Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
When I wrote my last post on mental training being The Final Frontier my intention was to close with this statement. “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!” Somehow it got lost in my enthusiasm. Or maybe it was in looking for a suitable picture from Star Trek. Either way I left it out.
I was honored this past week by being selected to be Expert in Residence at the Overlake School in Redmond WA. The mission of The Overlake School is to Inspire excellence, Develop intellectual curiosity, Teach responsibility, Embrace diversity and Foster a compassionate community. We live our mission every day and it informs every decision we make. It was a great experience for me to make presentations to the entire school and do training sessions for 22 classes. I got to meet the majority of the students. Overlake has over 80% participation in sports and is nationally known for it’s excellence in education.
My message was pretty clear to all of the students. “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!”. These students have tremendous advantages. They have supportive teachers, coaches and families. I took a poll in most of the classes I met with. What do you do to train mentally? How much time do you spend. The best answer I got was from a fencer. We work on strategy. He at least saw or felt like he was doing something positive. A few students took yoga and a few others said they practiced breathing to relax (incorrectly of course). But out of the 500 plus students I met with this week no one did any real mental training. No one said they had even read a book or an article on mental training. I did training sessions on mental toughness, motivation, resiliency, relaxation, imagery & visualization, concentration, stress & anxiety management, confidence and how their thoughts affect their emotions.
We either have to decide that sport is not 70-80% mental or that mental training is important to all athletes. The more I work with athletes and see how much greater their success is when they incorporate mental training into their regular regimen, the more I am convinced that “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!”.
I just updated The Mental Game website with a dozen stories about athletes I’ve worked with and what they focused on. You can see them here. I’ve been reticent about posting stories but was convinced by one of my former clients. These are a few examples I’ve picked that were instructive from the past 3 decades. One of the things that struck me as I was preparing this list were two of my current clients. Both very good athletes. Both were just recruited to the colleges they wanted to play for. Both stopped working on their mental game soon after receiving their acceptance letters. Both recently started up again because of slips in their performance.
When they called me to give them to get them a jump started again, as it were, they both acknowledged that they remembered that I had told them they needed to continue mental training as part of their routine. They didn’t stop conditioning, they each get private coaching in their sport in addition to team training, but that it regimented for them. I had set them up with a program, but it was one that they had to maintain. Lifting weights are visible reminders of what you need to do. A spread sheet reminding you to do some mental training I guess is not as sexy. In my next post I’ll talk about what I’m doing with a company to provide a phone app as a reminder to do mental training.
The thing I want you to see is that even with the success that these two athletes achieved (acceptance into an Ivy League School and a full ride to a university in the ACC), the need to think of mental training as a necessity instead of a luxury is critical. Mental training is not something you just read a book about and move on (unless it is The Athlete within You) Joking of course. It is something you put into practice for the rest of your athletic career.
If you understand this, believe it, then do something about it. You can read about sport psychology. There are lots of books out there besides mine, maybe not as good, but tons of great information. Find a book you like and figure out a program for yourself. Find a certified mental trainer/ sport psychology consultant and talk with them. I SKYPE with athletes all over the country and a few out of country My SKYPE name is Mike.Margolies. I do a 20 minute consultation for free to see if our working together works for both you and me. Then implement a program just as you implemented a strength and conditioning program. Follow your program and you will understand how it will help you find the real athlete within you.
Thoughts from the Darkness of Super Bowl 47
Thoughts on what mental lessons did we learn from Super Bowl 47
I would be remiss if I if I didn’t follow last weeks post with some thoughts and observations from Super Bowl 47.
With all the hype one team came out ready to play. You are a team or individual athlete and you have two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of your career and you come out flat. Was it the distractions of the week or just that the other team was better prepared mentally. On paper both teams have great defenses and good offenses. Half time score was 21-6 at half. 11 second into the 2nd half the score was 28-6.
And then the lights went out. We can insert 49ers, gambling, CBS, etc. jokes here about who pulled the plug.
Needless to say a weird thing happened on the way to a beat down by the older brother to his younger sibling. The lights went out in Georgia (er the Super Dome) causing a 35 minute delay. The Ravens had all of the momentum. They were in cruse control. And then the darkness. All of a sudden things changed. The commentary started in about how this may have saved San Francisco. Now they have time to regroup. No team has comeback from more than a 10 point deficit, but now maybe this is a sign. Certainly the coaching staff for the 49ers are telling their players that they can use this to their advantage. This will be the shift in momentum they need. After all its 3rd down and 13 for a first down, but the Ravens won’t be able to stop them now. On the other side, while the Ravens are thinking they still have this game in the bag time is not on their side. They are an older team and it takes time to physically get going after an hour of sitting around. Half time is over twice as long and a normal game. So they cooled down, got ready again and cooled again. Tough for any athlete. They too likely started to wonder if this meant things were not to be.
The brothers who are always interesting to watch were an interesting study. If you asked me who would be the most irrational about something during the game I would have said it would be 49er head coach Jim. He is not known in the media as Mr Congeniality. He made up for it later, but I’ll save that. Brother John can have his moments, but is perceived differently. During the Darkness, as I will refer to it, the camera caught John going off on the referees and NFL official over something. He looked as if he were losing it. He had been told they could not use headsets because the 49ers side were down. The Ravens send in plays from the coaches box so that would put them at a disadvantage. They were going to take an extra 15 minutes to allow the coaches to come down. I think it was also the delay and could he get his team back where he needed them mentally and physically after the lay off.
San Francisco takes control
Just like the movie script that includes a conspiracy theory on who pulled the plug, San Francisco came out of the Darkness on Que and came back and took the lead. The Ravens responded showing that they had not died and pulled ahead. In the end it came down to a goal line stance with SF having the ball in the Red Zone. They needed a touchdown as time was running out. Baltimore dug in and held them figuratively and perhaps actually. A non call on a hold / passing interference on 4th and the trophy, sent Jim into a rage. Not sure he’s stopped complaining yet. The Ravens get the ball on downs. Three runs later and there is still time on the clock. Ravens have to punt or perhaps opt for a safety to take time off the clock and give them room to prevent a blocked kick. Most everyone knew it was what they would do. The interesting thing was that the offense became like the defense. The held and tacked the defense players allowing the punter to take more time off before taking the safety. Holding /tackling the other team was penalty. The refs made no call. Now in truth the it made no difference. It was an anomaly. I remember having the same thing happen to me coaching youth football 36 years ago. I’ve seen some people say it is not within the spirit of the game. That may be but it is within the rules. Call or don’t call the penalty. Either way it was the endgame.
End of an Era
Ray Lewis is retiring. He won’t be gone as I am sure he will be on TV forever. I’m not a big RL fan. He paid (sort of for his crime) but still makes questionable life choices. He’s made some good ones as well and I have friends in the Baltimore area that talk about how much he does for the community. I think that is great. Community starts at home as well and he needs I think take care of his kids and ex girlfriends too. But Ray and Ed (a real good dude) are gone. I’m happy for Baltimore and their fans. There are some good stories, inspiring stories as well. Former All Pro O.J. Brigance being around fighting ALS.
Mental aspects of the Darkness
Mental toughness is about being resilient, about persevering and about persistence.
The biggest things to look at I think are these. Be prepared for competition, mentally, emotionally and physically. (Ravens)
Be prepared for coping when things go terribly wrong like the Darkness (49ers)
Fight back when you lose momentum. (Ravens)
Don’t lose it emotionally (both coaches)
And finally be mentally strong enough to be gracious in both victory and defeat.
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…)
Even Sport Psychology Consultants prepare
So how do sport psychology consultants prepare to go work with a team? I thought it might be instructive to talk about preparing to work with a hockey team from my perspective. I think this is important to understand because there are no cookie cutter programs. Just as one of the very principles I work with athletes is flexibility, I believe that has to be the case with any program put together for a team of any kind. I’ve worked with lots of teams and I assure you it is always different.
My bags are packed and I’m ready to go!
First step is learning about the team. People who believe that sport psychology consultants, sports performance experts, sports hypnotists or any other name you can make up do not have to understand the game are crazy. Yes this is the technical term more of less banned in psychotherapy, but it is easy enough for everyone to understand. The first rule of counseling /coaching in any field begins or ends with rapport. If I’m a poser I will turn off the very people I am trying to help. Does this mean I have to be able to skate or for that matter Pole Vault, of course not. But I should be able to intelligently discuss not only athletic behavior expected but have a pretty good understanding of what it takes for an athlete to compete in their sport. The more I understand the language of a given sport, the better I will relate to a team. I once knew a sport psychologist that was making a presentation to a football team and talked about scoring more runs. I think you understand where I’m going. So it is important to have a good understanding of the activity. I certainly believe over the years being a coach and doing work in exercise physiology has been a huge help. Having been trained to teach 20 plus activities also doesn’t hurt. But I digress. (more…)
Seven Day Challenge: Remembering the Coin
About a week ago I posted an exercise Remember the Coin Part 1.
Remembering the Coin. It was really a seven-day challenge. I gave the instructions, but no explanation of what the exercise was about. I set it up to entice athletes to want to do the exercise without an explanation of what the lesson was about. I left that part out for a couple of reason.
1) If you know what it is about you are likely to say that is not an issue for me and decide not to give it a go.
2) Another reason is I wanted to show how perhaps language might impact those that gave it a try.
3) And the third reason is that as with many good mental training exercises, I did not want to influence people into thinking that it was one simple construct, but perhaps it had multiple meanings.
So here is part of the reason for the exercise. If you found other significance’s, I would love for you to post them here. At the end of the explanation I’ve added another challenge for those of you that found this too easy. That would be the 10% that passed, not the other 10% that lied or the 80% that failed.
The primary reason to do this exercise revolves around discipline. What almost every person lacks to achieve what they want is Discipline.
If you are not disciplined enough to complete a simple task for 7 days, how will you possibly be disciplined enough to commit to any kind of goal setting or other training plan?
From experience, I will tell you that you will always have a difficult time in any training, if you are not willing to do the little things that are involved in success.
This is one of the things I start with in working with athletes. If they are not able to complete this simple exercise, expectations are in need of reassessment. I know of another sport psychology consultant who refuses to work with an athlete that cannot complete this simple task. I would rather use it as a great learning experience and teachable moment. The effort the athlete puts into this process is critical to the long-term effort they put into the sports performance they want to achieve.
The reason this exercise is difficult is in its simplicity. Stupid or silly are words I’ve heard to describe it. Meaningless as they do not see the relevance. In its simplicity and meaninglessness is its relevancy. When an athlete finds that they cannot be bothered with details of training, they often cannot stay on track with many other parts of training. An athlete may have no issue with parts of training they consider important to their success, but other less interesting or fun parts get set aside. For example an athlete, say an ice hockey player, might decide that on ice training is critical, but when it comes to off-ice work the motivation is not always there. I’ve seen this interfere many times with the relationship between coach and athlete, because the athlete lacks discipline to carry out the coaches instructions.
The other thing about this exercise is that it demonstrates a need for emotional commitment to everything the athlete does. In this exercise there was no emotional commitment. The athlete has no blood in the game. Neither success nor failure means anything. This makes completion of the task other than by discipline difficult. We all need to make an emotional connection to what we really want. These connections are what help motivate us to continue when we have reservations. The exercise helps create an emotional connection. If you accomplish this connection, you’ll be a step closer to finding the athlete within you.
OK a couple of other points about how I set up the exercise. I did set athletes up to fail. I challenged them almost to the point of saying you are a failure if you cannot achieve success. However, I also left the gate open and said you can start over should you forget a day. The other thing I did was that I continued to use the word TRY everywhere I could. I asked the athlete to try and meet the challenge. This was really as much for parents and coaches, as the athlete. When working with players eliminating this word can have a very positive effect. Consider that this exercise would be easier if I had told everyone that they could be very successful just by completing this task. Eliminate try and you will see more progress in those you work with. I promise. Give it a try, or rather as Nike says. “Just Do It”
Remembering the Coin: POST SCRIPT
To make the exercise more difficult (for the 10% THAT PASSED). Take your paper and put it behind something. Put it completely out of sight so you force yourself to do it. You can invent other challenges as well. Keep in mind that often times discipline is a habit and to create a new and positive habit takes between 21-45 days. Teach yourself to be a more disciplined athlete and you will find many other benefits.