Speed, strength, and agility are all key components to athletic success. But when the shot clock winds down or a game goes into overtime, it’s the athlete’s mind that truly matters.
That’s the philosophy Ginger Comstock ’92 brings to her new role as sports counselor at Holderness. If the brain is a muscle, then Comstock is its personal trainer.
“The mind is everything,” Ginger says. “A less talented or a seemingly-less-talented athlete who has a better mindset and is more positive or has more belief in him or herself will usually outperform a more talented athlete who has a poor attitude or lacks belief.”
She would know. Armed with master’s degrees in clinical social work and sports psychology - and an extensive background as a strength and conditioning coach and senior yoga instructor - Ginger helps student-athletes build confidence, overcome anxiety, and learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It’s pioneering work: while many colleges and universities have begun to employ sports counselors, few high schools have done so.
“We are unique. I don’t know of many other prep schools that have a sports psychology program,” Ginger says. “But using sports psychology tools at this age is a gift for student-athletes and it will really prepare them not only for sport, but also for life.”
A student’s teenage years are a critical time for developing a healthy mindset and self-awareness, Ginger says. It’s the time to reach students before negative self-talk and limiting beliefs become hardwired into lifelong patterns of behavior. “If we can teach our student-athletes to pay attention to how they speak about themselves, what they believe about themselves, and take care of their mental health,” Ginger says, “we can actually head off any limiting beliefs before they become ingrained in their personality and way of being.”
A big part of Ginger’s job is teaching healthy habits, and she’s become a fixture on campus since volunteering with the school’s Eastern Alpine ski team, boys and girls hockey teams, and girls lacrosse team last year. Ginger - now a dorm parent in Upper Webster and assistant school counselor - has helped teams draft mission statements to codify their goals and values, inspired students to view competition from a healthier perspective, and give them the tools to solve their own problems – on the field and off. If a student-athlete is unhappy with their team’s dynamics, for instance, Ginger urges them to “Be the change” and model the new behavior they want to see on their team. She also encourages athletes to focus on the things they can control, and put aside those they can’t. For a ski racer, that could mean focusing on their own training, equipment, and preparation – without wasting precious mental energy on the weather, the conditions, or the competition. “I help them try to look at only what they can control,” Ginger says. “The more they’re fixated on the things that aren’t in their control, the more anxious they become.”
For Ginger, sports psychology isn’t just about teaching student-athletes to perform. It’s about teaching them to deal with the inevitable challenges of life – the fear, the nerves, the discomfort – with dignity. It’s an approach to life, Ginger says, that will benefit students long after they’ve graduated from Holderness.
“My hope is that by the time they reach college, they will be armed with mental tools in their toolbox that they can use to manage their emotions,” Ginger says. “Whether they go on to play sports or not, they will learn how to persevere through emotional discomfort, learn how to mindfully manage their self talk, and build confidence.”