“I like meeting with different athletes and hearing their stories, seeing what their goals are and figuring out how I could be a small piece of that.”
Lisa Hoffart, shifts an athlete’s focus from physical to mental.
Playing sports with her father led Lisa Hoffart to approach sports in a different way.
“I’d often go out and play with my dad, whether it was catch or shooting hoops, and he tended to emphasise the more integrated approach,” said Hoffart, a mental training consultant with the Sport Medicine & Science Council of Saskatchewan (SMSCS). “He would say, ‘Ok, visualize yourself doing this before you take a shot.’ He liked doing research about sports. He knew about sports psychology.”
Many athletes focus mainly on the physical elements required to be competitive, like training or practicing. Like father, like daughter, however, Hoffart was interested in studying the mental approach to competition. She did her undergraduate studies in Calgary and received her Master’s degree in Ottawa. She moved to Regina and began working with the SMSCS, which she has held for five years and counting.
She has learned that shifting an athlete’s focus from physical to mental is a completely unique process.
“A lot of it involves changing thought patterns — changing how they’re thinking, which is hard,” Hoffart said. “It’s creating a whole new habit, creating something totally new that they need to be practicing and working on.”
When Hoffart meets with an athlete, she helps them develop a plan.
“For alpine skiing, for example, they’re going very fast. There’s a speed factor, a risk factor in there, so you have to think about how does that risk psychologically impact them? Is there a fear aspect?” said Hoffart.
“In an endurance sport, whether it’s speed skating, running, some of those kinds of things, it’s going to be the fatigue during the middle of a race that they have to deal with. That’s part of their sport that they have to wrap their head around and how they’re going to process that.”
If an athlete is trying to come back from an injury, Hoffart said it puts a mental strain on them.
“What happens is typically after you’ve been injured and you’re starting to come back, you might be worried that it’s going to happen again,” she said. “So that does two things. It’s going to first of all make your muscles tight and make you tense because you’re stressing about it. Then your muscles aren’t relaxed and you’re not going to be able to perform properly. So you’re increasing your risk of injury again right there. Then second, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re saying, ‘I hope I don’t crash. I hope I don’t injure myself again.’ And that switches your mental process away from what works for you and again increases the risk of that happening again.”
Hoffart is excited to continue learning more about the mental aspects of sports. She’s working on obtaining her Master’s in counseling psychology. Then, she’ll be able to register as a psychologist. It will allow to her to be even more effective in her dream job.
“I like meeting with different athletes and hearing their stories, seeing what their goals are and figuring out how I could be a small piece of that,” said Hoffart. “So being able to see how I can help them, but then also seeing them come back hearing them say, ‘Ok. I’m doing this now and it’s awesome.’ And whether it’s sport or not, to see them make that progress and take those steps is amazing.”
Hoffart has noticed that athletes who embrace the mental side of sports benefit in their everyday life.
“I think one of the biggest things is they learn to deal with distractions and deal with challenges. When things don’t go well, figuring out how you can try again next time, how you can come back. A big part of that is the idea of resiliency. That’s a big idea athletes learn when things in sport don’t go their way, and it translates to real life.”