South Park Magazine

Get in the game

Travis Meyer was in a slump. Despite practicing up to eight hours nearly every day, his golf game had been suffering for months. Meyer, 27, was ecstatic when he turned pro in 2008, and he had some decent results in various tournaments, including Carolinas Pro Golf Tour and the eGolf Professional Tour.

But then he hit a brick wall.

“I was at a point where I wasn’t being successful,” says Meyer, who lives in Charlotte. “I wasn’t improving the way I needed to.”

Looking for advice, Meyer turned to one of his coaches, who suggested he go see Shaun Tyrance, a licensed therapist at Southeast Psych in Charlotte who specializes in sports psychology. Meyer started seeing Tyrance every couple of weeks, and one of the key strategies they worked on was developing specific routines and patterns that he could implement on the course. Meyer says that before going to see Tyrance, if he missed a putt or flubbed a drive, he would fume and fixate on the mistake, which would further wreck his game. But with the help of Tyrance, Meyer incorporated pre- and post-shot routines into his game. “I focused on my next shot rather than think about the last one, regardless of whether it was good or bad. By learning to let that go, I was able to concentrate and plan on what I had to do next.” Creating a routine helped him develop a sense of control over his game, says Meyer, which in turn helped him relax and perform better, especially when he was under pressure. Meyer says he’s been seeing Tyrance for about a year, and his game has improved dramatically. This summer he made it through the pre-qualifications at the Wells Fargo Championship, which is for golfers who are not members of the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour, or Champions Tour. Although he didn’t make it past the next qualifying round, he says it was still a big accomplishment. “It was a big deal for me,” he says. “I beat some PGA professionals who had won some big events. My game has become far more consistent. I’m better now than I ever have been in my life, and most of that is due to the fact that I’ve done the work on the mental part of my game.” When it comes to professional sports, the mental aspect is a key ingredient to success and achievement, says Tyrance. “At that level, most athletes have done all the work in the gym and on the practice field, but they struggle because of what’s going on upstairs.” To help athletes who are struggling, Tyrance founded Mind Over Body, Southeast Psych's sports psychology division early this year. Tyrance, who serves as director, says Mind Over Body uses four doctors who all have sports backgrounds to help athletes maximize their potential. In addition to being an athlete himself – Tyrance was a four-year varsity letter winner in football at Davidson College, where he played quarterback – he’s worked as a sports psychology consultant for dozens of institutions, including University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, USA Track and Field, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Tyrance also worked as the sports psychology consultant at Chip Ganassi Racing of NASCAR in 2006 and 2007. During this time, Tyrance helped both drivers and pit crew members perform at their best. One of the athletes he counseled was Doug Riepe, a front tire carrier with Sprint Cup driver Jamie McMurray. Riepe says he worked with Tyrance both individually and as part of a group. “We would meet on a weekly basis, and do team-building exercises and go over visualization techniques and deep-breathing exercises to help us focus and handle stress.” Working as a tire carrier is physically demanding and challenging, says Riepe, and he and the other pit crew members often perform in front of more than 100,000 rowdy fans. “It’s bigger than the Super Bowl,” he says. “There’s a lot of pressure, and sometimes you go through slumps and your confidence might lag. But Tyrance helped me stay focused and relaxed, which improved my performance when it counted most.” Nyaka NiiLampti, a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych and a member of Mind Over Body, says that a crucial part of her counseling methodology is to stress the connection between mental and physical health, which many athletes fail to recognize. She uses techniques like visualization and goal-setting to help athletes build confidence and overcome performance anxiety. “Most athletes spend a lot of time in the gym working on the physical component, and they don’t think about the mental aspect,” she says. “We try to educate athletes that a lot of what they do, especially at high levels, is about mental toughness. Those who succeed and remain healthy are usually the ones who are mentally prepared.” NiiLampti says struggling athletes need to identify and limit the distractions and influences in their lives that are getting in the way of their performance. “Many athletes have all these outside pressures, and they think they can just shut all that out when they hit the field, but it’s almost impossible to do that without specific skills.” Tyrance says the primary goal at Mind Over Body is to make sure clients perform well on and off the field. “We take a holistic approach,” he says. “We work with our clients in determining their goals, and then figure out what’s getting in the way of them achieving those goals.” Tyrance says each athlete’s obstacles are different, and they can range from performance anxiety to drugs, an eating disorder, depression or a chaotic personal relationship. Moreover, when a high-profile athlete makes a mistake, the whole world often hears about it, whereas when someone who works in an office setting has a bad day, usually just a handful of people know about it. “An athlete’s life can be so public, and any little mistake is often magnified,” says Tyrance. “Our job is to help them sift through what’s going on, pick out the big obstacles, and eliminate them.”