Stillpower and other tools in Sports
What’s the line from the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”? This post is all about Catharsis, Stillpower, Mindfulness and Hypnosis and other tools in Sports. Well maybe it is more about professional approaches to helping athletes perform their best.
I read a blog post by an author named Garret Kramer called Stillpower. I bought Kramer’s book several months ago as it was recommended by Amazon when you buy my book, “The Athlete within You“. In and of itself the book is useful. It is about his technique of Stillpower. It can be known in other terms as mindfulness or even Gap Training. I appreciate his presentation and the writing is FINE. (yes I meant to do that)
Here is what has me mad as hell. I love tools, tools to help athletes and business people with their skills so they can achieve their dreams and goals. I call them tools where others might say techniques or even philosophies, but I’m going to stick with the metaphor as tools because a wise person once told me there is a right tool for every need.
Both in his book and in his blog right away he starts in on how sport psychology is all wrong. His blog titled “Do You Use Mental Techniques? Here’s Why They’re Not Working” goes along with the side note in his book. That basically those of us who do and teach mental training are ineffective and it is all about Stillpower. I’m not going to disagree that “Stillpower” as he calls it or Mindfulness is not to some extent a critical component to great performance, because it is. Stillpower and Mindfulness are important tools in our arsenal. But believing an athlete can get to A to Z with a single technique is not mindful; it is in my opinion mindless.
To go with this last week I read a post by a sports hypnotist and NLP Practitioner who said visualization was next to useless. He showed a video with Tiger Woods. Woods says he does not use visualization. I’d be really interested to interview Tiger on that. My bet is it is a semantics difference. The Hip, hypnotist used it to his own end from an NLP perspective to play a different kind of semantics game. As I have completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center on the use of imagery or visualization I think I will go with findings rather than semantics.
So I feel like I need to respond in some way. Am I defending Sport Psychology? I guess so. I can be both privately and publicly a critic of some of the Sport Psych Family for some of their narrow (some as narrow as the above) views or practices. So I am not a simple defender of the faith, if you will.
Sport Psychology offers something called scientific study. We have a decent history (not great) of looking at things that work and don’t work. I’m at times critical of how or why we look at something’s, but at least we do research. I’d prefer researchers would take a closer look at what those of us in applied sport psychology do and study that more closely or look at areas we think are important, but that basically can be said for all areas of psychology.
Now don’t get me wrong, I use Stillpower or gap training or mindfulness whatever one wants to call it today. I use hypnosis and NLP too. But they are tools, just like Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT) and other psychological tools. So while censuring sport psychology and mental training may be good for selling books, perhaps it might be better to some things that are actually studied fail to be effective, because well, they don’t work for everyone……
What tools do you use?
If we think about mental training as a tree with many branches you can understand that different people may need help from different areas of the tree. One might be mindfulness as meditation has 1000’s of years of history helping people. It might be hypnosis or NLP, or CBT or Gestalt. Human beings are complex creatures. With my apologies to behaviorist, athletes are not dogs salivating at the sound of a bell (or whistle for athletes, though some actually do). Different mental skills require different solutions. Different athletes (people) require different solutions. Cookie cutter training is ineffective. Do I have a program? Absolutely! Does it change dependent on athlete needs? You better believe it does!
I’m very sure Kramer sells more books than I do. I know the sports hypnotist sells more programs on his website than I do. I also know that I make simple statements like I can help you get better at what you do. No miracles. Mental training, based in science; which has been shown to be an effective way of increasing performance. Thirty-five years’ experience helping people reach their goals and dreams. There is a huge tool box out there with tools (techniques like Stillpower) that can help you perform better. Why not find out which ones are right for you?
OK, I’m still mad as hell, but that was cathartic and I feel better. And I still have my mind.
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.
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…)
Out of our COMFORT ZONES
Getting out of our comfort zones. I’ve been seeing this graphic a lot lately. Photos of people jumping off cliffs, or bubble graphics showing where you are now and where you want to be and the only way to get there is to get out of your COMFORT ZONE.
COMFORT ZONES are a moving target or at least it should be. As you move yourself out of your COMFORT ZONE to become or realize your goals, you will start to get comfortable again. This requires the mentally strong person to continually push themselves into a new level of discomfort. Complacency leads athletes to mediocrity. This is especially true in training camp. You have survived the first few weeks. If you didn’t force yourself out of your COMFORT ZONES certainly your coaches did. Now that you have gotten used to the ebb and flow of practice things are easier and for many this is a time to relax a bit and focus on what you are good at doing. But great athletes never allow themselves to get sucked into the malaise of the COMFORT ZONE. Great athletes are vigilant in their pursuit to continually push themselves out of the COMFORT ZONE to find THE ZONE. THE ZONE is where an athlete plays their best. It is often called PEAK PERFORMANCE and should be every athlete’s ultimate destination. Notice I said destination and not goal. THE ZONE is not something you can set goals for directly, it is the path you travel that gets you there and to get to THE ZONE, you have to pass through your COMFORT ZONES.
One way out of the comfort zone is to …
Now it is easy for people (sometimes coaches) to tell players this is an easy thing to do. It is for some of course, but certainly not for everyone. Having worked with thousands of athletes over the last 30+ years at some very high levels I can tell you at some point the COMFORT ZONES suck most everyone in. You can get out of the COMFORT ZONE in many ways. One exercise I like to use with athletes is using an imagery technique. It is a switch technique. Imagine you are practicing or playing in the COMFORT ZONE. Things are going well for you, but others are working just a little harder. They may be even making a few mistakes, but you are playing safely in the COMFORT ZONE. This seems OK, but you are starting to lose ground. As you imagine this scenario, notice where you see it. Out in front, to the side, below eye level or above. It doesn’t matter. Let’s put that aside for a moment. Now imagine a different scene. In this one you are pushing yourself out of your COMFORT ZONE. You are tired, you are trying new things, you are learning and getting better. Now notice where that image is located. Put them up on a huge flat screen TV in their respective places. Turn the COMFORT ZONE image black and white and make it smaller. Now take the out of the COMFORT ZONE image. Make it brighter and bigger. Count to three and switch their relative space on the TV. Fade the COMFORT ZONE completely into oblivion and say to yourself this is where I want to travel. Practice this and make what you see a reality by committing to this image and feeling every time you step out to practice and play. This is a great first step in helping yourself when you have trouble getting out of your COMFORT ZONE. The more we try to learn about ourselves, the more we can move down the path towards peak performance and finding THE ZONE.