Stress and a Glass of Water
I want to run you through a demonstration I have used in workshops and with individual clients. It’s called Stress and a Glass of Water. I didn’t invent the analogy, but have used something like this to help people understand the concept of stress for a long time.
If I were to ask you How heavy is this glass of water? What would your answer be? 8 oz? Maybe 12 oz?
Absolute weight doesn’t matter really. It depends on how long you hold it. If you hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If you hold it for an hour, you’ll have an ache in your arm. If you hold it for a day, your arm will feel numb, it may feel paralyzed or it fall off (or so I’m told). In each case, the weight of the water doesn’t change, but the longer it’s held, the heavier it feels.
Stress and anxiety are like the glass of water. Think about them for a short time and everything is fine. Think about them for a longer period of time and they begin to feel uncomfortable. And if you think about them all the time, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything or moving forward.
I can add to this analogy for you as well. What happens when we add more water? What if you fill the glass to the top? Things tend to get shaky. You have difficulty focusing and water spills out. Now you worry about the water that has spilled too. If someone is talking to you now you have difficulty paying attention and holding the glass still. You’ve also been taught that spilling is bad and you should be ashamed of your self for letting those emotions, er I forgot water spill. So now you can’t focus, you feel shame and to top it off your arm hurts.
You might just consider to put the damn glass down for a while. While it is down and feeling returns to your arm, you can clearly use your skills to deal with the task which caused you to hold the glass of water for so long. Most people choose to continue to hold the glass of water rather than put it down. Sometimes it can even be of help to release (spill) a bit of water. There is no shame in spilling a bit of H2O, after all it’s just water.
Athletes and business people who have heard that being mentally tough means battling stress by holding their arms up to keep the glass of water from spilling have missed the point. Toughness isn’t enduring pain for little reason, mental toughness is about understanding that emotionally intelligent people sometimes put the glass down and figure out a better strategy. This is in part what mental training is all about. Learning the skills of when to hold it up and when to just put the damn thing down.
I am always looking for great analogies / metaphors. What’s your favorite? Share with me and I’ll give you credit. Sharing is a valuable teaching tool to reach more people.
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!
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 Final Frontier: Mental Training
I was looking through some old pictures and articles from over twenty-five years ago. I don’t have a lot of the old things due in part to a burst pipe in the basement, but I have a few things. I pulled out this old and not very well written article I did for some magazine. It was called “The Final Frontier Mental Training”. I had written it because I thought sport psychology and mental training were finally becoming “NORMAL” for all athletes. I had been working with a number of athletes preparing them for everything from World Championships and High School. I was seeing 10-15 athletes a week. Life was starting to be good not only for the athletes as their success was almost always improved but for me as well. This was pre-internet days. Social media was word of mouth. Athletes and their coaches were starting to reach out. I assumed mental training was now finally in the mainstream. I used the Final Frontier because of Star Trek. I in fact went looking for the old article because of the new Star Trek movie release and it hit a nerve with me. The Final Frontier. My meaning then was two-fold. We were exploring how to get the most out of an athlete. New techniques and ways of teaching mental skills The second was we were being accepted in mainstream coaching. Sport Psychology Consultants were being hired in pro sports.
25 plus years ago I did believe I was on the cutting edge of sport psychology. I was one of those applied people. Working in the field with athletes rather than a researcher. My interests were in helping athletes run faster, jump higher etc. We were helping athletes at all levels. We were mainstream. Move ahead 25 years.
I’m still explaining what I do to athletes, parents, coaches and people I meet on the street. I was on the phone yesterday with an internet consultant from GoDaddy. He was helping me with a technical issue with my website. When he wondered what it was I did, I thought here’s a geek, a non sports guy. So I explained. Turned out he was a geek that played college DI basketball at a pretty big University. He had no idea about mental training. Never really used visualization or imagery. Had issues with being able to focus and relax. At 6’8″ he might have been able to continue to play. He decided he just wasn’t good enough so he gave up something he loved as a sophomore in college. He has not played ball in seven years. Not even for fun. Such a waste. maybe he will get a pair of shoes and wonder over to the gym now. I hope so.
Performance is mental
I’m fond of misquoting Yogi Berra the Hall of Fame Baseball player and coach. 80 percent of all performance is mental and the other 50 percent is physical. Then why are we still at the edge of the Final Frontier. Why are we not mainstream. I train a football player preparing for his Pro Day. His time to be seen by NFL scouts so he might be drafted. (He understood the importance of mental training and sought me out) He is working with a strength and conditioning coach. He is working with his position coach. He is getting nutritional advice. An he is working on his mental game. That alone makes him unusual. You see while everyone says it is the biggest part of performance, few actually practice what they admit to.
When I am speaking I often ask for a show of hands and ask “What was the reason for your poorest performances. Virtually everyone says the other team or opposition was better physically, technically and strategically says everyone, like NEVER!. It is always some form of I wasn’t mentally there. I couldn’t concentrate I was stressed out. It it so rare that I hear they were just a better team. Do you think that the San Francisco 49ers are saying that the Baltimore Ravens are a better team? (Now John Harbaugh is likely still blaming the refs) but the players will point to a mental let own somewhere. It is as I said the difference maker.
Still on the Edge
Yet here we are still on the edge of the Final Frontier. Pro teams, college teams all have full time strength and conditioning coaches. Some will have a part time Sport Psychology Consultant. An outsider not integrated with the team. Helpful, but not there yet. Individual athletes are the same. I had a conversation today with someone who wants mental training for his team and his own kids. I know he has the money, but a new pair of cleats or a technical camp is a higher priority.
If mental training is your lowest priority then take it off your list. If you are going to fail then it is not because of anxiety, stress, focus, negative thoughts, motivation, fear, discipline, mental toughness, anger, emotions, self-confidence or even team cohesion. You just are not good enough. You are physically inferior to everyone you have ever lost a contest to. The player that beat you last week that you have never lost to before, just got better than you. You might as well either hit the gym or give up because there is little you can do. What’s that? Practicing harder seems to hurt your performance. You can’t seem to find the discipline to stay on track with your training. Don’t worry it is genetic. Nothing you can do about it.
The water in the pool is just fine
OK sarcasm rant is over. Yes I do think Mental Training is the Final Frontier. I know that mental training will help you perform at a higher level. It’s just a mater of are you going to do the work. You are out there working your butt off, lets exercise the mind as well. It will make a difference. Jump on in the waters fine.
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.
A year in review 2012
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
Sounders FC U23 Player DeAndre Yedlin with Mike Margolies
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…)