Many teams, both collegiate and professional, rely on sports psychologists, a growing field of research and for the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament, the pressure is on.
That pressure can affect a player mentally. One of the experts in the field, Dr. Barbara Meyer, works at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a professor of sports psychology at UWM, and helps athletes around the world to overcome mental obstacles affecting their game.
"It's not unusual that we will get an athlete who says 'look the thing that's keeping me or preventing me from getting from where I am now to the next level is my brain," Meyer said.
She has worked with "household name" Olympians as well as many NHL players. For ethical reasons, she can't discuss who consults her for help.
"Instead of thinking about for example 'don't screw this up' or 'what are my Twitter followers going to say if I don't have a good game,' we try to get them to fill that brain space with things that are going to help their performance," Meyer said.
One of her former athletes, Holly Tamm, went on to study the field of sports psychology in grad school. But she started working with Meyer during undergrad.
"My junior year, we made it to the NCAA tournament," said Tamm, who played women's basketball at UWM.
She said her team improved tremendously because they worked with Meyer.
"There is a lot of pressure," she said. "You know we were having a good year so the bar just keeps raising and raising. We internalize the pressure a lot on ourselves to do well and she just kind of helped us work through it."
Meyer said the key is consistency. Same routines and keeping the same mindset in practice and games. She even analyzes how social media may be affecting a player's mind. Some athletes, she says, need a total media blackout to focus.
"There are other athletes who get energy and get motivation and the appropriate type of focus off of that social media engagement," Meyer said.
She also says more teams are starting to employ sports psychologists in the draft process. Meyer says at that level, everyone has physical talent, but it's how players react mentally to situations that may set them apart.
"We really take the idea that our brain is a muscle that we can develop," she said. "We're going to have thoughts, I can't tell you to clear your mind...we appreciate that you're going to fill your brain with something. The goal is to fill the brain with thoughts that are going to enhance your performance."
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