SE: Ian Connole Inspires at TEDxMHK

Dr. Ian Connole, K-state's Director of Sport Psychology, speaks at TEDxMHK in Manhattan, Kansas.

Dr. Ian Connole vividly remembers one of his first opportunities in the sport psychology field. He was a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton and had just begun working with one of the local baseball teams. He walked into the team’s practice one morning just in time to see the top player crank out four consecutive home runs. Connole was in awe. Then, the team’s coach, leaned over and whispered, “This guy could really use your help.” 

Connole wondered how he, a former Division III basketball player whose, “last home run came in little league,” could possibly help this talented baseball player. 

That’s the story Connole, K-State’s Director of Sport Psychology, used to open his speech at Kansas State University’s first-ever TED Talk. Chosen as one of TEDxMHK’s eight community leaders to speak at the event, Connole used his 20-minute talk to help inspire his audience to “perform a little better, connect a little deeper, live more enjoyably and create a foundation in our lives from which excellence can be built.” 

The mission of these TED (technology, entertainment and design) Talks is to spread ideas by, according to their website, “welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world.” TED believes in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. TEDxMHK’s theme was “Fueling Human Existence,” and from world travelers to professors with big ideas to K-State’s Director of Sport Psychology, the event gave attendees the opportunity to learn more about the world surrounding them. 

Using three mottos – separate who you are from what you do, be where your feet are and bring the best to the rest – Connole spent his time on stage helping his audience learn how to better their lives in the classroom, in the workforce and in their homes. (You can watch Connole's entire TEDxMHK Talk by clicking here.)

Connole used his experience working in sport to help get his point across. Going back to his opening story, Connole explained to the group that, though this baseball player was talented, there were mental blocks keeping him from experiencing the fullness of his potential, and that is where Connole was able to help. 

“I’ve learned that excellence is not about perfection or invulnerability, but the willingness and courage to feel whatever you feel and still go for it,” Connole said to the crowd. “To be able to face fear and yet to step up and say, ‘These are my goals, and I’m going to go for it, and nothing is going to get in my way.’” 

Connole used that logic to help get through to this baseball player and it, ultimately, helped the player enhance his performance on the field. By sharing the basis of his job working with student-athletes and helping them create a foundation for excellence, Connole was able to share pointers to those in attendance on how they can also strive for excellence in their lives. 

“It was an amazing experience, it’s not every day you have the opportunity to give a TED Talk in the first place, so from that standpoint, it was a bucket list type of thing for me,” explained Connole after the talk. “It was really awesome to get the chance to do it. I wanted to go out there, have fun and do the best I could with it.” 

Connole came to K-State in January of 2014 and has since made a big impact on each of K-State’s 16 athletic teams. 

“Dr. Connole has been a great addition to the staff,” said K-State women’s golf head coach Kristi Knight. “Having someone who’s totally behind sport performance and enhancement and who is here on a daily basis for the student-athletes, it’s a huge addition. We do some team sessions with him, and many of the ladies work with him individually. Golf always gets labeled as a very mental sport, and it really is because there’s so much time between shots and the most difficult opponent is yourself, so I think that’s where someone like Ian comes in handy.” 

Connole earned his Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from West Virginia University and also has a masters in Counseling from West Virginia as well as a masters in Sports Psychology/Performance Enhancement from Cal State Fullerton. A former student-athlete, Connole played basketball at Skidmore College, which is where he said he discovered his passion for sport psychology. 

Before coming to Manhattan, he worked with Colgate University as a member of the college’s Counseling and Psychological Services, while, prior to that, he helped coordinate Sport Psychology and Mental Training at Waynesburg University and the Nate Smith Basketball School. 

“He’s been huge,” said K-State baseball pitcher Levi MaVorhis. “When I’d start on Fridays, I’d go with him and we would work on visualization. I’d tell him what type of outing I’d want to have and what I wanted to focus on, and he would go through that whole outing with me, run through certain scenarios. He’s been a huge help, especially if you’re going through a slump, you can go in and talk to him and he’ll tell you what to focus on and what to work on.” 

Originally from Dixmont, Maine, he said his two years working K-State student-athletes and coaches has been an exciting experience so far. 

“It’s been incredibly rewarding for me,” said Connole. “In my first two years here, I’ve learned so much. A big part of me coming here was being open to learn and understand the culture then figure out how the mental skill training fits within the culture that already exists.” 

Focusing on the values of family and a hard work ethic that K-State Athletics already holds dear, Connole spends his days working with K-State student-athletes and coaches in both team settings and individually. He said the best part of his job is seeing growth both in and out of competition in the student-athletes he works with on a daily basis. 

“It’s not about the results, it’s about the growth and development. If we’re growing and developing, the results will come,” he explained. “So being able to see the mindset shifts and see the fruits of their labor at the same time, those are the constant gratifying things for me.” 

Along with the one-on-one work and team building activities he conducts, Connole has introduced Wildcat student-athletes to K-State Athletics’ first-ever mental training lab. 

Located in the new Vanier Family Football Complex, the lab is complete with an egg chair set up to help the student athletes with imagery, help them notice the difference between tension and relaxation and provide feedback on how their minds effects what’s going on in their body. 

“When a player is in a basketball game, they go from rushing down the court to having to calm themselves to be able to make a free throw – this helps them make those transitions,” he explained. 

Along with the egg chair, the room is home to a state-of-the-art vision reaction training board, which isolates and exercises the muscle groups that control your eyes, helping to increase the ability to see more by developing a wider peripheral ordinance and awareness. Once they meet with Connole, K-State student-athletes can take advantage of these resources on their own whenever they feel the need. 

The technology found in the new mental training lab is the same technology the military uses to train its most elite leaders and soldiers studying at the United States Military Academy at West Point. 

“Part of what I do here is based off of the way Center of Enhanced Performance is run at West Point,” explained Connole. “They use similar methods at West Point, and it’s based on the same model that we teach skills for performance in life. It’s not about anything being wrong, rather we teach skills to enhance overall performance in athletics, academies and life.” 

During his time working with K-State, Connole has made a difference in the lives of student-athletes and coaches from every team at K-State. 

And with his recent TEDxMHK Talk, he has made an impact on the Manhattan, Kansas, community as well. 

“A big part of my mission is being able to share ideas, resources and the best practices with others to be able to help them become the best they can be,” closed Connole. “I look at the core of what I’m doing, and that’s serving others any way I can to help make an impact in their lives, that’s where I want to spend my energy. 

“I’m blessed to be able to do that in a place that’s so receptive with student-athletes that are on the path towards wanting to be the best they can be. They’re open to it and ready for it, and I’m happy to help.” 

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh-Stewart, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.