At first glance, nothing about Dean Hinitz is particularly noteworthy, as he doesn’t appear to be any different than any other middle-aged professor and a father of two. However, by simply engaging in a brief conversation with him, it becomes clear that Dean Hinitz is a quite remarkable individual with some extraordinarily enlightening views on not only psychology, but also on life. According to Hinitz, a renowned sports psychologist and a leading authority in bowling psychology, sports are metaphorical for all things, and sports psychology can be applied in our everyday lives.
Dean Hinitz received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota and his PhD in psychology at the University of Nevada. He is a prominent sports psychologist in the area and has written a book on bowling psychology, Focused for Bowling. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology at Nevada, and he also runs a private psychology practice in Reno. However, before he became who he is today, Hinitz had to face some incredible challenges in his early life.
“I grew up in Minnesota, where I was born,” Hinitz said. “My family never moved and I lived in the same house my whole life while growing up. For some reason my neighborhood was inexplicably bad, and I got into a lot of trouble as an early adolescent.”
Growing up in a bad part of town surrounded by negative influences, Hinitz realized that he was in an untenable situation and needed a change. Sensing that his future was heading down the drain, Hinitz knew that he had to do something to turn his life around. That something happened to be sports, or specifically, gymnastics.
“I took up gymnastics in high school, because it was something you could do inside,” Hinitz said. “I took all my of adolescent energy and hate and took it out on the pommel horse. I think it saved my life.”
Following that, Hinitz attended the University of Minnesota, where he found psychology to be his calling in life. During his studies, Hinitz worked at local hospitals and assisted with extensive psychology research. However, as Hinitz prepared to graduate college, things took a turn for the worse.
“I was 21 and had just graduated college when my dad died; I was very close to him,” Hinitz said. “My first significant girlfriend had also moved away to graduate school. It was just too much. I didn’t have the emotional skills to cope. I just couldn’t handle life.”
Choosing to forgo medical school, Hinitz decided to travel the country. I went around the country, I hitchhiked around a lot, and I remember answering an ad to deliver a part on the west coast, so I did that, and I visited a lot of universities, Hinitz said. It was during this trip that Hinitz discovered the University of Nevada, Reno, where he decided to apply.
“It was during the winter of 1982, when I was delivering a part from San Francisco to Minnesota,” Hinitz said. “I was coming down off the mountains, and there was a sign that said Reno, and I just thought, ‘There’s a town at the bottom of this mountain?’ I saw the university, and I decided to go. I applied to the program and moved to Reno in 1983, and both were a good fit.”
Since then, Hinitz has taught psychology courses at the University of Nevada, where he is a popular professor amongst his students. Tim Grunert, a biology major who is currently in Hinitz’s Psychology 101 class, said that he looks up to Hinitz as role model.
“Dr. Hinitz is definitely my favorite professor here, and psychology is one of my favorite classes,” Grunert said. “He’s a really amazing person, and I aspire to be him when I grow up.”
Grunert’s enthusiasm towards Hinitz and his class is shared by many other people. Katie Mussell, a graduate research student in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences program who is currently the teaching assistant for Hinitz, said that he has been a tremendous influence.
“I’ve been the teaching assistant for other psychology teachers in the past, but none of them had life wisdom to give like him,” Mussell said. “Dr. Hinitz has really influenced me a lot on how I want to be as a teacher.”
By simply attending one of Hinitz’s lectures, it becomes immediately that he teaches not only lessons in psychology, but lessons in life as well. As Hinitz describes it, many of the principles in sports psychology are very much applicable in everyday life.
“Everybody always talks about the preshot for everything,” Hinitz said. “The preshot, how did you study, how did you set up for your free throw, how did you set up for your putt, et cetera, but all of the learning happens in the post shot, after the test. If you’re better after the shot then it’s all good. But if you get caught up on what should have happened then you don’t learn anything and you’re just the same as before.”
For Hinitz, it’s all about the process, not the results. According to him, all we can ever do in life is continually learn from our experiences, and the only way we can do that is by reserving judgment towards what we do. Most human endeavors, right after you do it, you have that split second where if you can refrain from judgment, the world gives you everything you need to know, Hinitz said.
Hinitz’s views on life and psychology are not lost on his students. Alyson Christl, a psychology major who previously had Hinitz as a professor, said that she learned more than just basic psychology in his class.
“I went into the class expecting a boring introduction class,” Christl said. “I was really impressed by Dr. Hinitz and I was able to get way more out of the class than just regular psychology material.”
Aside from teaching, Hinitz is a private practicing psychologist, and he offers consultation and guidance to clients ranging from professional athletes to the average person. From his experience working with clients, Hinitz believes that they would have been far more successful had they not been so hard on themselves.
“I’ve worked a lot with professional athletes,” Hinitz said. “Many of them are spectacularly skilled, and the ones that I’ve worked with could’ve won a lot more if they weren’t kicking their own butts around the block as much as they were.”
The way in which Hinitz views life is considerably different than how other people view sit. For him, sports psychology has many applications outside of sports, and in particular, the only way we can learn and improve ourselves is to reserve judgment, and simply take in our surroundings objectively.
“The ability to observe something, to be aware of it, to know it, to experience it without judging is the highest form of human intelligence,” Hinitz said. “It’s a rare human quality.”