fri, Nov 2, 2012 @ 07:11 AM

by Adam Naylor, EdD, CC-AASP


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The United States armed forces do a tremendous job teaching men and women a variety of performance and life skills. I had the opportunity to sit down with university Marine ROTC commanders and cadets to discuss the development of high performance programming. The meeting struck me with a tremendous lesson in leadership for sports coaches.

You may have seen many tough as nails, drill sargents glamorized in the movies… have all kinds of wild images about hell week at Quantico dancing in your head… but do you have a good sense of coaching done Marine-style? I sat at a conference table with two commanders and three cadets. There was definitely a rank and order to the room, but strength and leadership emanated from all corners. The commanders had some ideas, checked to see if their ideas meet the cadet realities, asked the cadets for their ideas, made decisions together, and made it clear that the cadets will lead battalion actions and performance.

Marines are tough and are built to battle. They are not abusive in their coaching style, but rather collaborative and empowering. There’s nothing soft about a leader that recruits strength and leadership from within the team… one can argue it’s the coaching style that creates the bravest competitors to walk the planet.

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Previous posted Feb 10, 2012 at the Professional Sport Psychology Symposium blog –

Topics: Adam Naylor, sports performance

The Problem With Problems

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Mon, May 2, 2011 @ 07:05 AM

athletic training


If you look hard enough, everyone has problems. In the sports performance profession, problems provide easy targets for coaching, training, and interventions. Explicitly stated or not, problems make the physical therapist, athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and sport psychology consultants’ jobs easy. The athlete that needs to be “fixed” provides a clear target for intervention. The athlete that is pretty well-rounded without any glaring weaknesses can be a lot more intimidating to help. Easy targets for coaches and trainers however may not be what is best for the athlete.

This is not the only problem with problems however. Athletes pride themselves on their strength and abilities to intimidate and dominate. Few embrace being weak and even fewer enjoy being stigmatized as someone with a “problem.” This reality can lead to hesitancy on the path towards improvement. So many performance specialists slip into the trap of highlighting athlete weaknesses in efforts to advance an athlete’s training régime. Not a compelling sales pitch to someone whose self-image is enshrouded in strength.

Perhaps this problem with problems is best illuminated when considering development of one’s mental game. Too often working on one’s mental game is neglected because sport psychology may be seen as being for the mentally weak or mentally unbalanced. These perceptions are fair. Psychology (and much of medicine) has spent much of its history labeling illness and treating problems. Upon reflection however, one would be hard pressed to suggest that an athlete that gets a bit anxious when taking a penalty shot, walking the back nine of a major golf tournament, or toeing the foul line for a game tying free throw has a “problem.” Distraction, doubt, and stress are normal in the quest towards high performance. A motivated athlete would be remiss not to make deliberate efforts to develop one’s mental game. Presenting this work on one’s game as fixing “problems” or healing a wounded psyche certainly stigmatizes a necessary part of player development.

The problem with problems is not unique to the mental game however. Coaches and trainers that spend majority of their time reminding an athlete of his weaknesses rarely lead the athlete to commitment or excellence. It can be argued that the coach’s ego needs are fulfilled as the athlete with inadequacies cannot thrive without them. Yet the truth is, all athletes have one problem or another and regardless of these things they strive quite successfully. The most successful performance coach does not challenge the athlete’s desire of strong perceptions of self, but rather builds upon them… encouraging a normal human being to strive towards super-normal. Muscle imbalances are not a problem, but rather an opportunity to train for higher performance. Distracting performance anxiety is not a problem, but rather an opportunity to find a next level of mental fortitude. Poor cardio is not a problem, rather an opportunity to develop wire to wire dominance.

Injury that takes you out of practice for a while, depression that inhibits performance in the classroom and on the playing field, and clinical nutrition issues that sap wellness and energy are problems that need to be treated as such. A heavily problem-focused practice however loses athlete enthusiasm and misplaces the focus of training. Challenges to injury resistance, mental fortitude, and conditioning are opportunities for performance specialists to ply their crafts at the highest level. They are opportunities for the athlete to embrace the appropriate coaching and training necessary for finding one’s optimal potential.
Dr. Adam Naylor, CC-AASP. is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center (  He has serves as a mental conditioning and player development resource for players at all stages of their sports career.  He can be reached contacted at  Follow Dr. Naylor on Twitter @ahnaylor.

Topics: Basketball Related, Art Horne, Adam Naylor, basketball performance, basketball training programs, athletic training conference