Dr. Curt Ickes isn’t just a professor emeritus of psychology at Ashland University. Nor is he just a nationally recognized expert in sports psychology who, over the last two decades, has worked with college and professional baseball players and youth athletes, helping them improve their mental game and achieve their goals.
He is both of these things, of course. But over the last several years he’s also become a best-selling author whose books are helping young athletes find success from an early age.
Dr. Ickes’s passion for sports psychology began when he was a student at Ashland University. He played baseball for the Eagles and struggled with anxiety and performance issues. After graduating, he went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in psychology, and he began working with athletes to help them overcome their mental blocks.
In 2007, Dr. Ickes began working with the Ashland University baseball team. He introduced the team to the concept of “mental toughness,” which he defines as the ability to stay focused and positive under pressure. He also taught the players how to manage their emotions, control their thoughts and visualize success.
“Very few college programs were working on the mental game back then,” he says. “At that time, most Division I schools didn’t have sports psychologists on staff.”
Under Dr. Ickes’s guidance, the Ashland University baseball team went on to win the Ohio Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2008 and 2010. The team also made two appearances in the NCAA tournament.
In addition to his work with college baseball players, Dr. Ickes has also worked with youth athletes. This younger group of athletes inspired him, upon retirement in 2021, to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing books aimed at youngsters just getting into the game.
“After I retired, November rolled around,” he says. “We’d done some traveling, golf was over and my wife said I should start writing that book I was always talking about. So I did.”
The idea was simple: while college athletes, especially at larger schools, tend to have access to sports psychologists, what if younger athletes–starting between the ages of eight and twelve–could begin mastering the mental game very early in their development?
Aimed toward boys of little league baseball age, his first book “Win the Next Pitch!” was born. His next book, “You Got This!” followed soon after and adapted sports psychology for girls of the same age playing softball. Despite self-publishing the books, each of which teaches children the importance of mental toughness and how to apply it to their own games, the response was overwhelming. Both quickly became number-one bestsellers on Amazon.
“A few coaches bought it and read it,” he says about how the popularity of the books spread. “Then they recommended it to others. And from there, it just took off.” Now, coaches are buying it for their entire teams. And while “You Got This! 2” came out this year and is replicating the success of the original, he still gets messages every day from coaches and parents awaiting the follow-up to “Win the Next Pitch!” (“It’s coming,” he says, “It’s almost there.”)
Throughout his books, Dr. Ickes references the university and people in the Ashland community who have supported the athletics programs over the years. While you’ll have to read the books themselves to discover them all, Hall of Fame baseball coach John Schaly and longtime Ashland supporter Bob Archer both find their names referenced within the stories.
“Creative writers get to put the things they want into their writing,” he says. “So, I wanted to honor some of those who have made a big impact on the university, the community and my own life.”
As a strong advocate for the importance of mental toughness in sports, Dr. Ickes believes all athletes, regardless of age or skill level, can benefit from learning to manage their emotions and stay focused under pressure. Even in retirement, he is still a passionate educator, and he is committed to helping athletes reach their full potential.
In fact, much of what he has taught athletes for years–and is now fueling the popularity of his books–applies to most of us in our daily lives.
“Understand that mistakes are going to happen,” he says. “That’s a big lesson for everyone, no matter where you are in life. The sooner you accept this, the better. The key is to learn from your mistakes and move on.”
To learn more about his books (and grab one for yourself or your team), visit his Amazon author page here.