Coaching, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

King of Clay

Tennis great, Rafa Nadal, made it an even dozen championships this June at the French Open. He has won this major event in his teens, twenties, and thirties. Although the accomplishment inspires awe in the present, the true magnitude of the feat will grow over time. History needs to lend perspective to present unfolding of the accomplishment—and it’s very possible the undisputed “King of Clay” can add to his trophy case in the years to come.

rafa wins

What can we take away from this truly remarkable story?  Here are just a few…

Vision: Rafa is right-handed. Early on his first coach, Uncle Toni Nadal, envisioned the advantages of playing left-handed. Unlike baseball, you must hit from both sides in tennis—and at the highest level both sides must be strong. In Rafa’s case his natural right side became one of the greatest backhands of all time. For many the backhand side prevents players from the upper echelons of achievement. For Rafa on this side he could go toe-to-toe with a righthander’s forehand.

Adaptation: The saying “Nothing fails like success” speaks to the mindset of extinction. In competition, there is always someone preparing to dethrone the champion, there is always someone about to make a break-through. Adapting represents a break-with what is familiar—and this is particularly hard for the body and the mind. Equilibrium is favored, but excellence requires comfort with pushing limits and limiting beliefs. Rafa has improved all areas of his game and continues to add new wrinkles along the way. Where he was once was average at the net, now Rafa is excellent coming forward. He’s added power and versatility to his serve. Recently, he’s worked hard on angling groundstrokes rather than always hitting through the court. His evolution continues…bad news for his youthful peers, but a path they would do well to follow.

 Effort: The one thing we can always control is effort. We can’t control the weather, our opponent, the crowd and a million other factors. But deep inside we are the only ones who know if we have given our best. While Rafa is his only true judge and jury, from the outside and from the observations of his opponents, he has always given his all. One thing appears consistent throughout Rafa’s career, is that in terms of effort he plays each point the same: full throttle.

Humility: Rafa is a graceful champion. He has the utmost respect for the game, his team, his opponents, and the venues he plays. While confidence is important to the mental game, humility lends a perspective beyond competing and winning. Many factors beyond the athlete’s control have to all fall in place for an individual to have a long and prosperous career—let alone the chance to try. Rarely said or admitted, there are individuals out there who have the heart and the talent to compete, but never the opportunity. On some level, spoken or not, I believe Rafa knows this and understands this. And on some level, spoken or not, those who understand this truth play with the humility and the grace of having such an opportunity not afforded others. Rafa represents the opportunity very well.

Long live the King… Vamos!

 

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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Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching

The relationship of coach to player or team is one that has evolved thanks to many leaders in the field drawing on information from other disciplines, such as psychology and leadership. For example, the concept of transactional and transformational coaching draws from the literature on leadership—and for good reason. The role and power differential between players and coaches is obvious, but often secondary in nature except for in the hearts and private thoughts of those within the relationship.

While coaches assume many roles at the core of these various responsibilities is teaching. Within and underlying this broad term of “teaching” are many layers of skills, knowledge, and qualities, yet the driving force of coaching and teaching is understanding: To understand oneself, players, systems, and the integration within the process of moving towards a vision.

Self-awareness is the primary source for this understanding for it makes us conscious of what we know as well as revealing the edges of our ignorance. Research in Emotional Intelligence as well as wisdom literature (“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu) points to self-awareness as the core competency.

But what is this “self” that we are aware of?

This awareness of self is the place of greatest leverage and the space where we meet different coaching philosophies. One can hear and see the philosophical differences of legendary coaches John Wooden and Bobby Knight—both Hall of Famers with very different deliveries. We sense the differing points of view right down to little league or junior tennis and the continuum of yellers and screamers versus quiet discipleship.

Evolution in the role of coaching is a process and it offers evidence of its stages—no different than any identity theory for the progression is a private one—one of the self.

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In an article written for Tennis Pro in 2016 (The Development of Self in Coaching) I outlined developmental stages related to the current level of a coach’s awareness. For simplicity, these four stages of adult development can be described as (from least to most complex):

  1. Self-centered
  2. Culture-Centered
  3. Value-centered
  4. Principle-Centered

While this is a complex topic, it helps to understand how the “self” evolves for it is the center from which we teach and coach. How you make meaning and how you make sense of experience is a construction, it is the self, and this process is the lens you “see” through each moment.

This developmental process is rarely considered, nor is there an intentional structure in place for helping coaches evolve. Much like continuing education in any profession, knowledge and skills are offered with the hope of helping coaches become better at their craft. On some level, this is like the carpenter stopping at Ace hardware for a new hammer. And as Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

This type of development is horizontal, one of breadth but lacking depth which is an introspective process. Also, learning new skills or capturing more tools does not necessarily lead to development.

On the surface, the four coaches above presented above can look and sound the same. They can all be good people and have a solid knowledge of their sport. They can all have a winning record. But the lens they look through is very different. And this difference influences the quality of the relationship with players, teams, the sport…and self.

Next time we look at each of these coaches and their way of knowing and making sense of experience.

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 credit: Angelina Litven (unsplash.com)

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Back-Up Plans

What if Plan A doesn’t work? That’s a good question, and it applies to much of daily living. But there are a few spaces that require all the creative power we have in order to keep moving and to persist–and to resist resorting to Plan B. The value in the moment of devotion to Plan A is often lost in the challenge, obstacles, discomfort—and sometimes pain.

Einstein is credited for saying that we can’t solve problems with the same of level of thinking that we created them. Here is the space above the field of play that pulls us to creativity, capability, and movement. In other words, when faced with a challenge or obstacle, there is a developmental path that evolves from simplicity to complexity and back to simplicity—and we can become something more.

Consider the skills, habits, and knowledge required to play your sport. There is a wide gap between novice and expert, and this is the arc of growth and development. Each cycle you become something more—sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in leaps and bounds.

back up plan

Again, there are just a few spaces where a Plan B is not a good idea nor should it be a part of consciousness. Having an “out” taints the awareness required to grow, be resilient, and figure it out. This applies in the moment when things are not working and you want to retire, quit, or default. And it applies in the greater arcs on the path to your long-term goals.

If we look deeply, those spaces mentioned are ones with deep connections and meaning. You would wouldn’t enter any vital role in life with a Plan B

“Well, if this fatherhood thing doesn’t work out…”

“If this marriage doesn’t work out…”

In the moment you can’t have one foot in and one out literally or symbolically. Commitment is required and passion wanes without vision.

The true benefit of seeing a plan through to its natural end is the deepening of character and competence on a level you would never attain while having a back-up plan. You may or may not reach your long-term goals, but that is only part of the picture. The commitment and devotion to worthy goals changes us to the core. And these qualities spread into every aspect of life.

At Wit’s End, there is the lure of Plan B—but the option is only to ease the pain. Truthfully, Wit’s End is simply a crossroads, a turning point to a higher level and greater capacity…

And, as Albert implied, new levels of thinking and doing.

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

The Pull of Motivation

Most have considered their personal notion of great human achievements. And I am certain there are clusters of agreement around specific events. Depending on interests and culture, groups can sit around the circle and recall with wide-eyed wonder the greatness of an experience or event. Today I would like to offer one for consideration: Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite.

In June of 2017, Honnold made the nearly 3000-foot ascent in just under 4 hours—without a rope. No safety nets, just him and what climbers consider the most daunting face of granite on earth. This feat, captured in the documentary, Free Solo, is something to behold. Just hearing about it is not enough. To see some aspect of the climb makes the jaw drop and the inevitable “Why?” sighs from an open mouth.

But this is the pivot point of motivation. The question of, “Why?” There are only a few deep sources of motivation as it is fundamental to life. To live without some sense of principled motivation is to embrace entropy, a slow death spiral, or to place the digestive system at the pinnacle of effort. The pure moments described as flow or peak experiences are the essence of the feeling of “being alive.”

Honnold’s ascent, to me, represents a string of perfect moments in flow, a linked crescendo of peak experiences. How many and how long? It’s impossible to quantify, for in these experiences time disappears. The climber and the climb become one, as do granite and flesh.

green pine trees in front of a rock mountain
Photo by André Cook on Pexels.com

The documentary, Free Solo, comes at the event from a few angles to dig into Honnold’s persona and create cinematic tension, an arc to an amazing story. This is where we go above the field of play, in this case over a half-mile of steep granite. The backdrop of Honnold’s life, family, friendships, and his significant other makes for a good story, but in no way touches the “why?” Honnold attempts to explain the pull of motivation of such a momentous task, but it remains for the most part indescribable.

It doesn’t matter that on film Honnold comes across a quirky, at times insensitive (even to fear and death), awkward in love and relating, and a host of other adjectives that, also, do not matter. For the true depth of his motivation remains unplumbed by what is recorded on film. Only he knows the “feel”, the emotion that motivates for he is the first and the only. This probing into character will not reveal the essence of Honnold’s motivation or ability. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that we seek simple formulas for excellence, and attempt to codify a process that is complex and becomes a part of the fabric of one’s being…

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It’s no secret that one of the stars of the event, the documentary, and the personal quest is Death. And it hovers ever so close, on some level, a feel quite like the curiosity of passing the scene of a gruesome accident. Death is imminent and present in every move along the climb, and in every nub, nook and cranny of El Capitan. And for those (which is over 7+ billion and counting) who do not have Honnold’s sublime gift, Death would be the last acknowledgement before the credits roll…

Motivation’s pull is an agreement with a vision, one that comes from deep within, at first formless just as the infinite from which we come. Over time, the vision takes form, but it is the feel that gives rise to power. Like opposite poles of a magnet the pull is real, and its ample force is felt in trying to deny the connection. Honnold’s ascent seems fueled by such a pull. A thing of art and beauty, wonderfully defying odds and logic—for his logic was a personal one.

But, we all can feel the pull on some level, in some space. And that is the point of aspirations and of being alive. To give birth, to raise a child. To comfort a friend. To bury a loved one with grace when your heart is broken. To love another fully and completely. To do good work. To play. To forgive flaws and trespasses. To get up off the floor one more time. To play a sublime melody and a melody sublimely. To listen with a beginner’s mind…

All of these could make someone somewhere sigh, Why? How? For Honnold, I imagine it was El Capitan whispering in his ear, Why? How? All the while offering subtle clues along the razor’s edge that is being and non-being. For a little under 4 hours he reminded us what it means to be fully committed to a vision, and that being fully alive acknowledges the brackets of time, markers we submit to in moments of clarity, despair, and awe.

leadership, Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Does Playing Sports Develop Character (Part Two)

Looking at the other side of the equation—playing sports may not be a vehicle for self-development. Why? There are many reasons, but I will speak to a few common ones:

  1. The player(s) never truly owns the experience
  2. The end is more important than the means
  3. A fixed mindset

In the first case, the driving need is one of approval. The individual lacks the autonomy to make their own decisions and the biggest payoff, most likely, is being in the good standing of another. The spectrum of how much freedom the individual surrenders is related to the power possessed by the one who actually calls the shots. While we may witness some success in such an authoritarian dynamic, the player does not own enough of themselves and their experience to develop an integrated and differentiated sense of self—the very stuff of character.

In the second case, the product or end-goal is the only thing that matters. Win at all costs, it’s a dog eat dog world, nice guys finish last, only the fittest survive… This is a very black and white perspective and it is hard to develop a sense of character when you see everyone as someone who can take something from you. As we have said many times in this venue, in competition you have nothing at the start and earn everything as you go. In any league or competition, only one gets the first-place trophy. While the ultimate prize is one of the goals, there must be other compelling reasons to play—the greatest being the opportunity and enjoyment of improving at what you love to do.

tournament brackets

The final case has to do with identity. One with a fixed mindset identifies with static qualities. This is the opposite of character which is developed over time and features many mistakes and re-aligning along the way.  According to Carol Dweck, a competitor with a fixed mindset avoids challenges, ignores negative feedback, sees talent as static and effort as fruitless, gives up easily, and is threatened by the success of others. This person identifies with a very rigid sense of success and does not seize the opportunity afforded in the process of overcoming challenges.

While there are different perspectives, one that focuses solely on competence and accomplishment and ignores the development of character seems limiting. After all, who you are at the core will be who you are in all your other roles. And there is no conflict between fierce competitiveness and fairness, intensity and sportsmanship, toughness and respect. Interestingly, those who look to be the best understand they need the best of others to help them get there. This goes back to the true meaning of the word compete: to strive together. For everything, at some level exists in a relationship. And you can’t develop competence without the consistent challenge provided by the best efforts in others.

 

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

Does Playing Sports Develop Character? (Part One)

Research, anecdotal evidence, and individual experiences point to both sides of the question above: Sports can develop character—and not. The answers arise from intention on every level, the organization, the team, the coach, and the player.

The title of the blog came from personal experience with development. Sports consumed me at an early age and when I wasn’t playing it took a great effort to not think of the next time I would be playing. But, having something to look forward served a purpose. Here, my own intentions were born and years later the realization that lessons learned on the field of play could apply above and beyond.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was in my third decade as an athlete when I intentionally made a list of all the things I learned while practicing and competing. By way of example, here are just a few:

  • You get what you give
  • Without a vision, you end up in a stream of others who don’t know where they are heading
  • If you play for approval, you will never own your experiences
  • You are accountable for your actions
  • If you cheat on the field, you cheat in life
  • Without a specific plan, you don’t achieve your potential
  • Surround yourself with people who believe in the same principles of development

The list goes on and on. One time I asked someone to look at my list. They remarked that I must’ve had a great teacher. I nodded and smiled even though we were thinking of different things. I didn’t grow up with the resources for coaching or clinics, camps or private lessons. But, I did have a deep desire to figure it out and a few good books.

One of the pivotal moments in life occurs when you realize the responsibility you have for your life. It intensifies further when you become responsible for relationships—and the lives of others. As a player it is easy to be self-centered, to stay firmly in the groove of life as a one-way street. The development of character takes an intense turn with the discovery that life—sports and otherwise—is truly a two-way journey. There is receiving and giving, and influence extends beyond our personal goals momentary choices. In that pivot, intention shifts and the process—more than any outcome— becomes immensely valuable. For it is a measure of who you are in the moment.

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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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Distraction or…?

The human body is an open system. Our “roots” are only symbolic and movement is a primary principle one of our systems. If we sit in one space (without the help of others) we will never make it as we have to move to survive. And our bodies and minds follow the “use it or lose it” principle.

In an open system, we are able to use, learn, develop, and enhance our internal environment with aspects from the external environment—including other individuals. On some level the inner-outer boundary is arbitrary, but one thing is for sure: being open brings both opportunities for growth, but also positions of vulnerability.

The need for self-awareness is key, for this quality is the true gatekeeper. All experience effects, some more than others. But to know what sustains versus what drains is the essence of the gatekeeper.

There are two ways to assess moving towards a vision and actualizing what one believes to be potential. One is by what is happening and the other by what is not happening. Interestingly, both can be sources of vulnerability, both can infiltrate and decrease the quality of an open system.

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Photo by Lukasz Dziegel from Pexels

 

First, what is happening can become mindless and routine. Worst, it can become too comfortable. We like to do what we like to do. But, discomfort and frustration are an inevitable part of the pathway to development and confidence—and resilience.

Second, what is not happening can be so far under the radar that it only reaches self-awareness when the course/progress/outcomes have radically shifted. In this area, distractions can be a major detractor to development. Distractions can feel good in the moment and are not inherently bad. Most distractions are fairly neutral, and this is a reason why we may not notice until something is not happening.

If you are wondering about your own distractions, ask yourself these questions:

Tools: Am I using tools to plan, track and monitor? Am I using these tools regularly to reflect on what is important and what I really want to give my time to? If not, what is in the way?

Technology: Am I becoming too immersed in my technology/social media? A few minutes here and there can gain momentum and become something much larger in terms of time investment. While technology is not going away, it has to have its place in the overall scheme. Most time on technology is a quick burst for the reward centers. These can become major distractions.

Time: At the end of the day/practice/competition did I give my time (invest) in what I say truly matters? If so, then this builds motivation, confidence, and momentum. If not, look at the who or what or how of time spent. What do you notice?

 

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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