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 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.
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…)
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.
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…)