Book review: ‘Periodized Sports Psychology’ is not about shortcuts

Canada's Dana Ellis is cover girl.

I watched a lot of Vancouver coverage with perverse curiosity. Where did the bobsledders get the guts to go down that deadly run? How did that Canadian figure skater overcome her emotions after her mother died? How did Shaun White get that superconfidence to execute those half-pipe tricks? Although Brian Risk wrote “Periodized” before the Olympics, he’d probably answer all these questions with: “Duh, they prepared.” Many books touch on mental prep, but few have focused so carefully and comprehensively as Brian’s. And contrary to what you might expect, mental training is far more than mental tricks. Properly done, it’s woven into the fabric of everyday skill and strength training. And like all training, it gets more challenging as the season progresses. Masters track isn’t mentioned, but the book applies to all athletes. Brian was a Canadian coach at the 1996 Olympics and has a lot of great credits. Best of all, he got track coaching legend Loren Seagrave to write a three-page Foreword. Nuff said.

The nitty gritty:

“Periodized Sport Psychology: Building the Bulletproof Athlete,” published in 2009 by Glass Dragon Digital Publishing of Fairport, New York; 199 pages, softcover; $45.00 cover price; 21.5×28 cm (8 1/2×11 inches) (Correction on April 4: Just received word that the price was changed to $35.00 during summer 2009.)


18 Week sections (“Week 0: Introduction,” “Week 1: Goal Setting,” “Week 2: Focusing,” “Week 3: Refocusing,” etc.)

Who this book is for:

Coaches of team and individual sports, and self-coached athletes. Casual fans won’t be that interested.

What I liked:

Brian calls the book a “toolbox.” As such, it throws a lot at you, step-by-step fashion. Lots of anecdotes on how various techniques are applied in real-life conditions. Lots of sidebar articles like “Sport Psychology on the Road” (using bus as classroom) and “Digital Coaching Technology” (about MP3 players and stuff). Lots of checklists. And insightful nuggets like: “Elite athletes achieve their best results when they focus on performance of a skill or process, and not outcome.” Also: “Worry and self-doubt are often a product of inexperience.” I give Brian credit for having a chapter on “Media Preparation.” But I take exception with: “The bottom line is often simply that the media doesn’t usually care what is said or written; they simply need stuff to fill the page.” The book has a companion Web site and a Facebook page as well.

What I didn’t like:

Brian has a small team of collaborators (a stage actor, NHL player, Olympic vaulter, world champion kayaker, world champion sprinter, Canadian hep record-holder and a corporate CEO) who offer up “Words of Wisdom” at the close of every chapter. They are generally repetitive and gratuitous. Maybe they were thrown into the book to test our ability to concentrate on the task at hand (deriving useful information). They’re basically padding. The listed price of $45 is nonsense. (Update: $35 is a little better but still an issue.) Maybe Brian thought it would be expensed by athletic departments. But few masters athletes have money like that to throw around.

Sample from Week 1: “Goal setting”

Mental preparation programs work best if the skills are periodized and compounding. This means that certain skills are delivered at particular times of the season. Also, things you learn in week one should lend themselves to support skills taught in week two and throughout the rest of the season. For example, if a coach wishes to teach someone how to pole vault, the first task is how to hold a pole. The last task is bar clearance and flyaway. There is a definite sequence to the delivery of skills in pole vaulting. Basics must be mastered prior to the advanced skills. The same is true for mental training. The fundamental skills delivered in the early weeks of a season are constantly used throughout the year. They should be delivered very carefully and with specific intent. Basic skills of goal setting, focusing, and refocusing are fundamental to the skills of distraction control, simulation and pregame planning delivered later in the season.

Bottom line:

Coaches who didn’t have a decent unit in sports psychology could use this book. Athletes of a certain age have probably figured out a lot of this on their own. But since we forget half of what we’ve learned, “Periodized” is a good refresher that covers all the bases. If it weren’t so expensive, I’d recommend it without reservation.

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March 28, 2010

One Response

  1. Brian Risk - April 25, 2010

    Ken, thanks for your honest reflection and review on my book. I am honored to have it included on your website and in your list of reviews.

    If I may, I’d like to offer a comment about the Words of Wisdom section provided by my contributors that you mentioned. The contributors were asked to provide personal reflections on how they dealt with various aspects of mental preparation. They did so without any prior knowledge of what the chapter would say. I wanted them to provide raw descriptions of the methods they had used successfully. I was quite pleased when I saw how a stage actor, NHL veteran, corporate CEO, and a couple of world champions prepared so similarly. After all, performance is performance, no matter what the environment.

    Thanks again.

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