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.
Mental Notes from the 2012 Master Golf Tournament
The Masters Golf Tournament 2012
Yesterday April 9th, 2012 I sat back and watched a fairly dramatic Masters Golf Tournament to its conclusion. It was an enjoyable afternoon. There was drama and both good and bad play. I hadn’t watched the Masters in years for one reason or another. Just timing really as it has always been one of my favorite golf tournaments. I’ve seen remarkable play at Augusta and remarkable meltdowns. I’ve seen dramatic shots that ripped the green jacket off of the apparent winner and I’ve seen apparent winners toss the jacket away with shots that are normally the jurisdiction of high handicap players. I’ve witnessed crushing defeats and glorious victories. My favorite moment was in 1986 with Jack Nicklaus winning at the age of 46. It was a moment lost in time not only because of the Golden Bears age or the hug for his caddie son on the 18th green, but because I watched it with friends at a sport psychology conference and it would be the last time we were together in one place.
So why am I writing about yesterdays Masters. Not because of the drama of Bubba Watson winning the two hole sudden death playoff even though his approach shot was remarkable. Yes I do think there were a few interesting psychological competencies that are always demonstrated during highly pressurized matches, but there was more at this one. Not more pressure or more instances where we could see them, but for me something more interesting.
I will interject a twitter argument I had with a sport psychology researcher while we were tweeting away about the match. He pointed out that Bubba Watsons shot that basically won the Masters was not a demonstration of mental toughness because if he were mentally tough he would not have put his drive in such a bad spot to begin with. This is just another case of a researcher not having a good understanding of sports. While I believe there is much more to mental toughness as I have written quite often about, I do think it was an example of resiliency an important competency of emotional intelligence and mental toughness. I will of course state that we don’t know from what we say on TV had anything to do with any psychological construct other than to say it might have been a great example of resiliency. That in fact is how I use anything seen from sports events in working with athletes. They are stories that teach lessons about things we want athletes to understand. What actually happened we don’t have an understanding about unless we have the opportunity to talk with the athlete and even then the information would be questionable. But as an example of behavior we want another athlete to emulate, it provides a great story and as such is a wonderful teaching tool. So to my twitter friend, I’m glad you are out there doing research. I hope it is useful to those of use that work in the real world.
Back to the Masters and why I was so intrigued. One of the first things I heard during the broadcast was the word visualization. Not once but twice in succession talking about a golfer. This was followed shortly with remarks about how calm the golfer is and comments about his breathing. As I paid attention during the tournament I heard more and more references to psychological constructs related to performance. Hearing one or two during a tournament is no big thing, but it seemed to me that there was a definite tendency towards the mental picture of a golfer. I’ve watched tournaments for years both on TV and in person and usually the discussion is about swing mechanics. The only time the announcers focus on mental attributes is when a player melts down for the world to see. This was definitely different. I heard discussions about stress, anxiety, focus, calmness, breathing, visualization, imagery, emotion and other skills. I have to wonder out loud, this is as loud as I can be, if it was part of their show notes or just a new trend especially with so many golfers working with sport psychology consultants like myself.
AS for what I saw at the end of the tournament. I saw two golfers hit bad drives on the 2nd playoff hole. I won’t say it was stress. It could have been something as ridiculous as just a slip in footing. The next shots I will use as examples. Louis Oosthuizen was in a better position for his next shot. He left it short. Stress, loss of focus, poor club selection or a bad lie could all have caused the ball not to carry to the green. Watson had to hood a wedge 155-165 yards and hook the ball 40 yards to hit the green. He did and basically put himself in the driver’s seat. Oosthuizen would have had to sink his putt to regain control and instead put the ball past the hole. At that point the tournament belonged to Watson. The construct I will use regardless of what actually happened is resiliency. Watson hit a bad shot and needed a great one to recover. Golf is an unfair game and sometimes you hit shots that don’t go where you want them to go. How you recover is how you succeed. This is one of the keys to emotional intelligence. Bad things happen in every sport. Not just because of stress, but often because of the good play of others and it is how you recover that will dictate how successful you ultimately become in anything you do.
Last week LA Laker Kobe Bryant went like 0-14 in a game and then hits the game winning 3 point shot. People don’t bounce back unless they are resilient. There will always be examples of remarkable athletes and great performances, but as people are rarely perfect, they most always need to bounce back from some adversity. Resiliency can be developed within you. I suspect it’s worth a shot.
This is not just for golf, it is for life.