Posts Tagged ‘mind coach’

Why “Self Talk” May Be A Hurdle To High Performance

Monday, November 18th, 2013

We all know that athletes spend an insurmountable time physically preparing themselves for the sports in which they compete. What is often overlooked is an athlete’s mental “muscle”, a strength which has increasingly been understood to have a huge impact on the performance of any athlete, whether it’s a low performance or high performance sport.

An athlete’s inner voice or “self talk” is one of the most important contributors to an athlete’s mental toughness. It can have either a positive or negative impact on a person, depending on just what it is that an athlete is saying to themselves.

What Is Self Talk?

Mental Skills of Sports PerformanceA number of psychological studies have revealed the link between one’s thinking and how they behave emotionally and behaviourally, both of which have a direct affect on an athlete. Human beings have an inner dialogue where thoughts are generated in the form of an internal conversation. What we often don’t consider is the fact that these private conversations we have with ourselves can have a large impact on how we behave and conduct ourselves publicly.

Anxiety: An Athlete’s Worst Nightmare

Athletes have a lot of pressure thrust upon them: their performance, their placement, and their competition are all reasons why they may suffer anxiety or worrying thoughts. Unfortunately, that anxiety and those worrying thoughts often lead to negative self talk. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is a clear correlation with anxiety and negative self talk, which then becomes a detriment to an athlete’s performance.

Negative self talk can occur at any time during an athlete’s performance. For example, an athlete who mentally beats him or herself up over losing points or having a bad serve will likely then continue to degrade his or her performance rather than improve.

Positivity Means High Performance

Here’s the good news: our brains can be reprogrammed so that they work for us rather than against us. Anxiety can be turned into increased focus and positive self talk that will lead to better performance and improve the development of an athlete. This is why, for example, the Australian Olympic, Paralympic and world athletes have a team of psychologists devoted to them during any event, to support them and ensure they remain relaxed and focused before, during, and after any event.


The Rocket Gets a Mind Coach: Ronnie O’Sullivan back on top

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Rocket gets a Mind Coach
As a youngster growing up in the UK with parents involved in the pub game (public house) across London, my childhood was a healthy mixture of vivid experiences, and none more influential than the many different and diverse sports consumed as our national pastime.

Football, rugby, darts and snooker were a staple of our weekend discussion and this has remained a major part of my sporting passion into my adult and professional life too.

Today snooker and darts are as influential, professional and big business sports as Rugby and football. Jostling for TV and sponsorship rights with the big boys, their stars are as big as the football players who once donned the sporting royalty crown.

Some time ago I was watching the former world snooker champion, Ronnie (Rocket) O’Sullivan, giving a press interview after a particularly poor championship performance. He was talking retirement from competitive snooker due to a long and painful run of poor performances culminating in his possible relegation from the top world players.

He was clearly frustrated and despondent and didn’t know where to turn – that much was obvious – and so retiring was his only ‘real’ option (in his mind). All these negative emotions were clouding his ‘natural’ skills and his successful behavioural patterns. The more he played the more the weight of losing was playing on his mind and throwing up obstacles.

As I watched this painful and dejected interview I could see where his performance patterns had let him down, the self-initiated habitual behaviours that were working against him rather than for him; his mindset that was a hurdle growing in intimidation by the minute, reinforcing his negative views on his ability to play snooker and the sport itself.

Even through all this negativity and frustration, I could see a way out for him, a way back to the top – a revamp of the champ! It wouldn’t be easy but was doable.

So I actively set about letting Ronnie O’Sullivan know I had his solution. I could get him back winning and all it would take was some serious hard graft…

…and some time with me inside his head.

Simple as that!

I tracked down his manager, a process more troublesome than it first appeared. Undeterred by the many dead ends and unanswered messages I eventually found the agent and his business address. So I sent him a detailed letter, explaining who I am, what I do and how I can rescue Ronnie Rocket O’Sullivan’s snooker career.

“It’s what I do,” I told him, “I rescue careers.”

So I sat back and waited, waiting for the knock on my door, the inevitable call to rescue Ronnie O’Sullivan’s career.

…Maybe even a book or film deal at the end when he comes back to win the world championships once again, against all odds! I could picture it, it was there ready to be played out in front of millions of fans and the Rocket was the right athlete to do it…

As the weeks went by the silence was deafening. No knock at the door, no acknowledgment of my master plan, not even a sniff of a book deal.

So, the manager clearly couldn’t see the value in working with Ronnie’s mental state, in building emotional stability and productive cognitive skill-sets. Clearly he wasn’t going to see the wood for the trees and my efforts were waisted on his narrow views. But I shouldn’t be surprised as that is how ‘most’ people see sport, as just talent not humans.

I will go directly to the source! Ronnie himself, I thought.

But finding the agent was tough enough, getting access to arguably the most successful snooker player in the world of professional snooker wasn’t going to be easy. Where does a man turn when his back against the wall, when a potential clients career is teetering on the edge of a career chasm, when every turn is a dead-end?

He turns to his Mum of course.

As a former hard-nosed publican she knew how to extract information, she had her highly tuned ear to the ground and her fingers on the pulse of who lived where and with who. She staked out leads, hanging out in snooker halls, bars and outside gated mansions, dodging police, media and looking for someone carrying a long thin cue case with a bad attitude.

For weeks I worked on my plan for Ronnie here in Australia as mum worked the haunts. It paid off, she got me Ronnie O’Sullivan’s postal address. She came through and not one (proven) stalking charge to her name.

It was on, time to send my detailed plan, the solution, the method in which to get Ronnie the Rocket back to the top of his sporting career. Now again it was time to sit and wait, to wait for the knock on the door, the ring of the phone that all important email.

This week it happened.

Ronnie O’Sullivan lifted the trophy on the world title once again, the fairytale had come true, he had beaten all the odds and turned around the mindset to play like the true champion he is.

The once lost, down-and-out champion was back at the top and humbly thanking his Mind Coach, the man (he says) showed him the way back.

The plan had clearly worked, the shift in mental, emotional and cognitive structuring had managed to turn the spiraling out of control athlete around. Pointing him back to the top position in world snooker.

And yes finally it was a Mind Coach that had been recognised as the pivotal piece! I can see the book deals, the movie rights, George Clooney playing the Mind Coach, the clients knocking down the door wanting that same ‘edge’.

Unfortunately for me (this time), I was not the professional Mind Coach the Rocket selected for his triumphant return. But what I am ecstatic about is finally a true champion has acknowledged the importance of mental training, and in turn given permission to other athletes – junior and senior – to look outside the traditional approach, to see an alternative path other than to just put up with it or retire.

Mind Coaching is gaining more and more traction in the preparation and sustainability of elite and professional sport.

And so for that I thank you Ronnie and Dr Steven Peters who was that Mind Coach.

What are you prepared to build into your development to ensure you not only reach the top, but stay at the top?


Why a Mind Coach is an Athlete’s ‘Best Kept Secret’

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012


Dave Diggle Counter TerrorismThe Other Secret Service: Covert Coach Ops

My name is Dave Diggle and I am a member of the Secret Service!

No not THAT Secret Service – not the Secret Service who protect the US President, but the Secret Service who manage the mental, emotional and cognitive welfare of some of the world’s top athletes – so we are like the other Secret Service.

So if we don’t have to be as secret as them, why are we such a Secret Service?

Well for many years athletes, coaches and managers haven’t wanted it acknowledged that their prize competitors needed someone to tinker inside their heads, nor did they want people thinking the athletes were in any way vulnerable – so our role was unmentioned and largely undisclosed to the world.

In reality coaches of yesteryear didn’t truly understand, recognise or value the significant advantage of having an athlete on their team who was mentally aware. There was far more emphasis placed on the physical attributes of the athlete than their mental preparedness, so quite simply, the demand wasn’t there.

In retrospect this belief was quite bizarre as it was openly accepted that all athletes need their coaches. In fact, they utilised a multitude of specialised coaches to be successful – be it physical trainers or technical instructors were deployed due to their chosen expertise and value to an athlete.

These traditional coaches were accepted as part of the game.

But the management of an athlete’s emotions, behaviours and psychology was a taboo subject even though the philosophy of a physical and mental coach are one in the same: to create the best possible athlete based on their own unique attributes.

Traditional sports psychologists were surreptitiously placed into sporting organisations a few decades ago, their main role initially to pick up the pieces after a blow out. But slowly and tentatively this has evolved to now having a more significant input into their training and competition.

So why do Mind Coaches of all descriptions get such a bad wrap?

It is partly about perception. Sporting organisations didn’t want the wider community thinking their athlete, their pride and joy and (lets not beat around the bush) their income were in need of psychological help. Nor did they want it known that maybe they were vulnerable in some way.

We now understand an athlete’s mind is something that is either their individual strength or their unique weakness.

The social stigma associated to the professionals who work with a person’s innermost workings, their fears and psychology were tainted with the white coat brigade, the image of the couch, the questions around your relationship with parents – and if you wet the bed as a child.

These mental images are what most people think of when you mention a behavioural psychologist or professional mind coach.

This is like saying you never want to see a doctor just in case they do a lobotomy!

Today’s professional mind coaches are as diverse in their skill-set as those in the traditional medical fraternity. Most have a basic understanding of traditional psychology, then there are those who specialise in Sports Psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Timeline therapy (TLT), Emotional Management (EM), Cognitive Science and many more strands of neurological therapies.

Each have their own niche strengths and inherent weaknesses and, when correctly applied, can be incredibly powerful.

As a professional Mind Coach I am normally brought into an athlete’s world only when something significant has gone wrong. Much like a paramedic arriving onto a scene after the crash, we normally arrive into their environment after things have gone wrong – not before – and are tasked with rebuilding as quickly as possible.

The frustrating truth is if we had been contracted six or twelve months earlier the likelihood is the catastrophe probably would not have happened.

At the London 2012 Olympic games a number of the world’s top athletes began publicly thanking their mind coaches, acknowledging the influence they have had over the outcome and recognising them as a significant part of their entourage to success.

It was also noted that the Australian swim team – who had under performed in their own estimations – had not taken their neurological team with them. A coincidence? I think not!

In reality many of these world class athletes had crashed some time before the games and had probably exhausted all other avenues before bringing in the Head Doctors.

But who knows, if they had contracted a professional mind coach earlier – before things had to be fixed – maybe their results would have been better or even come much earlier in their careers.

So as an athlete or a coach are you constantly tuning the mental engine, or are you going to keep running it til it runs out of fuel, or has a crash?

It’s worth thinking about – isn’t it!



Olympic Pole Vault: Hooker Needs a Better Imagination

Saturday, August 11th, 2012


Pole Vault London 2012Anyone who has ever watch the pole vaulting knows its not for the faint hearted!

Sticking a long bendy pole into a hole in the ground and positioning yourself upside down as you patiently wait to be catapulted into the air and over a 5-6 metre bar before landing on a mat can seem nuts to the average person.

Of course this is what happens when it all goes to plan – but sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and its then we see the true character and mental toughness of these outstanding, if not a little crazy athletes!

At the recent London 2012 Olympics, Lazaro Borges’ (Cuba) pole snaps into multiple pieces during his qualifying jump, throwing him upside down into the mat.

He simply dusted himself off, returns to his very long kit bag, selects a new pole and does it all again – he clearly has the right mental toughness.

Pole vault has always intrigued me, I love the biomechanics of the sport, the sheer guts and determination required and the mental difference that these athletes have – its a very primal sport and one that resonates well with my days as a Gymnast.

When I first saw Australia’s Steve Hooker jump, I was amazed that this fuzzy haired dude could actually jump – I almost wrote him off before he had even put one foot in front of the other let alone sunk the pole into the ground to launch himself skyward!

But Steve Hooker clearly has massive talent and incredible guts. He has been Olympic Champion 2008, World Champion 2009, World Indoor Champion 2010 and Commonwealth Champion, so the guy knows how to jump despite his unassuming appearance.

That being said, this past year or so Hooker has a very public nemesis who has recently been beating him, who trains with him, lives with him and, dare I say, sleeps with him.

No, not is partner – but himself, his mind and his own very maverick imagination.

Last year Hooker misjudged a jump and toppled off the landing mat and onto the ground, damaging his knee. Of course the physical damage could be repaired and after physical therapy he was able once again to jump.

The Australian Athletics community gave a collective sigh of relief, thinking this sporting champ was once again back on track and heading towards the London Olympics to defend his title.

However, he was physically repaired but the psychological damage was running much deeper. Hooker had lost his nerve and confidence in jumping and London 2012 was looking shakier than ever.

As a gymnast, who had practically come to be on first name terms with many of the medical staff at the local hospital, I can certainly understand what an injury of this nature could do to your mind.

The random thoughts of it happening again, the physical changes you would subconsciously make to the pragmatics of the technique would rock your sense of familiarity and control and feeding an over active imagination…

… Your mind running through multiple worse-case scenarios as you stand there looking down the lane towards the jump, trying to collect your thoughts and think about what needs to be done…

It’s not like twisting an ankle on the track, the emotional monster goes into active overdrive, thinking that maybe next time it could be more than just a buggered knee, it could be spinal or even worse.

And so I imagine this is what began Hooker’s internally animated downward spiral, missing and avoiding jumps and worrying about what could be just around the corner. The knee was the catalyst but the mental torture was relentless in proving to himself why he shouldn’t jump.

Hooker publicly acknowledged at the 2011 World Championships whilst defending his title he felt lost on the runway. He admitted to being very nervous and even scared of the jump, choosing to run through three times, culminating in his being eliminated from the competition.

Back home in Australia, Hooker was dubbed as having the ‘yips’. (Urban dictionary – The Yips: Overthinking something so much you become unable to do it. You will often proceed to implode.)

Steve Hooker is just one example of an athlete mentally letting something in, something that eats away at you, as your confidence collapses and your imagination takes on a life of its own.  I have seen this in a number of sports and with a number of different catalysts.

Steve Hooker may not have even thought about the Rio 2016 games just yet as he comes to terms with his dramatic loss in London. However, as a Mind Coach, I think it needn’t have been this way, there are as many ways to combat the ‘yips’ as there is to get them and Hooker just needs to learn a better strategy of dealing with his imagination and more specifically his fears.

Hooker needs to learn to acknowledge what he fears and then, without emotion, deal with it. This very straight forward strategy could have enabled Hooker to have a different outcome in London 2012.

Something that I feel is paramount for all athletes is learning how to read, understand and effectively manage their emotions, they can drive you forward but can also hold you back, so understanding them is paramount.

To have such a grasp on what makes an athlete tick and what is likely to give them the wobbles can help manage them when a sniff of the wobbly wheel occurs, nipping it in the bud and bringing them back on track, maintaining direction and ultimately giving them back their control.

Fear becomes debilitating when our primal imagination becomes overly active and we begin to not only imagine all sorts of hairy things, but ultimately convince ourselves that its a forgone conclusion.

Having strategies that bypass this and keep you well and truly on the straight and narrow enables an athlete to do what they do best, whatever sport it is and to leave the worrying to the parents in the stands.



Image Credit: Flickr mrtopp