Are we in this for the long haul? Or are we looking for a quick fix? Mental Game Training takes time and commitment.
Quick vs. Long term Mental Training programs
Recently there has been some discussion on mental training programs among some of us that are practitioners of the dark arts. (You will need to read my book to get the inside joke, as I often refer to my transition from wanting to be a college coach to being persuaded by my mentors to come over to the dark side (Academia and sport psych).
Much of the discussion has been about quick fixes vs. long-term results. Too many people, not just athletes are looking for instant gratification and instant results. When I work with athletes I am helping them get long-term results, but quickly. No this is not an oxymoron. It is simply that in traditional psychotherapy progress takes place over the long haul. Sport Psychology and mental skills training are not traditional psychotherapy, so I believe we must look at our area a bit differently. Sport Psych is an educational process that uses psychological research, philosophy and technique to help athletes learn to perform at a higher level. It is a process and contrary to some beliefs, magic is not involved.
I am making this point because while I do believe helping athletes is a process, I also believe it is an accelerated one. Think of it from the perspective of the professional athlete. If they are not performing to their own or the management’s expectations, very shortly they are going to be looking for a new job. So mental training needs to have an effect rather quickly or the athlete might not need our services, as unemployed athletes may not need services of this nature. There is not much difference if we consider youth players trying to make the team they want to play on or the adult golfer that would just want to break 85 to make them a more popular business partner on the golf course.
Now I have helped many athletes get past issues in single sessions. I recently worked with a gymnast that could not release from the uneven bars. It took me just 10 minutes to help her with that. She was off and competing at the state level the next day. We spent another 5 weeks making sure that her mental skills were where they needed to be for her journey to Nationals after that. My point is that we can get some instant results, but in order to maintain and yes perform at a higher level, work must be done over a longer period of time. I offer programs in six session packages because that is economically viable for most of my clients. I also offer year programs. The only time I see someone on a single session is to make sure that we are the right fit for each other.
Another reason I work with athletes for longer time periods is because it is easy to give lip service to mental training, but it requires commitment and conviction to make it work for you. Everyone buys into the fact that a huge part of performance at every level is mental, but commitment to following a plan is hard. Go back and re read my “Follow the Coin” offerings. And that is a seven-day test. Skill improvement takes time and it takes time to see real long-term results.
I’ve often used an analogy to explain resistance to sport psychology by comparing it to physical training with a personal trainer. You use a personal trainer. To make it simple they give you a 10 pound dumbbell and tell you to do 3 sets of 10 twice a week (bicep curls) for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks they hand you a 15 pound dumbbell. Wow you just got stronger. Real results in a relatively short space of time. You see others doing it and they are getting stronger and fitter. Easy!
Now you work with a sport psychology consultant like me. I give you an exercise to practice for the next two weeks (metal exercise). During the week that follows, you notice you are starting to play better. But because you can’t draw a line connecting the dots, your improvement is more difficult to rationalize.
One thing I find interesting is that when you stop doing bicep curls you will shortly get weaker again. Depending on the mental exercise you were being taught, if it had the impact we were looking for, your performance will likely continue in the direction you wanted it to go, given that you stayed with the training long enough for it to have an impact. Very subtle difference I think you will find. Let’s say it was getting over a small fear. Once you have gotten past that, you are unlikely to head back in that direction.
Another thing with mental training programs to be effective they have more components than one on one consulting sessions. Sometimes there are sessions at practice. Sometimes there are sessions at competitions. There will always be homework exercises to work on until the new mental skills become habituated and the athletes thought processes have improved.
One other benefit of this type of program is accountability. With your coach you are held accountable for what you do during competition and practice. Coaches rarely are in a position to really monitor or focus on an athlete’s mental training and so for the time that an athlete is in a mental training program they are held accountable. This is very important because it reinforces the importance to the athlete to be ever vigilant that they are focused on their mental skills, as well as their physical improvement. In the end this can have a great impact on the athlete’s entire career.
Failings of sports psychology: A Response
I just read an article about the failings of sports psychology. So I need to respond. It’s been an interesting week as a sport psychology consultant. I’ve had a couple of clients take part in major competitions and do well. I even got acknowledgement from them, their families and some of their coaches that a good part of their high level performance was due to their new skills that they learned from me. (there is a point here)
I also worked with a reluctant client. My definition of this type of client is one who knows they need some help, just do not believe sport psychology really has anything to offer. They just believed they were not mentally tough enough to deal with competitive anxiety. This person was goaded by a friend to at least give sport psychology (and me) a chance. (another point).
The rest of the week was pretty much normal with clients preparing for their seasons, some speaking gigs and meeting.
I want to tell a story first.
I am reminded of one last story and feel compelled to share. It is about a major steam ship that is at anchor here in the Puget Sound. It is broken. Something is wrong on this billion-dollar ship with its millions of dollars of cargo. It is costing the shipping line $50,000 a day to be stuck just outside Seattle. Unable to move the captain is desperate for a solution. They call all around the area and try several ship mechanics to no avail. One of them finally tells the captain he should call Hiram. Hiram is an old mechanic and semi-retired. He answers the call. Hiram goes down into the engine area and looks around. He listens and listens some more, standing very still. The captain and his head mechanic start to think they are simply wasting more time.
Suddenly, or at least as suddenly as an old man moves, the master mechanic moves over to one of the pipes. He takes out a hammer and bangs it once at the elbow. The engines start up immediately. Everyone is thrilled. They congratulate Hiram and themselves for being smart enough to call him in.
They then ask him what they owe him for his 15 minutes. He tells them $50,000. $50,000 they say for 15 minutes, that’s crazy. Write it out for us, they demanded. What is the entire bill for? He takes a piece of paper and simple puts down two lines. $1,000 for hitting the pipe. $49,000 for knowing where to strike.
Yes, knowledge is important but equally important is imagination in applying knowledge. I’ve met a lot of people, worked with many and a great deal of them know, absolutely know, what to do in lots of situations. Just as we needed those really good teachers when we were growing up, sometimes we need help to fill in the gaps, so we can be successful.
Late in the week through two social media outlets I got two references that both said the same thing more or less. The first was by some guy trying to sell a book and the other was by a psychotherapists turned sport psychology consultant. The gist of both posts were nearly identical. “Most Sport Psychology Consultants Stink, and Here’s Why”. (more…)
Olympic Conversation and More
Whenever the Olympics roll around I love to listen in on the commentary. A great deal is always about the psychological aspects of competition. So this is about Olympic conversation and more. Yesterday they talked about how the most celebrated beach volleyball players in the world added psychological training to what they do. There are always mentions of athletes cracking under pressure and those that excel with it. The one’s that excel often mention that they work with a sport psychology consultant. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with 14 or so that have gone on to the World Championships and the Olympics. Some have won and some not. It is a competition after all. All of them said their performance was the best that they had to give, win or lose. Isn’t that what everyone wants to come away saying? I’m putting together some examples and I will post them later in the Olympics. It is a great place to observe how athletes cope with being on such a huge stage. Do they lose focus? Does a normally fluid performer look stiff with tension? Are there lots of unforced errors? What were the effects of being successful and coming back for more and what were those implications? All Great Stuff.
Olympic Conversation and More, here’s the more
I so rarely post pictures of myself with clients. I do so only with their consent. This is a picture of me and DeAndre Yedlin. He plays for Sounders FC U23’s and the University of Akron.
Sounders FC U23 Player DeAndre Yedlin with Mike Margolies
That is Soccer of course. The PDL League is perhaps the same as Minor League Baseball A Ball and or other semi pro leagues.. Combination of college and X college players working towards playing professionally. Today he was named to the All PDL National Team. I’m very happy for him. Great work ethic, great attitude and of course a great mental game.
The common theme today is simple. Olympians using sport psychology. One of the best College players in North America using sport psychology. So the question is, as always, Are You?
And I’m not asking everyone to call me. (It would be nice however, as I would love to hear from you). I am saying that you should gather information and incorporate it into your training program.
If you are interested in learning more just go to www.themental-game.com
Learn about sports performance from Albert Einstein
As a sport psychology consultant teaching athletes about the mental game I’ve always thought of myself as very eclectic (choosing what is best or preferred from a variety of sources or styles) to help my clients. There are things like cognitive behavioral therapy, Neurol-Linguistic Programming, Hypnosis, Freudian Psychoanalysis etc. I have often said I am willing to steal (borrow techniques from anywhere to help athletes find their dream). So why not borrow from the greatest mind of the Twentieth Century. Learn about sports performance from Albert Einstein.
I’ve made it no secret that one of my major role models in life has been Albert Einstein. I wrote about this last month in Role Models and Imagination. I was thinking about him again today after quoting him to one of my clients, a college soccer player who also plays on an MLS u23 team. I told him about the imagination quote on my wall while helping him with visualization (imagery rehearsal). It got me thinking about other quotes and what he teaches even those of us who grew up as jocks and not physicists and mathematicians. So here are 10 Things to learn from Einstein that translate into sports performance. It’s not the Universe and it’s easier to understand than E=mc2. Einstein did love to sail. Though it has been reported that the man that opened up the Universe was directionally challenged.
Thing 1: Nurture a Curious Mind (athletes lacking curiosity do not succeed)
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Do not hold back curiosity. It has a reason for its existence. Keep a questioning mind.
Thing 2: Worth of Perseverance is immeasurable (A major component of Mental Toughness)
“It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” The price of perseverance is beyond the corporeal things. It cannot be measured. It cannot be sold. It has no price.
Thing 3: Pay Attention to One Thing at a Time (focus of attention or concentration is key to athletic success)
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” Do not do several tasks at once. It is in doing one task at a time that excellence is achieved. (more…)