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Winning the Mental Game

By: Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal

Emotional leadership in college sports was the focus of a featured presentation led by Rick Aberman, psychotherapist for the University of Minnesota’s football, baseball and tennis teams and the director of peak performance for the Minnesota Twins.

“You have to invest in your people,” Aberman said. “Without the people, you don’t have a prayer. In my 25 years in this business, we’re doing a better job than ever in reaching out to our student-athletes. But our coaches and administrators? Not so well.”

To help with the pressures of the job in college sports, Aberman said he teaches mental toughness, which he defined as, “Who we are, what we want to be, and where we’re headed.”

John Anderson, the head baseball coach at the University of Minnesota since 1981, said he thought of quitting at one point early in his career. That’s when he asked Aberman and to work on his team’s mental and emotional approach. But Aberman had a different idea.

“You are the one expected to lead,” Aberman told Anderson. “Let’s start with you.”

Among his many changes, Anderson said his teams at Minnesota no longer have captains. “We expect everyone to be responsible for the leadership of our team,” he said. Anderson said his work with Aberman “salvaged my career and made me a better coach.”

Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone hired Aberman to be a consultant for his athletic directors. When Butler left the Horizon for the ACC, LeCrone was bombarded with questions about how the conference could survive without its best basketball team.

“The fundamental questions were, Who are we and want do we want to be”? LeCrone said. “This is where the work with Rick helped. We’re going to define ourselves. The media is not going to define us. This is our approach as we consider expanded membership.”

LeCrone encouraged all the administrators at the conference to consider work with a psychotherapist, and to “live, learn and grow.”