Sports Psychology

Mental Fitness is the Name of the Game for Ken Ravizza

By Susan Katsaros
The following Q&A was published in the May 9, 2002 issue of Dateline.

Stress management is a big part of Kenneth Ravizza’s game plan. The professor of kinesiology and health promotion not only teaches courses related to the subject, he puts his knowledge into “practice” as a sport psychology consultant to several U.S. Olympic teams, the Anaheim Angels and collegiate teams, including the Titans.A member of the campus community since 1977, Ravizza is most interested in why people play sports, compete in games and perform dances… what meaning does physical activity have when we have so little time?

Q.        What courses do you regularly teach at Cal State Fullerton?
A.        I teach stress management, applied sports psychology and the philosophical and historic perspective of human movement. I also serve as an adviser to undergraduate and graduate students of applied sports psychology.

Q.        Were there a lot of people in the field of sports psychology when you first arrived on campus?
A.        When I first arrived at Cal State Fullerton, I was the lone missionary in promoting sports psychology. Early on there was a stigma associated with sports psychology. It was thought of more like “you’re seeing a shrink and you’re messed up.” I’ve approached sports psychology from an educational approach, where I provide information, skills, developmental support and refining skills.

Q.        When did you first begin working with Cal State Fullerton teams?
A.        I first began working with the men’s gymnastics team in 1978. I began working with the men’s baseball team in 1979. Since 1999, I have served as a consultant for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as a consultant for Olympic teams in gymnastics, water polo, baseball, softball and ice skating. I’ve also served from 1985-1999, as the Anaheim Angels consultant. Additionally, I’ve consulted at Harvard, Cal Tech and University of Washington.

Q.        How involved were you with the Olympics?
A.        The United States Olympic movement has been very supportive of sport psychology. In 1996, I was involved with both baseball and water polo. In 1984, I worked with the baseball team.Most recently, with the games in Australia, I was involved up until the time the softball and water polo teams left. Additionally, I have been involved in the last three winter games prior to 2002. Most especially with Cal State Fullerton notables Todd Sand and Jeni Meno.

Q.        What does it mean to be an athlete?
A.        An athlete has to stand naked before the gods. An athlete, musician, theater performer – all feel anxiety on the same level. There isn’t a computer game with a start-over button.

Q.        What does it mean to be a sports psychologist?
A.        I work in the area of sports psychology – the mental game or aspect of playing sports. I develop pre-performance routines so they are consistent in their approach. For example, bowlers might want to have a routine that they go through so that when they go to the line they are ready to focus. If the sport is baseball, pre-performance begins with putting on the helmet and glove before even coming to the plate and hitting. Another aspect that we focus on in sports psychology is the fear of injury. It is important to acknowledge injury and to put it on the table. There is a fear of injury but you have to deal with it and stay focused on the game.

Q.        In providing assistance to both male and female teams, have you noticed a difference when it comes to how they approach a sport?
A.        When I’ve consulted with female teams, there seems to be a different approach to the sport, in terms of [athletes having] more concern for fellow teammates and more common dialogue among the athletes. The guys seem to be more interested in their personal performance.

Q.        What is the difference between a college baseball player and a professional ball player?
A.        Well, obviously the money and the environment of fans, television and other distractions. But when it comes down to it, the game is the same and both are at the top of their performance. So for the professional athlete, it is a mental game – how they respond, or don’t respond to their environment. How well they focus on the game, how they react to situations and the consequences of those actions.

Q.        Are athletes pretty much the same?
A.        Each athlete is unique and you have to respect their specialness.
What has been interesting for me is the fact that I recently had some gymnasts I worked with more than 15 years ago come back and speak to one of my classes. They all mentioned that they use the techniques I taught them in their everyday lives. These skills help them mentally prepare.

Q.        Are there any student athletes who stand out in your mind?
A.        In the area of baseball, I’d say Mark Kotsay [with the Oakland Athletes since 2004] and Brian Lloyd, as well as Brett Hemphill, Gary Buckels and Missy Coombs.

Q.        Are there any coaches who stand out in your mind during your tenure at Cal State Fullerton?
A.        Over the years I have had the opportunity to learn from many of the coaches at Cal State Fullerton, like baseball coach George Horton and softball coach Michelle Gromacki, as well as former coaches Augie Garrido, Judy Garman and Dick Wolf.

Q.        Have you noticed a change since you first began working in this field?
A.        Today’s environment is centered towards the athlete as a person, rather than just an athlete with athletic prowess. Also, coaches have to be good communicators and build good relationships.

Q.        Do you have any projects underway?
A.        I am working on a book on softball, as well as a video for players and coaches, which deal with the mental game. The video is geared on how to work more effectively with children. Previously, I authored Heads Up Baseball, which was published in 1995 by McGraw Hill. I also co-authored Consulting Excellence in Sports that was published by Excel Press.

Q.        Can you offer any stress tips?
A.        Take responsibility for your actions. When you make choices you then have to be responsible for the choices you make. As an athlete, you don’t have control over what goes on around you, but you do have control of how you choose to respond. At the professional level, the game becomes even more mental as athletes deal with the uncontrollable.


Ken Ravizza
Ken Ravizza