Coaching, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

What Makes it Tick?

In past posts I have talked about the concepts of process and product, and quantity and quality in relation to performance. I want to look a bit deeper at the reasons why we tend to “think” or focus on one or the other, and many times one more than the other. While process and product are related, they are not a continuum. In terms of attention, they are perspectives, and one (product) has gained far more attention over time—at a cost.

And attention is the key. You can find a lot of information about setting goals (SMART goals, etc.) and most plans point to something specific and measurable in the future. What is concrete and quantifiable, or what you can get a handle on is a product. This is a good start, but a small part of a broader picture. This approach focuses on the “What.” The diet industry offers an example of this approach selling the product of weight loss—a measurable outcome in the future. Billions are spent yet 90+% of individuals regain the weight they lost (and often more). Could there be something to this process?

The focus on product is outside-in, if-then, and is a mindset that has thrived with the advances of science and technology. Reduce something vast to something measurable and find out what makes it tick. Clockwork, predictable. Do this, get this. When in doubt, chunk it smaller and more tangible. Sounds good?

Maybe…

To use a few examples to further explain, consider the technical aspects of producing a swing in baseball, golf or tennis. Ultimately the tool (bat, club, racquet) reaches the target (ball) and produces an outcome. Video analysis allows a look at static points along the swing path and these data are drawn from the whole. But the snapshot says nothing about the how, the embodied feel of the swing. It says nothing of the transition from point to point or momentum—in other words, the process. This is no different than hearing a musical note in isolation and pretending it’s a song.

All these movements have timing in common. And rhythm is the feel of flow in time. When we confuse time with individual ticks, we reduce something that cannot be reduced because it must be felt in motion. And nothing kills motion, rhythm, and fluidity more than trying to feel or control the ticks—the very source of stress. Rather than isolating a point, performance is the art of feeling motion and when change occurs—feeling the angular momentum of the path, the acceleration of the barrel, club head or racquet as it moves along the path. And this is pure process.

Elite athletes feel and sense a good shot in the process—well before they witness the outcome. But sometimes the outcome doesn’t match the process. You make a smooth and rhythmic swing and the product is a fly out, a drive just in the rough or a serve an inch out. High quality in highly dynamic circumstances with little room for error sometimes turn out that way. This is the essence of trusting the process…

But something different happens when you judge the process solely by the outcome. Sometimes the process is not of the highest quality, yet the outcome works–at least for a moment or a short while. Despite flaws in the process, the drive ends up in the fairway; the baseball finds a hole in the defense; the serve hits the line. Feedback in this manner can lead an athlete down a dark alley without a compass. If you do not understand or sense the process—good luck trying to make adjustments based on the outcome. Where would you even start? It’s like trying to accelerate to the speed limit without noticing your car has a flat tire.

We circle back to the understanding that product consumes our attention because we have something to grasp. Something we can see and manipulate. We have a greater sense of control with outcomes because they can be captured. We feel we have something and can hold people accountable. This is much different when we consider that in process what we have is just feel—what we sense. Science and technology are not fans of intangibles for this reason. In process, the control lies in the motion and negotiation of space in time. It can be felt but not captured (and is very hard to describe) which is why when you change attention and catch yourself thinking you are playing in the zone there is a good chance you are about to lose that sense. It does not like to be placed in a box or considered a tick in time. The zone is flow. It is space not a point.

The mental side of performance requires an ever-increasing awareness, and this is an intimate learning process. And high-quality performance on the elite levels requires an ever-increasing desire to become more aware. And that is the point—both the driver and restrainer of the developmental process. A point not mentioned or discussed much in many realms because of the focus on outcomes and quantities. But it matters. We are always paying attention. But to what or how or why? The answers will lead you to back to process or product. Both matter—but performance and execution dwell in the realm of process—an athlete being an athlete in time and space and becoming more aware of the dynamic, more attuned to the flow of performing.

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: Eduardo Balderos, Zoe Reeve, David Goldsbury (unspash.com)

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

The Practice-Performance Connection

 

In the next series of posts, we will look deeper into the mental aspect of the practice-performance connection. You may have heard sayings such as “You play how you practice” or “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and the like, yet the connection and feel between practice and performance has subtle threads beneath the surface that players may not be able to hold in awareness.

For the sake of simplicity, there are two processes occurring during practice and performance. One (1) is very linear, logical, and limited. It comes in parts and is sequential. There is a sense of order and the need for control because B follows A. The second (2) is wider, intuitive and contextual. It’s the whole which the parts are made of—but there is more to it than just the parts. A may follow B and A is related to C and many other interconnected variables. The first (1) makes use of words, the second (2) is wordless and has a global feel to it. For the latter, think of a time when you were in flow (or in the Zone) and then later tried to describe it. The words do not quite capture the experience. There is so much more, and you can tell just by watching the face of the describer as they appear to be elsewhere. And they are.

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Let’s take a deeper look into this second flow-like process and the practice-performance connection:

Lightness. Even when performance is intense there can be a lightness to the experience. Why? Chance are “outcome” is out of the picture. There is nothing at stake—or so it seems and autonomous abilities flow. If you are truly practicing, what is at stake is improvement. Yet, improvement is possible only with a focus on quality—which is subjective. It is something more sensed than measure. Challenge: Notice the lighter quality of practice and allow it to flow in performance. Focus on quality and sensing the performance.

Awareness. Even team sports have an individual skill-set and this connection is something to try on your own. Whether you are practicing a skill or a pattern or a play, center your awareness on something different. Shifting awareness and focus is a crucial performance skill and often our practices are so scripted we do not get enough practice at shifting. As our attention span is shorter than most would believe, re-focusing is an extremely important capacity. Challenge: Consider the connection you have with the ground (footwork, movement) or the connection with your center of gravity (somewhere around your bellybutton) and notice your sense of balance. Both of these are valuable internal cues and provide important feedback. Widening awareness and shifting awareness are keys to unlocking higher levels of performance.

More to come in the next post…

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: Stefan Cosma (unsplash.com)

 

Coaching, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Three Practice Myths

The heart and soul of improvement is practice. But just having practice time scheduled and showing up is not enough. Often practice and performance are far apart, particularly when learning a new skill or strategy. We may be able to do things in practice that we are unable to execute in a match, game or performance. But the quality of effort, attitude, and motivation in practice needs to parallel our state on game day. Here are three practice myths that hinder the arc of development:

  1. Putting in the time. While hours of practice certainly matter, the quality of the practice matters more. Two hours of purposeful practice will produce more benefit than drilling without purpose for countless hours.
  2. Putting in the repetitions. Once again, quality matters more than quality. Repetition without a clear developmental plan, reflection, and feedback misses the opportunity to groove the neural nets of efficient response. The process of myelination—the biological foundation for muscle memory—requires clear mental representations, getting out of your comfort zone, and reflective feedback. Otherwise reps are truly just going through the motions.
  3. Giving the effort. Without intention effort is directionless. There are many athletes who have given 100% and not improved, and not reached their goals. I’m reminded of the analogy of climbing a tall ladder only to find out it is set against the wrong wall. Nothing is more devastating to an athlete’s sense of self knowing he/she gave all and failed—not knowing the major reason was the lack, in some shape or form, of high-quality information.

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What you can do:

  • Relate your practice goals to your outcome goals, breaking them down into relevant chunks. Then plan for practice and how to measure progress during that session. Simply put, when you leave the practice session you should know if you improved.
  • Intentional progress takes you out of your comfort zone. Expect and accept the challenge. Discomfort and frustration are a part of the change process. Importantly, allow time to recharge once you’ve hit a limit. The re-engage the process.
  • Have exceptional models of what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Use mental imagery to create blueprints of skills and performance.
  • Schedule time for reflection and feedback.
  • Get one-on-one coaching with someone who understands the process of purposeful practice.

 

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: Matthew Lejune (unsplash.com)

 

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Simple Question to Improve Performance

If you are a true student of your sport, you have noticed that no two events are ever the same. Truthfully, not even close. You may execute well in a similar way or make the same mistakes—but each event, practice, and every moment bring unique variables to the process.

For this reason, elite athletes possess a high level of flexibility and adaptability. They honor the principle of change. Nothing stays the same and in the living world you can bet on entropy or evolution.

To take this concept to the next level, make a simple question a staple of your pre-game and practice routines. Simply ask: Who am I today? As you are warming up, notice how you feel physically and mentally. Your body and mind are never the exactly the same as we are always teetering to and from equilibrium. Something is different as insignificant as it may seem. And if you are trying to improve mental and physical skills, there is always a growth curve on the way to better performance.

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As you get ready to compete, notice the connection between process and outcome. This is the true point of leverage of knowing who you are that day. Perhaps your three-point shot is a bit off. There are other ways to help the team rather than forcing miss after miss. Or maybe your putting or iron play is not as sharp. Ignoring this during the round can lead to big numbers. Maybe your missing your first serves. Rather than putting constant pressure on your second serves, spin some first serves in.

Rigidity in each of these cases does not lead to success. Worse still, you miss the opportunity to learn how to compete and succeed with less than your best. Shallow reasons for performance often follow rigidity: “I just didn’t have it today,” or worse, “Everyone has a bad day.”

The truth is: You had something, and you certainly had an opportunity. If you ask, “Who and I today?” you will find something to work with (and possibly discover something new about yourself). At the least, you will stay on the growth curve, for flexibility and adaptability foster the resilience required for long-term goals.

 

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 by Emily Morter (Unsplash.com)

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.

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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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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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