Mental Training camp gives athletes extra edge _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--Sam Hurrell (8) of the New Orleans Jesters kicks the ball away from Warren Ukah (9) of the Georgia Revolution as they play at Pan American Stadium in New Orleans, La. Friday, June 6, 2014.

Athletes go to great lengths to get an edge on their opponents.

They train for countless hours. They alter their diets, and they constantly sacrifice to hone their skills.

But sometimes, even all that isn’t enough. That’s when many focus on the mental game to complement the physical work required to play sports at the highest level.

One way to do that is to employ a sports psychologist. And as many coaches and players testify, the benefits are evident.

Take Ryan Lazaroe, for example. Lazaroe is the assistant coach of the New Orleans Jesters soccer team. He’s the head coach of the Northshore High School boys team and somehow, he finds time to be the Director of Coaching at the Slidell Youth Soccer Club. So he’s seen a lot of play on various levels of competition.

Lazaroe said sports psychology has been a part of just about every stop he’s made on the professional level. Now, he said, it’s found its way to the prep scene.

Lazaroe had local sports psychologist De’Jeune’ Green talk with his Northshore players last season and the Panthers enjoyed one of their best campaigns in recent memory, Lazaroe said. And on an information sheet promoting a series of “Mental Training Mini Camps” she’s holding this summer, Slidell football coach Larry Favre praises Green and the benefits of her Mental Training camp.

Lazaroe said prep coaches finally are waking up to the idea that those extra steps can provide an edge.

“The Olympic Development Program had a sports psychologist come out and talk with the kids,” he said. “It’s more widely seen now. For instance, the U20 National Team had mental sports training every day as a team and individually. The Liverpool team overseas, they recently had their best season since about 1990. They said the season was a direct result of sports psychology.”

Lazaroe said it wasn’t long ago that the notion of sports psychology was widely dismissed in prep sports.

“The principles of the game haven’t changed, but the methodology has,” he said. “There is a new way of doing this or that. Ten years ago, if you asked a coach what sports psychology was, they’d say it was working with a shrink.”

Not quite, Green said. What she and other sports psychologists do is teach athletes how to apply skills that accentuate their physical gifts. That requires drills that highlight focus, stress management, dealing with adversity, goal setting, and more.

At the Mental Training camp on Saturday, Green will put campers through similar situations. One drill is much like a “check down” in football. Campers will get five seconds to memorize a series of different-colored shapes (red triangle, green square, etc.). Then, they will have to quickly recall what they saw and in which position the shape were located.

“It simulates reading an offense or defense,” Green said. “That’s something you have to do fast, and you have to focus to do it.”

Green, 27, graduated from LSU, where she majored in psychology and minored in sociology. She got her masters’ degree at Florida State.

Green works with all kinds of clients, and not necessarily athletes. Just a few weeks ago, she held a Mental Training session for a group of financial advisers.

“We talked about how to manage time and their abilities,” she said. “This is very transferable (between all kinds of people.)”

Lazaroe agreed.

“You have to have an open mind, but you can see the benefits if you do,” Lazaroe said. “Times have changed, sure. How many times have you heard a coach say ‘Rub some dirt on it?’ Players want and need to know how to do that. Folks like De’Jeune’ can get in their minds and help them make the right steps.”