Impact Of Performance Psychology On Student Athletes

Get a glimpse into the high-performance world of IMG Academy. Originally founded by famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri to train elite tennis players, IMG Academy coaches and staff now train student-athletes, MVPs, Olympians, and professional athletes in nine sports. In this interview, IMG Academy’s Vice President of Performance David Hesse talks about how the school’s competitive, immersive academic and athletic programs  prepare student athletes ages 12 to 18 for top-tier performance technically, physically, and mentally.

The Future of Sport will be Heavily Influenced by the Growth of Sports Science.

Kinesiology, or the science of movement, is nothing new. The smallest community teams make it routine for the volunteer coach and the team members – whether collectively or individually – to spend time watching and analyzing footage of past games.

And many large global sports organizations like ESPN are largely based on the study, and fanatical appreciation, of sports and the athletes who play them.

But the formal, deliberate, universal application of fundamental sport science principles as a regular part of the training and development programs for elite pro athletes, collegiate athletes, and sub-collegiate athletes is what will rapidly evolve both sport and athleticism as we know it.

That much is evident even without VR, AR, AI, and wearables that are impacting professional sports today. Spend fifteen minutes watching an old pro basketball game from the 70s or 80s and you will quickly see that things have changed. Once the sport of tall, slim athletes who were quick on their feet and close to the rim, basketball has become a sport wherein players spend hours in the gym building muscle, extended off-season training and finding better ways to increase their speed towards executing their movements more precisely.

For consecutive years, Lebron James caused the Twittersphere to erupt when he announced his decision to go on a low-carb diet to cut body fat, and increase speed ahead of the 2016 season. Candid shots of him carrying tires, going hard in the gym, and working out what looked like a customized CrossFit training program allowed him almost single-handedly to validate the low-carb movement as safe and effective.

The growth of technology and psychology in sports promises to rapidly change sport for good.

“There are a growing number of high-profile NBA, Major League Baseball, and even NFL teams now employing a director of sports science, or high-performance director with a sports background,” says David Hesse, VP of Performance at IMG Academy. “IMG Academy employs a head of Sport Science. And we’re probably one of the first developmental path-way environments to do so in the US.”

IMG’s legendary immersive training camp and boarding school helps students harness their own raw athletic abilities. IMG’s mission is to transform kids into elite student-athletes. The facilities, formerly the site of the world-renowned Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, is in its fourth decade of existence and trains student-athletes as young as eight years old. But the IMG campus is also home to MVPs and world-class Olympians, in part because of IMG’s reputation for being able to leverage technology and sports psychology to build faster, stronger, smarter athletes.

While there are currently hundreds of Sport and Exercise Science programs in US colleges today, Sport Science is still a relatively new degree program for US schools. In contrast, colleges in the UK have had Sports Science degree programs for years, according to Hesse. Sports performance and sports science have become essential to the development of European athletes.

The rapid growth of sports technology also brings with it greater expectations for collegiate and sub-collegiate athletes. Sports science can help athletes develop safely at optimal levels because it allows trainers to create programs for athletes that are based on data, evidence and methodology.

Technology now makes it possible for IMG trainers to create custom training programs to strengthen athletes. The technology also provides trainers and coaches with the data needed to assess an athlete’s weakness to predict and prevent injury and increase athlete availability.

For Hesse, the IMG ecosystem is the perfect training ground for developing elite athletes. The 500-acre compound gives student-athletes the opportunity to focus on academic and athletic performance, undistracted.

“It’s like the old adage ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” Hesse says, referencing a quote that’s been attributed to organizational management expert Peter Drucker.

With environmental factors within IMG’s control, Hesse believes trainers and coaches should focus more on long-term player development in youth sports. Understanding the strategic, systematic approach to how athletes evolve psychologically, physically, and emotionally as well as the amount of work and stress you can put an athlete under at a certain age will help advance player performance by leaps and bounds.

The ability to control an athlete’s environment during training is the advantage IMG’s student-athletes get that most other high school athletes don’t. Environment has a significant impact on individual and team performance.”

David Hesse


1 – The role of rest, recovery, and sleep. These are integral parts to young athletes who are still growing and developing especially when you combine it with a strategic systematic development program.

2 – Keeping up with the shifting cultural norms. Finding a way to connect with and understand the next generation of athletes as shifts occur in technology, society, and culture, those shifts impact the people we’re training. In order to gain buy-in as well as connect with 15- and 16-year-olds, we will need to understand how they think and see the world.

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