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  • Danny Ourian

The Good Doctor, Ken Ravizza


I'm grateful to be given the time and space to write about the work of Dr. Ken Ravizza from reading his chapter in Expert Approaches to Sport Psychology. As many of us know, Ken was a giant in our field and yet in person he was a cuddly teddy bear. A sweet man, who talked close, looked you square in the eyes, truly listened, and truly cared. He embodied the idea of the practitioner being a walking talking example of mental skills by the very way of his being. I had the chance to spend five minutes speaking with him after a seminar with him, and in those five minutes he made me feel as if I was the only person in the room. Part of our work is having the knowledge, and part of our work is on the content/delivery (what we do). But as Shannon Baird put it in her model, a big part of our work is in who we are. Ken had the "BE" element down pat. He had an aura about him. Really, it wasn't about being big in presence but being fully present in his presence. Ken made you know he cared, genuinely, and authentically, and he wanted to help. It was obvious. He connected. I was forever impacted.

Ken's chapter goes through his ride from East Coast to West Coast, back again, and back to the West again where he settled at Cal State Fullerton. He mentioned the huge influence that Hatha Yoga had on his life and his future work.

There are so many elements of his chapter that I would highlight, but I'll try to stick to just a few:

"as an athlete I used my body as an object to show people that I was good and that I was okay." Here Ken talks about his awakening into fully experiencing his body with spiritual meaning, for the first time, at age 22. He touches on this idea that many athletes use their physical prowess to derive self-worth as opposed to a greater understanding of the purpose/meaning of the sport and why they compete.

From 1977-2002, Ken studied the zone and tried to help athletes replicate it. Then he scrapped it and went a very different direction. First and foremost, being able to recognize that you need to shift your approach after two decades is phenomenal. Second, this shift became the parlance of the next portion of his work. Phrases such as "control the controllables," "comfortable being uncomfortable," "compensate and adjust." All of these speak to a framework by which you are not attempting to reach a zone but rather adjusting to the adversity that will inevitably occur in your sport. I think this is much more aligned with "real (sport) life" than trying to arrive at a mystical zone which is often unknowable.

Ken created his R's framework as a means of helping athletes self-control, plan and trust. The R's include recognize, release, regroup, refocus, ready, and respond. The foundation of the R's is responsibility. I like this as a framework and it has some stickiness to it, but I can't say that I would adopt it. I would more likely adapt it. However, I certainly love the concept of self-control, plan and trust. If we can simplify what is needed for our athletes to a 3 pronged approach like that and help them apply it to their situations, we are bound to do good work.

Much of what Ken has developed would be elements to take into my Philosophy of Practice. First and foremost, his ability to be present with the athlete and help them come to a similar present-moment awareness. Second, his ability to connect and relate to a wide swatch of individuals. Third, his recognition that sport performance contains the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components. I would pause here: spirituality is something I have wanted to help athletes adopt into their sport performance and it has been challenging to know how. Ken's mention of the breath linking the mind-body-emotions (he didn't use the term soul) is a great way to help an athlete check in with themselves.

Further, Ken talked of helping athletes determine their purpose in sport and that resonated deeply with me. What is the meaning of all this sport competition? Why does it matter? I've written: 'ultimately it doesn't matter if an orange orb goes through a round ring in the sky, what matters are the values and meanings we can derive from it if we so choose."

Ken didn't teach me in this chapter. He reminded me elements of himself that are already a part of me. I'm very grateful for the reminder. I'm grateful for the seminar with him, the five minutes we chatted, and for the countless nuggets of sport psychology gold he laid down for us. It's our yellow brick road!


Thank you, good doctor Ken. Continue to Rest in Peace knowing you positively impacted so many and your legacy lives on!