Sports psychologist pens first book
Chris Heilman has one lifelong goal: to ski for 80 seasons straight.
The Driggs resident, sports psychologist, coach and trainer just published a book that presents the basics of sports psychology and outlines how to have a winning mindset that would, say, enable a lifetime of skiing.
“People here have the ‘I can do it all’ mentality. I struggle with that too,” Heilman said. “But I’m not trying to keep up with anyone, I’m just trying to find the rhythm that works for me and that’s sustainable.”
Heilman grew up in South Dakota and remembers driving six hours with her family to ski Terry Peak in the Black Hills.
“I was so excited to ski that I’d stop drinking water and put a granola bar in my pocket so I’d never have to stop to go to the bathroom or eat,” she said. “It was bell to bell.”
Heilman, who has a PhD in Sports and Exercise Psychology, pursued her passions as a ski patroller at Brighton and Grand Targhee, and a backpacking guide for the National Outdoor Leadership School.
Heilman also spent ten years in higher education and worked as an athletic trainer. She now consults full time for athletes ranging from the local kids’ ski team, to professionals at the peak of their careers, to moms rebounding from childbirth and grandfathers who want to run marathons.
“Many champion athletes recognize that sport is played with the body but won in the mind,” reads the first line of the intro of Elevate Your Excellence: The Mindset and Methods that Make Champions.
To explain sports psychology, Heilman uses a metaphor of a table with four legs: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
“For athletes, their physical leg is very well-developed, but when the strong leg on their table fails, when they get injured, their whole world falls apart. That’s a philosophy of mine, peak performance comes from peak wellness and having those four legs balanced.”
Heilman said she has never loved writing, but it seems to find her anyway. Her dissertation won the international award of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology Dissertation of the Year. She wrote a column for the Valley Citizen and started putting out a newsletter as she developed a following. Then in 2015 her friend and editor Abby Larson asked her if she wanted to write a book for the Health, Wellness, and Exercise Science Collection series.
“I wanted to poke my eyeballs out a lot,” Heilman said of the year and a half she spent writing and editing her book. “It wasn’t all rainbows and roses.”
She approached the process like an athlete. She made a plan, figured out who her audience was, and used a pre-performance routine to get in the right mindset to tackle writing. She dedicated a full day every week to her book.
“It’s like training,” she explained. “That’s why I love sports. We all have these mental hurdles, wherever we’re at. That’s how I would approach the book.”
She explained that she prefers teaching to writing; presenting information in digestible chunks is more her style. That said, editor Larson, who is an Olympic cross country skier, told Heilman after reading Elevate Your Excellence that it was the book in the series from which she had learned the most.
“Who is this book for? It’s for anyone who’s active,” Heilman said. “You don’t have to be a hardcore athlete to enjoy this book. And it discusses real world tools that transfer to other areas of life.”
Heilman coaches anywhere from six to 12 clients at any given time, mostly meeting with them online. She also gives presentations and workshops for businesses like Teton Valley Health Care and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, blending sports psychology with good management and motivation methods.
“How do you internally motivate someone? How do you become better leaders?” Heilman said. “I’m talking to people in the athletic world but sports psychology has so many different domains.”
As a business owner and athlete, Heilman works to maintain balance in her own life. She is also the mom of a three-year old son.
“I’m excited for him to have a small town mountain lifestyle and have a community that cares about core values,” she said.