By Madisen Carter
Sports Psychology Consultant, Performance Coach and Author, Kathy Toon, has made it one of her missions to help young athletes not only thrive physically and mentally in their game, but also emotionally. Toon is the founder of GlamSlamTennis, the author of the book Get Your Game Face On! and also coached tennis at the University of California, Berkeley for 14 years. She coached three NCAA Champions in doubles and earned the National Coach of the Year Honors.
Toon played tennis growing up, and she said that the mental game got in her way as she lacked what they called “the killer instinct.” She did not want to accept that an athlete either has the killer instinct, or they do not. She went on a quest and built her academic background around sports performance and how one can work on having that killer instinct.
She received her undergraduate degree in Sports Medicine and Nutrition at Pepperdine University where she also played tennis. She then went on to San Diego State to receive a Masters Degree in Sports Psychology.
Everything Toon learned was from her mentor, the world-renowned performance psychologist, Dr Jim Leohr. Toon said one of his breakthroughs was his study on what separates the top 50 tennis players in the world from the next group, and what he noticed was the difference in the players was what they did in between points and how they reacted. Toon explained that it was all about reaction control. When there is a moment where the action stops, whether that is a blown whistle, a buzzer, or a point is scored, there is a 1-3 second window of how an athlete will react and how they will manage their emotions.
“In teaching all of this is what I learned is [that] we look at our performance triangle. Emotion sits at the top because it's not really the mental game, it's the emotional game,” Toon said. “I work with really high level physically talented athletes. If they're not in the right emotional state on match day or game day, it doesn't matter how good they are physically.”
At the bottom two corners of triangle are what an athlete does mentally and physically. Toon says the physical aspect is one thing that is easy to control. That involves how an athlete talks, their posture, nutrition, sleep, etc. The mental side involves what an athlete thinks and visualizes. If an athlete is thinking positive things, they will have good upright posture and have a positive emotion on their face versus if they are having bad thoughts they will have be slouched with a negative emotion on their face.
Toon explained that when an athlete has positive emotions that is when they are on what she calls “the High Road.” How athletes, coaches and parents can learn what the High Road is by listening to how top athletes talk and how they carry themselves. Toon continued to stress how important managing emotions is to anybody, not just athletes.
“Sports, academics, public speaking, in the operating room, or wherever, you have to know how to manage your emotions. No matter what happens in front of you, stay in that performance state. Deal with the other stuff later, but you can't just all of a sudden fall apart,” Toon said.
As a sports psychologist consultant, Toon works with Cal’s women’s basketball, field hockey, golf, and lacrosse teams as well as the men’s soccer team. She also works with other clients such as Marin Academy, Riekes Center and Menlo High School. When asked what her favorite part of her job is, she answered:
“Seeing the kids realize that they can do something about being nervous, being anxious, or dealing with their anger. It's not a life sentence, you're not stuck with that forever,” Toon said. “It's learnable, it's trainable. The younger we start, the easier it is, so I think that just watching them, even if they didn't reach their ultimate goal, [that] they got a lot closer because they were able to learn how to manage that stuff, that's a win for me.”