Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Coping and Developing

There are two important processes happening when you move towards a goal. The goal may not even be explicit as you make choices based on value all day long. And the goal could be to not have a goal. But these processes are even more noticeable when you do have an idea where you are heading.

Coping represents management in the short term. Developing represents leadership in the long term. Coping without developing can be a lifestyle. Same problems come round and round managed in some fashion in the moment. Same frustrations. The unspoken goal here is for things not to change, to get a different result for the same choices and behaviors. Tools and strategies have become buzzwords in this vein. “I need some tools to handle this.” “I use this strategy when…”

Problem is when you stay in this type of loop, it becomes a closed system. “I know my triggers” but neglect the possibilities of becoming something more. States become traits and you get stuck avoiding or coping with the same situations. Development, in this case, presents as the edge of discomfort and something to avoid.

Intention at the leading edge of growth is doing, being, or having something new and better. It has to be of higher value, or you wouldn’t call it a goal, wouldn’t be motivated to pursue the outcome or quality in the future. This is the essence of development and represents an open system. One that embraces the complexity of the flow between the internal and external qualities and experiences of life.

In an open system of development, frustration or dissonance is not a signal to stop or avoid. These emotions are just messages to tell you where you are in the development of a skill or mental capacity. You can only handle so much change and stress at one time, so coping in this case is regulating the process. You regulate the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without losing sight of the path ahead. You cope with frustration, confusion, or loss and know that if you continue to adjust, learn, and practice, you will develop. Every stage is like this. Every plateau is just a message that a rise (or fall) is ahead. It is up to you to interpret the experience from a future self.

With both processes working towards a future goal, obstacles are seen in a different light. In an open system they are assumed. You will meet challenges. You can handle them and use them to become smarter and stronger. That is the purpose of the problems faced on the path of development. Growth requires resilience and learned, embodied experience with the pull of the future guiding.

Finally, control feels quite different when you are open to the challenges of developing. In a closed system you avoid, discount, or dismiss experiences beyond the edge of control. While developing in an open system, a sense of control comes from trust in your ability to learn and adapt (smarter) and regulate the dissonance (stronger). It’s comfort with the discomfort at the edges of chaos.

photo credit: Jametlene Reskp unsplash.com

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Scattered

It can be argued that the most important quality for performance is the fidelity of attention. Attention connects focus to motivation, all our mental models of performance, and goals. It’s the process of attending that taps into intention, learning, informing, decision-making, and growth.

Try this experiment. Take a ball and toss it in the shape of an arc above eye level and completely across your body to the other hand. When you get a rhythm, add another ball, tossing the second one higher or lower than the first. Now add a third.

There’s a reason it’s called “juggling.” The inexperienced juggler is trying to meld multiple tasks—one ball and one toss at a time. The experienced juggler is aware of the three balls in space and focused on the process as a one activity. If one of the balls goes offline, his hand “finds” the ball. The juggler has a sense of space and rhythm that makes the movement experience whole.

Likewise, the dancer is aware of the dance yet not the mechanics which have been internalized in rehearsal. There’s a sense of quality held together as a whole by rhythm. And the chess master sees patterns, not one move at a time, and sees checkmate well before the moves are made.

These skills and aptitudes are trained, honed with the highest quality of attention.

Training attention is a process. And multi-tasking is not a thing. Doing unrelated tasks, or marginally related tasks at the same time simply means you are shifting attention in time, focused on a single task at one time. Then shifting to the next task. It’s linear and not effective. And it scatters attention.

Try videoing the experience of multi-tasking. You will notice things you do not notice in real time. Stops and starts. Hesitation and noticeable pauses. Changes in rhythm and breathing. Like the first time you tried rubbing your belly and patting your head.

We live in a world that has compressed the time envelop. We want things now. Waiting doesn’t seem optional. And the competition for your attention increases noticeably—in shorter time frames. And sometimes without you noticing.

If you’re scattered when you are not competing, practicing, or performing, there’s a good chance the quality of your attention is less than in the important time frames of executing. Chances are you spend most or a good portion of your day not training, learning, practicing, or competing in your sport. But you are always attending. Because attending is a process and how well you attend is a quality.

Natural processes require fidelity. Fundamentals work this way. Try scattering your sleep, your eating, your relationships, your learning, or your trust…

It doesn’t work. The quality suffers as does the process (and, therefore, outcomes).

Intention informs attention. While each day has a rhythm and a structure that includes the highest priority activities, don’t underestimate the power of “paying” attention during the “in-betweens” or activities of seemingly low importance. Do what you are doing. And be present. And limit activities that scatter attention.

Over time you will notice a difference in attention in everything you do.

Photo credit: Oliver Hihn (unsplash.com)

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Ghost

One truism for athletes is “Father time always wins.” How long you get to play or compete in your field is both under your control– and not. The latter is very complex. But one thing I’ve learned is, for most athletes, the slope curves steeply downward towards the end of a competitive career. While knowledge and understanding grows, the physical capacity declines. With the decision to move on, a void opens wide and loud, and demands that you pay attention…

Well, 2022 will be remembered in some fashion as the year one of the greatest tennis players of all time bid farewell. Roger Federer left with a grace and class matching his career and manner on court. He offered a two-page letter to his fans that I urge you to read. If, rather than a good-bye, you consider his words as a vision for a fulfilling future, not a single box remains unchecked.

Even when they leave, the spirit of all the players and performers are out there with you above the field of play. Their memory exists in a wordless fashion as a part of history. Space has memory, and when you get down to it, it really is all connected.

There are enough salutes and well wishes for Federer out there. I would just like to share the impression I had of him when all the tumblers clicked, and I had the unlikely opportunity to see him front row at the US Open in New York City during his incredible run of five straight Open titles.

I’ll spare all the self-evident superlatives. What struck me was that Federer was like a ghost on the court. In an era of high decibel grunts, squeaky sneakers, and loud exhales, Roger moved about without a sound. Sure, you heard him stop, make subtle adjustments and, and at the time, the unparalleled explosion of the ball off his racquet. But in the process, Roger just seemed to float above the court and hover in graceful turns and purposeful lines as sublime and beautiful as any form of dance.

His face serene, not a muscle tense. One purposeful move flowed to another without a hitch in the transition. For the entire match my jaw hung slack. Truly I saw a ghost. I would look up to the huge stadium screen to see if the flat, digital version matched the true experience. Nope. How could it?  

While Federer was on his run of winning majors, over 100 other titles, and sitting at number one in the world, what I will remember most is how he played and competed. His grace and elegance belied the work and effort required to “make it look easy.” In a sports world growing in postures and chest-pounding, Federer offered no seam between the player and the playing.

He inspired the ephemeral and much-needed sense of awe. And, like most artists, left his mark extending the arrow of time in both directions.

photo credit: the author

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching (Part 3)

The concept of levels is rarely discussed openly, but we experience it often. In the physical domain, the recreational player would experience levels competing with Roger Federer or Tiger Woods; the middle school track star racing Usain Bolt over 100 meters.

In these situations, it is easy to see the difference in levels. But it is not only physical. People perceive, think, and use language at different levels. The lower level cannot hear what the higher level is saying, because of the difference in complexity. And when we look at this gap, we witness the arc of vertical growth.

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Coaching is no different. Adding skills and knowledge is horizontal growth. Developing the self is a vertical task, one that increasingly changes and clarifies the relationship between the individual and the environment. By growing and knowing more deeply we see ourselves more clearly—but also with this wider lens we see others and the environment more clearly. In horizontal development, content increases. In vertical growth the context widens and deepens.

Importantly, each stage (see previous posts) brings new capacities. The Self-Centered Coach who evolves to the level of Culture-Centered for the first time sees the two-way street of reciprocity as well as another’s point of view. This means in coaching one can truly treat others as they want to be treated. There is a give and take based in mutual understanding, and the relationship is felt internally not just as something “out there.”

Evolving from Culture-Centered to Value-Centered, coaches can differentiate themselves from the group culture and what is held as tradition or the “right way” to do things. Value-Centered Coaches self-author, meaning they have a connection to the culture but do not hold it as the ultimate identity (being part of the group). They can hold the institution (sports and business culture) as just a part of what they have learned and how they coach. Value-centered coaches have their own point of view of how things work and can use a variety of sources to make coaching decisions.

A new capacity arises in vertical growth from Value-Centered to Principle-Centered, as now coaches can transform their sense of self as part of a system of systems. Coaches at this stage can hold identity, ideology and sense of self as adaptable and flexible based on underlying principles. Self-awareness has heightened to a level of being which allows one to witness the parts and the whole—and the relationships between. Integration is a key principle at this stage and a widened lens allows for greater vision and innovation.

The fundamental capacity of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. As coaches play an enormous role in the growth of others, self-awareness and the integration of developmental abilities (context, process, wisdom) are vital to the success in the role. As coaches see themselves more clearly, they have a greater ability to serve the growth and actualization of the potential of those in their charge.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Different Take on Sideline Leadership

Some media have taken an understanding of Coach Nick Saban’s tantrum during the Alabama-Oklahoma semifinal as a sign of a leader’s high expectations and demanding excellence. Up 28-10 nearing the end of the half, the Tide made errors that led to consecutive penalties and Saban’s vigorous, demolishing spike of his headset. The misunderstood genius is an old and tattered card, and underneath the words and actions, something else lurks that deserves some light.

If you caught the face of the young man (a close-up followed the headset explosion) who drew the flag, he had already paid his penance. No one felt worse and his face showed his disappointment in himself and letting his teammates down. If you have played teams sports, this sits heavy. Like the stages of grief, you wish you could take it back and the road to acceptance and being ready for the next play is difficult enough. Nothing feels better than your teammates saying, “I got you…it’s all good,” especially the ones with “C” on their jerseys. The gesture says we all have been there, this too shall pass, and we are moving on. Forgiven and forgotten—for that is all you can do anyway.

What is missing in the explanations and rationalizations of the action is the poor insight of the moment within the bigger picture. I am sure the coaching staff sat in this young man’s living room, recruiting him with promises of looking after him like a son…

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I’m not arguing Saban’s success or his net worth. I am saying that if you preach “the process” then mistakes are part of this methodology, part of the learning process. Smashing headphones is a choice based on an outcome. It is an ego-centered move that diminishes and shows up individuals who are giving blood and bone to the process. It says I do not have to respect you but you must respect me or I will smash these headphones to get your attention. And I am sure, in this impulsive gesture, not a thought was given to the fact that the headset could possibly cost more than some of the Alabama parents have in a year’s worth of disposable income.

While I respect how other media have approached this situation, and glamorized and made humor for the headset (moment of silence for the headset, haha), it is only part of a story. Underneath the outcomes are the values and assumptions that motivate choice. If a middle-aged man can act impulsively and from the anger of things not going his way, how is this a measure of the leadership we aspire to model for the ones we lead?

Call it what it is. Be honest. It ain’t about the process. It’s the outcome. Just win at all costs. And the few grand of a new headset seems a paltry price when you consider the cost of the meta-message of leadership. Every choice has a consequence whether you wish to address it, name it, forgive it, apologize for it—or not.

There is an old adage that nothing fails like success. And sometimes this speaks to more than just the numbers.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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