Posts Tagged ‘mind coaching’

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?


How to Uncoach An Athlete… All the Way to the Bottom

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Uncoaching an athlete

There is nothing wrong with interacting with an athlete before a performance. Misalignment occurs, however, when the purpose of this interaction is to continue to coach instead of handing over permission to the athlete to do what they do best – perform…


After spending many years traversing different sports and sporting venues, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe various athletes, coaches and sporting cultures. These sports may be as varied as football and ballet, however, many commonalities are shared. The same performance issue may arise for the quarterback, as it does for the ballerina.

From my vantage point, I am well positioned to see and recognise patterns. Utilising this insight has enabled me to improve the performance of athletes and help give them the tools to manage their future challenges. An ability to cut through the normal sporting politics and their own performance traditions, has been invaluable in getting a precise, replicable and sustainable result.

Last year I began working extensively with competitive figure skaters. This is a sport I had not been involved in mental coaching on a professional level before so was excited by the possibilities. Normally, in-person time with the athletes, coaches and clubs is spent to gain some inside knowledge of their unique workings. Although, being based in Australia and my clients in the US, was unable to just pop over and spend face-to-face time with them, so needed to get a ground level understanding of the sport another way.

So I spent time at a local ice skating rink to observe the sport; the sporting culture; listen to some of the terminology and get a feel for those who spend their lives in an ice chest – for fun!

Whilst this was an invaluable experience in gaining an understanding of some of the nuances of figure skating, after several sessions, as I expected, I witnessed similar issues faced by this arctic, artistic breed of athlete and their coaches that I observe in many other sports.

However, I did see something I didn’t expect to see, something a little different, something I thought initially was quite unique to the skating set.

As I watched a local competition I saw a young girl, perhaps in her early teens, waiting to compete. She was attempting to calm her nerves, get her thoughts together and adjusting her costume while simultaneously practicing her big toothy grin, dance, facial and hand expressions.

She was only moments away from her performance. The nerves were clearly there but she appeared to have them contained as she spoke to herself. She was going over her routine and no doubt convincing herself it was all going to be ok.

Then out the corner of my eye I saw her coach marching towards her. He appeared nervous and agitated. The instant she saw him, her demeanor changed. She stopped her internal dialogue and retracted that big smile.

This happened within seconds… like an armadillo bunkering for shelter as her coach began to ‘coach’ her. This was impressive as he was coaching her long before he even reached her, clearly on a mission, giving defined hand gestures and mouthing commands.

Now, “What is wrong with this picture?” I hear you say. “That’s his role, right?”

Well, yes, it is his role to coach and her role is to perform – and there is a time and place for both.

I observed this young athlete go from a semi-calm and focused competitor to a nervous wreck as her coach animatedly loaded technical information into her brain, physically moving her into multiple positions, barking instructions in an attempt to get her to remember it all – NOW – in one emotionally charged session.

Shoulders dropped, the skater’s head started nodding, much like one of those nodding toy dogs sat on a car’s back parcel shelf, head bobbing incessantly at the vehicles following it. She was both acknowledging his demands and processing his requests to do or not do these things simultaneously.

She too was clearly agitated now and almost teary-eyed as they announced her name to take the ice to skate her program.  Just for good measure the coach threw one last tip at her by shouting, “Now smile!” as she stepped out.

I hung around because I had seen this young athlete warm up and she skated like a dream. She had an air of confidence and charisma that pulled me in. I thought she would deliver the performance of the day and I was professionally intrigued.

The performance she delivered, however, was full of mistakes, stumbles, falls, nerves, glances to the sideline and she ended her performance in tears and was quite obviously dejected.

Her coach, whose head was buried in his hands for most of the routine, put his consoling arm around her as she exited the rink.

Most people reading this would perhaps view this coach as the villain here and his stern approach as the catalyst to this young performer’s demise.

What I saw as a problem, wasn’t the fact that the coach interacted just before she performed, rather, how he CHOSE to interact with this young skater.

I saw a wasted opportunity to motivate and calm this athlete and a missed chance to enable this performer to perform. Based on her reaction to both his approach and emotions I observed a pattern that I suspected played out competition after competition. This is a pattern that was probably formed a long time ago during training and had become just part of their relationship.

Despite the outcome I could see this coach had the best of intentions; he clearly cared for his athlete and obviously valued the results. I believe that he felt she needed all of this data at that vital moment to make her performance hit the mark; by adding pieces of key information after more information he was properly prepping his athlete to handle any eventuality.

As I watched, I thought to myself, “There is a time and a place.”

A Time and a Place

So when is this time and place?

I guess a better question would be, “When do you make the distinction to stop coaching the athlete technically and when do you just say the right things to enable the performance to emerge?”

Knowing when to shift into that place where they will blindly follow their internal neural pattern allows a competitor to follow that pathway of familiarity that has been crafted for an optimal performance.

When does a coach encourage an athlete to be the performer and not the student?

At some stage before an athlete competes they stop going through the learning, adjusting and mentally unpacking and repacking phase (student) and move into the applying phase (performer).

That internal blueprint, that neurological point of reference, is when the athlete centres and focuses on the job to be done. At that point, taking a big breath and ceasing to give any further mental energy to the details of the technique, the adjusting and the learning – it becomes all about following the pattern.

This becomes the sweet spot of a strong performance.

Not allowing this to play out essentially leads to overload and mis-focus. By continually adding instructions, options, advice and asking an athlete to reprocess – they cannot switch from that learning to the performance phase.

L Plater Coaching

Think of it like coming to an intersection as a beginning driver where there are multiple traffic signals, options and driving instructor advice. A young driver has gone through the normal mental, emotional and cognitive process we all go through in learning technical elements. They have been over the information step-by-step and they slowly move into their own learning phase. As they evaluate when to go and when to reassess, as the anxiety is increased, the NPR’s (blueprints) are constantly shifting and changing and the action step never engages.

At this point the driver is on rocky ground, has no stable foundation, no clear productive familiarity and no previous pattern of success to fall back on. With enough of these situations under your belt, the light comes on.

Pre-performance meltdown

As a coach, recognising when to coach and when to allow athletes to switch into performance mode is not only important for an athlete and their performance, it is vital for our effectiveness as coaches.

There is a necessary fluidity to the lucid phase of searching, sorting, storing and recalling information and the process of switching from the learning athlete to the pure performance athlete.

As a coach, gauging this switch is something we all need to internalise and re-evaluate each time.

This is a constant trap for coaches who feel they have all of the control AND all of the expectation on their shoulders. We know the likelihood of an athlete learning something new at that crucial point in time just before a performance is minimal. And the likelihood of the athlete becoming emotionally unstable, disconnected and anxious is extremely high. So although we all have the best of intentions sometimes it’s the coach that is the cause of a pre-performance meltdown in athletes.

This time, right before the performance, is reserved for reinforcement, acknowledgement and support. These emotion-based responses will do more to increase an athlete’s performance than any technical piece of advice you can hope to impregnate.

There is nothing wrong with interacting with an athlete before a performance. Misalignment occurs, however, when the purpose of this interaction is to continue to coach instead of handing over permission to the athlete to do what they do best – perform.

What we as coaches must appreciate is we cannot underestimate the need for athlete’s to transition from the student who is learning, analysing, and mentally unpacking and repacking into the performer who is simply applying and doing.

Recognise the difference between these stages and learn to trust our athletes and our own coaching ability; it is only when we do this can we expect athletes to embrace their role with confidence and control.

And so as I walked away I thought to myself, “Is this really an ice skating phenomenon, as I had initially thought?”

I can still remember seeing many other coaches frantically handing over every ounce of their knowledge to their athlete just before they competed, just before they really needed a clear and concise thought process.

We’ve all stepped into the craziness at one time!

So ask yourself do you see this kind of coaching on the sidelines, on the poolside, on the trackside of your sport?

I know I do. Thank goodness there is ample research and knowledge about how to deliver the best performance coaching possible.

As coaches too, at times we become the students to grow as coaches.

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!