Archive for March, 2010

Mind Over Machine

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Mind over Machine – “Book me in for a service!”

I hear the deafening thump, thump of my heart flooding my ears as I climb into my sleek, sexy racing car. I clutch the wheel tightly; my sweaty hands make it difficult to get a comfortable grip through my gloves. I hear my heavy breathing as I watch my breath misting my visor.

The deep rumble of the hot engine behind me is shaking my bones as I watch the lights intently… mesmerised – they turn amber, amber, green. The flag is dropped and everything kicks in.

Suddenly, I push the accelerator as hard and as fast as I can, releasing the clutch at the same time, watching the track and listening to the rev counter, shifting gears at lighting speed. “Left hand down, right, right,” I tell myself as a cluster of cars in front of me begin zig-zagging and jostle for position. I hear the engine screaming almost in pain and the smell of the octane fills my nostrils. And there in front of me – the finishing line – but it’s never a finishing line – merely an indicator that its onto the next race.

It’s just another day at the track. It’s just another day as a high performance driver. And I love it.

As I pull into the pits, the car is immediately taken away from me and plugged into a plethora of diagnostic computers, assessing and plotting the car’s performance second by second, inch by inch. They are like a team of ER trauma specialist working on my car. The bleeps on the computer screen replay the race again and again as the technicians try to live, breath and feel what the car could feel as they attempt to shave that elusive 100th of a second off the lap time, striving for mechanical perfection.

Historically, this is how motor racing developed: trial and error and eager technicians tinkering with the mechanical hardware as their greasy hand scratch their heads. It was and still is a secret world, one where great friends as well as archrivals refuse to talk about ‘their’ machine.

Today, however, the future of the sport takes a new step forward a far more scientific view by considering the driver as just another integral aspect of this intricate mechanism to be fine-tuned and analysed before and after each race.

And why not? Considering the human brain is arguably the most efficient and yet complex piece of hardware known to man and it wouldn’t matter how good your car is – if the driver isn’t performing then you are not winning.

As a high performance driver, you manoeuvre your four-wheeled rocket around tight chicanes and into a straight at 230 miles an hour at 4 Gs, your job paralleling that of a fighter pilot in combat. One wrong move at this speed and it may not only be the race you lose.

Now, as with all new challenges there is a new solution to the old problems associated with the trial and error method, this solution places you, the driver, at the cutting edge of neurological technology. This time it’s not mechanical advancements; it’s you and your brain understanding advancements!

You need that precision mindset to take your race to the next level, to match the increased performance of the machine, to get the most from the vehicle, the track and yourself. It is not just about wanting to win, it is about being able to win.

It is about training your brain to cope with the complex split decision-making and reaction speed required to be a top level high performance driver and live to tell your tail.

Let’s face it, your machine is just as good as the rest of the racing fields, the technology tweaking your car is tweaking theirs too – but are you just as good or are you better? Having a precision mindset on your side will give you the advantage of a finely tuned, well trained and maintained neurological weapon.

Having a tuned machine, fit body and sharp, instinctive mind gives you as a driver the perfect poll position – the next corner belongs to you as you react faster, precise and with confidence.

Dave Diggle, heads a group of international mind management specialists, coaching you to maximise the potential of your brain’s rapid response, enabling you to better understand the machine you drive, and the body you control.

Scientifically designed and individually tailored training programmes allow you to win the race long before you step out onto the tarmac, before the first vehicle is rolled off the truck and before the first engine is fired up. So before your competitors realise this is the next step forward, take action and book your Mind Mechanic, service your brain and tailor your training.

Don’t be left behind by standing still. Accelerate your advantage by getting that precision mindset.

Elite Athletes: Have we created a Monster

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

All elite athletes must have a desire to be the best, to be the number one in their sport – it’s a primal desire to compete and win. If they were missing this vital instinct they would not have the makings of a true champion.

Part of their psyche is to believe that they are the best, in fact untouchable, a class above the rest. They “value” winning above all else and so in their eyes and minds nothing else is as important.

It’s this belief that makes a champion and it has to be part of their makeup – if managed correctly it develops into a mindset that breeds success.

However it can also be the athletes “Achilles heel” their vulnerability – because if you believe you are “different” from the rest of society for long enough you’re “values” system changes becoming distorted and out of touch with that of your peers and of our culturally acceptable social standards.

For example if you take the current apparent break down in social structure  within the Australian football codes, some of the player’s behaviour appears to be Neanderthal, savage, even tribal at times. Yet you would expect this kind of mentality to have been stamped out of our society decades ago. It appears to be on the increase within certain sporting and social cultures. They certainly appear to have differing “Values” to that of the rest of our society?

So what is this “Values” system that appears to guide us through life and has such a big influence on our decision making, and how does it affect our lives on a daily basis?

A value is simply what is important to us. Values are one of the primary unconscious filters to the brain, through which we evaluate our environment and our subjective experiences. They determine what we sort for and experience in the world.

In fact it’s often referred to as our most unconscious filter system. That is, it operates well outside of our conscious awareness. A Value is a collection of beliefs around a certain subject. We all have them and they are as individual as our finger prints.

Beliefs are those convictions we trust as being true, like “the sky is blue, and the grass is green”? We have a way of coding and storing values in our bodies, where they are stored determines their importance to us. Our deepest values are often held well outside of our conscious awareness and are instantly accessible – (subconsciously) for reference.

Values provide the only form of sustainable motivation, as they are deep seated and totally logical to us!

Our Values system evolves as we mature and experience life obtaining an education and learning what is socially acceptable in our cultural environment.

If you think back 10 years ago – would you have made the same choices as you would today? Probably not. Why? Because you have evolved new sets of values that correlate to your experiences, culture and environment to date.

So if we think back to the behavioural problems experienced by certain football clubs, obviously the players who engage in these socially unacceptable acts have differing “Values” to you and me.

This is a situation that has partly been cultivated by the very people who have been given the duty to nurture and develop the profile of the sport and its athletes. And that is the clubs and their management teams!

The clubs take these young athletes, often who are struggling academically but who excel athletically giving them the opportunity of a life time, a large amount of money to “Play sport” as their career with national profiles, star like lifestyles and egos to rival some world leaders and chefs.

Making them hero’s and role models to others without ever really giving them the tools, education and coaching in how to manage this new found foreign lifestyle, this acquired stardom. Shifting their internal values system, teaching them that savage behaviour is not only acceptable on the field but necessary to be at the top of their game to be part of the “Pack”.

Society then expects them to make the mature and socially acceptable choices, making that differentiation between the field and the street.

Realistically they will no more make the right decision than they would drive a car perfectly first time without ever receiving driving lessons, its something that has to be taught and taught from a young age, nurtured if you like.

The other people who must accept some of the responsibility for this values shift in these young athletes are you and me! The very people who follow and support these clubs. Ultimately placing these “Athletes” on their pedestals, deeming their primal behaviour acceptable, if not openly certainly by continuing to support the clubs we are clandestinely doing so

So what can we do to “lift their game” to turn around this spiraling collapse of “Values” in some of these athletes?

In a one on one situation the sub-modalities of a person’s values can be altered, by identifying the neurological associations to the value and altering them or re-imprinting them with a more desirable value giving that person a different outlook and perspective! Positively influencing their filtration system, giving them more options when making decisions.

However if we want to change the “Culture” within the sport we have to look deeper at a long term education program, one that would incorporate all new and existing players, coaches, managers etc.

If our experiences determine our “Values” then if we expose these athletes to positive experiences and broaden their knowledge and education on life, cultures and society then their “Values” will also change.

“We must become the change we want to see.” ~ Ghandi

Athlete Welfare: Whose job is it?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Since sport began, it was widely accepted that the top athletes had that certain something… perhaps described as a gift or an outstanding quality that allowed them to excel in their class.

And largely, it was their physical ability that was probed for the answers to their gift.

In more recent times, we now acknowledge that the success of an athlete no longer just depends on their physiological attributes. This outstanding quality or gift is now attributed to the athlete’s ability to “manage their inner minds” as effectively as they manage their bodies.

“Mind Management” – a relatively new term in the area of sport, can simply be described as taking control of your outcome through effective internal management.

The brain stores and manages our day-to-day requirements – and on the whole does a very effective job.

Think of the mind as the CEO of a multi National corporation. They send out instructions to each department in order to make things run smoothly; constantly assessing their feedback and requirements and adjusting the systems accordingly; looking to the future and building strategies; developing contingencies to avoid disasters; continually making improvements and taking care of repairs along the way.

So evidently the CEO has a critical role to play and without their expertise the corporation would become inefficient and eventually shut down.

If we consider our own mind, they have an equally critical role to play in our success and managed efficiently can achieve magnificent results. If however we have an ineffective mind strategy then our results would also be inconsistent and ineffective.

Drawing the same parallels, the athlete is no different! The burn out rate within athletes has continually grown over the past few decades as the demand on our athletes to achieve younger, last longer and fulfill their sponsorship obligations increases. More often than not this is done without any consideration for the long term psychological impact on the athlete.

When taken to the extreme, a cannon fodder mentality is adopted – there will always be another willing athlete to take their place.

With high stakes such as million dollar contracts being signed daily – often by teenagers, and their eager managers there is an ever increasing need to continually educate and monitor the minds of our next generation of champions.

This is a big step up from the humble paper round we did at the same age to fund our sporting careers!

So does this evolution of our athlete’s sporting careers correlate to our own social evolution? Perhaps the product of a more globally mature society. Or does it come at a price, the promise of quick cash as compensation for giving up a dream of sporting longevity. Is this a price too many athletes accept as part of the deal and are prepared to pay?

We all know of athletes who have had meteoric rises and are then forgotten just as fast when they fall from stardom with long term injuries? Many in their scramble to stay at the top of their sport resort to damaging their bodies with punishing training and competition schedules, sleep deprivation, food deprival, mental and physical exhaustion and for some, even drugs.

So who should take responsibility for placing these young athletes in these vulnerable situations? Who are the ones looking out for the long term growth, development and psychological welfare of the athletes?

Should it be the parents? The athlete? Or the coach?

I believe the answer is they all play significant key roles: roles that complement each other and each piece of the puzzle are just as important as the next. Yet the key responsibilities and boundaries of each party aren’t always as clear cut and immediately obvious.

If the athlete was a pop star they would be given a management team consisting of a vocal coach, public relations manager, media coordinator, event manager, promoter, physician and a personal assistant – this is a big difference from the athlete’s coach, parents and maybe the local physiotherapist!

So with an athlete – the parents, coach and the athlete must play their equal roles. The parents need to be there as emotional support, observer and in all probability financial backer, picking up the tab. And at times being there to pick up the pieces when things aren’t going according to plan. They need to understand the athlete enough to understand significant changes in their behaviour.

Some parents dedicate their lives to the success of their children, living the dream with them, with some parents even giving up work to ferry the athlete to and from training sessions and competitions, to the physiotherapist and fitting in school and homework.

This in itself can cause some internal conflicts both within the family unit and deep within the athlete? A large dependency on the child’s success can cause undue pressure, stripping the child of the ability to quit or scale back  if they desire, or to simply ride the wave of peeks and valleys that every athlete experiences.

As the athlete is the largest stakeholder, they need to understand their own body’s physiology, their own development, their internal and external boundaries, learning strategy and their own minds idiosyncrasies.

As the athlete grows their role changes, increasing, maturing and becoming more technical, the athlete’s holistic management portfolio has to be nurtured and developed in order to be efficiently taught and effectively managed.

In order for this to happen a large section of this responsibility has to come down to the coach! The coach is moulding and modeling the athlete’s development. Their physical growth and more importantly the athlete’s mental stability and welfare rests in the coach’s hands – they have taken on the responsibility of the whole athlete not just a bunch of muscles and bones in a skin sack, or a droid set to follow instructions.

With this understanding the training program must incorporate periodic psychological assessments to ensure the athlete is coping with the stresses of training, competing and the physical and mental fatigue sustained. The environmental aspect of an athlete’s life such as home, schooling and social acceptance weigh heavily on the mental stability of a highly tuned and often highly sensitive adolescent and needs to be factored into their assessments and programs.

We all know its hard enough being a teenager, but consider a teenager that’s training upwards of 30 hours a week, watching their dietary intake, maybe completing school exams and trying to be accepted by their peers when they have little or no time to socialise with them? To expect them to be mentally ready to compete without any mental coaching or preparation is a time bomb, and one that explodes often.

The athlete has to be aware of the synergistic relationship between the athlete, coach and parental support in order to give the necessary feedback, in the same way as a diagnostic computer works on a high performance sports car enabling the maintenance team to fine tune the right aspects of its performance. The athlete, parents and coach need to compare notes and observations in order to better manage the athlete’s complete progress.

When I was an athlete, my coach often used to say to me, “When you are in the gym I am your Mum, your Dad, your Brother, your Sister and your best friend”.

He was responsible for my full sporting development and that didn’t stop with just the physical development, he would take the time to see how I was going, asking if I was ok, asking my parents what they had observed.

I came from a broken home, where money was scarce, and violence was the norm. I trained six days a week and normally competed on the seventh. I did this for many years.

If my mental welfare had been left to me I would have imploded at a very young age, going off the rails socially or maybe even worse! Instead I grew to see the benefits of a strong and a well maintained mind and I still use today many of the tools and lessons I learnt back then.

So now, as a Behaviour Coach – what’s my job?

A coach needs to understand what makes an athlete tick, what’s important to that individual athlete, read what internal representational system the athlete works within in order to better communicate with them and understand the subtle shifts. Recognise what makes them tick, are they intrinsic or extrinsic? Are they trying to please themselves or others?

All coaches must take an active interest in their athlete’s and in their external influences, what the athlete is experiencing outside the sport in order to best manage the whole athlete.

Identification of these three key roles is the first step in creating a successful mix of, support, passion and objective that will enable the athlete to achieve all that they are destined to achieve

Training Versus Competition – Success When it Counts

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Everyone who has ever competed at a high level has suffered with the jitters, or succumbed to the pressure of competition and not performed as well as they know we can at one time or another. Losing a competition where they were tipped to win or a title they knew was theirs, that was until they stepped out onto the arena and their world crumbled around them.

How would you react to this? would you brush it off with a blasé comment such as “I just didn’t feel right today”, or maybe “the venue isn’t up to what I am used to” or some other excuse. For some of us this is an all too familiar problem. Sometimes, we are never able to “be alright on the night” no matter how often or hard we train. For many a promising competitive careers is destroyed by this phenomenon and it all happens from within your own mind.

Its ‘normal’ to have an off day, or to just not get it right once or twice however for some athletes it’s more serious than that its a regular occurrence week after week, competition after competition. So why do some athletes show phenomenal talent in the training hall but crumble when it comes to competition day?

It’s a common enough scenario in elite sport, we have all watched and cringed as a player self destructs before our eyes, apparently with no control over it, almost like a spectator themselves to their own demise, one who has a front row seat. It is a scenario that is played out in every sporting discipline on every continent every week of the year.

So what is it? Is it the external pressure? Is it the different venue? Or is it something more sinister?

I used to train and compete with a guy who was probably one of the greatest Gymnastic talents I had seen come out of the UK. He was everything a Gymnast should be – he was physically ideal, as though he was a kit gymnast built with a specific purpose in mind. An athlete that had been made to measure and assembled like a high performance sports car – with nothing to spare. He certainly had the talent, the skill set, the attitude and fantastic family support.

I used to watch him as he would pick up new moves easily, remember set routines without a second glance and had an arrogance that intimidated.

He was a couple of years older than me and the time had come where I was due to compete against him. I woke the morning of the competition feeling nervous, reflective, overwhelmed and sick to the stomach – I knew he was better than me and he was odds on favourite to win.

As we warmed up prior to the competition I could see him hitting his routines with fighter pilot accuracy, as he had done all season in the gym – yet I noticed something new, something in his face, in his stance he almost looked shorter, far less intimidating more intimidated. He appeared uncomfortable and agitated, I wondered why? He certainly was a class above the rest of us and he knew it or so I thought. So what could be bothering him.

And so he took to the floor to perform his first routine, he was fidgety and he wasn’t acting in his usual confident – arrogant – strutting way. On his opening line he fell! I had seen him perform that line hundreds of times without a second thought and never had he fallen!

His routine was second rate and when all was said and done, after all six apparatus he finished 11th place and I had won the competition.

We competed many times over many years after that day. He continued to be the champion of the training hall and never won a competition over me, falling in to the category of an under achiever and fading into the background never to be seen again.

So what can we surmise from this? Is it that physical ability or even talent isn’t what wins competitions or defines a true champion? It has to be something more. Sure, you have to be able to compete in the competition in order to be competitive, but it would appear the edge is your mental strength not your physical – that is the defining aspect!

So what defines the former Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorp as a champion?  His physical technique had been studied, scrutinised and copied by many swimmers around the world. His physical strength had been surpassed by others yet he continued to get better and better results, dominating the pool for many years. So you have to ask yourself – why? What do these all time great have, the rest of us are searching for?

I believe it is their control over their mental performance and their ability to manage the pressure, to perform as they have practiced no matter where they are or what the situation. For Thorp it didn’t matter whether he was competing in a local swim meet or the Olympic Games, the same swimmer enters the pool time after time after time with the same objective. He produced the same consistent, repetitious results that earned him the status he obtained! We have all heard Ian talking about competing against himself and himself alone and that’s what mattered to him, mentally eliminating his competitors before he enters the pool as their results didn’t impact on his objective.

We now see the same patterning with the Tennis ace Roger Federer, consistently producing results, time after time in a calm almost clinical manner. He appears unfazed by the other players on the court, he merely follows his predefined game plan. Its these results that have seen him being called the greatest Tennis champion of all time.

Going back to that Gymnast, he had trained himself to succeed in the training hall but he would perform differently at competition, drawing on a different learnt behaviour and a different set of neurological points of reference. He would spend 50 hours a week honing his approach to the routine and on competition day would not apply the same ‘triggers’ or thought process – so essentially he was turning up without preparing. He left his best performance in the training hall, never achieving anything near his potential and never utilising his natural talent purely because no one taught him how to.

When I was competing, I was always told to train as though it is a competition, prepare with the same objective, think the same, act the same and believe the same. I never knew why at the time. I now know however there is a sound scientific philosophy behind those throwaway statements and one that defines champions.

Every action we perform creates a unique chemical imprint in our brain, this becomes our neurological point of reference for the next time we perform that action! So when you go to cross the road you will look left and then right (In the UK) as taught from a very young age What starts as a conscious action becomes an unconscious action, or more commonly known as our behaviour.

So if you moved to a country where the traffic travelled in a different direction? (Such as In the USA) You would need to retrain your behaviour, creating new neurological points of reference to look Right then Left. Obviously this can be done – it just needs some conscious thought processes for a period of time before again it becomes an unconscious action, or a new learnt behaviour.

So obviously if you train a bad habit, it then becomes your point of neurological reference and your behaviour! Our cerebellum doesn’t differentiate or even assess its relevance, it just does what is asked of it and that is replicate, replicate, replicate like a civil servant.

Using the same philosophy, if you train for perfection in the training hall but when you come to compete you draw on a totally different neurological point of reference? It would mean all that you have perfected will stay under wraps, not called upon and a ‘different’ set of references would be utilised, most likely an inferior set.

Following this logic of neurological points of reference, you may spend hours saying to yourself “What if I fall?” or “Don’t fall!” So when you start to compete you are concentrating on not falling but actually focusing on falling and what the consequences of that action would be!

Inevitably you will fall because your mind is focused on that action, it has been taught to concentrate on the act of falling – this focal point becomes your competition neurological point of reference. You may have noticed either yourself, or other competitors consistently stumble or fall at the same point of a routine or the same stage of a race or they may not make the crucial pass / catch time after time. This is because they have trained their brain to fail, to focus on the negative outcome. – We all get what we focus on.

The England Football squad (soccer) have an on going issue with penalty shootouts, often crumbling at this critical point. Is it because they can’t kick a penalty? Of course not its because they believe they will falter when asked to take ‘That penalty shot.’

This is graphically highlighted by the ball that David Beckham blasted into the stands when he missed a crucial penalty in England’s Euro 2004 shootout and was defeated. He was at the time arguably the worlds best striker so why would he miss such a pivotal shot? The answer is because he believed England were no good at penalties and unfortunately his brain proved him right – as it always will.

So it wouldn’t matter how many hours had been spent practicing and to what standard – you would only ever perform at your competition blueprint – your neurological point of reference for that action / situation.

Unless you retrained this behaviour or broke the belief pattern.

These internal and external pressures increase an athletes anxiety levels, increasing a need for richer oxygen level intake and saturation. Yet anxiety restricts the quality of an athletes breathing thus allowing less quality oxygen into the body and subsequently the blood. The heart panics and beats faster, the muscles are starved and cramp up, the bodies extremities are the last to be fed and the brain then gets starved of necessary oxygen rich blood which increases confusion and increases our natural anxiety levels and so perpetuates the cycle of anxiety / oxygen battle.

So how do we change these negative neurological behavioural trends and also decrease anxiety?

Well the easiest way is to first understand your behavioural patterning, what makes a successful pattern and then replicate your successful behavioural pattern in the training hall and put it in the competition venue. We do this by training how you wish to compete, create neurological triggers, behavioural patterns, multi level game plans and strategies that deal with all possible outcomes.

Train as though it’s a competition, giving your mind less available areas to falter and more ideal options when it is under duress or looking for instant answers.

When devising training programs, incorporate a formal competitive module in every training session, increase the number of these modules as you build towards the competition date. Teach the brain to look for successful options and to refine its search to what you have trained and your objective.

Utilise visualisation techniques, positive chatter, specific neural patterning, multi-task patterning, scenario training and effective breathing techniques etc. All these and many other will training the brain to perform at its optimum every time whilst being fed the best possible fuel.

By breathing correctly increases Nitric Oxide into the blood system which is a vessel dilator enabling more oxygen rich blood to be pumped around the body feeding the hungry engine. This reduces the effects of anxiety allowing the body and mind to perform at its optimum.

If, however you have had ineffective behaviour for a period of time, it may be necessary to scramble the old neurological imprint. This will render it useless as a point of reference, like a broken link on a web page making your mind look for a more suitable reference point again This allows us to give it that new option a more designed, desirable option, for this a Peak performance Mind coach would be required.

This is a psychological pattern re-imprint, just replacing the old negative point of reference (action) with a more desirable one, if we can do this for you think of the possibilities open to you and your performance with total understanding of what your mind can achieve.

Your first step is to assess your performance and ascertain if in-deed you need to improve? I am sure you will find some areas of your performance you could do better in, we all can. Decide where you want to be and what you want from your sporting career, now and into the future. Then when you have a clear idea of your direction then let us help put you onto that right path and retrain your brain to support you and your success.