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


Four Tips to Manage ANGER

Have you ever felt the urge to hurl your golf club into the water hazard? Scream obscenities at opponents? Call yourself an idiot for making a mistake?

Managing anger is a challenge for all athletes. Here are four strategies to manage your anger most effectively:

Emo_boy_03_in_rage1)    Learn the difference between anger (the feeling) and aggression (the behavior). We often lump these together but they are indeed different.

–Anger is a healthy, human emotion we all experience (whether or not we’re aware of it). People describe anger as tightening in the chest, pounding heartbeat, flushed face, muscular tension, trembling, and/or racing thoughts. Anger can help by energizing and signaling a time to assert our rights.

–Aggression is a behavior that’s not healthy. Screaming, throwing things, acting violently—these behaviors serve only to increase anger, not diffuse it, and may cause serious harm to others.

2)    BREATHE. Deep breaths are simple yet powerful. However, we often forget to use them when we need them most. What do you notice about your breath right now? If you’re angry or anxious, your breath is likely shallow and quick. To practice diaphragmatic or belly breaths, inhale through your nose and let the breath travel deep into the pit of your belly. Push your belly out with air. Exhale completely through your mouth. Rinse and repeat. Let your breaths gently become slower and deeper.

3)    Challenge your thoughts. Is it true someone can “make” you get angry? NO. We are responsible for our own emotions and reactions. Other negative interpretations include “He’s trying to get to me” or “Nobody understands” or “I just blew the game”. Seek the facts and avoid jumping to conclusions. Athletes can use “trigger words”: words or phrases about the task at hand that are under their control, like “Quick and loose”, “Eye on the ball”, “Stay low”, “Do my best”, etc.

4)    Communicate directly. Tell someone what you want or don’t want: “I want to stop arguing” or “I don’t want to disrespect you.” We’re more likely to reach our goals when we state them clearly. Did you know that simply labeling an emotion (e.g. “I’m angry”) can decrease its intensity? Instead of “You’re purposely ticking me off,” say “I’m angry when you leave your stuff by the front door.”

What strategies work best for managing YOUR anger?