Archive for April, 2012

Mental Strategies to Coach Sporting Professionals into Sporting Champions

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The Secret of Success is Achieving More With the Mind.

I was recently asked to visit a newly constructed sporting facility as it proudly opened its doors to the sporting elite. It was billed as the best of it’s kind and I was exceptionally excited to see it in action.

I arrived and met with the other invitees, the press, the sponsors and us technicals. When we saw the building for the first time it was indeed impressive. Even from the outside it looked ultra modern and eerily menacing.

As we walked through the front doors we were greeted by a pristine, clean and busy hub. A state-of-the-art strength and conditioning gym; a lecture theater that would rival most major universities; a rehabilitation clinic many hospitals would sell a patient or two for (or at least their spare parts); a nutritionally managed canteen; a wade pool heated to optimise recovery; and lastly, a team meeting room that would make Google HQ jealous.

However, as we were lead around and proudly shown just what it was capable of, I was struck by just what it wasn’t doing. The more that opened and shut the more it was apparent to me it had been created looking from one aspect only. It was only catering to one discipline of the athlete’s preparation and competitive sustainability – there were gaping holes (in my opinion) in the thought process behind creating this athlete haven.

The physical aspect was truly outstanding, it came with everything: bells, whistles and even the kitchen sink. But so much more mental stimulation could have been built in to enhance and support the physical focus, to craft a more rounded environment for these sporting gladiators to prepare.

At the end of the tour I was asked my thoughts on the facility, and of course I willingly gave them. The centre truly was outstanding – however I do remember saying it was like entering into a 100m race with Usain Bolt having only one shoe on!

I am not too sure if they took my thoughts on board or not, it will be interesting to see!

When you look around at your own training environment, are you taking full advantage of what it has to offer, or is the vital ‘mental game’ missing.

I suggest conducting a walk-through of your facility with fresh eyes, even if you walk through it every day. Look at it with a different perspective. Does your centre:

–       cater to your athlete’s physical and mental needs

–       stimulate practical problem solving

–       condition left and right hemispheres independently and collectively

–       utilise peripheral learning, and

–       create an environment that motivates

The rapid expansion in our understanding of the brain and its capabilities through neural science has uncovered some of its amazing complexities and the more we understand the more we can utilise its natural powers. One such way is through our visual stimulants, those subconscious and peripheral learnings that sneak into our unconscious minds constantly. We know we only acknowledge a small amount of what our eyes can see yet our minds take so much more in.

Here are a couple of the ‘missing’ pieces from my tour:

In the reception there was no behavioural stimulation, no motivational triggers like posters of past champions, current champions, relevant video or stimulating audio. The clinical environment did nothing to lower anxiety or create a sense of calmness or belonging.

The Strength and Conditioning gym had no mental development exercises at all, no hemisphere stimulation games, coordination skill development, spacial awareness or cognitive patterning exercises or even strategic problem solving. When mixing physical and cognitive stimulation a greater degree of development can be obtained in both physical and mental areas.

Our right eye feeds into our left hemisphere of our brain and our left eye feeds into our right hemisphere of our brain so by placing stimulating imagery along the left hand side of a wall (just above eye level) will feed directly into our right spatially aware and ‘global’ side of the brain, whilst placing motivational phrases, or systematic strategies along the right hand side will feed directly into our left, more language and pattern oriented, hemisphere. These will be absorbed and categorised without us having to consciously process them.

This subtle layering has proven to covertly improve the cognitive stimulation and learning process. This strategy could be employed in the lecture theater, the team meeting room, the reception and even the canteen.

The rehabilitation centre was amazing, however little was geared towards the major role neural science plays in rehabilitation both physically and emotionally. I recently worked with a chiropractor who is taking this connection to a whole new level. Our mind controls our actions and so by stimulating the right neural receptors we in turn stimulate the correct body part.

One other area where I feel a great deal of emotional and communicative management benefit occurs is during peer interaction. Creating an open communication environment where team captains, managers and coaches are all on an equal standing with athletes, including juniors, allows different perspectives to add depth to the process. It also engages more productive and targeted communication.

Due to tradition this last aspect is often frowned upon by older players and avoided by organisations as they can feel threatened by the younger players. When handled correctly however it can add multiple dimensions to their influence and produce more targeted outcomes.

So take a look at what you have created and ask yourself, ‘Have I built-in the mental game here?’

The Assassination of a Sporting Performance: Have you been Implicated?

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

If you are a professional coach or a coach at any serious competitive level, you may have experienced this.

You have spent years physically and technically preparing an athlete for the ‘big competition’, the one stand out event that will synergistically bring all that hard work together; set them apart from the crowd; and cement their name in sporting contention.

Only to find on the day they implode and choke!

Bearing witness as their minds spontaneously combust into a scrambled mess, a coach can only watch the athlete’s precision-controlled limbs take on a zombie-possessed life of their own. Their ability to problem-solve appears left in the trunk of the car along with that old gym sock, sweaty towel… and maybe now their hopes and dreams.

As a coach at this point you begin to wonder who the hell is this athlete?

Where is my athlete, the one I have spent all that time and effort in building?

Why did I not see this coming, how could I have got it so wrong?

What do I do now?

Relax…

… This is a very common scenario.

However, it is a scenario that frequently spawns a reaction that involves a complete re-evaluation of the whole process, the training schedule, the fitness structure and the technical application of the core skills!

This overhaul is time-consuming, disheartening and quite frankly probably totally unnecessary.

STOP – before you begin to unravel years of work and your coaching philosophy built up over a lifetime, first understand what has really happened here by following this simple process:

1. Was it really a train-crash or simply just a wrong turn?

Lets start by taking the high level emotions out of the situation and looking at it clinically.

2. From a disassociated perspective, ask “What could I do differently next time?”

Think backwards to the point where the wheels on the track first began to wobble and before the athlete careered out of control!

3. Did the wobble initiate weeks ago or was the first major wobble on competition day?

I often hear coaches speak of the athlete letting the pressure of the competition moment get to them or they allowed their competitors to get inside their heads or their confidence was shattered by their performance as they lost focus and objectivity.

As much as these may be contributing factors to the final derailment of the athletes performance the reality is the real core inefficiency is probably in the approach, for specifically the lack of structured approach.

The Competition Approach

The competition approach, is just that – the days leading into the competition and the day of the competition right up to where the athlete takes to the spot to perform. I refer to this as the 7-2 funnel process.

I have been working with coaches and athletes my whole adult life and it’s the most rewarding profession I can imagine. And after all these years, I would consider the ability of a coach to ‘effectively’ mentally prepare their athlete for their performance day as one of their most valuable skills. On competition day and in much of what an athlete does, educating an athlete how to be responsive rather than reactionary is all in the planning.

Humans are creatures of habit, we are also by nature essentially quite lazy (although we ‘sell’ it as being efficient) and will follow a well-trodden and established path when faced with no obvious solution rather than assess and innovate a new tailored path. In fact, we are hardwired to seek out such established patterns and to be an early and loyal adopter.

Because of this most coaches follow the same system for competition – blindly applying time after time, athlete after athlete.

However these final steps before their performance is such a critical time for the athlete, a crucial time where they need to be focused, emotionally neutral, clear, concise and precise about their objective, confident that they can deliver what is required and comfortable in knowing that all the boxes have been ticked and that everything that could have been done has been done.

Often the reality is we see two polarities, where coaches and athletes are either completely disengaged or wholly consumed by the moment, following no obvious structured and designed approach, they are emotionally charged thus reactionary to everyone else’s movements and unable to apply what they have trained for or know to be the right move for them.

I also see coaches correcting intricate technique or even teaching the athlete new skills just before they take to the competitive arena.

This disorganised approach is a mental minefield as it is widening of the athletes focal aspect not a narrowing of their focal precision.

Last minute hurdles placed into their path is not beneficial to the athlete and in fact greatly inhibits them from performing at their optimum as it splits and defocuses their ability to mentally reproduce and apply.

Instead of emotionally loading them up, sludging their thought processes and giving them little opportunity to build confidence (a history of success), the key to preparing an athlete to perform efficiently and effectively involves funnelling the athlete into a heightened state of awareness and specificity of focus, ticking boxes and disengaging what isn’t needed to make them mentally leaner and more efficient.

So when you think about how YOU currently approach competition, are you mentally weighing them down? Do you have a replicable system that is prepping your athlete for success?

Your Biggest Sporting Performance Fear, Rewired

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

What scares you the most?

 

What scares you so much it totally impacts on your life, your decisions, relationships, professional integrity and your sporting performance?

Do you think about those fears multiple times a day, do they consume your every thought, direct your actions and force change to your desired or planned path?

In many people ‘Fear’ can be crippling, debilitating, it can stop them doing things that add depth and dimension to their life and fear can also inhibit their interaction with people and groups and limit their perception of options.

What would you realistically do to eradicate those fears from your life, to take back control of your outcomes and live a more responsive existence?

And what would you do differently if you didn’t have the fear hanging over your head?

Consider this: do you consider yourself an imaginative and mentally creative person? Someone who has a good imagination, someone who processes in 3D mental images, who can see great detail in their thoughts? If so, then your ‘Fears’ can hold a greater reality for you, the monster in the closet will seem all that more realistic, animated and tailored to you.

That’s not to say those who are more analytical processors don’t have fears, they do. Their fears are constructed a little differently – more based on their perception of logical outcomes rather than imagined possibilities – yet no less debilitating.

So what is fear?

Fear is simply the result of our own semi-irrational creations of possible outcomes, what we imagine COULD happen IF the THING was to take place.

Think back to your own fear – is your fear based on an actual proven event or the possibility of the event?

Fear is our brain’s internal self-preservation process. It’s our own a way of preparing us for the worst-case scenario and in order to cater for the absolute worst case-scenario we have to first imagine the worst case-scenario!

And then we cannot un-think what we have first thought.

It is this over active imaginative process that allows our brain to continually add more and more emotional weight to our fears, giving them dimension, perspective and life. And of course the more weight that we add the more realistic, probable and alive it appears to us.

It is important to understand that fear is merely an emotion, built on the same construction process as say happiness. Fear is an internally primed and cultivated chemical blueprint of how to respond to an event or potential event.

As with all emotional reactions when the emotion is removed from the reality the details become clearer and more manageable.

However when it is left to cloud the mind, it increases our emotional fogginess and disables our logical thought process, which inhibits us from putting the THING into perspective.

So, once we understand why we feel fear, how do we realistically manage fear? Especially a fear that has such a hold over us!

The good news is the same imagination process that created the monster can tame the monster. If we use our active imagination not to create the fine, realistic details of what could go wrong but to visualise action steps and a structured strategy towards what you want to happen and subsequently avoid the worst case-scenario. This gives our brain effective, realistic and applicable options.

We can lower our emotional anxiety, create greater clarity of thought and keep it all in perspective with effective and realistic visualisation.

So stop feeding the emotional monster and put it to good creative work.