leadership, 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

Coaching, leadership, 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)

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Bad Day: What’s in a Name?

A level to aspire to as an athlete floats above dichotomous thinking. In the heat of execution, black and white thinking can turn the mental aspect of play into a pinball machine. And in the important growth activity of reflection, dichotomous thinking can stunt progress and leave the wheat for the chaff.

Above this good/bad mindset is one that acknowledges the reality of the continuum of complexity. Life and sports are open dynamic systems and to pin a result or situation down to a simple explanation ignores the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our sport. And both of these are open-ended in terms of growth.

Here’s a simple system to hold in mind regarding performance. If we use this 5-point scale…

  1. Low
  2. Below Average
  3. Average
  4. Above Average
  5. Superior

… and consider the possibilities between each interval (for example, the leap from level 3 to level 4 goes through 3.5, etc.) rarely will be at the same level of performance for long stretches of time. The numbers are arbitrary and simply a way to make sense of the moment and to make any adjustments. If you think of “who you are” in the moment, most of the time you hover around a 3. It does not mean that you are average.

As a matter of fact, if you are consistently a 3, you are performing pretty close to how you practice. Average means the average performance levels over a stretch of time, based on performance ability. It’s a self-comparison, not one compared with another. Aaron Rogers’ average performance will look different than a backup quarterback’s average. And Steph Curry’s will look different than the last guard on the depth chart.

Average, or the level we’ve called “3”, is the expectation we all have and what we refer to when we say, “I’m not playing my best,” or “I’m shooting lights out.” It’s a self-comparison based on the build-up of recent play and practice–your most recent sense of “who you are.” If you look back one or two years, you may notice your average level 3 is better than it was back then. That’s a sign of well-thought-out goals and attention to detail within practice sessions.

Anyone can execute well and win at a level 5. But it doesn’t happen often, a few times a year at best. Can you add value to a team at a level 1 or 2? Can you win an individual event at a level 2?

The title of this article refers to the dichotomous thinking of good days and bad days. This appraisal does not respect the truth that we are both change and continuity in all realms of being. With self-awareness, we can find out who we are at this time and on this day. All athletic endeavors require resiliency and a keen ability to adapt. Asking that simple question, “who are you,” allows you to get the most from the moment and to keep in the growth process—which includes the ups and downs of performance.

Try the simple system above. And adapt based on who you are (the inner sense of your performance) on any particular day, practice or event. You can always find resources within if you don’t cut off the source with the judgement, “It’s a bad day.”

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.

photo credits: Jordan Rowland; Unsplash.com

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.

cover shot

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

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