Dr. Oliver Eslinger
Interview Conducted 10/6/2008
The California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) Men’s Basketball program has not won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game in 23 seasons.
In September 2008, the school hired a doctor to remedy the situation – Oliver Eslinger.
Eslinger, who was previously an assistant basketball coach for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Engineers, brings a wealth of knowledge in both basketball and sports psychology.
He was a starting guard at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. and possesses a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University with a specialization in sports psychology.
He was a co-founder of Top Game Sports Consulting in 2003 and has worked with athletes and teams as a sports and performance consultant. He served as a consultant to the 2003 United States Women’s World FIFA Cup Soccer Team.
For a student body with some of the greatest young minds in sciences and engineering and faculty rife with Nobel Prize winners and world-renowned researchers, Eslinger has already realized that members of the Cal Tech community are equally interested in the Men’s Basketball program.
During one of his first days on campus, Eslinger ate breakfast with faculty member Dr. Robert H. Grubbs, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry. Instead of discussing science, Dr. Grubbs wanted to talk basketball.
ESLINGER: “The first day I got here, the second day, and even the next week, everywhere I go people want to talk to me and ask me questions. They say “how are you doing’ and are very supportive in what we’re doing.”
Eslinger wants to provide a positive experience for both the Cal Tech community who attend the games as well as his student-athletes.
ESLINGER: “As long as athletics are allowing students to compete at a high level, and give them an outlet to develop, and become part of something successful, then we’re going in the right direction.”
Even though Cal Tech has one of the most detailed recruiting forms in the country for prospective student-athletes, Eslinger said that he has a broad base of high school students who have interest in attending Cal Tech for the academic experience and can compete athletically at the Division III level.
ESLINGER: “There are students who have the SAT scores, the ACT scores, the interest and passion for science, math, and engineering. They can also play basketball. The advantage we have is the whole world to recruit from.”
“Many Division III Schools I can speak for do not have that span as far as recruits to choose from. Just thinking about the schools where I was around in New England, a lot of them are recruiting from the state they are in or their immediate surroundings, whereas we have a unique and interesting audience to speak to and select from and hope they come.”
While some of his current players did not play high school basketball and do not possess the physical talent that their opponents do, Eslinger feels that the mental part of the game is an equalizer.
ESLINGER: “You want to have the physical capacity to compete, but the mental part comes in to play in many dimensions as far as how one learns and how one models a skill from someone he’s been looking up to and try to incorporate those skills into one’s game.”
“There’s the learning aspect and then the confidence aspect. I think [confidence] is most important because I believe if one is confident in what he’s doing, no matter what his physical skills might show, he’s definitely going to have more of a chance to improve, succeed, and compete.”
From his years of studying sports psychology and coaching at both the high school and college levels, Eslinger’s coaching philosophy is to keep communication lines open so he can understanding each player as both an athlete and as an individual.
ESLINGER: “Some folks need more stringent motivational tactics and others shy away from that. Sports psychology is about dealing with pressure and figuring out where the pressure is coming from.”
“The anxiety and stress in one’s life, motivation and focus, and understanding the dynamics of one’s performance all play a role and is helpful in my coaching.”
While the 2007-08 Cal Tech Beavers went 1-25 last year, with a 27.3 point average margin of defeat, Eslinger does not get the impression that the team he inherits wallows in self-doubt.
ESLINGER: “My sense is the players are very excited and optimistic and they walk around and talk with confidence. I don’t get the sense that anyone is putting his head down and dragging his feet. They want to learn, develop, and take part in our system.”
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