I have a new friend. We met on LinkedIn. He does Meta-analysis in sport. I’ve not really delved into what that means. He was born in the old Soviet Union and now resides in Israel. In one of our first conversations he said he knew many sports psychologists both in his days in the USSR and now in Israel. He said they are all poor. A curious statement to be sure. He felt the major issues revolved around who the Sport Psychology person worked for. If they work for the team, then how does the athlete trust them? The athlete might reveal something which could get them benched, if the SPC told the staff. If they work for the athlete, how does the manager or coach trust that they are getting the correct information about the athlete’s state of mind. Trust on both sides has been an issue as long as I can remember. I’ve talked and written about this for years. My answer was always about integration of mental training into the team. Sport Psychology Consultant is there all of the time. They become part of the scene. My new friend’s statement got me thinking. Maybe the issue is not all a team issue, maybe it’s our issue too.
It is time we shift gears or paradigms, even if it means having to do so with a bit of humility (something I often discuss with athletes). If sport psychology was equal to other sport sciences, then a lot of our issues would go away. This is what I mean. If a football player needs more strength, the exercise physiology team with strength and conditioning people tell the athlete and the coaching staff what the player needs to do to perform at the next level. If the athlete has too much fat, a nutritionist tells the athlete and coaches the player needs to eat differently. If a quarterback has a poor throwing motion a bio-mechanics expert might go to the staff and suggest ways to fix it. Unless of course it’s Tebow, then nothing will help apparently.
When sport psychology notices a flaw in a player’s arsenal, be it stress, confidence or focus, we can only talk with the player behind closed doors. Why? Glad you asked. Because we still think of ourselves as psychologists. We are enamored with our pedigree. We talk about teaching skills, but will not allow that we are sport scientists, teachers and coaches. We teach athletes to have confidence, to get over blocks, to cope with stress and to focus better. Helping athletes and teams develop emotional intelligence is not the same as working with someone who is paranoid (no Jim Harbaugh jokes).
Individual conversations are private. Just as the conversation between sport science staff and athlete are. The public is not invited, but the team maybe. The athletic trainer does not announce that an athlete has a weak hamstring to the world (injury reports aside). The conversations are private, but the discussion is open to the staff. There are no secret. If there are no secrets, there is no shame. If there is no shame, then doing mental training becomes a part of the program.
This is a shift, it’s a big shift. It means we are no longer as special. We are no longer different from the rest of the sports science team (we have a natural insecurity because others think our science is soft). We want to be like the team medical doctor. We want legal confidentiality between doctor and patient. We forget we are teaching mental skills. There is still the bond of trust between us, the athlete and team. We are not going public. We are like everyone on the team.
The bottom line is we teach skills to athletes. We help them discover as all good teachers do, elements that are missing from their skills set, in order to perform at a higher level. When we understand that, then we can share that with athletes, teams and others associated with sport. Since we all don’t get that, we are stuck. Hence the need for a paradigm shift.
Understand, I am not talking about working with depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol related issues, etc. requiring psychotherapy or other interventions.. I’ve been working with athletes for 35 years and have only referred athletes to psychotherapists three times. Maybe only healthy players seek me out. I don’t care. If there are other issues we can help them in other ways. We teach, consult, counsel athletes on mental skills. When we get that through our head, perhaps everyone else will as well.
These are just some thoughts to go along with my last few posts. Until then, I will shout at the wind and perhaps others will listen. I am a sport psychology consultant. I am a mental skills trainer. Come work with me and understand that mental skills training is just like everything else we do in sports to reach the next level. Yes it is in your head. Yes it is harder to measure the results. But sure as anything there is in this life, mental skills training is perhaps the most important part of your training routine.
So let’s all of us get out of your own way. Learn about mental toughness. Join the shift. If we do this, more athletes will follow. For athletes and teams, don’t miss out because a bunch of people like me don’t get it. Help us shift. We will help you back. Maybe even Tebow. Remember- Mental training is not a Luxury, it’s 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.
I’ve not ever felt a need to do this before, to have a year in review. It is a new experience for me. I want to look back at 2012 with clarity and be able to move forward in new ways. So taking my own advice, I am going back over the successes and of course challenges of the past year. You can cut to the chase by going to the last paragraph if you like.
Starting with the Athletes and their sports
I worked with an amazing group of athletes this year including those in the following sports: Golf, football, gymnastics, hockey, equestrians, soccer, tennis, swimming, softball, baseball, track, diving, roller derby, basketball, triathlon, cycling, fencing, water skiing, fitness, power lifting and lacrosse.
Competitor’s ages ranged from 12 to 70+. Competitive levels were club, high school, college and professional. Seven high school athletes earned scholarships or were accepted to their first choice college as an athlete (Ivy League = no athletic scholarships). One college walk-on earned her full scholarship. Most the athletes, but not all, were starters on their respective teams. In the end all were starting most of their games. I worked with a few teams as well at the club and minor league levels. All in all it was a very good year for the clients I worked with. If I were to put it in baseball terms, I would say that we batted around .900 Read the rest of the post by choosing more…. (more…)
Happy Holiday’s from The Mental Game. It has been an interesting year for most of us. The economy has not yet turned around and there are challenges yet to be faced around the world in terms of freedom, peace, health and social acceptance. As with most things, we make a few steps forward and take a step back. This was a good year in many ways and friends are celebrating new adventures. I am glad you are out there.
This year has been great for little things in life like my book, “The Athlete within You- a mental approach to sports and business” While not yet on the New York Times Best Sellers list, it has been selling and more important for me, I get compliments from those that read it. Just a week or so ago I got a message from a Major League Soccer player who was reading it and took the time to write to me how much he was enjoying it. I’ve had tons of parents tell me the same thing and that now they understand what their kids are going through. It is all very gratifying.
Clients. My clients are amazing people and teams. They have had one of the best years ever both on the playing field and off. They are learning mental skills and becoming mentally tough. High School athletes getting scholarships and the same for a couple of walk on college players. Some college players getting the chance to play at the next level. One of the things I am most happy about is how well athletes are using the mental skills training in all parts of their life. Grades are improving as well as their achievements in other areas of their lives. I got a huge compliment just today from the husband of a client as he jumped on to our SKYPE call to tell me how much he appreciated what his wife was learning and how it was translating to other areas of their lives. He’s going to be introducing me to businesses because of what he has seen. I’m looking forward to it!
Speaking of Speaking. This has been an area where I have had a lot of fun doing both paid gigs and working with service organizations gratis. In January I will be giving appreciation seminars for a major financial institution and a major Mutual Fund. This is an area I’ve focused on and it is starting to move forward.
Wishing everyone Happy Holiday’s from my family to yours. Just wanted you to know I am grateful for all of you out there that read this blog. Please feel free to comment back or you can reach me through The Mental Game to say hello. If you would like to give a book to a friend or family member I am posting shortly a way to give a gift and for a portion of your purchase to go to children. The link will be here . Working on the details now.
TAGFEE in Sports. I have written about core values before here. I think they are very important to teams, individuals and businesses. Normally I apply things we have learned from elite athletes and sports teams to the people I help in the business world. I do a good bit of team building and teaching corporate entities the value of working more like a sports team then a business unit. I’d like to take some time today and reverse this stratagem. It is not that when I work with sports teams I do not use the things I have learned from being in the business world to help them be efficient, I do, but this is something I want to incorporate more. It is not that these ideas are revolutionary to either the business world or to the sports world. I just happen to like the way that this is laid out in I think a very useful way. To be sure for some teams this will be very alien in nature. If this make your club, team uncomfortable that may be good. If you are the owner, GM or coach just consider how this could make a difference. Maybe there are a few things, if not all you could incorporate. I just want you to consider them for now and we can discuss implementation at a later time.
This idea blossomed in my mind after a meeting I had with Founding President Emeritus of a hi-tech company called SeoMoz, Gillian Muessig. She and her son Rand Fishkin developed this model and Rand has been the chief orator on what they call TAGFEE. I thought what I would do was briefly describe TAGFEE and then apply it to a sports team rather than to a business unit. You can read much more about TAGFEE on SeoMoz.