New sports psychology center works with athletes, teams

Santa Barbara's Sports Psychology and Research Center opened earlier in 2011.

Although most athletes will agree that mental factors (such as attention, motivation, concentration, and drive) play a large role in sport performance, few athletes incorporate mental training into their preparation. However, peak performance is a combination of physical preparation, skills development, nutrition, rest, and psychological preparation.

The work of Dr. Steve Smith and the Sport Psychology and Research Center (SPaRC) of Santa Barbara is designed to help athletes with the mental side of their sport.

Dr. Smith is a licensed clinical psychologist (PSY20096) who received his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas before completing an internship and postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He is an associate professor of clinical psychology at UCSB and the consulting psychologist to the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. He is also an active competitive cyclist who races throughout the state and nationally. He opened SPaRC earlier this year to meet the needs of community athletes of all ages and abilities.

Dr. Smith makes use of the most empirically-supported methods and techniques to help athletes in their mental training. Because there is a complex interplay between an athlete, a sport, and a given level of competition, the work varies between helping athletes make split-second decisions and, more broadly, helping athletes understand and appreciate the role of sports in their changing lives. He has worked with competitive triathletes, runners, swimmers, soccer players, golfers, martial artists, tennis players, volleyball players, and water polo players. These athletes have ranged in skill level from beginner, to age grouper, to high school athlete, to Olympic hopeful, to professional. In all cases, Dr. Smith collects data on the mental practices of his clients so that each intervention can be tailored to that athlete’s particular needs. Furthermore, he maintains close relationships with several trainers, coaches, and physical therapists in town so that, if needed, a more holistic approach to athlete training is achieved.

Dr. Smith works with athletes of all ages and abilities who:
– Wish to improve their performance through mental skills training
– Are preparing for a peak event and desire a mental edge
– Have the tendency to choke under pressure
– Have experienced a decrease in performance
– Are not performing to their potential
– Have experienced a setback due to injury or illness
– Have experienced a loss of motivation, direction, or confidence
– Struggle with issues of depression and/or anxiety

As a classically-trained clinical child psychologist, Dr. Smith has extensive experience working with young people and their parents. The needs of a child or adolescent athlete are different as are the demands of their parents. We have all seen how caustic “sideline coaching” from parents can be, so Dr. Smith can help parents be supportive and encouraging without increasing undue pressure or creating unrealistic expectations. Likewise, his work with younger athletes helps them balance the demands of school, friends, and athletics so that they can perform their best and advance in their sporting careers.

Because team dynamics are important to success in teach sports, Dr. Smith often works with entire teams to help increase cooperation, trust, motivation, and communication. Without an atmosphere of shared vision, teams are unable to cooperate and give selflessly during the heat of a game. Dr. Smith’s work can help to facilitate this level of communication, relaxation, and team poise.

Finally, Dr. Smith’s group motivational presentations and workshops have been favorably received and described as both “inspirational” and “fun.” He has given presentation to athletic clubs, camps, charity-athlete organizations, and Division I sports teams. These can be customized for the needs and interests of the group.

Later this month, Dr. Smith will be starting a 5-week mental training clinic for high school athletes. Please contact him for details and to reserve space. For more information, please email Dr. Smith at or visit his website ( or Facebook page (