Learn from a Jackass (donkey that is)
Learn from a Jackass is an old motivational, (scratch that) inspirational story. It has been repeated many times. I use it occasionally to make a few points about Mental Training. I’ve no idea where I first heard it; though I know it was years ago. I realized today that it is one of those stories I’ve not used here. So indulge me and learn a lesson from a Jackass.
One day a farmer’s donkey (officially recognized as a Jackass by Webster’s) fell down into a well. The animal brayed (Heehawed) for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to rescue the jackass.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down. (more…)
Postural Enlightenment- (a mental training exercise)
Postural Enlightenment is a way of focusing on how we are doing. Just a short post to remind everyone during the holiday’s to stay focused on what is important in their lives. Team, family, friends can not be forgotten. Your goals are important, but remember to take time for others. This time of year for some brings on a malaise or sadness. I try never to use the word depression as this is a clinical term and as you know I do not work with clinical issues. But from time to time sadness comes into the lives of most of us and we must learn to deal. So especially this time of year, I would like you to look around and pay attention not only to others, but to yourself. Get in touch with your feelings and sort things out. Self awareness is critical to becoming the athlete and person you would like to be. In this light I want you to become aware of one simple thing. It is simple and can change your perspective very quickly.
Let us have good head and shoulders—the basic elegant posture of enlightenment and peace. This is a statement I have seen for many years. I may have heard it stated this way from an associate who was also a yoga instructor. Yoga which focuses so acutely on form can send us an important message.
I can’t tell you how many times I remind athletes that our state of mind can dependent on our posture. The athlete knows the importance of posture, of proper breath, of being relaxed. Of course, you can tell when someone is sad, they slump. Problem is- it’s self-fulfilling. It’s hard to cheer up, mentally, when, physically, you’re slumped. Also notice a person’s or your own shoulders. Are you or they wearing shoulders for earrings? (more…)
The Water Tower Motivation Analogy
If we look at a metaphorical generalized model of what motivation might look like it might be a large water tank. I am not in any way removing my supposition that we need to think about motivation as a triangle. This is just another way of generalizing about motivation to help athletes understand more about the simplicity of motivation overall and some of the complexities.
So if we use a picture of a large water tank I think it will help with the explanation. There is no top to the tank and so for many of us motivation, drive, enthusiasm, or the Fury just over flow the tank. The tank is filled mostly and best by a hose that is inside the tank. Sometimes it is filled by other people. Oddly they make us offerings of speeches, carrots and sometimes they use fear which can be a motivator as well. All of these hoses are smaller and are far less effective at filling the tank.
Sometimes our tank develops hoses in it. Normally when we are fully focused out internal hose keeps up with the out flow. Sometimes it is difficult to keep our internal hose on all the time and the leaks sap us of some of our essence. Holes develop for lots of reasons like a lack of confidence, stress, poor team cohesion, outside distractions, etc.
If the hoses cannot keep up with the leak, we see less of the motivation we usually have and performance generally diminishes. We can patch holes of course. Generally what happens when things are leaking is that we lose ourselves and take our hand off our internal hose regulator. If we can’t keep up for the inside it is very difficult for all of the outside hoses to keep up. It becomes a situation as in Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Eventually you can’t keep up with the leaks and having stopped filling from the inside you end up being no longer motivated, even though it is something you wanted very much to do.
Eventually many people at that point just stop trying to keep the valve open and have to shift. Shifting is one way of closing those holes. The problem is after the shift things are never really the same until the person finds something that re-ignites their passion.
I hope that this makes some sense to you. To simplify it I can have you think of it this way:
- Internal Motivation = Big Hose (but you do have to keep a hand on the valve)
- External Motivation = Smaller hoses controlled by other people. It takes a lot of these hoses to top of the tank.
- Leaks = Stress, anxiety, loss of confidence, fear and many others. You can keep the leaks small or patched by using mental skills like relaxation, imagery and other cognitive behavioral techniques.
I think a huge secret in all of this is understanding your Big Why. If you understand your own triangle you will have a far easier time keeping your hand on the valve or perhaps even think of it as pedal to the metal which ever works best for you. Finding and knowing your why will always help you keep the water near the top. It will allow you to rely far less on all those small hoses. It gives you ultimate control because the big hose you control so when you need to back off, even when your coach is overly enthusiastic, it is in your hands. Same goes for when you develop leaks. Adding a little extra water in will allow you to use your mental game skill sets to seal up the holes, ultimately with a patch that neither requires attention or the little Dutch boy’s finger.
Why mental training?
I was asked the other day and not for the first time why do mental training? I have been a proponent for three decades now that everyone should do mental training and working with someone like myself can help give every athlete a new set of tools or even one tool that will help them get to a new level of performance. I have worked with beginners to world champions and everyone finds something that is useful to them. But the question is still often asked so I thought I would address it here today.
The usual questions start with how does mental training or sport psychology help athlete’s perform at a higher level. Generally before I can answer that question the person will ask; will it help me deal with ___________________? There is a long list usually dealing with fear or anxiety. The answer is yes it will help and in so many other areas as well. Usually people will ask about a certain area.
In general I usually work with athletes on some form of the things I have listed below. If you are astute the thing you will notice is that I have listed a combination of training techniques and issues. I’ve done this because over the years I have found that people tend to think about sport psychology in both terms issues and techniques. An example is relaxation training. Athletes may want to learn how to deal with stress and the easiest way for them to talk about it is they want to learn to relax. Whatever way you want to think about is OK. What I want you to understand is that regardless of how you think about sport psychology and mental training it must be in your arsenal as a hockey player. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, and I have worked with world champions, this is an area that you can improve and help yourself get to the next level. (more…)
Journal of a Sport Psychology Consultant
This is a journal of a sport psychology consultant. A week with the Cheyenne Stampede working with them on the mental game. Pre season Mental training with them. I thought I would take a brief moment to talk about the process. It is a process I have used many times, but it is always different in the sense that flexibility is critical. I had worked out a rough schedule with the GM prior to my flying in. He and the head coach had worked it into a posted schedule on the website so the players were aware of what we were going to be doing. I flew into Denver and drove up to Cheyenne where I met the GM at the Holiday Inn (a team sponsor).
Working with the Cheyenne Stampede, Jr A Hockey Team
Our first session was at 5PM, but our first stop was practice. I met briefly with Coach Quarters as the players hit the ice. Right after practice we headed to Smart Sports which is where they do strength and conditioning. It’s a great facility with its own medical facility. I met the facility owner and head physician Dr. Skip Ross and the personal trainers and physical therapist. There were a few players getting PT while Ro the personal trainer was killing it with the team doing core and strength work.
Headed to the Arena for my first session with the team
Ceremonial Puck Drop prior to Stampede vs Weber State
Talked a little more with Coach Quarters about my plan and then met the team officially. I was introduced to the team by GM and owner Mark Lantz. GM & coach sat in on introductory session. This is important to establish that what we are doing is important to the team’s success. I’ve often been asked to work with teams and the team coaches and front office more or less go play golf. This hurts the programs credibility as players see it as there is no buy in from staff. (more…)
On Being Overconfident
On being overconfident what does this mean? Part of the goal in working with athletes either as a sport psychology consultant or as a coach is to produce confident athletes. We know both from practical application and research that confident athletes perform at higher levels than athletes lacking in this competency of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). However, it is important to look at confidence on a continuum from low self-confidence to overconfidence. We know athletes fail on either end of this continuum. Muhammad Ali had a supreme level of confidence that served him well.
Most psychological literature suggests that human beings are overconfident in their abilities. We tend to overestimate our ability to perform in given situations. This is part of human nature and perhaps related to our need to achieve and for survival. Lack of confidence certainly hinders effort; if someone believes they will fail, we know they will make less of an effort. That said, overconfidence can lead to failure, and it’s an issue that’s not covered nearly enough in the available literature.
Researchers believe evolution likely favors overconfidence (OC). People having an overly positive self-image tend to win out over others with more accurate assessments in sports and other activities. By making every kid a winner, sports educators have probably contributed to this notion. We need to remind ourselves even in a discussion about overconfidence that in order to achieve success, we must believe we can. Being OC may drive someone to believe they can achieve almost anything. Keeping in mind the adage “If you think you can or you think you can’t – you are right”. Overconfidence is often the information deficit between perception and performance. Objective feedback is the best independent variable to help athletes maintain balance.
Three issues stand out in talking about overconfidence. First the drive for preparation is often lacking in those that are overconfident. This can be physical and mental. Athletes that are OC may not put in the effort needed to prepare for a contest. When this is the case, coaches must be aware and communicate the proper challenges for athletes. Often this is done by inventing scenarios about the opposition to create focus for the athletes. I recommend creating practice and contest challenges that require athletes to prepare as if they were getting ready to compete against equals or slightly better competition. Require skilled practices where a high set of goals need to be met. Joe Namath predicted victory in the Super Bowl even though NY Jets were underdogs.
After you’ve create a solid practice routine, the second issue is effort during a contest. Being OC may mean that athletes are willing to sleepwalk through a game. Again coaches can use goal setting to help athletes stay on task. It is an opportunity to play athletes that don’t often get the same playing time that starters have earned. This motivates everyone and can push OC players not wanting to find themselves on the bench because of lack of focused mental and physical effort.
Third, overconfidence is often linked to arrogance. Arrogance in an athlete can lead to conflicts on teams. A certain amount of cockiness is admired by coaches and teammates. It can be an issue when it causes a disruption on a team and cohesion takes a beating. Of the two other issues, this requires a strong coach to guide the athlete, while not shaking their confidence. The old adage “A dogs bark is more often than not just a loud noise”. One good way of working with athletes like this is to discuss role models and have them describe the athlete’s temperament and not just their athletic prowess.
The primary ways we help athletes using mental training to teach them the emotional skill set to maintain proper balance. This involves goal setting, monitoring their self talk; helping them identify positive role models, and increasing their self-awareness with accurate performance information. A runner gets accurate information, as the stop watch only speaks truths. On a team, an athlete is more likely to get false information, both positive and negative, from a game and practice because the information is more subjective. Coaches and others can help make information usable with good input.
The bottom line revolves around self-awareness. Confidence is interrelated with other EQ constructs. Helping athletes develop a balanced understanding of themselves and their abilities enables them to find the proper competitive balance and perform at their highest levels.