Doubts and fears are performance hurdles that even the strongest, most mentally-tough athletes experience from time to time. However, the difference between those who overcome these doubts and fears and those who succumb to them is proper mental training.

Dr. Michelle Cleere has dedicated her life to helping athletes build the necessary skills to overcome doubts, fears, and negative self-talk. Growing up as an athlete, Dr. Cleere noticed a gap in her own training, which inspired her to help others overcome their performance hurdles and reach their maximum potential.

After dabbling in the Recreation and Leisure field, Dr. Cleere opted to try something new. After some research, she found the Sports Psychology Master’s program at John F. Kennedy University. “I thought, ‘Wow, psychology and sports. I can’t imagine there’s anything better than that.’ I got my master’s degree and my PhD in Clinical Psychology, and here I am,” she said.

Today, Dr. Cleere has established her own private practice as an elite performance expert, helping top-athletes, musicians, and executives to unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best in their field. She has also written books, delivers speeches across the country, and has even developed a course that equips tennis players to conquer their inner demons.

On December 14, Dr. Cleere will be teaching her specialty course at the WTCA Naples Summit. First introduced with the PTR as ‘Beating the Tennis Demons,’ she will be tailoring the course specifically to coaches of female athletes, rebranding it as ‘Be a Mastery Coach.’

“The course really been about helping tennis players to strengthen those mental areas where the demons can pop in and sabotage a player’s game – nerves before a match, thinking too much before a serve, getting critical and beating yourself up between points, focusing on the score,” Dr. Cleere explained. “Post-match, it’s about not just evaluating performance on wins and losses, but finding other metrics for evaluating performance. Obviously, one person wins and one person loses. If you’re always evaluating your performance based on wins and losses, you’re going to be in trouble.”

After completing the course, coaches of female players will gain a true understanding of how they can help their athlete strengthen their tennis game on the mental side, a component that is often forgotten throughout the grind of physical training.

“We know that it’s really hard to do anything outside of the physical training because there’s just not a lot of time,” said Dr. Cleere. “But coaches know that the mental component is so important, and there’s so many that want to incorporate it. So, I’ve made this course simplistic enough where coaches can really, really incorporate small elements of it into their training without taking away from the physical component.”

Not only is it often difficult for athletes to find the time to incorporate mental training into their schedules, but they can also be reluctant to seek help in this area in the first place. Dr. Cleere understands this hesitancy and wants athletes to understand that mental training is not as daunting as they might think.

“I spend a lot of time building relationships with tennis players,” she said. “I spend a lot of time talking to them like they’re people because they don’t often get talked to like they’re people, and they don’t get someone who will truly listen to them.”

Dr. Cleere also utilizes a unique philosophy to make athletes more comfortable with opening up about their own struggles. “I really come from a model of developing skills versus fixing someone. Even though I have a degree in Clinical Psychology, my work is more about giving players the skills they don’t have, or strengthening ones they already have. I don’t say, ‘I need to fix you because you’re broken,’” she explained.

Just because an athlete struggles with the mental component of performance does not mean that something is wrong with them. Just as tennis players need to hone their technical skills, they must also practice building mental toughness. “Tennis players have a physical coach that helps them with all the physical components. I’m just the head coach, and I help them with all the mental components. Then they can put their head and body together, and they’ll align and work together more optimally so that athletes can perform at their best,” said Dr. Cleere.

Throughout her work, Dr. Cleere has noticed subtle differences between males and females in terms of mental training, which is why she has developed her course specifically for the coaches of girls and women. “Female players tend to want a little bit more support, a little bit more guidance. They need to feel like they’re a part of the process. They want someone to get them and understand them. They want to know that you have their best interests at heart,” she explained.

At the completion of this course, Dr. Cleere wholeheartedly believes that coaches will not only be better equipped to aid their athletes with the mental component of training, but also to recognize when they are experiencing mental roadblocks.

“Everything that’s going on physically has a mental component. It’s just a manifestation of whatever is going on mentally. The first step is to recognize it, the second step is for coaches to reach out and ask questions. The last step is to come to one of these presentations and gain information so that you can have a better sense of what is going on with your player,” said Dr. Cleere.

After all, mental training is simply an extension of a player’s tennis game. Therefore, coaches must be properly equipped to help their athletes succeed in this area. “In a match, players really fall apart mentally, they don’t fall about physically. The physical part is a manifestation of the mental part,” said Dr. Cleere “By practicing the physical and mental skills together in training and translating them into the match, that makes a huge, huge difference.”

Both coaches and players are constantly looking to gain an edge over their competitors. Perhaps the best way to gain that edge is an simple as being mindful of the mental component of training.