Home » Win the Game of Life with Sport Psychology: Jonathan Fader (Transcript)

Win the Game of Life with Sport Psychology: Jonathan Fader (Transcript)

Full text of psychologist Jonathan Fader’s talk: Win the Game of Life with Sport Psychology at TEDxRutgers conference. In this talk, he shows how to use the techniques of sport and performance psychology to win at life.


Dr. Jonathan Fader – Sport, Performance and Clinical psychologist.

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me here today.

So it’s a little strange up here. You’re on, like on the spot literally, and it’s really natural in that moment on the spot to feel your heart race, to have your thoughts go wild. It’s really natural to feel that pressure, the pressure to deliver an idea worth spreading so natural.

But I’ve got a confession to make. I’m not actually that nervous. I’m going to tell you a secret about why.

You see I’m a sport and performance psychologist. I should be able to do this. In fact, I’ve spent the past 15 years, basically my whole career working with high professional high level athletes in the NFL and MLB, with the fire department in New York City.

But today, I have a really special opportunity. I have the chance to share these techniques, ones that helped me with you here today.

But first, just a little bit about what it’s like to be a sports psychologist – working in the NFL, working with MLB:

It’s been an amazing pleasure and it’s been just so fascinating and honor to work with these high performance athletes, but it’s also been really humbling and it’s also been stressful.

We stress out about things. Like, for example, when I went with the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series, I can remember sitting there on the sideline really feeling like I should just be there in the moment, but I was distracted. I was worrying:

What’s going to come next? Are we going to win? Are we going to move on? Are we going to advance? What’s going to happen to the players that I care about here?

We all worry. We get in our heads in a lot, right?

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If you worry about things, relationships, the climate, the political state, your life… If you worry, let me hear you say ‘I do’. It’s natural to be human, but there are things that you can do to get better at dealing with those thoughts in our heads.

And I’m going to teach you how athletes do it today.

But first we have one task and that’s really to understand the nature of being human all here together. So in order to do that, I need to go on a little ride with you guys. If you’re ready, let me hear you say “I’m ready”.

All right, everybody stand up. Yep. You’re in the right place. Ready? Here we go. If you’re ready to feel what it’s like to be a human, I want to hear you say ‘dance’.


Let’s go. Come on. Let’s go.

You want to continue? I love it. All right, everybody just give me a second. Everybody, you can take your seats. It’s hard to see with the lights, but I was able to see three well-known dances. Here they are:

The full commitment. (Does dance gestures) You guys are ready for Saturday night.

But then there was this other dance. It was like the, does this count? Does this count?

And then there’s a third dance, the most famous dance of all the one we’re doing all day long. Every day, everyone in here is doing it. It’s this:

Am I being judged right now? Who’s watching me? Am I good enough? I’m in my head right now.

Natural, it’s natural to be that way. As humans, our central nervous system developed to be that way. As we were evolving over 600,000 years, we had to notice one thing: the predator, the tiger, the lion, that’s how we had to notice the negative thing. We had to notice it, or we wouldn’t survive. We wouldn’t evolve.

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But as a high performance athlete and yes, you and me up here on this Red Ted dot, we have to learn ways of dealing with the fact that we’re always in our heads, always worried about what’s going to come. Always worried about what’s to be.

And I’m going to teach you some of those ways. We’re going to talk about it together, but first:

How do athletes condition themselves?

Well, we know about how they condition itself. They do things like jump rope, right? Physical conditioning, they lift weights. Certainly they do that. But over the past 15 to 20 years, there’s a new field that’s developing mental conditioning.

This is squats, but it’s for your soul.

These are curls, but it’s for your brain.

So the things that we do with athletes are things like mental rehearsal, imagery, to rehearse what you’re going to do before you get there in your mind. Super effective, researches show.

Also we help people to get in touch with their internal motivation, their why, and to remind themselves of that.

We help athletes to talk to themselves in an adaptive way; self-talk. And we also focus on our breath and on breathing.

But you can’t go to the gym to do this kind of work. In fact, there’s no weight that you can actually pick up to do this kind of work.

In fact, there’s one weight you must put down to really do this work well, it’s this one, you got to put it down. This is actually my phone. And to remind myself, to get into the moment; to be in the moment, I have this word (moment) on my phone because I need a reminder I’m human too. I forget.

I get caught up in worry; caught up in thoughts about what’s going to happen with this talk… What’s going to happen in my life, in my relationships? And most of us in this room can certainly relate to that feeling.

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So it’s about paying attention to the moment. So how do you do that?

How do you pay attention to the moment?

I want to tell you a story about how I learned it the first time I paid too much attention to the moment. These right here are my hippie parents. Yeah! Give it up for my hippy parents. I love them so much.

And one time I think about hippy parents, you see is they’re not that great at locking their bedroom door. So I go over to the bedroom door. I’m like seven or eight. And I open the bedroom door and I walk in on them. They’re there, they’re breathing. They’re meditating. And it starred me.

I mean, I wanted to put that away. My parents were weird, right? They’re so weird. They’re doing this thing. This mindfulness meditation. It’s so strange. I don’t want to tell anyone about it. No one. I want to hide it away. Hide it away, never tell anyone.

Until about 15 years later, I’m going to the university of Washington to get my doctorate in psychology. And I get there and I meet these luminaries; these professors in the field of psychology. And I go to this faculty meeting as a graduate student.

And I go and I open the door seeking to see the people that are going to teach me everything about performance, about managing stress, about psychology. And I open the door and they’re meditating.

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