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 III

In the first two posts, the reflective practices have moved from emotions to motivation, and now we connect the third practice with movement towards goals. Emotions reveal values, and motivation links to vision and goals. Reflecting on learning reveals how we accommodate our mental and physical structures and capacities on our way towards our goals.

Learning is an active process and requires a target, a plan, and a means of monitoring. Moving from level to level requires a change of mind and body. Sometimes it’s additive and we grow in breadth. Sometimes it’s transformative and we rise vertically to a new way of seeing things.

Movement, action, and following a lesson plan does not guarantee learning. There must be intention and attention to our process. And this process is facilitated and managed by a constant practice of reflection.

Reflect on the Learning Process. What improved today? Learning is not just for players, students, or teams. It is a process of continuous improvement for everyone involved. The learning process increases capacity and complexity at the growth edge. If practice relies on just routines and a static structure, it is easy to fall into habits and a stale process. Here, activity is confused with intentional actions. Learning at higher levels is difficult as it requires both player and coach to continuously refine and adapt to new challenges. Learning is a delicate process of physical and mental transformation. It requires a specific focus for what, how, and why we are putting energy into improving a particular aspect of performance. 

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: Meghan Holmes (unsplash.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

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Reflective Coaching Practices

The expression, “Nothing fails like success” offers a good mental space to reflect on what is working, not working, and why. And the connection to the future. The mind loves and thrives on patterns. It does its best to regulate and create equilibrium. But once a pattern becomes so engrained on the level of unconscious competence, we can easily confuse the sense of automaticity with balance. In other words, there is a significant difference between static and dynamic balance along the growth curve. 

Reflective coaching practices go beyond the data that describe aspects of practices and performances. It’s an exercise in quality that unlocks potential for the coach—and the athlete. Data and outcomes often miss the relationship between the context and the content. Data has to be abstracted from the whole. Reflective practices look at the whole. Data is often isolated and limited in scope. Reflected practices are inside-out and broad in scope. Both are useful, yet the latter is less used. Over the next few posts, we will look at these reflective coaching practices that have the potential to increase the quality of what is given and received in the player-coach relationship. 

Each reflective practice starts with a question that opens the internal dialogue critical to the powers of reflection. Leading off, and perhaps the most important:  

Reflect on the Emotional Level. What was the emotional tone of today’s coaching experience? Broadly, every practice or teaching session has an emotional valence. While we may experience the ups and downs during a session, there tends to be an overall tone of negativity or positivity.

Emotions move us and send meaningful messages in the moment and emotional intelligence is fundamental to our awareness of self and others. At a very basic level, our emotions are either managed or they manage us. Reflecting on the emotional information and tone of the practice increases our understanding of the learning conditions we create, as well as the ability to tolerate the roller-coaster of a very challenging task: improving. This implies we can both grow—player and coach—within the practice space.

Lastly, emotions also tell us if we are immersed in meaning. If the practice or performance was flat, chances are the opportunity the event presented wasn’t fully engaged. Looking backward from future self emphasizes that the path is short. Hockey legend and all-time leading scorer, Wayne Gretsky, emphasized this when he talked about skating each shift like it were your last. As a competitive athlete there is always the chance it could be. Injury highlights this point. And as Gretzky states, each shift is one shift closer to the last one.

Opportunities are not infinite. Such is meaning and such is the importance of emotion. Everything we do is connected to something we value. Reflecting on this and connecting to the emotional background of our efforts vitalizes the challenges and victories and, importantly, connects the short and long-term vision.

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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Images credits (Unsplash.com): Mario Azzi, Roger Bradshaw, Donald Giannatti, JC Dela Cuesta

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.

paul-skorupskas-7KLa-xLbSXA-unsplash in focus

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)