Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Reframing

One of the key skills in the mental performance toolbox is the ability to shift perspective. From being completely immersed in the moment to making space for a long-term vision, each perspective informs and can transform.  In the ups and downs of improvement and growing as an athlete and an individual, there will be times when the challenge or obstacle is daunting. It is in these moments when choices can shape the next leg of the journey and alter the future in unexpected ways.

When we meet these moments, the energy and the emotion we experience can reach unmanageable levels. Maybe this moment occurs within an event, or it might be an extended losing streak or during a stretch when nothing seems to be working. Regardless, such moments are inevitable. Self-awareness is vital to creating the space to witness how these moments are processed. Under such stress it is natural to engage in fight or flight types of choices, choices tainted with negativity and pointing away from what we truly want.

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Many careers have turned in such moments—some not for the better. There are a few important ideas to consider when meeting this moment. Understanding the psychological basis to these ideas beforehand can help you to reframe the challenge you are facing, and bring the intention of your journey back into focus.

  1. Mental states matter: Under duress, we have thoughts that align with the state. Typically, these are not thoughts that directly align with our goals, but simply validate that we are experiencing a high level of stress. Resilience and managing these states is important to unlocking potential.
  2. The edge of our capabilities is always uncomfortable. The evolution of any mental or physical structure or capacity brings large helpings of discomfort. The confusion you feel is literally the fusion of two mental schemes that are trying to occupy the same space. One has to go—the one of lower capability.
  3. Opportunity is on the far side of safety. The only security we have is in our intention, commitment, resilience, and belief in ourselves. Like the seedling breaking through rock in unlikely circumstances, each level of success requires a sense of adventure—and courage.
  4. Expect the unexpected. The edge of our awareness shares this boundary with what we are not aware of. Awareness and unawareness exist side by side, but we are gifted with the greatest learning entity in the universe.
  5. Beware of rationalizations. These mental tools are only meant to ease stress. Logic can explain away lack of progress or outcomes, but you end up in the same place. Own the experience completely—success or failure. This opens the door to the next experience. Remember point number 1 for mental states matter, and states can become traits. Rationalized states can lead to traits of “I can’t” and “It doesn’t matter.”
  6. Stages can’t be skipped. You can’t jump from beginner to elite. And most of the time we are in some transition along the growth curve. This means that on some level we are different each day. Just as our body requires movement, challenge, and proper training principles to improve and endure, the same is true of our mental capacity. Breaking through is often a break away from what we know or can presently do. If we are heading someplace we have never been, we can have the best plan but we still don’t know how it feels and who we will be until we get there.

 

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

One Way

While mature relationships are a two-way street, the relationship you have with yourself and your sport is fully realized if it points with certainty in one direction. In the modern world of options and backup plans, there are certain sacred spaces that deserve and require our full attention and commitment. Interestingly, research has uncovered associations between too many choices and anxiety. And I have found time and time again that fear lurks at the source of the “backup plan.”

We as human beings seem to have a problem with “What if?” Rather than seeing the openness as the portal to imagination and creativity, many skip the possibilities and go straight to the door that says “I have to know.” But the truth is a plan is just a plan and you don’t know all that life will place along your path.

The point here is one of quality. If I commit fully to what is right in front of me and part of my path, I not only can grow as an athlete, but levels of competence and character are opened in the pure and intentional process that is not available to one who does not take the risk. The principle of risk-reward comes down to how one feels and defines a sense of security. You can’t have the reward of opportunity while you have one foot in Plan B. It doesn’t work that way and never will. No risk, no reward— and you can’t have the gaping chasm of opportunity and the security of what is known only in the present. By definition, opportunity is a direction, but the outcome is unknowable in the present.

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This concept is eloquently spoken by an all-time great in November/December 2018 issue of Tennis magazine. Rafa Nadal referencing an intensely battled five-set win reflects: “I lost in Wimbledon in a match like this. Today was for me. In some way when you give everything you have, win or lose—is just that someone have to lose, someone have to win, that’s part of the game. But the personal satisfaction when you give everything and you play with the right attitude is the same.”

In other words, on some level playing with all you have and with the right attitude is winning. Not everything that matters can be measured for its form exists in an internal quality—“ a personal satisfaction” that resonates from the integrity to a purpose, the commitment to the “Only Plan.” For there is no Plan B.

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Developing a Mindset for All Seasons

In the previous post, we talked about the foundation of a Comprehensive Mindset: Effort (What we give), Attitude (Where we are heading and Why), and Improvement (How we get there). In this post, we delve into the principles of developing a comprehensive mindset. These are the beliefs that underlie the intelligence fueling motivation toward growth and driving peak performance. These beliefs are a crucial aspect of our psychological structure, but they are also demanding and indicators of where you are on the path. In other words, do you find these beliefs to be self-reinforcing and motivating? If so, you are more likely to continue and gain both enjoyment and a sense of purpose from an activity that others find too difficult.

In my mind, the previous statement is the biggest point of separation between levels of play: what individuals and teams at one level find to be too consuming and challenging, others on a different level will find in the investment of time a sense of freedom and fulfillment.  If the latter is the case, you are in the space of flow and intrinsic motivation.

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Let’s take a brief look at each belief:

  • Motivated by the process of consistently executing at the highest level: The athlete has a vision of oneself performing at high levels; has been inspired by someone who has been a model of excellence for them.
  • Is growth-oriented (versus talent is fixed): Believes that talent is only a starting point, and that directed effort along with consistency over time are the keys to development.
  • Is driven by learning, experiencing, and reflecting: Believes that each day provides ample opportunities to develop in all areas of self (mind, body, spirit, and relationships).
  • Is self-aware and continually seeks to learn more about self: Believes in the importance of questioning assumptions and expanding the limits of one’s current level of perception.
  • Seeks consistent improvement: Sets short and long-term goals, and measures backward in time answering the question: Am I better in any way than I was a week ago?
  • Allows the body’s intelligence (unconscious competence) to respond in the moment: While consciously competent of why things work, the athlete allows the process of being present at the point of execution.
  • Understands adversity is part of competition and can manage it effectively: Has structures in place that allow for the inevitable challenges and unknowns that keep one in the mental space for optimal performance.
  • Focuses on what can be controlled in the moment: Understands the intersection of reality and expectations; does not resist what the situation presents; understands the point of greatest psychological leverage.

 

These 8 points can be experienced concretely in any aspect of the athlete’s journey. Whether it is planning, practice, play or post-experience reflection, these beliefs are a part of the overall equation. The more you bring these beliefs into the open, the more you will sense how they factor into your developmental arc. Practice and competition bring diverse experiences and many possible outcomes because of factors beyond your control. These 8 beliefs account for effectiveness and efficiency along that continuum of experience because they underlie execution at the point of performance.

Finally, the goal of the comprehensive mindset is excellence, not just in competition but in every facet of living. Note that excellence is a quality of being and doing (and is not perfection), and a commitment to the process of improvement. This creates an alignment in all your roles and activities that enable the highest level of integrity and synergy as an individual. While performance is benchmarked at each level of each sport, often the mindset of each level is not so transparent. These 8 points help to bring out in the open the drivers of the process. Improving and excelling require a mindset of growth and resilience, and must receive the same intensity of focus and attention as the development of physical skills. Make a plan today…

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Heart of a Comprehensive Mindset

It would be beneficial to lay out all the aspects of thinking, feeling, and acting that make up the lens through which we perceive and interact with the challenges of competition. But it would be too complex and impractical. It is far better to work with foundational beliefs that make up a competitor’s mindset— principles and values that provide support, motivation, and perspective for the journey. Then we have:

  • The internal sense of simplicity enabling us to meet the moment
  • A way to understand our choices–short and long-term
  • A framework with the integrity to keep us from fooling ourselves.

This latter statement comes from the importance of understanding our choices when things do or do not go our way. It is the only path that leads to the arc of development. For without knowing the source of progress and setbacks, we stunt our growth at the point of understanding.

Today we start with three of the principles of developing a comprehensive mindset: Attitude, improvement, and effort.

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Attitude: Having a positive attitude is important, but it is not the whole picture. Attitude is also a compass. It is the guiding force keeping us in alignment with values and goals. Refining attitude is a lifelong process for we have to know what to give our full attention and energy—and what to say, “no” to. There is much to do and time is precious. Attitude sets the tone and provides a sense of clarity. The proper attitude allows for progress, keeps us in process, allows for adjustment, and is not deterred by setbacks. Deep down attitude reveals beliefs and expectations. When we approach practice or an event with a purposeful and positive attitude, our poise and determination are evident. Attitude is the manifestation of our motivation, intent, and vision.

Improvement: With a bent on continuous improvement, you have the means to make the most of every situation, every event, and every interaction. Each time you play, practice, or reflect you have the resources necessary to grow and develop. Improvement need not be compartmentalized. Working on improving in all aspects of development creates a synergistic effect. We grow in one area and find that it influences another. One of the key factors of long-term growth and success is balance. We can’t neglect certain areas and focus entirely on others. We are not wired that way. Our fundamental motivation is to fulfill needs in key areas in a self-determined manner. Neglect one area and you will experience the misalignment in some way, whether it be a sense of distraction, dissatisfaction, loneliness or feeling unfulfilled. In the comprehensive mindset, growth is global and thought out carefully for body, mind, spirit, and relationships.

Effort: Nothing reveals more to oneself than the honesty of effort. At the source, only you will know the true level of effort given to a task, practice or competition. Once we have a vision of our future selves, the effort we give in the present is the greatest leverage towards development. People in your sphere can offer you information, tools, and resources, but only you can give the effort. And the integrity to give your best in the moment is something only you can measure. Again, the right and consistent effort creates synergy and momentum. In giving your best, you realize you can be your best, and this magnifies and resonates our deepest sense of motivation. Giving our best inspires, as well as softening the blow of outcomes not in our favor. And then we can build and plan on something certain and not a vague sense of what went wrong.

Next time we will take a look at the fundamental beliefs making up a comprehensive mindset.

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Team Mindset: No Folding Here

With the 2018 World Series in the books, let’s take a quick look at the mindset of a team. There are certain factors and qualities that are discernable Above the Field of Play for groups to be successful. The Red Sox as a team and an organization exhibit these qualities and can provide a model for any competitive team. I grew up in New York City, and while my original devotions are with some of these teams (Mets, Knicks, Giants) in terms of present cultural and mindset they provide a striking contrast to what the Red Sox have built in recent years. There are four qualities that stood out to me as I marveled at the complete commitment and execution of this team…

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Culture

There are fans now deceased who rooted for the Red Sox for decades under the motto “When are the Sox gonna fold?” And fold they did, for generations filled Fenway in vain from 1918 to 2004 without a World Series Championship. In contrast, a close family friend born in 1997 has celebrated 4 Red Sox Championships in her lifetime. Culture in most hierarchies starts with at the top with leadership. If that is the case, then it is no surprise a culture shift started in 2002 with new ownership, and with a change in perspective brought by the youngest GM in baseball history, Theo Epstein.

Adaptation

As far as systems, there is a maxim that if you do what you always do, you will get the results you always get. The Red Sox appear to understand the dynamics, the ebb and flow of building and developing and its unceasing need for attention and energy. Key pieces to the complex puzzle of “team” were added during the 2018 season, but the vision is one of both short-term and long-range. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. Nearly the entire roster, including the manager, has turned over with only four players remaining from that team just 5 short seasons ago. It appears obvious that adaptation and evolution are a part of the organization’s overall mission, and they are not encapsulated by their own success.

All In

During the World Series, manager Alex Cora remarked during an in-game interview about the team’s two-strike philosophy. He commented that there is a trend to take the same approach regardless of the count (which produces an occasional blast, but lots of strikeouts—both of which have been trending upward), but he suggested an “Old School” approach. Get the bat on the ball. Use the whole field. The grit and relentless pressure were evident in that the Red Sox were never out of a game and many rallies started with two outs. They made Dodger pitchers work for every inch, and despite the top regular-season producers hitting well below their regular season average (Betts:- 129 points, Bogaerts: – 152, Martinez: – 52, Holt: – 110) others carried the load like Steve Pearce (batting .333, with 3 home runs and 8 RBI).

Identity

For teams to come together and be cohesive and resilient, they have to establish an identity. Some of this is witnessed on the field, some off. While the team’s motto “Do Damage” spoke of the on-field approach, watching the dugout during the game gives a sense of belief and commitment. Players that are stars and would be the centerpiece of most teams sat the bench following outstanding performances (Benintendi) or to put the best possible matchups on the field (Bradley, Jr., Kinsler). But, the engagement was apparent in the rituals and interactions. Witnessing David Price’s reactions in the bullpen following a dramatic hit and game-ending out was a testament to involvement. Or the celebratory rituals along the bench following a home run or big hit. True teams are evident in the quality and in the intangibles that matter deeply. And in a day and time of “super-teams” and when people follow stars more than the name on the front of the uniform, it was both informative and inspiring to watch what can be done when each player becomes a part of a collective identity.

 

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Mindset: Going to the Core

So, we have talked about the difference between a player’s mindset being situational to the given task, or comprehensive—an overarching approach to a quality of thinking and being. Here is the most compelling reason: relationship.

This is not what you may think at first. It’s not about whether we have friends or significant others or if our coach likes us. It is about the fact that on some level everything is connected and therefore everything is in some form of relationship—including the relationship we have with ourselves. This is not a narcissistic or selfish notion. It is simply very real.

Even the most outgoing and talkative people will talk to themselves more than anyone and we do it all day long–thousands of words, comments, and directives. The effects of self-talk have been studied and the influence noted. How you talk to yourself matters. Negativity brings heavy doses of what you don’t want, while positive self-talk has a profound impact on well-being and performance. Again, it’s all connected.

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Given this, if your performance mindset varies considerably or is situational in comparison to other roles and activities in your life, a lack of consistency exists that can breed trouble. While you can’t measure potential, you can validate consistency over time. Consider athletes that fared well at some point, but other aspects of their lives were in constant flux and disarray. The trajectory of their careers resembles a roller coaster, but the most important point is: they made choices that did not align with excellence. Which means at the moment of choice and afterward, they had to rationalize thoughts, feelings, and actions that did not align with the mindset required of elite performance. Their self-talk in these moments has the quality of self-delusion.

You can only exist this way for so long before the consequences add up and affect performance and potential. At some point you get “found out.” All the while deep down you may realize something is not quite right. You may even consider yourself a phony or you may be too arrogant, reasoning that certain principles and rules do not apply to you. Short-term you may find some measure of success. The long-term is a different story.

Competitive sports are littered with such stories—some big and others that you will never hear of. For every one who momentarily shines before the fall, there are several who never make it to the bright lights because of a lack of alignment. The heart of the mindset is alignment with the principles of developing character and competence.

More on that next time…

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Mindset (Part 2)

In the last post, we talked about two possible ways to consider mindset. If a competitor’s mindset is situational in terms of competing, then what could be the overarching mediator of this type of mindset? And is that a source of such contradictory behaviors on and off the field of play? Is this the source of inconsistency in events? Careers?

If you listen to coaching or teaching most of the content is on skill development and execution of strategy. In other words, there are distinct skills and a playbook for every sport. Then, how can similar skills and similar strategies produce such disparate outcomes? Is it talent? Temperament? There are many factors, but the question is: What is not happening?

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

A targeted and balanced approach to growth and development.

Two things are happening at every moment when it comes to learning to compete: the player’s development and the coach, mentor or teacher’s development. When most players are learning their sport they are far from independent and highly influenced by authority figures. This is a powerful source of mindset for at this stage young athletes are learning by observing, modeling, and the culture of the environment. And given that coaches can be at different developmental stages, four things can happen (for simplicity sake, we will use “coach” to describe whoever is guiding the competitor’s growth process):

  • The coach will be centered on their own program or personal needs and goals. Players are told what their goals should be both overtly and covertly.
  • The coach will teach what they have learned based in the organization (Academy, etc.) they represent or their own experiences of being coached.
  • The coach will teach based on a clearly defined coaching philosophy with the athlete’s individual goals and needs in mind.
  • The coach will see the developmental trajectory of a player as a process and adapt to the needs of the player in all developmental realms. The player is seen as a whole and unique individual.

The system the athlete learns in matters. A system that looks at only competence and not character and the interpersonal is to look at development as one-dimensional. This becomes the roots of a situational mindset, and performance and outcomes are often determined by its weakest link (such as the inability to adapt, handle pressure, etc.). Simply put, a comprehensive mindset does not compartmentalize experience, therefore every experience can be used to mature and learn.

 

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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