Asking Important Questions
Every decade or so I feel the need to clean out a file drawer, and this morning I did. What caught my eye was the first published magazine column I think I every wrote. It was for a monthly tennis magazine called “Tennis Talk” in Southern California. The copy I found was untitled so I’ve dubbed it “Asking Important Questions”. I found a few others and I will post them later.
From Tennis Talk Magazine June 1980
For sometime now I have been asking questions of athletes i meet at various competitions. The major question I ask is “What do you do get ready for competition?” In a recent meeting with a group of junior players this was their reply:
- X number of hours on court practicing serve, ground strokes, etc.
- X number of hours in competition
- X number of hours running, stretching and weight training to get in shape
This appears to be a good, solid program I said, but aren’t you forgetting something, I asked. They all answered pretty much the same. “We think we are doing what needs to be done.” I then asked what they do for the mental part of the game. At first I got blank stares. “One player said he sometimes tries to psych himself up or psych the other player out, is that what I meant?” I then asked how important was the mental side and they all agreed it was the most important, but that it was what it was.
As a Sport Psychology Consultant, I have run into this set of circumstances constantly. It seems ridiculous to me that athletes neglect the most important part of their game. [though of course I did as well when I was a player] While tennis players spend hours getting in physical shape and improving their strokes, they will not spend an hour and a half a week to improve their mental conditioning.
Reports from the Soviet Union (remember this was written in 1980) have stated that some world-class athletes are spending as much as 75% of their time on mental conditioning. Why? Because it can have a tremendous effect on you game. You can increase your potential by working on some very basic concepts. These Include:
- Relaxation – Knowing how to relax your body
- Attentional Focus – Knowing how to concentrate
- Self-Confidence – To see yourself with a positive self-image
- Avoidance of CHOKE – How to effectively deal with stress
Try working on these areas I urged them. Know that Awareness is the first step in learning how to relax. Learning the skills will help you play at a higher level.
One question they asked right away was what did I mean by attentional focus? Attentional focus is the art of concentration. More precisely, it is the ability to focus your attention from one thing to the next as quickly as possible. In tennis this is the ability to go from knowing where your opponent is to seeing the rotation of the ball to thinking what to do next. If you master this art, you improve your game.
There are many exercises you can use to improve your attentional focus. Here’s one that is fairly simple to do. Close your eyes and get an image / picture of your tennis game. Look at your opponent, then see the ball.Learn to do this as quickly as possible, making sure to see the image as clearly and vividly as you can. Remember if you condition your mind as well as your body, your game will improve rapidly.
It’s hard for me to believe that I wrote that 34 years ago. At the time we called our company Inner Sports. I struggled at the time to write which is why it took another 31 years from when this column was written to write The Athlete within You which by the way for June the Kindle version is now on sale here at Amazon.
Stories from Clients, Coaches and Families
It has taken me a very long time to agree to use these stories or testimonials (I hate that word). I have been encouraged to do so by the parents, coaches and athletes I’ve worked with. These are just a few of the kind remarks I’ve kept locked away. Former clients and their parents tell me I’ve been backwards not telling these types of success stories. They say it makes it easier for people to find me. I just thought of it as self promotion. For years I told them just refer me to others and that is enough.
Well when I heard from Mauricio Bardales, former DI & DII NCAA Champion in the decathlon and he told me I was just being stupid, I guess I had to listen. So here are a few of the people who have touched my life over the years.There are more than 2000 more stories tucked away. Maybe one day I’ll bring some more of them out.
I’ve a wall in my office and I am now collecting pictures of current and former athletes. Perhaps I am just at that age where I need help remembering them better.
If you are a former athlete I’ve worked with and are willing to share your story, drop me an email and I’ll put your story here as well. Even better, give me a call and let’s catch up. -MM
I have had many requests not just for stories, but what athletes did in their mental training. While most every athlete I’ve worked with goes through an entire program certain skill sets were of particular emphasis or help. Here are a few selected stories from the last 30+ years. I tried to cover a few from each decade. Below the stories are a few of the many testimonials I felt I could put on here.
Male age 19. College Soccer. Coaches felt he struggled with mental toughness. Resiliency training, relaxation/ guided imagery, anchoring. Played in every game as a sophomore. Started all but one. 3rd in assists (he’s a defender. Just signed his first professional MLS contract after his sophomore season.
Female age 16. Fencer (Saber). One time youth National Champion. She was not competing well (at her level) for a while. She continued to compete in national Level events, but was not doing as well as she had previously. We worked together for seven months. No particular focus other than on her mental game for the first time. Started seeing a change soon after we started, but a real change at about the 5 month mark. She started doing better in pool play, then advancing further in Elimination Rounds. At a recent World Cup Event she was Silver medalist only loosing to the worlds Number 1 ranked Junior Fencer. At the recent Junior Olympic Competition she won Gold in both her own age group (cadet) and in the Junior Category (20 & under).
Female age 17. High School / Club Gymnastics. She could not do her dismount from uneven bars. States were the next day. She had to move on to Regional’s and Nationals to be seen by Ivy League Coaches. Had State Championships the next day when I was called. I worked with her at the gym. CBT and hypnosis. She has been accepted as a gymnast to Brown.
Male age 17 year old male football player. Quarterback. Recovery from sever back injury and surgery. Confidence, pain management, flexibility, psych rehab. CBT, relaxation training, hypnosis. Surgery in late May. Player started out 2nd string. 3rd game in having missed all spring ball and most summer workout promoted to starter. He is now deciding on where he is going to accept an offer to play college football..
Female age 15. Club Soccer. Confidence and anxiety. She is a very small player. Good touch and tough. Told by everyone but her club coach that she was too small. Club coach is a soccer genius. She was moving on to a new club. Issues with High School coach. Confidence building, cognitive techniques and imagery rehearsal. Cut from high school team. Will be playing in college next year with a full scholarship.
Female 20-22 Female figure skater. Confidence, stress, coaches expectations and sponsor. Worked with skater for 1.5 years through the world championships. She had difficulty dealing with her abusive coach. Hypnosis, CBT. Going into world championships rated 5th in the world. 3rd in USA. Won Bronze medal in World Championships ahead of #2 US skater. Earned a trip to the Olympics.
Male age 22. Ranked in top 3 in the world in decathlon. US DI & DII Champion. Wanted to build mental skills for the Olympics. Small stature. Good at speed events. Weight events were an issue. Two of the primary events we were working on were discus and shot put. He improved by 27 and 18 percent respectively. Primarily used goals setting, relaxation and imagery rehearsal. Plan was to focus on more events as the year progressed. President of the United States cancelled US participation in Olympics and because of time restraints backed off mental training. I still have contact with him. Successful business person in CA. I do some occasional work with his daughter. It has been 34 years.
Male age 18. Club and HS Soccer player. Psychological rehabilitation following injury. Following a torn ACL parents brought client into talk with me. I know the family. Player decided SP not for him. 4 months later one month after returning to practice he blows out his ACL again. Same issues and added problem of playing premier level for his coach father. Father is a recognizable name in the coaching community. CBT, confidence building, goal setting, NLP and imagery. Player returned to play. Will play next season at a community college to get his grades up. Grades improved his senior season (one of his goals) to the point where he has drawn interest from DI & DII Universities.
Male age 18. High School Football. Headed to a military academy prep School. Mental Toughness. Worked on full mental training to prepare him for DI football. He ended up leaving prep school because of military lifestyle and academic goals. Has had an offer and has enrolled in an in-state DI university to play football.
Female age 21. College walk on golfer. Confidence, pre shot routine, self talk. Worked on mental skills training on and off the golf course. After performing well in tournaments she was offered a scholarship for her senior year.
Junior A Hockey Team Males ages 16-20. Mental toughness, goal setting, Last year they went 22-20-3 in their first year. I did some Skype work with them to prepare for playoffs. This year I spent a week with the team in training camp focusing on mental preparation and skills. Today they are 21-8-1 with about 15 games remaining. They have been competitive against the top teams in the country.
Female early 40’s. Show Jumper. Confidence, negative self talk, focus. High level show jumper looking to be competitive at the next level. Imagery, goal setting, concentration training, CBT, She has made large strides advancing two heights. In 8+ competitions this winter she has finished no less than 5th out of 30+.
Male age 13-15 yrs old. Male Figure Skater. Confidence, anxiety, lacked fluidity. Great athlete. Mental skills training A-Z for 2 years. First encountered athlete as a research subject at the USOTC. Most helpful was imagery rehearsal with a focus on timing, absorption of music into performance, coping behavior. Eventual US Champion and World Champion.
It’s Mauricio. I’m glad I caught up to you. Man it’s been a long time. Things are good. I have a small business and nice family. I still think about how you helped me pursue my dreams towards the Olympics. The thing with the discus was so crazy. Be well my friend and let’s stay in touch.
-Mauricio, Business Owner, Orange, CA
I hope to have you come speak to the team again this Spring as we aim for two championships in row! Your help pre-race helped our team tremendously. Thanks again!
— Coach JD, Track & Field Coach, Colorado Springs, CO
Among the many things I’m grateful to my son’s coach for doing is putting us in touch with you. You’ve given Patrick a lot of the tools that he uses on a daily basis now, whether in baseball or life, and they are a tremendous asset. I’m sure he’ll appreciate more and more as he matures.
–Donna G, Programmer, Redmond, WA
Mike Margolies was effective in helping me to recognize how flaws in my thought processes play a role in feelings of anxiety about work and career. He taught me how breathing and meditation exercises can be effective tools for controlling anxiety and worry. These tools help me to stay in the “here-and-now” so I can better recognize what I have control over and what I do not. Mike is a positive and supportive counselor who I would recommend to others without hesitation.
–Dan M, Microsoft Engineer, Redmond, WA
I’m sorry that we didn’t catch up with you at the game. In any event, I wanted to tell you that we’ve seen a transformation of James, both on and off the field. Other people close to the team, parents, coaches, and players, have also noted the change. You will probably receive some referrals, based on your work. It’s really everything we had hoped for. I just want to thank you for your work and hopefully we’ll have that opportunity to meet again in the playoffs!
-Jane M, Realtor, Bellevue, WA
I know I’ve told you this a hundred time, and maybe you will let others know how I feel now, but think you again for helping me with my game. I would have been lost on the golf course these last few years if you had not been there for me. I know you hate the words magic, but that’s the way it seemed to me. You helped me discover what I was passionate about, why I played golf in the first place, and that helped me go from Nike Tour to the PGA tour. The rest of life has been great for me.
-Jon, PGA Golfer, Orlando, FL
Our daughter was very comfortable working with you. You provided a warm, comfortable and relaxing environment that definitely helped speed through the rapport building part of the process. This obviously made us feel more comfortable also.
You went above and beyond in learning about her sport and the dynamics of her coach and her as an athlete and as a person. She did actually enjoy coming to meet with you . . . looked forward to it. The ideas/instructions and work was well tailored to her needs and issues as well as her age and maturity level.
As parents we appreciated the brief updates you gave us on a regular basis. The work was focused, yet broad enough and even more beneficial because it applied to her on other levels not just the sports issue.
Overall, it was a very good and beneficial experience. In addition to helping with the specific performance issue I think it was good for her to experience this kind of “professional” help and know that that are people like you in the world that can help by talking these things out and offering professional guidance.
-Sandy W, Financial Analyst, Seattle, WA
You really do rock. OK did I really talk like that? I guess I did. You must have thought I was out there just because of that. I had a great career as you know. I’m not sure I’d have gotten there if not for your help. You taught me so many things I don’t know where to start. Learning to be accountable for my actions, self confidence and handling stress was key. Ten years in the NFL was so quick. You said it would be. My mind is still strong can say the same for the knee but that was the risk of course. Jess is doing great. I’m going to send Jenny out next year before she starts college soccer.
-Tom J, Former NFL Player, San Diego, CO
Can’t thank you enough for helping with Anne’s breathing problem. Since she has worked with you she can play the whole soccer match. You taught her to handle her anxiety. She made varsity and is a very happy kid. Thanks again.
-Michele A, Financial Adviser, Sammamish, WA
It was great seeing you on the course last week. Since the workshop I attended I’ve dropped my handicap 5 strokes. I’m now taking money from my buddies that for years took it from me. Such simple suggestions and my game is so much better now. The one thing you didn’t mention was how different I would feel no longer being the guy no one really wanted on their team at corporate events. I was going to get you together for a corporate outing and I thought why should I share the secret. Just kidding. I’m going to get it scheduled for May. I think we will have 15 to 20. Looking forward to having you on campus.
-Bill S, National Sales Manager, Los Angeles, CA
I don’t know if you remember me. This is Marcus H. You might remember me more by my gang name XXXXXXXX. I just wanted to let you know that your time was well spent. You’re pulling me along, holding me accountable and teaching me not only to take care of my mental game but to love sport really did keep me in school. That was a few years ago of course. In June I get my Bachelors degree. Mom still tells the story when I ditched your session and you came into the hood looking for me. I just want you to know that if you hadn’t come to get me that day, I don’t think I would be walking in June. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
-Marcus H, Electrical Engineer, Los Angeles, CA
This is Coach Bobby Sxxx . Your class on the Psychology of Coaching that you did here years ago not only helped me, but our community. I talk with Jack W every week. He was the basketball coach in the group. We both use what we learned in the course and if nothing else the experience for our young people seems so much better.
-Bobby S, Retired High School Coach, Worland, WY
Running into you last week was awesome. I haven’t seen you in maybe 10 years. I just wanted to tell you again how great it was to see you. You really helped me through the knee rehab so I could have a great senior year at UXX. I have great memories from college and senior year was best. It never would have happened if you weren’t there for me and taught me how to focus psychologically during the rehab process. I’m coaching HS football now as an assistant. I think I do a better job at it because of what I learned from you. It is very meaningful to me to work with kids. I make enough $, and helping kids is a different type of reward. God Bless and be well.
-Johnny K, High School Football Head Coach, Richmond, VA
You were right of course, it was time to either go to work on a real career or dedicate myself to golf. You helped me through a tough time. I was kind of lost. Sometimes I think that I should have kept playing and then I look at my kids and know I made the right decision for me. I’m glad you were there to guide me.
-Jason A, Transit Manager, Fullerton, CA
What can I say? I’m not sure when I was 15 I really appreciated what you were teaching me to do with the imagery and relaxation. I do now know that it really helped me get to where I wanted to go with skating. The folks say hi and thanks as well.
-Susie Y, Business Owner, Dallas, TX
Can we learn from the Seahawks?
Teams are preparing for the biggest game of the year, in arguably the biggest venue, the Big Apple- New York City. Most all the focus is on the Denver Broncos Payton Manning
and the historic passing offence vs the Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom and the #1 ranked Defense. The game takes place on a huge stage. The focus is mostly on Offense and Defense, X’s and O’s, but might the real contest be in everyone’s head? Yes and how will the mental game play a role in the outcome?
One thing we have heard is that the Seattle Seahawks work with a Psychologist from Los Angeles. Many of the players including young quarterback Russell Wilson meet with him weekly. (http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=21614481) The idea that at the pinnacle of football (or any other sport) athletes openly meet with someone to help them with their mental game come into play in New York?
How mentally prepared is each team? To what degree will mental toughness effect these two great teams? These are the real questions.
Mental toughness training is telling and the Seahawks have been doing this now for two years. Is their rise to the top in the NFL due to X’s and O’s. Is it based on the draft and free agency? Is it the leadership from Pete Carroll and his Win Forever mentality? Absolutely! But it is this same mentality that brings in someone to help players with their mental training. This is perhaps a much overlooked area where athletes can make huge improvements in performance and it is not often that people can work with celebrity performance psychologist. Meditation is just a small part of the equation in learning to be emotionally intelligent on the field.
Mental Training Inc. provides worldwide mental training to athletes of all levels. In the Pacific Northwest Mike Margolies CMT® of MTI works with individuals, teams and corporations. You can contact me there or via The Mental Game.
“The thing is that today any athlete wanting to learn to be the best that they can be can work with someone and improve their mental toughness”.
So can we learn from the Seahawks? You can be prepared like Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. It is far more available than you would have thought. Turn that thought into real action and become mentally tough, calm and poised in whatever your sport. Performance is more than X’s and O’s. Find out why the best in the world work on their mental game with a qualified Sport Psychology Consultant / Certified Mental Trainer®.