Stan Beecham is not your typical sports psychologist. He looks more like an FBI interrogator, standing well over 6 feet in height, broad-shouldered, head shaved perfectly smooth. His appearance is in no way deceiving. Beecham's one-on-one sitdowns with athletes sound more like interrogations than ordinary counseling sessions. He peppers his clients with direct, unvarnished, and often very personal questions, and he frequently challenges their answers. It is not unusual for athletes to leave the room in tears—but not without thanking Beecham first.
Formerly the head of the Sports Psychology Department at the University of Georgia, Beecham, who has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, believes that fear is the primary impediment to success in athletes. His practice is all about pressing clients to name and face their fears. He does this knowing that some will not be ready, but those who find the courage to go where he leads them will experience breakthroughs not only as athletes but also as human beings. While his style is not for everyone, Beecham is beloved by the many athletes who have opened themselves to the difficult self-exploration that he demands.
A football player in his youth, Beecham came to running relatively late in life. A few summers ago he attended an adult running camp at ZAP Fitness in western North Carolina. This led to an informal gig as the team psychologist for ZAP's resident elite runners, who include 2012 Olympic trials marathon sixth-place finisher Alyssa McKaig.
Later Beecham met Greg McMillan, a top coach based in Flagstaff, Arizona, and began to work with his elite runners as well. Several stories from Beecham's work with these runners appear in his excellent new book, Elite Minds, which affords non-elite runners like us an opportunity to benefit from his unique approach.
Beecham's blunt, take-it-or-leave-it style is manifest from the very first page. "Do not read this book if you want a quick fix, motivation or just want to feel better," he writes. "There is no such thing. Happy is for children. Being happy is not the purpose of your life. Being fully alive and awake is the purpose of your life. That includes the pain and struggle that is a necessary component to human existence."