The following is a reprint of a article published in the May 2013 issue of Exchange Magazine on Neil Widmeyer, who was affectionately known in the professional world as "Doc Wid". Neil Widmeyer passed away on December 11, 2015, peacefully at Grand River Hospital. This posting is a tribute to Neil's life and the many successes he has contributed to the sport psychology and kinesiology disciplines. His obituary follows the article.
I really love sports.” If you are sitting in the room that serves as Dr. Neil Widmeyer’s office, training room, and den, this will not come as a surprising revelation. You will already have noticed the autographed pictures of NHL hockey players, swimmers, and one of Canada’s best boxers, among many other mementos.
But these are not simply the memorabilia of a collector they all say some version of “thanks”, because the man known as “Doc Wid” has played a significant role in the development of these elite athletes.
Neil Widmeyer is a sports psychologist, although he much prefers the term “mental trainer it conveys the idea better to youngsters.” The more ponderous designation, he feels, carries too much unwanted freight.
Whatever his official title, the fact is that “Sports Canada recognizes me and sends top athletes to me.”
Doc Wid has been involved in this field for a long time. But during his full-time academic career, which included teaching at the University of Waterloo, he tended to focus on the theoretical and classroom aspects of the discipline. Only when he “retired” an inappropriate word, if ever there was one did he begin working directly with athletes as their “mental trainer”. That alleged retirement came when he took a package from the University of Waterloo, 16 years ago, and promptly started his current enterprise, as well as teaching part-time at McMaster University, and at Resurrection High School.
He is now in his 17th season with the Guelph Storm junior hockey club a position he took at the request of one of his former students. He and his wife, Lynn, live in Waterloo, and he admits he takes a bit of friendly trash talk for working with the Storm and not the Rangers.
He has worked with athletes in almost every sport his roster, past and present, includes Olympic athletes (skiers and wrestlers), Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold, (“the most elite of all athletes I have worked with”), NHL star Drew Doughty, the University of Waterloo Men’s and Women’s volleyball teams, golfers, figure skaters, swimmers, baseball squads, basketball teams, and even equestrians.
He says that as a former UW basketball coach, a one-time skiing fanatic, an active golfer and a sports fan, he understands the intricacies of many sports but not all. None the less, the psychological principles behind achieving excellence remain the same, no matter what the sport.
Widmeyer says that the majority of athletes and their coaches who contact him ask him to deal with the question of confidence. That is often seen as the key to success and he agrees it is important. However, the syllabus of the sport psychology course he continues to teach in a number of venues simply includes one session on confidence, as part of a nine-session course.
What else is important? According to his course, “goal setting,” “the optimal level of excitement (getting in the zone),” “mental imagery,” “focus,” “preventing and treating staleness, slumps and burnout,” “communication,” and “the psychological aspects of sport injuries”.
He prefers to be proactive; while some athletes come to him because they have hit some sort of psychological wall, he would rather “use an educational approach“ as he does with the teams he works with giving the athletes “more tools” to use to achieve success and solve problems.
Doc Wid’s clients come from a number of sources: he is approached by sports governing bodies, by teams, by coaches, by parents, and by the athletes themselves. Some of his work is done pro bono like his sessions with Sarah Sine and Jaime Doucet, Waterloo region girls who swam across Lake Ontario in 2009 to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research.
A conversion with the doc is a fascinating experience. He is a wealth of information while giving credit to people like legendary coach John Wooden “who never used the terms winning or losing he talked about perfect execution of offence and perfect execution of defense.” That’s one of many Doc Wid principles: “focus on process, never on outcome.”
He’s a big proponent of visualization, and adapts its particulars to each sport. He cites a hockey coach who told his players he didn’t want them to know the kind of equipment the opposing goalie was wearing he wanted them “to see the holes, not the pads.” Doc Wid encourages his charges to make a personal highlight tape, a great tool for visualization as well as confidence.
Widmeyer watches a lot of sports although, perhaps ironically, he doesn’t watch golf on TV, even though that is one sport he continues to play. He and Lynn did attend the Waterloo LPGA tournament last year for several days, though.
When he does tune in a game, he watches a bit differently from the average fan. He says his favourite sport on TV is “March madness basketball,” the American college playoffs. Why? “I love watching the coaches, how they handle the huddles. Anxiety is contagious, and some coaches are so calm, while others are so excitable.” As Doc Wid says this, it’s obvious that he’d love to be on the spot, or in the dressing room, bringing his own recipe for athletic excellence.
Obituary - "Attitude is everything"
WIDMEYER, William "Neil"
Passed Away Peacefully on Dec 11, 2015
Neil's family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday, December 17, from 1-3 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Henry Walser Funeral Home, 507 Frederick Street, Kitchener, 519-749-8467. The funeral service will take place Friday, December 18th at 1:00 p.m. in the chapel of the Henry Walser Funeral Home followed by a reception.
WIDMEYER, William "Neil" Passed away peacefully on Friday, December 11, 2015, surrounded by the love of his family. Neil was an adoring and devoted husband to his wife of 54 years, Elizabeth Roselyn "Lynn" (nee Hipwell). He was a loving and heroic father to children Kim Welch, Kelly (Jon) and Greg. He was the remarkably proud and hands-on "Big Guy" of grandkids: Zachary, Megan, Madeline, and Emily. Neil took immense pride in his family and doted on them all. He was a fun-loving friend with an infectious smile, genuine kindness and empathy. Academics and athletes mourn the loss of Dr. Neil Widmeyer, affectionately known as 'Doc Wid", who was a pioneer in the field of Sports Psychology. He taught for over 30 years at the University of Waterloo and was an inspiring professor and a valued mentor to countless graduate students. His research and teachings brought great insight into topics such as team cohesion as well as aggression and violence in sports with both professional and amateur athletes. Additionally, Doc Wid was part of the Guelph Storm hockey organization for 21 years as their Sports Psychologist, helping players in all aspects of mental preparation. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Canadian National Team boxer and 2016 Olympic hopeful, Mandy Bujold would be appreciated greatly. As Mandy's Sports Psychologist, Doc Wid boasts he's "always in her corner". Contributions can be made on-line at www.mandybujold.com or at the funeral home with the options of cheque, cash, and debit. Neil's family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday, December 17, from 1-3 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at the Henry Walser Funeral Home, 507 Frederick Street, Kitchener, 519-749-8467. The funeral service will take place Friday, December 18th at 1:00 p.m. in the chapel of the Henry Walser Funeral Home followed by a reception. Immense gratitude to our honorary sister, Dr. Alison who helped us all traverse this difficult path with her loving guidance. Thank you also Dr. Stevens and Dr. Hakim, whose bedside manners are professional and caring. Doc Wid would want you all to remember that, "Attitude is everything." Visit www.henrywalser.com for Neil's memorial.