Issaquah sports shrink talks a good game
March 29, 2011
By Laura Geggel
Mike Margolies always tells his audience that he was a very good, unsuccessful athlete.
“I had the physical tools, but I didn’t understand the mental side of the game,” he said. “I didn’t understand that my thoughts contributed to how I performed on the field. I didn’t understand there were things I could do to help me focus better.”
No matter at what level an athlete is playing — from Little League baseball to the Olympics — the field of sports psychology can help players channel the pressure of their sport into a positive force.
“I’ve worked with athletes who have won world championships, gone on to play professional sports,” Margolies said. “The difference between them and someone who has an equal level of tools is how they deal with adversity, how they deal with the stress of the game, how they plan and prepare for the game.”
‘More focused, ready to play’
Haliey Richmond, a sophomore at Ballard High School, plays for a soccer team coached by Margolies. She recently began taking sports psychology sessions with him, and its effects are already helping her game, she said. The two review how she felt and acted during previous games. Then, they’ll visualize the next game and give Richmond scenarios for what might happen on the turf.
“I feel a lot more focused and ready to play when the games come,” she said.
Using his sports psychology background, Margolies, of Issaquah, primarily works with high school athletes, but he has a wider audience — one he can’t even see and who listens to his every word on Toginet radio.
Margolies started broadcasting his radio show, “The Athlete Within You,” Feb. 7. Every Monday, he talks to athletes from a range of sports, including baseball, soccer, track and roller-skating derbies. Instead of asking athletes to wax on about their careers, Margolies focuses on the steps they took to achieve success.
Bobby Howe, a soccer coach who has helped coach teams, such as the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders, volunteered as Margolies’ first guest on the show.
“I thought it was terrific,” Howe said. “For me, he looked at my background, he looked at my views on player development, especially the younger players, and also looked at my view on coach education.”
Howe called Margolies’ interview style thoughtful and well rounded.
“I like the way he tries to look at your past to determine what makes you tick,” he said.
A history of sports
Margolies relationship with sports is one that has lasted his whole life. He started playing baseball at age 5. Between then and college, he played basketball and football, and made his football debut as a freshman at California State University in Los Angeles.
He had played football casually with friends, but not for his school team. Even so, he went to tryouts and played as the No. 2 wide receiver. He could play physically, but didn’t have the mental tools or confidence to take it to the next level, he said, adding his coach spent more time yelling instead of giving advice for how to succeed.
He transferred to Humboldt State University his sophomore year. When he approached the football coach about playing, the coach asked if he had played in high school. Margolies said no, and tried to say he had played for a Division I university, but the coach cut him off.
“He never let me get the next words out,” Margolies said.
Now, he suspects his appearance — it was the 1970s and Margolies had long hair and a beard — might have turned off the coach.
“Instead of saying, ‘This is what I really want to do — I’ll cut my hair, my beard — and that I really want to play,’ I said a few words and left,” he said.
The rejection was a mixed blessing. Margolies took up soccer and played until he graduated. Sports were his passion, so he went to the University of Denver to earn his master’s degree in sports science. In Denver, he worked with his professors, coaching world-class athletes for the Tour de France, the National Football League and the Olympics.
From good to elite
As a sport psychologist and founder of Sports Psychology Consultants, he teaches athletes how to play their best. Visualization is a main component, he said.
One athlete he worked with was training for the discus event in the 1980 Olympics — an event the United States ended up boycotting because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The athlete could throw the discus 140 feet when Margolies met him. He improved a few feet, but then one day he called Margolies to say he had thrown it 177 feet.
“That morning when he went through his imagery rehearsal, he noticed his hand was at the wrong angle,” Margolies said. “That afternoon when he went to practice, he made the adjustment.
“That really put him into that elite world class,” he said.
Margolies fills the airwaves with stories like that one, showing how athletes can improve their craft through sports psychology.
“I didn’t get the chance because I gave up on myself,” he said. “So if I can help kids in any sport get closer to what their real potential is by them using their mind, then I think I’ve done something.”
On the Web
Listen to Mike Margolies’ radio show ‘The Athlete Within You’ from 6-7 p.m. every Monday at www.themental-game.com.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.