Hey, Buckeyes!!! Happy summer and welcome back to the OSU Sport Psychology Blog.  It has been a while since our last post, but who’s counting? Today we cover the hot topic of RESILIENCE!!! As many of you are familiar, we sport psychologists, together with Prince Moody from SASSO, have established the resilience training program of Scarlet and Grit. This program is for all student-athletes and we hope that, but the end of four years, an entire class of Buckeyes will have experienced the full program (i.e., freshmen-senior).

So what is resilience?  According to the dictionary, it’s “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For a student-athlete, this might look like buckling down and working hard to recover from an injury, passing a class after failing the first midterm, applying for another job after being rejected, or trying to come back the last game of a series. Take a second and think of the last time that you persevered after a disappointment, be it in sport or in life. What did you do to persevere? Here are 10 ways to help build and foster resiliency (APA; 2018):

Reach out. Reach out to friends and ask for feedback or support. You are not alone, and more often than not, others have been through something similar. You may not want advice, but a good dose of empathy can go a long way.

See the problem as a challenge. You are competitive; you would not be at OSU if you weren’t. When we see a difficult time as a challenge, something we strive to overcome, we are much more likely to approach it, instead of avoid it. Try to have an, “Oh yeah, you think that I can’t handle this? Watch me!” attitude.

Accept change . This is hard. We often want to control things in our life. However, accepting that things change and letting go of rigid control allows life to be more fluid and manageable. You don’t get mad at the clouds when it rains. You recognize that sometimes it rains and it always stops at some point.

Move toward your goals. My supervisor once said, “Avoidance is the root of all pathology.” Translated, that means that not much good comes from avoiding. Approach your anxiety by asking that hottie out on a date or by talking to your coach about something you need. Again, if you can see your goal as a type of fun challenge, you are much more likely to go after it.

Take actions. We are a Nike school. Sometimes it comes down to “Just Do It.”

Look in for the answers. “The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates said that. Difficult times can be seen as just another opportunity to learn about yourself.

Be compassionate.  Self-compassion can be one of the most powerful antidotes to discouragement. Try out the phrase, “Of course I feel…” or “Of course I have difficulty with…”

Step back. I often ask my clients, “In thirty years, will this seem as important as it does right now?” Maybe, or maybe not, but this can give us a different view of a hard situation.

Be hopeful. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Thank you, Shawshank Redemption! Hope keeps us afloat, and sometimes it takes intention to be hopeful in times of despair (i.e., the last round of wind sprints in off season speed school =)

Engage in self care.  My old coach used to say that you have to “sharpen you ax”, meaning to do well in the future, sometimes you have to step back and take care of yourself now.


Hopefully this gives you something to chew on for the next month or so. If you bump into a problem, check out this list and see if it helps. You can always reach out to a sport psychologist too. Our information is below.


Thanks and GO BUCKS



James L. W. Houle, PhD
614-688-8993 Office


Jen Carter, PhD ABPP
614 685 1934 Direct Line

Stephen T. Graef, PhD
614-306-3806 Mobile


Scarlet & Grit

Introducing the resilience training program for OSU varsity student-athletes: SCARLET & GRIT!

Psychologist Angela Duckworth defines GRIT as “passion and perseverance to pursue your long-term goals.” Grit is more important than talent in predicting success.

How gritty are you? Take this brief grit self-assessment.

According to the NCAA, mental health is the #1 sports medicine issue affecting student-athletes. When demands exceed coping resources, we experience stress. Varsity student-athletes often feel mega-stressed! So what can we do about it?

Scarlet & Grit is a four-year program designed to promote resilience through connecting with peers, normalizing common concerns, developing coping resources, and planning strategies for future obstacles.

Once a year, student-athletes attend small groups sorted by class and facilitated by sport psychologists and peer educators.

Here’s the schedule for Fall Semester 2017. We meet at Younkin 300 from 6:00-7:00 pm. Dr. Steve Graef leads sessions for the sophomores, Dr. Jen Carter leads sessions for the juniors, and Dr. Jamey Houle leads sessions for the seniors.

Schedule an appointment with sport psychologists by calling 614-293-3600. Sessions for student-athletes are no-charge and confidential.

Tuesdays 6-7 9.12.17 9.19.17 9.26.17 10.3.17 10.17.17 10.31.17 11.7.17 11.14.17
Wed  6-7 9.13.17 9.20.17 9.27.17 10.18.17 10.25.17 11.1.17 11.8.17 11.15.17
Thursdays 6-7 9.14.17 9.21.17 9.28.17 10.5.17 10.19.17 11.2.17 11.9.17 11.16.17

Assertive Communication

Are you experiencing conflict with your coach, roommate, or family member? Communication is the means of resolving conflict. And, effective communication is tough! Sometimes on teams we resort to talking behind a teammate’s back, when direct communication is more effective. Improve your conflict resolution skills by learning about assertive communication.



Three Goals of Communication:

  1. Get message across (share thoughts, feelings, wants, needs)
  2. Improve or maintain relationship
  3. Improve or maintain self-respect

Styles of communication accomplish these goals differently:


Passive communication involves staying quiet or trying to send a message indirectly (through body language, for example). The intent is to please others by avoiding conflict. However, passive communication may lead to anxiety, lower self worth, and eventual anger from failure to meet one’s needs.

Aggressive communication involves standing up for personal rights by violating the rights of others. An example might be, “You’re so wrong, you idiot!” The intent is to dominate or humiliate, and the message gets lost when the listener becomes too angry to hear it.

Assertive communication involves the direct, appropriate, and honest expression of beliefs or feelings that is respectful of others’ rights. The intent is to communicate, and this style often leads to confidence, respect, and achieving one’s needs.

One key of assertive communication is using “I” language, which is respectful and direct. Begin sentences with “I feel…”, “I want…”, “I don’t want…”

“I feel frustrated when you don’t text me back.” / “I don’t want to argue.” / “I want to feel closer to you.”

Assertive communication is a skill–the more you practice, the better you get. Go out there and practice direct, respectful communication!

We’re All Stressed Out! Three Anxiety Busters

Did you know anxiety has surpassed depression as the #1 college student mental health disorder?


Student-athletes report that they feel on edge, have trouble sleeping, and worry non-stop about school, sport, and relationships.

There’s no “cure” for anxiety–we all need stress to stay alive and get stuff done. But if you’re overwhelmed, here are three tips to accept anxiety and float through it instead of fighting it:

  1. Belly Breathe
    • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly (below belly button)
    • Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth
    • When you inhale, keep the hand on your chest still, while pushing out the hand on your belly with air (opposite of “sucking it in”)
    • Exhale completely…let your shoulders droop as you breathe out
    • Diaphragm is the muscle beneath your lungs…you’ll feel that drop as you inhale, which allows your lungs to expand down into your chest cavity
  2. Repeat a Trigger Word
    • Word or phrase that helps you focus on the present; on the task at hand
    • Something that’s simple and under your control
    • When you get distracted, gently refocus on your trigger word
    • Examples: “Fast and loose”, “Deep breath, “Have fun”, “Aggressive”, “Best Effort”, “Relaxed and easy”, “Poise”, “Stay low”, “One at a time”
  3. Ask Three Questions
    1. What’s the worst case scenario?
    2. What’s the likelihood of that worst case scenario?
    3. Even if that unlikely worst case scenario happened, could you handle it? (What would be the realistic consequences?)

Stressed out about finals? Check out these tips for TEST ANXIETY.

And if these strategies don’t chill you out, spend time with your favorite pet. 🙂


Power Pose to Victory

Recently a college athlete asked me to comment on her Swimming World article covering an intriguing TED talk about body language.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy asks if changing your body language can affect how you feel inside. Do you think that’s possible? Dr. Cuddy’s research indicates it is!

She has found that holding “power poses” like the one below for two minutes significantly increases testosterone (thereby increasing feelings of power) and significantly decreases cortisol (thereby decreasing feelings of stress).


I encourage you to check out this fascinating TED talk. Holding power poses can help you perform at your best in school, sport, and life!

MERGE with Mental Toughness


How do you define mental toughness? I define it as a set of 5 skills.

M: Mindfulness. Be aware of the present. Two things out of our control: the past and the future. One thing in our control: the present. What do you notice about your breath right now? What do you observe with your five senses? When you criticize yourself for a past mistake or worry about a future outcome, notice what’s happening right now. Focus on the process.

E: Energy. Do you like to be chilled out? Pumped up? Really relaxed or really intense? How’d you feel before your best performance? Know your ideal energy zone, and learn how to get yourself there through breathing, self-talk, focus, and imagery skills.

R: Resilience. How quickly do you bounce back from mistakes? If you linger on mistakes, take a deep breath and tell yourself, “Everybody makes mistakes. Focus on the next play.” Imagine locking the mistake in a closet, or watching it float away in a swift river. Learn how to be more compassionate of yourself by noticing the facts.

G: Grit. Do you have deep determination and drive? Do you have something to prove? Or do you give up easily? Grit is passion and motivation to persevere no matter what challenge you face. Why do you play your sport? Tap into your passion, and set a goal for each practice. There will be days you don’t want to be there…uncover your motivation and get something out of each practice. Feed off inspiration from teammates and coaches.

E: Emotions. That tightness in your chest—what emotion is that? Can you recognize and express emotions? How well do you manage your emotions? Cope effectively with your feelings to become mentally tough. Learn how to experience an emotion without reacting to the emotion. Feeling nervous doesn’t mean you’ll blow it—it just means your body is preparing to rise to the challenge. Notice frustration and write about it or tell a friend.

Learn these skills with sport psychologists Dr. Jen Carter ( or Dr. Steve Graef ( at OSU Sports Medicine. Call 614-293-3600 to schedule.

Emotional Reactions to Injury

Emotional Reactions to Injury

“I’ll be back!”

No doubt about it, injuries suck. Injuries are hard enough to manage without the additional suffering of judging your emotions. Here are some normal reactions:

I’M SAD. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness are common with injuries. The losses from injury feel like grief. About 20% of athletes with severe injuries develop clinical depression, a syndrome that’s different from the normal ups and downs of life. Depression involves changes in sleep and appetite, blue mood, lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, low energy, poor concentration, and/or suicidal thoughts.

I’M WORRIED / STRESSED. “Will I ever get better?” “What if I don’t perform well when I return?” “Do my teammates think I’m faking?” Injured athletes often ruminate over fears like these. Anxiety, depression, and decreased exercise may lead to difficulty sleeping.

I’M ANGRY. Feelings of anger and frustration are totally normal. Your amazing body is hurt. You may snap at your trainer or want to throw your crutches into the wall.

I’M ISOLATED. Athletes often feel lonely and left out when injured. Your coaches may focus more on healthy athletes, and you might miss out on impromptu social plans made at practice. You may withdraw from others if you’re feeling down.

I’M STRONG. Not all emotional reactions to injury are negative, especially as athletes heal. Injuries might provide needed rest for over-trained athletes. It’s a time to receive help from others, and grow closer to them. When you’ve recovered from injury, you often appreciate your sport even more, knowing what it’s like to miss it. You may feel proud of overcoming a tough injury.


So how can you cope with these feelings?

Talk to someone. Talk to your family, coaches, teammates, dietitian, psychologist, and/or academic advisor. Check out your worries. (For example, it’s rare for teammates to believe that you’re faking your injury, especially if you’re typically a hard worker.) Express anger assertively (“I’m frustrated!”) instead of acting out aggressively, which will cause regret.

Improve your mental game. Injuries are a great time to improve mental skills like energy management, self-talk, goal-setting, imagery, focus, and team-building. You can schedule with Jen Carter, PhD or Steve Graef, PhD by calling (614)293-3600.

Hone your nutrition. Meet with a sports dietitian for a meal plan that heals your injury quickly!

Set goals. Approach recovery like training, setting small goals and noticing your progress. Write in a journal.

Reach out for support. It’s hard for athletes to ask for help, but it’s an important skill. Ask questions to your trainer and physician. Update your team about your progress in recovery. Invite a friend to go out.

Hopefully soon you’ll return to playing the sport you love.

Taking Care of Ourselves After Tragedy

The OSU athletic family lost one of its own when wrestler and football player Kosta Karageorge died. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Kosta, but I hear he was quite popular among his teammates. The fact that he joined the football team after finishing his wrestling eligibility shows what a competitor he was.

Many of us are in shock. We may not know how to feel or what to do. In light of this distress, I want to share some information and resources with you.

While there is no correct way to respond, here are some common emotional reactions to grief and trauma:

Shock/denial/numbness/a sense of unreality

Anxiety and fear, which may relate to insomnia and feeling on edge

Second guessing ourselves (“If only I’d…”)

Sadness and loss



Questions about why this happened

Although we don’t know the official cause of death, preliminary reports indicate that Kosta committed suicide. It’s difficult to understand suicide. Sometimes individuals experience such deep depression that they feel hopeless about things ever improving. It’s tragic they don’t realize that feelings are temporary, and that their depression will lift over time.

Student-athletes are at a greater risk for suicide due to a culture that celebrates toughness and denigrates vulnerability. Athletes have to be warriors in their sport, but it’s important to be real when you walk off the field. It’s okay to feel the gamut of emotions. It’s fine to cry. It’s also fine not to cry. Accept your feelings and understand that each person has a unique way of grieving. There is no “right” way to grieve.

If you are distressed or having suicidal thoughts or urges, please tell someone (parent, sibling, teammate, coach, athletic trainer, physician, psychologist, SASSO counselor, strength coach, faculty, dietitian, etc.) Telling someone is the first step to feeling better.

How do we take care of ourselves in times like this?

* Practice deep, belly breaths to decrease stress and help sleep

* Engage in your routine of class and practice if it feels helpful, or ask your coach about taking a break if you need rest. Exercise can be an effective coping strategy if you feel up for practice.

* Seek support from your team and family. It’s not morbid to talk about Kosta—those who were closer to him may wish to share stories about him. Try not to be alone for extended time periods these first few days.

* Try to get regular sleep and nutrition

* Talk to a counselor or spiritual advisor


Jen Carter, PhD and Steve Graef PhD, Sport Psychology 614-293-3600 (Your athletic trainer has our cell phone and direct office numbers)

Student Life Counseling & Consultation Service, 4th Floor Younkin, 614-292-5766 (CCS has “urgent” appointments available and students directly impacted by this tragedy will be prioritized for services)

CCS Self-Help for Grief

NCAA Videos