Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Breaking the Hold

An interesting example of cost-benefit (or coping versus growing) played out at the 2021 US Tennis Open in New York. In a match between Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas, a bathroom break became the center of controversy. Murray’s take on the moment, captured with a tweet the next day seems, well, interesting:

“Fact of the day. It takes Stefanos Tsitipas (spelling, Andy’s) twice as long to go to the bathroom as it takes Jeff Bazos (spelling, Andy’s) to fly into space. Interesting.”

Murray further emphasized his point by juxtaposing two emojis that I will leave to your imagination. I imagine the tweet sounds even more amusing (perhaps the source of spelling) when you hear it in your head with his Scottish accent.  

The source of the controversy has little to do with escaping the Earth’s atmosphere or movements of other kinds. It has to do with the assumption that Stefanos went into the stall for relief of a different kind in the form of texts from his father (and part of his coaching team) observing at courtside. You can’t get coaching in men’s tennis–although it happens. The point here is the use of the restroom and data plans. Tsitsipas allegedly has done this (the stall tactic and the stall text-ic) on other occasions. The reason we have to label this an “assumption” is we only have evidence of a missing player and a texting father courtside and the need for a change in game plan. Correlation? 

Here we meet the point of cost-benefit, and it’s where the overreach of coaches and parents becomes apparent. While the prohibited coaching might have influenced an outcome, the pursuit of the outcome became imbalanced in multiple dimensions. In other words, sacrifice the means for the ends.

And for what ends? What is lost when a player can’t think and adjust for himself, who needs to be told what to do? Who relies on coping via externals rather than developing internally? Who can’t self-regulate, be resilient, and handle the moment–in other words, has a process (means) that needs some upgrading?

Here’s where it gets a bit absurd. What’s the product? What are the ends? Titles? Money? Ol’ Stefanos has 7 singles titles and boatload of dough. So, what is the end that so overshadows the means? And, more importantly, is the end game clear? Winning at all costs is costly…

With a wide enough perspective, the ends do become transparent. Who remembers Pete Sampras and how often does his name come up in today’s conversation? Who remembers the products of his great career? Who among the thousands of fans attending the 2021 US Open even cares? Pistol Pete has 722 career winds, 64 singles titles, 14 major titles, and held the number one ranking for 286 weeks. If Pete wasn’t your hero, chances are you won’t know this. He was my tennis hero and I only knew that he won a lot and was number one for a long time. But I do remember how he played and represented himself. In other words, I remember the qualities–the means–that gave rise to his greatness.

My sons speak of Pete in the same time frame as Babe Ruth. Old! But tennis ends early for young men. Best to pay attention to the means…

The most important takeaway is: the process produces the product. If you gain the product, but the process is tainted in a manner that does not appreciate the quality of the process in the future, then chances are the cost is too high, the benefit cheapened. 

The moments when the process is refined to the level of the champion and the elite is done in the quiet moments of reflection and thoughtful dialogue, or under the fire of pressure and challenge. It’s an inward process that requires a structural change that can’t be accomplished from outside-in. It requires synthesis without the energy wasted on subterfuge. There’s a price to pay in both cases.

We don’t know the truth about what happened in the bowels of the stadium. But some do. And it’s worth talking about even if it’s in the form of just talking about the idea because you must choose to cope or develop at key points in time. If the stands-to-stall coach session isn’t true, I’m glad. If it is true, I wonder why at his age, father Tsitsipas doesn’t know better than to treat his son like he’s playing a 12 and under junior tournament. 

I have hope, though. After all, if we broke the hold of gravity and sent a ship into space…

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

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photo credits: Unsplash.com

 

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Signs and Signage of the Times

Every two years (it used to be four!) I find myself saying the same thing around bedtime. “Five more minutes,” which then turns into ten. And so on…The Olympics refuse to make it easy to say, goodnight, and I find my bedtime extended to hours not typically seen. But to lose a bit of sleep to witness some of the highest and best we have to offer seems like a very good deal.

Some of the greatest Olympic moments that filled me and inspired me are still with me like little notes in a lunchbox to “give your best.” Franz Klammer’s Gold Medal Downhill run in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, a breathtaking 105 seconds on the edge of beauty and catastrophe. The 1980 USA Men’s Hockey team (boys versus men) taking Gold preceded by the question, “Do you believe in miracles?” in their semi-final game versus the USSR.

Many, many more each night over the years and they still give me chills. Awe is a need not so often fulfilled. To feel it and live it reminds that we are less than without a sense of awe at our center.

This year, in 2021, we experience the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. An asterisk will remind that the signage signifies a year of waiting. A year unlike any other. But awe still prevails. So many stories and conversations emerge and for many of us we find common ground in the joy of victory and the pain of falling a bit short. This year and years to come, I will remember Allyson Felix not just for her performance but for the person. In a time when role models and real heroes are veiled by celebrities and influencers, she is the real deal. As real and true as they come.

Since her first games in 2004 to the present, Allyson Felix has represented grace, humility, and a level of excellence unmatched.  The same can’t be said of a certain four-letter sports brand (rhymes with shnikey) who offered a major pay cut to Felix, negotiated while she was pregnant. But Allyson turned insult into opportunity and crossed the Olympic finish line with her own brand of shoes. Amen.

And while disrespected, Ms. Felix kept her eyes on what matters most to her—at home and away. She did it with her fierce will, boundless determination, and joy evident in her ever-present smile. I can’t imagine a better role model, a better representative of self, country—and her own enterprise.

Some come and go. And some are found out. It’s consistency over time that makes the true champion. Allyson Felix has been consistently great as an athlete and a person. We are blessed to be able to experience her greatness and steadfast integrity from a place so far away from home. Worlds away she is worlds above. Someone to look up to.  

Note: This post first published by this author on Afatherspath.org on 8/8/2021

Photo credit: dreamstime.com

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Reflective Coaching Practices II

Regardless of the endeavor, without a compelling “why” the energy required for change and progress will fade. Motivation is emotion in motion. It is the fuel that connects the present to the future and the creative power for imagining possibilities. While we have to practice in the present and do the little things, these little things can’t become bigger things without a bigger sense of self. This is direction in action.

So, the second reflective practice focuses on making sense of motivation in the present with an eye on the future:

Reflect on the Motivational Level. What was the connection between my motivation and the player’s (or team’s)? Motivation links to goals and vision. It answers the “Why” of what you are doing and why you are devoting precious time to an activity. Being honest in this space helps curtail plateaus and regressions. Being clear about motivation reduces conflict and manipulation. The coach’s (or program’s) motivation can either align with a player’s motivation or create negative tension. One of the most important responsibilities of a coach is to help players clarify their vision of a future self—without creating a clone of the coach or the system. This process then amplifies the collaboration and promotes aligned communication rather than becoming a misaligned power struggle.

In summary, reflecting on motivation connects the immediate with the future. Being clear on motives and aligning visions is part of pathfinding and eliminating wasteful obstacles and wrong turns.

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

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Photo credit: (unsplash.com) Gautier Salles

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Mindful of Mindset

The Performance Mindset (PM) can be a sturdy structure, built purposefully on fundamentals, experience, good coaching, mentoring, and intentional learning. But the Performance Mindset is not static. Given the dynamic and open system that life is, the mind and its structures continue to shift, evolve—but these structures can also become static and rigid. While habits are automated, neural networks—the source of these habits— can be developed or changed. And certain aspects of the mindset are more sensitive to change than others. One of these is attention.

While decision-making and reaction differ in each sport, many mistakes within competition are errors of attention and focus. An elite Performance Mindset requires careful attention to the quality of attention. Within the range of optimal performance, we must be able to regulate attention smoothly and efficiently. And within the attentional field, we need to be able to sharpen and shift focus as needed. To develop the capacity to regulate attention, there are things to do as part of training—as well as activities to avoid.

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To Improve Attention:

Sleep. Having a consistent sleep pattern in routine, quality, and quantity is paramount. Alert, energized, and attentive states require the reset, consolidation, and recharging of good sleep.

Balance: Consistent attention to all needs and roles reduces overall stress, and feeds motivation (a critical component of attention). Balance does not mean equal parts; it’s a sense we have when we feel whole, connected, aligned with goals, and not neglectful of important areas of life. Daily reflection on roles and goals, as well as taking appropriate actions to grow and adjust is a must for maintaining balance.

Rhythm: Your day and your practices require some sense of structure. This doesn’t mean a rigid list of things to do. It does mean you align with major goals, responsibilities, and biological rhythms. While every athlete is different, nothing is as dysregulating as being out of attunement with time, space, mental, and bodily rhythms.

Intentional practice: Having a process goal for the practice of regulating attention on and off the field provides the space for improvement. Training attention within the rhythm and timing of your sport during practice is key to the Performance Mindset. Shifting focus, being aware, re-focusing are all a part of practicing skills and strategies. Being mindful of your mind is the process. Awareness of attention requires planning and practice, and when you commit the effort within practice time, the ability will grow. Importantly, focused work off the field such as meditation, mindful breathing, or directed attention work (focusing and re-focusing intently on a specific target) is part of a comprehensive approach. Isolating this skill off the field deepens the ability to apply it on the field.

Things NOT to do:

Over-planning: When practicing intentionally, less is more. It’s better to consider a wide and long view of improvement, and then practicing deliberately on just a few aspects. The nature of intentional practice is intense. Training attention is demanding. Over-planning can be stressful and counterproductive. Decide on the most important aspects of training and give it full attention.

Over-training: Just like over-planning, not knowing when to enter the rest, reflective phase stalls development. Rest and reflection may seem passive, but we need physical rest to restore and recharge, and reflection to make sense and make meaning of experience. Making sense and making meaning consolidates intentional practice—and strengthens neural networks.

Bad fuel: Energy burns cleaner when the source is high quality. Yes, this means good nutrition—but it also covers your relationships and what you allow to enter your mind. Unhealthy relationships and low-quality information are the highest forms of attention disruptors.

Unbalanced needs: A significant attention drain happens when we are unbalanced in our approach to life. Again, balanced does not mean equal, but there is a proportion that works for the individual. Deny this and an inner sense of longing drains motivation. This can be felt as drifting, daydreaming, burnout, lack of engagement, or a subtle sense of longing for something unnamed.

Too much time with entertainment: Many forms of entertainment hijack the attentional system. It’s well noted that media exists to keep you engaged. The technology is exquisite at keeping your attentional system passive, doing all the shifting and engaging for you on deep levels. This does not mean “No entertainment” but it does mean to pay attention to when, how much, and whether your consumption is getting you off track. Ask: Can I truly disengage?

Being mindful of mindset is fundamental to growing as an athlete. It is not a passive process and requires consistent effort. It is hard work that pays great dividends. Attention is a valuable asset within the Performance Mindset and training it is a top priority to leverage the leap to your next level.

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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photo credits: Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash (unsplash.com)

Coaching, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Mental Stretching

One indicator of a Performance Mindset is how the athlete meets the moment in terms of change and adaptation. This would include development in any area of performance as well as to obstacles growth and execution. We could look at these situations as windows of opportunity in the present, short-term or farther out on the growth curve. There are two things to consider:

  1. Change and continuity
  2. Flow of energy and information

On some level, the moment is an expression of who we are and of our present mindset. It reveals what we are capable of right now. If improvement is simply doing the same thing better, we will hit a barrier to growth. A function of the Performance Mindset is to be equipped to adapt during times of plateau and challenge. For those who rely solely on resilience (getting through or toughing it out), the problem or situation re-presents itself and we continue to hit the same wall. We simply do not have the ability to “solve” the situation.

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Change and adaptation is about solving this problem on a new level. Yes, we change but we keep our sense of self and all the things that worked prior to meeting the new edge of growth. This sense of continuity is important and is how we can “tell the story” of our developmental arc. We look back and see “ourselves” and how we changed, how we improved.

Also, we see our sport in a new way. Our perspective changes. It includes where we have been (continuity) but allows us to go beyond the edges of our capability (change and adaptation) in a new form. This aspect of mindset speaks of openness and flexibility. We have to be open to the uniqueness of experience and the arc of growth—and to pursue to the edges of our awareness and skills. And we have to be flexible enough the bend, let go, and evolve with the demand.

Stretching routines are not just for the body. When we are not mentally open and flexible, we close the mind to the flow of energy and information. The required demands remain beyond the edges of our present mindset. Nothing flows. We keep rigid boundaries and ideas. We do not improve. We get similar results. We recycle the same processes.

We will look at the Performance Mindset in greater detail over the next few posts. For now, when you hit a wall or seem to be locked in the same pattern ask: Am I being open and flexible to the challenge?

 

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.

cover shot

photo credits: Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash (unspash.com)