Posts Tagged ‘drugsinsport’

Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport: the Clean Option

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

 

The advances in chemistry are there to aid – and perhaps it was this thinking that started blurring the lines for those who drive the beast known as professional sport…

 

When Lance Armstrong admitted to the world the extent of doping in his cycling career, the world seemed to almost slip off it’s axis. Sports fans the world over were appalled and shocked at the depth of his betrayal. Armstrong was instantly and very publicly ostracised, and rightly so.

The sporting community at large watched in disbelief as the story unfolded to the extent, and apparent ease, these performance enhancing drugs were both distributed and accepted as part of the professional cycling scene.

Armstrong’s crafted response to those who questioned his sporting success including his 7 Tour de France wins was vague, weakly apologetic and even at times narcissistic. Armstrong appeared to be unsure as to why the world was even questioning his use of performance enhancers at that level.

What the Armstrong case has shown us is just how much our athletes are revered and placed on a moral pedestal by their adoring fans and how naive most of us are at what really goes on at that level.

This week, Australia faces its own Armstrong crisis with a damming report released into the extensive and prolonged substance abuse culture in Australian professional sport. The report released by the Australian Government and integrity agencies focused on the elite sporting community and eluded to a much deeper and systemic problem.

According to the official report the culture of elicit drug use, performance enhancement drugs, human growth hormones, peptides, blood transfusions – even the use of drugs that have yet to be approved for humans – is widespread amongst many of the major sporting codes.

The report points the finger squarely at the coaches, managers and the sports science support staff and put them in bed with organised crime by the acknowledgment that this issue was underpinned by multiple organised crime syndicates and administered from within the sports’ own management structure.

This report makes the Lance Armstrong case look, well quite honestly, amateur.

For those of us who already move in the professional sporting arena, this is not a breaking story. For many of us it is more bewilderment as to why it has taken this long to be exposed.

Back in the 80s, competing in an enviroment where the performance enhancing substances of choice were far more rudimentary and primarily limited to anabolic steroids, the playing field was never going to be a level one.

I was a clean athlete (as was the majority of my team) and never entered the slippery slope of taking banned substances.

I can still remember turning up at some international events and by merely looking at the physique, incredible levels of strength and the skills being performed realised some of the competitors were on the juice.

Today as a professional Mind Coach whose job is to help elite and professional athletes to perform better, faster and more reliably, I am very aware that the playing field is even less level today than in the 80s.

On the surface, the use of mental, physical and cognitive techniques to stimulate performance; the use of language patterns, hypnosis, psychology, neural patterning to lower anxiety, manage emotions, build behavioural structure, accountability and the such like may look a little out of its league!

But they work and they work well…

Lets be honest, the physical demands on athletes today is astronomical, not only is asked more of them physically, they are asked to back up and do it all again, playing more frequently.

The advances in chemistry are there to aid – and perhaps it was this thinking that started blurring the lines for those who drive the beast known as professional sport. 

Performing better is only part of the appeal, the ability to sustain longer training hours, recover from injury faster, be less prone to fatigue and to require less down time makes financial sense both for the athlete and the club.

So as you read this, you may be thinking – I get why they would turn to the chemical enhancement. But there is much more to this story than just helping an athlete run faster, jump higher or lift more.

As with most things, supply is driven by demand. If there was no demand there would be little need for a supply. As the industry of professional sport grows so does the need to have bigger, better, stronger athletes – athletes who will back up game after game, are marketable and drive the fans to spend more.

The clubs, even the codes, bottom line is in someway dependent upon the products: the athletes.

And of course innovation drives sophistication of avoiding detection. There appears to be more investment in designing these drugs than in the sporting codes building the systems to stop them..

So what drives this undesirable element in our sport?

How does the seedy world manage to get its hooks into our young up and coming stars?

What are the real alternatives to doping in the multi billion dollar industry that is sport?

I am frequently asked my opinion on the use of chemicals as performance enhancers by coaches, athletes and commentators – as I am very vocal with my beliefs on externally added drugs and their place in sport.

For me it’s simple – there really isn’t any need!

There is no need to place ourselves in potentially fatal danger by injecting chemical stimulants into our athletes, nor do I believe it’s in the spirit of sport or competition… it’s just not cricket!

…or football …or athletics …or swimming

…you get the picture.

For me the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Mind you, this comes from someone who wholeheartedly believes we have the same capabilities sitting between our ears – natural potentiality, untapped and free. 

I believe many factors contributed to the evolution of this apparent systemic cheating culture gripping certain aspects of our global sporting community. From simple accessibility, to obvious shifts in society standards, to internally and externally placed pressure, the change in the dynamics of an athletes career and also none less guilty than the unbelievable (somewhat stupid and unbalanced) money that can be made in professional sport today.

Until only recently athletes were, for the vast majority, amateurs – part-timers. They were students, or held down jobs and trained wherever and whenever they could.

The shift to full-time athlete has seen a dramatic spike in what athletes could achieve as they dedicated their lives to their sport. We probably wouldn’t have the Ennis’ or the Phelps’ or the Woods’ of the world if they also worked in the local factory.

However this shift is not only on an athlete’s focus, but also their accountability. When an athlete had a career other than their sport, it gave them some external stability, a safety net, something that if they became injured, dropped or retired they could turn to. After all, they were never going to be millionaires as amateurs anyway.

When your whole future is based on what goes on on the field, there is a huge expectation to stay fit, to stay healthy, to be on top, to perform, to get results over and above your desire to be the best athlete you can.

This expectation can lean to an athlete feeling vulnerable and willing to take something to help them back up from a tough game. Their priority could become focussed on sustaining the results that are linked to their potential to earn, to make the selection, to create longevity and become even more marketable.

This is not a justification, rather, a rationalisation in their minds. Most of these athletes who do cheat do so with a sound reasoning – or so they think. This is why I believe the problem isn’t the athletes alone. It is a result of the process, the culture, the machine that is sport.

Many of these same athletes have lifestyles they would not have without their sporting success and notoriety. They are given access to a world of opportunity, privilege, fame and infamousy… and often with a pocket full of cash.

For some this can often lead to exposure to the elicit drug scene with the means to explore. The recreational drug world is dark, murky and powerful and for these highly stimulated, vulnerable and adrenaline driven youngsters with time, means and exposure could be an attractive proposition.

Statistically, if we look at where the vast majority of doping issues occur it is in the more lucrative and publicly passionate sports. The sports where the athletes on the field can mean the difference between a full stadium, a multi million dollar sponsor, a TV deal or even survival of the club. So if you control the product (the athlete) you control the outcome, the result, the dollar.

As I said this is by no means a justification to those who choose to cheat, it is the environment that has supported their cheating tendencies, their look for the easier ride to fame, fortune and success.

So what are the alternatives to doping, to injecting yourself with human growth hormones, to having blood transfusions of laced calfs blood, to selling your soul to the underworld?

Well in my world, the alternative is where the same highs, the same controls, the same stimulants, the same replicability can be achieved naturally, clean and legally. It can be learnt, applied and cultivated without fear of being caught, getting a criminal record or dying.

Those same chemically induced outcomes can be triggered within the human brain. Studies have shown you can release specific chemicals in your brain that give you just as much increased resilience, strength and recovery capabilities as the synthetic versions.

Of course I recognise and acknowledge my way is harder work…

It takes more commitment, more time, more knowledge, more personal investment than just flooding your body with peptides and laced calf blood.

However stimulating our brain has far less repercussions. The legal repercussions of the current report on the drug cheats are yet to play out in the public and official courts. What I am referring to is the physical and psychological repercussions of some of these drugs.

Increased likelihood of heart problems, higher rates of strokes, of blood disorders, kidney failure, liver failure, sight issues, brain damage, bone deterioration and impotency to name a few.

And then there is the psychological effects of these drugs, ranging from increased rates of schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, emotional irrationality, psychosis and much more. And these are only from those we know the risks to.

Mind Coaching isn’t just for the now, it’s not going to dissipate out of your body when you stop using it, leaving you a broken shell. Mental stimulation and cognitive conditioning is a skill-set that stays with you forever.

Irrespective of how the Australian government handles this current crisis, the use of illegal substances won’t go away. What you as an athlete choose to do is the only way to send a message to those who prey on the young up and coming athlete.

 

Visualisation 101: Point to Point Visualisation for Athletes

Friday, June 17th, 2011

When physically practising a sequence or learning a new skill, we have known for many decades that no one learns perfectly the first time.

Completing a skill-set or sequence exactly the same way each and every time, and even escaping physical, emotional and psychological fatigue when working through countless repetitions is beyond human control.

So the reality of learning a ‘perfect’ skill or sequence is unlikely, yet there is a recurring question directed towards athletes every day to be just that – PERFECT – or to continually replicate something they have previously done or achieved or should achieve.

Is it any wonder the burnout rate is escalating in young athletes?

So how do we overcome these high expectations when in reality we know it is physically a mammoth task they are expecting?

For years, athletes and coaches have recognised the huge benefits of visualisation training to hone a specific sequence or skill. You can watch the effects of this technique played out each weekend on pitches, in gyms and poolsides, as athletes are seen with their eyes closed mimicking their skills before they perform them.

As a Mind Coach, on the surface this is an encouraging sight to see, athletes taking mental preparation seriously. I have to wonder, however, have they missed the point, are they really making the most of visualisation’s full potential without consideration of the cognitive training?

From the number of clients contacting our office looking for help, I am inclined to think, perhaps they have [missed the point].

When I first ask a client, be that an athlete, coach or coaching body to show me what specific visualisation training they have been doing – typically they will close their eyes and loosely go through the motions with arms waving and bodies twitching as they vaguely picture themselves doing whatever it is they are trying to perfect. This form of visualisation is basic ‘point to point’ visualisation – and unfortunately normally done exceptionally badly.

To visualise winning a race or completing a skill, or remembering a sequence is one thing, but if it is done one-dimensionally, from an observational distance (disassociated) and with little attention to detail – we know irrespective if it is a perfect technique or a sloppy technique – it will be imbedded into our neurology with the same intensity and same neural paths.  So best to make it a good one!

Visualisation is a much broader, deeper and far more effective tool than just waving your arms and body around with your eyes closed and hoping you are neurally flagging a blueprint for success.

  • It has applications that can hone the exact technique of a specific skill or a complete routine
  • It can correct and free areas of past emotionally damaged – those which have heavy emotional attachment such as those associated to injury or disappointment
  • You can learn high risk physical skills without ever putting yourself at physical risk of injury or even death
  • It can help you control your heart rate, your oxygen intake and distribution
  • It can lower anxiety, raise adrenaline levels, cement strategy, set neural patterns of rhythm and many, many more practical applications

… if applied correctly.

It can be as complex or as simple as you like and the only boundaries to its effectiveness is your own imagination, dedication and knowledge.

Visualisation, I believe, is one of the most misunderstood and under utilised skill-sets available in sport today. Many athletes have dabbled in it at one time or another as a tool. However, people are typically unaware of it’s hidden potential or how to really maximise on it’s effectiveness, so is left out of the mainstream coaching / training structure.

It really is the ‘cousin nobody talks about’.

So how do we realise the full potential of this skill we call visualisation?

The first thing to recognise is we have been visualising since childhood. As highly visually stimulated young children we play-out scenarios in our mind to work out the most effective option available to us, which has less risk and which one will please others.

If we are born so highly visual, it makes sense that we use mental pictures more than any other sense to give us a realistic perspective of our situation and then problem solve.

So when decision making, our subconscious will play a multitude of visual options to us, being as specific as possible, including benefits and drawbacks, past experiences and externally observed scenarios – then when the decision has been made, our brains will again replay the winning option for confirmation and loading it up as a viable option in our subconscious.

This is constantly building new neural pathways in our neurology, ones that we will then store and utilise in the future – If faced with that or similar situation again.

Our brains constantly search for a viable, already established option before looking to actively problem solve and build a new path – its incredibly efficient that way. So the skill of visualisation is nothing new to any of us, is highly effective and time efficient. However, creating the conscious mechanics of visualisation is new!

We tend to go wrong with this form of cognitive training if we allow our unchecked and highly creative imagination to run wild, rewriting our pragmatic decisions with emotionally charged disasters. We do this based on our creative potential to imagine the worst possible outcomes, to create crazy scenarios and manufacture our own personal dramas.

Yes, that’s right we create the issues we most fear and want to avoid long before they could ever be a reality. And we cannot not think of what we are thinking of, so subconsciously we gravitate towards those disasters at an uncontrollable rate of knots.

Rather than thinking “How do I make this the most effective and efficient pattern possible?”, we think “What if I fall, trip, lose, die or even worse – embarrass myself?”

All based on emotional triggers rather than skill-set, and on fictitious outcomes not yet a reality rather than reality itself. And as they are so emotionally tagged they are slotted into our outcomes with ease and self generated importance.

So what are the effective mechanics of visualisation, and how do we keep the creative ‘emotion monster’ at bay – leaving the pragmatic stepping stones of success to lead us forward?

Well, the secret to effective and replicable visualisation is in the detail and making the practice as realistic as the event!

We have five senses to satisfy in order to paint a perfect picture. They are our Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Gustatory and Olfactory senses and each are an important piece of the puzzle that make up the big picture convincer.

By creating an environment that is as realistic to the desired outcome as possible allows our brain to create an accurate neural flag and pathway. This will also increase our chances of having our mind select that created pattern when called upon in the real situation.

How do we create the perfect template?

1. In the details – Gather as much information as possible, for example, if you race F1, get a detailed map of the track; the weather forecast for race day; find out the optimal approach for each corner, down each straight; the optimal time to drop a gear and accelerate away and when to hold back; build a neural success strategy (KPIs or motivation milestones); design a verbal chant or verbal sequence that calms you down or enables you to focus.

2. The specifics of the set-up – Sit in your vehicle, with the vibrations of the engine rippling through your body; wear your racing suit, gloves, shoes and helmet etc; smell the high-octane fuel in the air; and the sound of other vehicles around you.

3. Then visualise – your race down to the last gear change, every twist and turn of the track, the language pattern you tell yourself in your mind, the neural success points you have set, you coming across the finish-line and the reward you give yourself for winning the race.

Visualise this first from a spectators point of view (or imagine watching yourself from a hovering helicopter) seeing yourself doing these very strategic and specific maneuvers and skills. Then complete the same visualisation again, seeing the race from your own eyes – looking out over the proceedings.

The first disassociated observation will allow you to clinically observe perfect technique without any emotional discoloration before becoming emotionally associated to the perfect performance – making it both replicable and memorable.

It is then you will have as near to perfect replicable neural pattern as possible.

And all without error, fatigue or any real chance of injury.

 

 

 

So to recap – The 10 Steps to creating the perfect point to point visualisation:

1. Gather as much specific information as possible about the end objective

2. Create as realistic an environment as possible

3. Build neural success points into the picture (Milestones)

4. Design a verbal chant or verbal sequence

5. Tick the box for each and every sense, same clothes, same smells, same sounds, same feelings, same weather etc

6. First visualise the event from a disassociated perspective (From the sideline or from above)

7. Then visualise the event from within yourself, see what you would see, hear what you would hear, feel what you would feel, smell and taste what you would taste

8. Be as specific as humanly possible about the visualisation

9. Make it as replicable as you can

10. Repeat until you feel comfortable that it is in your head – then do it one more time!

11. The Bonus point – Reward yourself for your achievement. This will stimulate the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, the body’s pleasure chemicals. This natural high will cement the emotional trigger required to replicate for the same reward.

These are the basics to visualisation and we are only just getting warmed up! Stay tuned for future posts as we dig deeper into how visualisation can transform YOUR performance.

I’m An Addict: Happy Drugs to Create Kick-Ass Confidence in Your Sport

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

 

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”
~ Vince Lombardi

Confidence in both the coach and athletes is a hot topic, something associated with both our success and our downfalls. Our confidence is something that needs to be managed just as pragmatically as we manage our physical fitness and diet.

Some coaches and athletes however view the psychology of confidence as a taboo subject, thinking if they don’t talk about it, mention the word ‘confidence’ let alone prepare and nurture it then it won’t break!

Confidence is not a fragile entity to be tip-toed around – it is a system, a replicable system of specific neurological triggers and chemical stimulants in our bodies. It deserves our full attention!

Confidence

In most cases, I have found confidence issues are a lack of  — or a stalling of — positive forward momentum.

 

What I mean by this is – our confidence and motivation is fuelled by consistent injections of success, each and every time we succeed at something – no matter how small – we are neurologically rewarded for our trouble.

We are rewarded with generous doses of serotonin and dopamine – this concoction of naturally derived happy drugs are supplied by our own bodies as a recognition of achievement.

Serotonin and Dopamine (like many other natural chemicals) are highly stimulating and exceptionally addictive. Our brain likes this reward system and wants more and more of it, so urges us forward to the next success and reward point – eagerly waiting for the next big hit.

Whilst it is our subconscious brains that have a higher understanding of what we are actually capable of – it is our conscious filtration system that normally ‘plays safe’ and pulls us back into a conservative line.

This natural high feeds our confidence, and sometimes fools our conscious mind into thinking we could, and should, take on more and more challenging tasks to gain the higher reward.

Many top athletes speak of being caught up in the moment, feeling un-stoppable and almost superhuman when at their peak. The reward driven highs becoming ‘the norm’ and a constant flooding of neural stimulants keeps them there.

(This is also part of the reason why retiring athletes struggle to maintain the stimulation in their after sport life – but that is a whole other topic  we will cover in another post!)

Where the wheels fall off this gravy train is if we STOP or lose this positive forward momentum of natural rewards.

If we stop acknowledging our successes, we begin to suffer withdrawal from our happy drugs – like a drug addict without the next fix this begins to reinforce our subconscious doubts over our ability to ever again ‘score’ or succeed and be rewarded. The next logical steps elude us, we lose direction, focus and perspective.

The longer the period of time where our reward cravings are not met the bigger the desire is to have that ‘hit’ and the more important that next success becomes. All this does is increase our anxiety levels and feeds the emotional monster.

These gorged emotions cloud our skill-set, our cognitive clarity and our perception on our ability to succeed.

And so a perpetual cycle of failure is born.

Breaking this slippery downward cycle and restoring forward upward momentum is just as systematic a process as the creation of the problem in the first place.

After all, our confidence is fuelled by our success, acknowledgment and our neural-reward!

And as this feeds the motivation engine, the strategy is simple:

1. Start setting small achievable goals, acknowledging them along the way.

2. Reward yourself again and again – it gains traction in the motivation game, like stoking the fire of a steam engine the more fuel you put in the better the results that come out.

And so, instead of feeding a perpetual cycle of failure, we are maintaining a perpetual cycle of success.