Interview with Taryn Brandt

Hello everyone.  I am really excited to have a special guest today, Coach Taryn, who’s also Dr. Taryn Brandt.  She is an amazing individual and the newest member of the Complete Performance Coaching team.  I’ll ask her some questions today so you can get to know her.  For those of you figure skaters, gymnasts, or basically aesthetic sports athletes, she’s going to be a really great resource for you going forward in your sport.

Rebecca: Hi Taryn. Thanks for being here today.

Taryn: Thanks for having me.  I’m excited to chat with you a little bit more today.

Rebecca: I would love to start with a little background on you and how you got interested in sports psychology.

Taryn: I started figure skating when I was five years old.  I came from a family where my dad was a hockey player.  He’s Canadian and wanted all of his kids to know how to skate, so it was a very natural thing for me to get started in.  I always tell this story because I think it has been a really important part and it’s come back a lot with kind of in a joking way with coaches and people over the years.

Refusing to Skate

My dad actually bought me my first pair skates when I was two years old.  We’d go to the rink and he’d tried to get me out on a public session and I refused time and time again.  I would refuse and refuse and refuse.  I remember back to that time and at that like two and a half, three years old, I remember being aware of the fact that every time we’d go to the rink for public skating, there would be an ambulance parked outside the rink, so I associated skating with being dangerous and that people got hurt.

I kept telling him, “No way!”  My brother came along, he was a couple of years younger.  He got out on the ice and I’d just go on and stand and watch.  At one point I think my dad and I sat down and had a conversation and I told him I would try skating when I turned five, because I guess I thought that that was an appropriate age where I wouldn’t be afraid anymore.  It would be safe.

“I was OK!”

I remember after one of my dad’s hockey games, I put on a pair of my cousin’s hockey skates actually.  It was my first time out on the ice with a pair of hockey skates, and I kind of zoomed around the ice with my dad for a couple of minutes and realized I didn’t get hurt.  I was OK.  I immediately dove into learning to skate and very, very quickly progressed into private lessons and competed I think my first competition when I was six.

So it started very quickly and just kind of took off as that’s what I was going to do.  I fell in love with it.  At the time I was also involved in dance and gymnastics. I had started ballet before I even started skating, so I was doing all of those things at once, and that kind of lasted my entire skating career.

I was always kind of involved in some of the other areas to kind of figure out kind of where each one might take me, but skating was always the forefront and the important one.

Training

Probably around middle school age, I started getting involved in working with higher-level coaches, training at higher levels, going to US figure skating training camps, and that’s actually where I first had my first exposure to sports psychology.  I don’t remember who it was, but somebody came and did a workshop with us.  I started to think, “Oh, there might be some things that I can do to help perform at my best.”

I guess I didn’t think a whole lot of it at that time and maybe took some of those little nuggets of information along the way.  I was thankful I had some really great coaches along the way who I think infused some sports psychology aspects into my training, particularly breathing and relaxing for competition and performance anxiety.

My First Big Injury

So I think I kind of had little bits of knowledge, but it wasn’t actually until I was somewhere between my freshman and sophomore year of college competing at a high level, I had a pretty severe ankle injury and was off the ice for a full year.  I wasn’t allowed to skate, so I was focusing on college and I pursued a major in psychology.  I’d actually started college as a dance and theater major and the injury took me out of that.

I started asking myself, “Okay, what do I do?  What do I want to do now?”  I started studying psychology cause I had an interest in it.  Once I got started my sophomore year of college with psychology as a major, I was like, “Well, what can I do with psychology?”  I remembered back to when I was 12 years old at that training camp and I thought, “I think there are actually people who do this with athletes.”

I started researching it online and came across some different books and just started reading up on stuff that was out there.  I realized I had a book on my bookshelf from the time I was probably in middle school, that was sports psychology for figure skaters.  I kind of put all the pieces together and I was like, “Oh, this is actually something I can do,” and I very quickly made the decision that that’s the path that I wanted to go in terms of how I wanted to pursue a career working with athletes.

I think it was through that I started investigating experience, seeing how I could use some of the principles and the strategies on myself as I was returning to skating from that injury.

Rebecca: Great.  So your research kind of was on yourself as a guinea pig and then also moving forward, getting into how you were going to help other skaters.  That’s pretty great.  I think it’s a common story for us – I struggled with fear and then I’m like “I have to help people with fear.”  I was also 12.  What is it about being 12?  I was at gymnastics camp at 12 and met a sports psychologist and thought, “That’s so cool!”

It’s funny because there are a lot of the athletes that we work with who are in that 12 age group, which I think is just such a pivotal age where athletes are really open. They’re willing, a lot of the time, to do whatever.  They’re creative, they love their sport, and they’re not jaded.  They’re like, “Yeah, let’s do what it takes to get better.”

Moving Past Your Injury

Now, you struggled with injury.  How did you get yourself back?  Was it something that you struggled with over and over or was it just this one injury?  What did you learn about injury?

Taryn: That was really the first major injury I had as an athlete.  I’d had growth spurt type related injuries and I split my chin open and needed stitches, things that I could work back from, but nothing that really took me off the ice or away from sport and physical activity for a long period of time.

This came much later than in many athletes experience.  I was sophomore in college and I was off the ice for a full year, but I knew I had hit my peak as a skater later than most people do or the average skater does, so I was still like, “I’m ready to go.  I want to compete.”  So it was a lot of being patient and working through that injury.  During that time, I also really starting to think about how I could use some of this sports psychology stuff.

Imagery

I was doing a lot of imagery.  I discovered, “This is something I can do while I’m off the ice.  While I’m not able to skate, I can prepare myself for when I get back out there.”  I was doing a lot of imagery and a lot of preparing myself, and when I was able to get back on the ice, I found that I had missed it so much that there was this appreciation of the fact that I could get back out there.  I think just the fact that I had thought about it and I’d set a lot of goals for myself and worked through it, that helped me to get back out on the ice.

Navigating Fear

However, once I got back out there, there was a lot of fear.  Because it had been such a big injury, there was a lot of fear of certain elements and certain skills involving my left ankle.  Thankfully it wasn’t my landing leg, but still, there was a lot of fear of re-injury and every time it would start to hurt again, I’d start to freak out.  I think using different calming strategies and different things to help build up my self-confidence was really important.  Thankfully I had coaches who, again, really helped with that process and I felt like I could have confidence because they believed in me.

Skating and School

I got back into skating and competed all the way through college.  Even while I was pursuing my master’s degree, I was still competing at a high level.  It was at the very end of my career that I ended up with a knee injury that I think was the culmination of many years of skating, which required surgery and actually led to, in the last five years, seven surgeries on the same knee.

After the first three surgeries, I actually got back to skating.  I thought I was done.  I thought my skating career was kind of over actually after the first three, but I actually made it my mission to get back on the ice.  I competed at an adult sectional national level a couple of years ago and went on to compete it out on nationals.  Again, I think it was kind of a personal mission and project for me to use strategies that I’m using with athletes to come back from injuries.  I knew that my body couldn’t handle heavy repetition of elements, so it was very much about purposeful practice and being really aware of what I was saying to myself so that I could make the most of everything I did out on the ice.

It’s been frustrating going through a lot of surgeries and being off the ice and on the ice and having to come back, but I think it’s also been a really cool experience to test out a lot of the things that I’ve learned and a lot of the things that then I want to encourage athletes to use too.

Rebecca: That’s so great.  And what a gift to give your clients too.  I remember when I was coaching gymnastics, when I would take a class, for example, I’d go take a yoga class, I’d become a better coach because I listened to how how I needed to be taught. So you’re trying out these things and realizing, “Well, okay, there’s this little piece that needs to be right before it will work,” like with imagery, and so that’s so great.

What do you do?  Let’s say that somebody listening is injured.  They’re out, they’re depressed, they don’t know if they’re going to be able to come back.  How do you start to work with somebody like that?

Taryn: I think for me a lot of it is providing support and just being able to come from a place where I do understand and I do get it.  I really enjoy working with injured athletes because of that.  I think a lot of times injured athletes and athletes in general who are struggling with a particular performance-related challenge don’t always feel like they have someone to talk to.  My parents don’t get it.  My coach was just telling me to suck it up and get out there and do it.

Friends might be either not experiencing that problem or their friends might not be in that sport, so I think for a lot of athletes, particularly for those that are injured, it can be an isolating and lonely experience.  Just being able to provide support and give them space to like be frustrated about what’s going on.

Rehab and Recovery

Simultaneously with that, being able to think about some strategies they can use to help work through that frustration, to manage it so they can focus on their rehab and recovery.  I’m using a lot of goal-setting again because even though it may not actually be in their sport, they’re still setting goals for rehab and the process towards getting back out there.  I think that becomes really important because it’s more likely for an injured athlete to want to jump six steps forward through that process.

Building Confidence

Using goal setting helps athletes pace themselves, and then using imagery helps them to be able to continue to rehearse what it is on the ice.  I’ve also used healing type imagery with athletes to help build their confidence of the body healing and getting back out there.  Once athletes get back out on the ice or involved in their sport, then it’s managing fear if that’s coming up for them.  I’m using self-talk and using imagery to help build their confidence again if they’ve been out of the sport for like a lengthy period of time.

Rebecca: Great.  Well, you definitely sound like quite a wealth of information both personally and professionally on this.  That’s going to be very valuable for those families who are in that position.

Tell us, how did your parents contribute to your success and getting through these injuries?  Obviously your dad played a big part in getting you on the ice.

Rebecca: I think my parents were always extremely supportive.  What I have always felt grateful for is that there was never a lot of pressure that I had to do this and I had to win.  They could tell that I enjoyed it.  I actually have a sister who’s four years younger who was also a competitive figure skater, gymnast, and dancer.  We were involved in a lot of the same activities.  I think for both of us, they could tell we loved it and so they supported it.  They gave us the things that we needed but always encouraged us to have some autonomy in it.

Having Autonomy

I can remember the early years of all the early morning practices.  We needed to get out the door to the ring and it was always up to me to be ready to go, for me to take that initiative and show the desire to get out there.  It never felt like I was forced to do that type of stuff, which I think I’m very grateful for.  It always felt like I was (for the most part) doing it on my own terms with the support of my parents, not because they wanted me to do it.

I think part of it, too, is that I come from a big family.  There are four kids in my family and I’m the oldest.  My brothers played hockey and my sister and I skated, so my mom was the bus driver, shuttling people around.  It was very rare actually, probably around early middle school age, that either of my parents was at the rink when I was training.  Sometimes they’d pop in when they dropped me off or were picking me up.  I felt like I had that kind of autonomy and they always made sure that I was with a coach that I felt supported by and safe with, someone I trusted working with.

I guess knowing that they weren’t always kind of breathing down my neck was really freeing, but then those moments when they were there to watch at competitions, I always felt really excited to be able to show them like what I was working on.  Neither of them know really anything about figure skating, so they’d say, “You look great out there!  I don’t know what that was that you just did, but you look great!”

My mom always hated it.  We’d get new programs each year and she would memorize which jumps and which elements were in the program and then everything would change the next year.  She’d say, “I don’t know what you’re doing.”

Finding and Keeping Balance

I think that was, that was something that I always felt like they did well.  They did a really great job of keeping that balance, balance for me in skating and in other areas of life too.  It wasn’t just about skating.

Rebecca: Yeah.  The fact that you could be a high level figure skater while pursuing a masters degree shows that there are some time management skills that came along.

Is there anything that you would go back and ask them to do differently?

Taryn: For the longest time as a skater, I begged to be homeschooled so that I could spend more time at the rink.  If you had asked me this 10 years ago or something, I would’ve said, “I wished that I had been able to spend more time at the rink because maybe I would have been better, maybe I would’ve made it farther.”  Looking back on that now I am, I’m actually grateful that that wasn’t the case because I think I benefited from that.

Finding Perspective

I think it’s hard because a lot of the things I think back and wish had been different or things that were out of my control, like my family moved around a lot.  Growing up we moved every two or three years because of my dad’s job, so I was constantly changing. The first probably 10-ish years of my skating career, we moved every like two or three years, so I was constantly switching to a different coach in a different training facility and some of those weren’t necessarily really conducive to being an elite figure skater.  I think that’s always something I look back and wish I had maybe more consistent training, where I’m in a place where I really could develop that sense of a relationship with a coach.  But then at the same time, I look back and I see those experiences all had some impact on me, so I don’t know if I’d change that.  I guess it’s a lot of those things that are out of my control more so that I look back on and wish were different.

Rebecca: Yeah.  That’s such a good perspective for those athletes who are going, “Well, if I wouldn’t have had this coach” or “If I would’ve been at that club” or “If the injury wouldn’t have happened,” and all those things that you can look at it from where you are now and go, “Actually, that’s all part of who I am and my value as a practitioner and as a human and I’m resilient and adaptable as a result of those things.”

That’s hard to see when you’re 12 and going, “Ah, I shouldn’t have wasted those two years with that coach.  That messed me all up.”  But then as you compete in college, you survived.  You’re okay.  Such a good lesson.  Just to know that even the things that are irritating you or feel like, “Ah, I can’t, I wish this was different,” you’re able to go back and look at it.  Just like with my fears, if I wouldn’t have had my career ended by fear in gymnastics, I would not have the value I have today as a practitioner.  So I love it.  It’s just that it’s a good reminder that everything happens for a reason, challenges us and makes us who we are going to be.

Moving on, did you ever work with a sports psychologist or anybody?

Teaching Myself

Taryn: I never did and I never had anybody that I worked with specifically as a skater.  As I said, my only exposure was at training camps, but I think I’ve always been a huge bookworm.  Since I was a kid, I read nonstop.  I picked up a lot of books and reading materials and I would study on my own and almost became my own sports psychologist early in college through the latter portion of my skating career.

I was using imagery, breathing, and the self-talk, all the pre-performance routines, and I was putting all of that stuff together for myself with the support of coaches.  I think I had them encouraging me to engage in some of those things just through their work with me organically.

Rebecca: Great.  I’ve definitely talked to people who are trying to figure out where they’re going to go with their life.  It’s like you just look at what you’re already doing and it will give you a good indicator where you ought to go, that you were already naturally getting all the books and doing all these things. Like if you can get your career to line up with the way your mind works and what you’re passionate about is so fortunate.

Now, what would you say is your philosophy working with athletes?

Taryn: My biggest philosophy is that each athlete, regardless of their age or their level, each athlete has the factors within them to be able to do what they’re wanting to do.  Most of them have put in countless hours of training, and so it’s there.  I think my biggest way that I approach my work with athletes is to be able to help them trust their training and to be able to kind of pull out those things that are in them.  I always compare it to science class when you use beakers to be able to put together different concoction and there would be some sort of reaction that would happen.

Utilizing All of Your Ingredients

I think my approach to athletes is that each athlete has all of the different ingredients. They’re in that beaker and the goal is for them to be able to, when they get out on the ice or when they go out to perform in their sport, they’re able to show judges or audience or whoever it is, all of what’s in that beaker, all of what they have inside of them.  That’s going to come from utilizing different strategies to calm nerves and anxiety or to have that confidence that when they go out there, they have the capabilities, they have all of the ingredients there.

Also, to be able to trust all of the training and everything that they’ve put in when they step out there.  I think there’s this positive belief type of approach that I take because I strongly see resilience and ability in each of the athletes that I work with.

Rebecca: Great.  I love the science analogy.  It makes me think about adding performance as the catalyst that activates everything in there.  If you can get that right where you’ve got all the elements, they have all the skills, they have the confidence, they have the training, and then performance turns it all onto the very max, rather than, in a lot of situations, melting it all down and making things fall apart, the performance just turns it all on.

Is there anything else that you, um, that you want to share with the audience or tell parents or athletes who are listening?  Maybe your top three tips so that athletes can PerformHappy?

Top Three Tips

Taryn: Most of these are rooted in my experiences and the things that I’ve seen working with different athletes over the years, whether that’s been in a coaching role or as more of a sport psychology type of a role.  I think the biggest tip is for athletes to remember why they do what they do or why they love the sport or the activity that they’re in, and to remind themselves of that not just every once in a while, but daily.

Athletes should be able to connect with why they love to skate or why they love to do gymnastics or why they love to run, to dance or perform, and to be able to have an understanding of that.  I’ll often have athletes write that out and post it somewhere where they can see it and use that as motivation or something to help lift them up when things get challenging.  I think that gets very easily forgotten, especially as you progress through levels of competition and challenging experiences and training.  That idea of connecting with why you love the sport feels so important and reminding yourself of that on a daily basis.

And then I think, going off of that, the other thing that I really highlight with athletes that I work with is the importance of finding balance outside of your sport too, that your sport isn’t necessarily the be all end all.  The only thing it can be is a really important thing and it can be the thing you put a lot of time and energy and sacrifice into and that’s fine. But I think it’s so important to have something else, even if that’s another sport or activity that you do during part of the year.  For me it was figure skating, but I also danced.  During high school, I would go to the dance studio in the evenings after skating and that was my separation from skating, but it helped in some way.  I stayed on my high school dance team and got involved in other things that helped take some of the pressure that I felt at times from skating.  It helped tone that down a little bit.

Then, even outside of sport, having other activities or hobbies.  For me, it was reading and anything like arts and crafts, painting and drawing and making things.  On a weekend when I wasn’t at the rink and I had finished my homework, I had something else that got me excited and made me feel happy.  I think encouraging athletes, especially at a young age, to explore those things is important, because then if an injury does happen or they just need a little bit of an escape from sport, they have something to feel either equally close to or as passionate about as their sport.

The third one would be to have fun with what you’re doing and to make time for that in sports, especially where you might be training at an elite level, sometimes that disappears in the daily grind of training, working out, and conditioning, and everything else that goes into that.  I can remember just how valuable it was, even the day before competition, coaches would be gone and headed off with some skaters to go compete, and at the end of the training day, my friend’s and I would just put like our favorite music on and interpret and we’d just skate and we’d just be on the ice.  No jumps, no skills, just skating to the music, and that was having fun.  That helped break down all of the nerves and all of the pressure that would build up in the rink leading up to a competition.  So making time for it to also just be fun and to have the playtime even as you advanced to the higher levels, it doesn’t always need to be serious.

Rebecca: Awesome.  Such great advice.  We are so lucky to have you as part of the team and I know there are going to be plenty of figure skaters and gymnasts and, and, and you work with other sports as well.

Taryn: Yeah, I am working with a lot of collegiate athletes right now, and I’ve worked with athletes from a very large range of different sports and different ages.

Rebecca: you’re such a gift to have to the team and I’m so grateful to have you.  You guys can schedule a free consultation with coach taryn@completeperformancecoaching.com/schedule and that way you can get to know if she’s going to be a good fit to work with you or your athlete, and we’ll hear much more from her as we go along.  Thank you so much for joining me!

Taryn: Thank you for having me.

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