Today on the podcast:

Professor Jennifer Etnier is a former athlete, a sports psychologist, and a former coach whose research focuses on the cognitive benefits of physical activity.

She is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Kinesiology and has received the School of Health and Human Sciences Senior Research Excellence Award and Health and Human Performance Teaching Award amongst others.

She was formerly the President of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity and Editor of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.

She is also the author of Bring Your A Game, a book that teaches mental skills to athletes who want to develop their mental toughness. Her new book Coaching For The Love Of The Game explores how to be the best coach you can be with countless mindset tools and techniques.

This was a very enjoyable conversation around topics that I’m personally very interested in. I also haven’t previously covered them on the podcast so I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it.

Episode Outline

  • 03:15 Jennifer’s background in sport
  • 04:33 On Bring Your A Game, building mental toughness, and what the research says about sports psychology
  • 07:43 Goal setting and the importance of the correct tracking metric
  • 11:50 Sleep deprivation and its impact on your day to day or physical performance
  • 18:07 Exercise and its ability to improve memory retention
  • 23:06 Are there diminishing returns on the ability of exercise to improve memory retention?
  • 26:37 On Coaching For The Love Of The Game
  • 29:58 The thing that distinguishes top athletes – process vs outcome-focused mindsets
  • 33:53 The commonalities between coaching boys and coaching girls
  • 36:07 The research behind mental health benefits of exercise
  • 38:38 Knowing what kind of exercise works best for you

Key Points

  • If we’re involved in a sport or any athletic endeavor and we’re told to “put in the effort” or even bring our “A game”, most of us don’t really know what that means, much less how to actually do it. The reason for this is that, as humans, as long as we experience some level of success in something we’re doing, we settle into that new comfort zone and are unwilling to experience the pain needed to push further. Goal setting and tracking data is the key here: mapping out your training in weeklong and month-long chunks to quantify your progress.
  • Recovery is critical, not just physically but also mentally. Especially during the pandemic, rest and sleep have become even more important not just for athletes but for everyday people as well. Most people are chronically sleep-deprived and their performance suffers – and this is before adding in training. It helps greatly to put your gadgets away 30 minutes before getting in bed to stop yourself from getting distracted and wasting more rest time. Taking a cool shower and reading before bed can relax your body and brain and make it easier to fall asleep.
  • When setting any goal, whether as a coach or an athlete, the most effective way to drive results is to set a goal based around the process as opposed to the outcome. When you focus on the outcome, you or the people who coach will tend to get caught up in how well the performance went rather than the improvements that were made since the last performance. A focus on effort, improvement, and process, on the other hand, will raise all ships because everybody who trains effectively will improve one way or another, and individual progress matters most.

Powerful Quotes by Jennifer

  • Goal setting is most effective when it’s used as a process where we set goals, adjust goals, and then we reward ourselves for meeting those goals.
  • The timing of the exercise session might impact memory retention. I feel reasonably confident in saying that you’re going to get the best benefit if you exercise prior to exposing somebody to what it is that you want them to remember. So, if you’re studying for a test, exercise prior to that study period.
  • Goal setting is so important. But when we goal set, as coaches or athletes, it’s so important to focus on the process that’s going to get us to the outcomes that we care about, not to focus on the outcomes themselves.



Effects of an aerobic fitness test on short- and long-term memory in elementary-aged children

Exercise, cognitive function, and the brain: Advancing our understanding of complex relationships

An External Focus of Attention is Effective for Balance Control when Sleep-deprived.

Motivating Mature Adults to be Physically Active.


The Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease (PAAD) Study: Cognitive outcomes.

UNCG professor explores links between exercise and Alzheimer’s disease

UNCG Landing page for Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease 2


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