Eddie O’Connor, game changer
Eddie O’Connor ’91 remembers cheering loudly and going a little nuts when his son scored a goal in his first-ever soccer game. Then he quickly realized there was a potential downside to his reaction: his son might try too hard to score just to make Dad happy.
That perspective doesn’t just come from a self-aware father. O’Connor is a leading sports psychologist who is often quoted by media in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., and by national outlets such as ESPN.com. He works with professional and amateur athletes to help them develop mental toughness and learn to overcome mistakes.
During the time he has been practicing, O’Connor says he has noticed more youngsters coming through his door. They bear the burden of trying to excel in order to live up to their parents’ lofty expectations.
“As parents, we’re the only ones who can reinforce to kids that effort is most important, because they’re not going to get that anywhere else,” O’Connor says. “When they’re grown-ups, they won’t care as much that they won the football championship at age 9. What they will remember is their playing time and if they touched the ball.”
As a sports psychologist and a coach to his own children, he encourages them to not be afraid to make mistakes. He says mistakes will happen at some point, and the key is how athletes overcome errors. O’Connor also says that athletes shouldn’t focus first and foremost on winning; it’s a concept that put him at odds with the coach of a football team he was advising.
“Winning is the element you have no control over, and so it is a distraction,” O’Connor says. “Focus on your own effort, thoughts, feelings and behavior. If you can push all other things to the outside, you can perform at your highest level, and winning will take care of itself.”
O’Connor is trying to reach more parents by increasing his outreach to media. Last year, he produced an audition tape, seeking to get a show on the new Oprah Winfrey cable television network. As one of 16,000 applicants, the odds were overwhelmingly against him. However, he has a regular gig on the FOX affiliate in Grand Rapids, hoping it will help bring more attention to a field he never knew existed before taking an elective course as a senior at Binghamton.
“My mission is for people to know that sports psychology is out there and can help them be their best in sports, business and life,” O’Connor says. “That’s the biggest barrier — awareness.”