leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Different Take on Sideline Leadership

Some media have taken an understanding of Coach Nick Saban’s tantrum during the Alabama-Oklahoma semifinal as a sign of a leader’s high expectations and demanding excellence. Up 28-10 nearing the end of the half, the Tide made errors that led to consecutive penalties and Saban’s vigorous, demolishing spike of his headset. The misunderstood genius is an old and tattered card, and underneath the words and actions, something else lurks that deserves some light.

If you caught the face of the young man (a close-up followed the headset explosion) who drew the flag, he had already paid his penance. No one felt worse and his face showed his disappointment in himself and letting his teammates down. If you have played teams sports, this sits heavy. Like the stages of grief, you wish you could take it back and the road to acceptance and being ready for the next play is difficult enough. Nothing feels better than your teammates saying, “I got you…it’s all good,” especially the ones with “C” on their jerseys. The gesture says we all have been there, this too shall pass, and we are moving on. Forgiven and forgotten—for that is all you can do anyway.

What is missing in the explanations and rationalizations of the action is the poor insight of the moment within the bigger picture. I am sure the coaching staff sat in this young man’s living room, recruiting him with promises of looking after him like a son…

headphones

I’m not arguing Saban’s success or his net worth. I am saying that if you preach “the process” then mistakes are part of this methodology, part of the learning process. Smashing headphones is a choice based on an outcome. It is an ego-centered move that diminishes and shows up individuals who are giving blood and bone to the process. It says I do not have to respect you but you must respect me or I will smash these headphones to get your attention. And I am sure, in this impulsive gesture, not a thought was given to the fact that the headset could possibly cost more than some of the Alabama parents have in a year’s worth of disposable income.

While I respect how other media have approached this situation, and glamorized and made humor for the headset (moment of silence for the headset, haha), it is only part of a story. Underneath the outcomes are the values and assumptions that motivate choice. If a middle-aged man can act impulsively and from the anger of things not going his way, how is this a measure of the leadership we aspire to model for the ones we lead?

Call it what it is. Be honest. It ain’t about the process. It’s the outcome. Just win at all costs. And the few grand of a new headset seems a paltry price when you consider the cost of the meta-message of leadership. Every choice has a consequence whether you wish to address it, name it, forgive it, apologize for it—or not.

There is an old adage that nothing fails like success. And sometimes this speaks to more than just the numbers.

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

cover shot

 

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

One Thing

Each year, more and more information reveals the workings of our mind, the brain, and all of its centers. And generally speaking, the brain mirrors who we are: generalists with specialists supporting what matters most. In other words, there are only a few major sources of motivation and we require different skills and abilities to make this happen. These capacities can be developed, but only with specific intentions.

First, having a plan reduces anxiety as it creates an internal sense of control. Further, having written goals and a system of accountability promotes achievement. What both of these ideas have in common is focusing valuable resources in a particular direction. In other words, in the sea of possibilities, our entire being works more efficiently when there is a clear sense of purpose.

black ball point pen on white notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The greatest strategy for achievement is to focus intently on one thing. Research points to the fact that we cannot multi-task. Interestingly, those who think they are good at multi-tasking actually performed worse than those who did not think they were good at it.

So much for clarity!

While much of our consciousness is on auto-pilot, this state of being frees up energy and focus for what we truly want to attend to. But, often in practice or in competitions we do what we always have done and miss the opportunity of deliberate practice and progress.

So, as 2019 begins, make it a point to ride the power of a clear plan. Before practice, very simply decide what you are going to improve. Write it down. A journal is great for this process as well as for accountability. Eliminate distractions—try to make the practice place a space dedicated to your process, meaning you are there for one reason, one thing only. Ask, how will I know I improved? At the end of practice, revisit the goals and assess. What you will notice is as you make this a habit, your practices:

  • Look different, have more variety, and don’t feel exactly the same
  • You improve in the short-term incrementally
  • Momentum builds and skills (mental and physical) begin to transform
  • Your choices reflect these changes and reinforce them

One thing that is a very important effect of this method, is that we are no longer hampered, held-back or disillusioned by labels and rationalizations. There is much more of an open-ended, process-oriented feel to this method that makes static observations less likely (“I had a bad day.”). You don’t have to blame, shame, make excuses or give in because every day is an opportunity to take a step forward.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2019!

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

cover shot

 

 

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Seasons

In every sport or endeavor, there are natural ups and downs in terms of training and competing. The holiday season and the year-end are natural breaks in a 12-month plan and a perfect time for reflection. One of the great tasks of any individual or team is to make enough space to truly see where and who we have been, and what we have accomplished. With this space, we can truly be objective about our plan, goals, and progress. We can look back with clarity to move forward in a purposeful way.

autumn avenue bench fall
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Many years ago I sustained a knee injury that changed my life in the moment, as well as the arc of my life. The surgery did not go well and what was to be an 8-week recovery turned into 18 months of “inactivity.” No blame is being cast here, but I discovered years later through a second surgery that the original one was botched. It is easy to feel cheated and perhaps seek restitution. But my faith is such that when you start blaming it never stops and the idea of litigation answered nothing for me.

And, though this occurred decades ago, those 18 months proved to be one of the most valuable “seasons” of my adult life. How could I feel slighted?

During those 18 months I lost: the ability to do what I loved the most, time with people that I trained with and cared about, income, and, most importantly, time.

You can’t ever get these precious things back. But, what I received instead was of incredible value. Why?

When you are completely removed from the world you know, you are in the ultimate unknown, and in the greatest space between who you are, where you have been, and where you are going. In this space of loss, I gained a new wider and deeper perspective on life. It is easy when things are going well to think the future will bring more of the same. And it’s easy to lose the value of the moment, of gratitude, and of purpose.

When I was finally able to play again, it was truly playful. I was better than I had been prior and more successful as well. How could that be?

I never stopped.

During those 18 months I “played” every day, and more importantly, in that space, I saw who I wasn’t, but deeply wanted to be. The mind is powerful and the greatest accomplishments start in the infinite field of consciousness, above the field of play. This field is open to all.

Now I am not proposing that you get injured. The story above also includes chapters on heartache, lost opportunities, other injuries related to the first one, activities that I could not physically do with my sons, and eventually a total knee replacement earlier this year. I would not wish this on anyone.

My wish for you is to make the space during this natural downturn, and in that time reflect deeply. Find the gratitude, discover the play in your activity, capture the imagination of your childhood and create a plan that inspires you.

I wish you well and may 2019 be truly what you wish.

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

cover shot

 

 

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Focus on Attention

Attention is complex and there is more to the process than the ability to simply “pay attention.” Focused and integrated attention requires the training and discipline that affords the simplicity of process at the point of performance. At any sporting event, you can hear someone on the sidelines (coach, friend, fan or parent) urge a competitor to “Focus!” The truth is the average attention span is less than 8 seconds and we can process only a small percentage of the sensory (internal and external) information presented each moment. So, where we place our focus and attention becomes more and more important and influential to performance.

spotlight shining down into a grunge interior

Competitive performance requires the self-awareness to focus on the critical elements of execution, and the ability to regulate and shift focus as required. And this is a dynamic process with many factors that test the limits of our abilities. Each event is singular by nature, therefore these abilities must be practiced beforehand.

First, to pay attention requires the clarity of purpose to filter out what doesn’t matter. Basically, three systems have to be in sync to make this happen:

  1. Activation Levels (Energy for the task)
  2. Emotional or Limbic centers (Meaning)
  3. Executive functions managing attention (Focus)

Each of these represents different areas of the brain that must be integrated towards a way of being in the moment, a state that allows one to perform in flow and the Zone of Optimal Performance.

Questions often help us to get to the source of what we can’t sense or feel. Considering the three areas represented above, try these questions to bring each of these centers into awareness.

  1. Do I have a sense of my level of energy (activation or arousal levels) while I am executing? Using a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) decide which number or range of numbers represents a good level for performing during a competition or practice. For example, someone standing over a 5-foot putt will have a different activation level (low arousal, alert) than a middle linebacker in football (high arousal, alert).
  2. Do I have a clear sense of meaning and purpose for practice and competition? Do I have goals that represent the vision I have for myself over time of what matters most?
  3. Do I practice focusing and refocusing both in practice and in isolation as a distinct skill set?

These questions clarify the key aspects of attention and focus. Make this important function of the mental game part of your daily routine.

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

cover shot

Photo Credit: Created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

One Way

While mature relationships are a two-way street, the relationship you have with yourself and your sport is fully realized if it points with certainty in one direction. In the modern world of options and backup plans, there are certain sacred spaces that deserve and require our full attention and commitment. Interestingly, research has uncovered associations between too many choices and anxiety. And I have found time and time again that fear lurks at the source of the “backup plan.”

We as human beings seem to have a problem with “What if?” Rather than seeing the openness as the portal to imagination and creativity, many skip the possibilities and go straight to the door that says “I have to know.” But the truth is a plan is just a plan and you don’t know all that life will place along your path.

The point here is one of quality. If I commit fully to what is right in front of me and part of my path, I not only can grow as an athlete, but levels of competence and character are opened in the pure and intentional process that is not available to one who does not take the risk. The principle of risk-reward comes down to how one feels and defines a sense of security. You can’t have the reward of opportunity while you have one foot in Plan B. It doesn’t work that way and never will. No risk, no reward— and you can’t have the gaping chasm of opportunity and the security of what is known only in the present. By definition, opportunity is a direction, but the outcome is unknowable in the present.

rafa.jpeg

This concept is eloquently spoken by an all-time great in November/December 2018 issue of Tennis magazine. Rafa Nadal referencing an intensely battled five-set win reflects: “I lost in Wimbledon in a match like this. Today was for me. In some way when you give everything you have, win or lose—is just that someone have to lose, someone have to win, that’s part of the game. But the personal satisfaction when you give everything and you play with the right attitude is the same.”

In other words, on some level playing with all you have and with the right attitude is winning. Not everything that matters can be measured for its form exists in an internal quality—“ a personal satisfaction” that resonates from the integrity to a purpose, the commitment to the “Only Plan.” For there is no Plan B.

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

cover shot

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Tension Connection (Part 2)

Going right to the connection between the player and the equipment, a major source of tension can be understood where these two meet. This connection is vital to another important connection, that of impact or as we have called it, “the moment of truth.” Again, this is true of any sport that requires one to grip the equipment. For simplicity sake, I am going to use the visual of the moment of truth in tennis.

novak fh contactrog fh contactcontact tennis

For the most part, if we consider the impact of a ball at the common strike zone (not too high or low) a pattern presents itself. You will notice that the racquet is perpendicular to the ground or nearly so. The only thing that matters here is that this is the position of the connection to the equipment at contact while playing without pressure—in other words, “just right tension.” If we use the scale previously mentioned where 1 is loosest, and 10 is the death grip, then we can say that these connections represent a grip tension of less than 5. It allows the fluidity of release while keeping the structure of the swing path. And for your personal use, just consider what your grip tension is (1-10), and then consider the next point:

Within a competition, you have fallen out of the sweet spot of performance and are experiencing stress. You feel tighter, and mentally feel a sense of pressure. For all competitors in these situations, things shorten. Muscles tighten, grips tighten, and swings get short and less fluid. Maybe your grip pressure goes from a 3 to a tense 7. What happens at the point of impact?

With the change of pressure, you change the connection with the equipment and the moment of truth. If you employ a semi-western forehand grip and tighten from a 3 to 7, the diagram below will likely happen. Notice the bottom edge leads and the sense of squaring up to the ball is now off. Don’t take my word for it, go ahead and try it. Maybe your racquet or clubface or bat will move differently. Subtle or not, it will move. And because things get shorter, you are often out of tempo as well. Tightness and lateness go together because when you are out of the Zone of Optimal performance time has a different quality.

tension connection 1

What’s the most important effect? The outcome of the impact… Process produces product—and now it gets really interesting. Competing is about executing and adjusting. If you adjust based on the product, you may get even more lost. Many times in error analysis, I will ask simply “What happened?” The reply says it all for it speaks to process or outcome. If the moment of truth is off square, you will feel it—or not. I often ask, “What did you feel?” Again, the answer says it all. If the tension changes contact and produces and off-center strike, without process data (your sense of “feel”) you may adjust by firming up your grip. Now you are really going down a dark road.

This is why it is important to adjust based on the process, not the outcome. You play like you practice—which is why practice must reproduce the conditions of play. You have to create tension and a just right feel. And you have to know how to adjust based on the feel—not just the outcome. The outcome is data, it is the product, but working backward to the source of control, you come to the connection: you and how your process got you to the moment of truth.

Bottom line: develop your awareness of self, your kinesthetic awareness of your movements, your process for producing and executing in a repeatable manner. It matters because you maintain a sense of power and control. Adjustment without awareness does not build capacity. Without awareness and the feel of how you get to the moment of truth, you reduce your outcomes to: good days and bad days.

That leaves way too much to chance.

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

book thumb

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Stress and its Source (Part 2)

Performing, executing, competing is challenge enough without bringing the weight of a cluttered mind along for the ride. As athletes, part of developing a clear mental approach is untying unproductive knots in our mindset. And if we are developing, we always feel the pull within the gap of where we have been and where we are going. As mentioned in the last post, negative and debilitating stress arises from:

  • A dominant focus on outcome
  • Unclear goals
  • A lack of process goals
  • An identity fixed to outcome
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of resilience
  • Inflated sense of self and ability
  • Minimizing opponents
  • Poor decision-making

Today, we will deconstruct the first four, and I will offer some suggestions for constructing a cleaner approach to your best performance.

person jogging near soccer goal during sunrise
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

A dominant focus on outcome: Regardless of the sport, in the end only one gets to be the last one standing. So, in a field of dozens of competitors or teams, one outcome goal is common among each: Winning it all. If this is the dominant focus the path will feel heavy and stressful. Consider the most successful baseball team in history, the NY Yankees, have won 27 World Series. Despite their success, they have been also-rans nearly 80% of their existence. During the 2017-18 season of the PGA tour, players ranked 75-150 amassed a total of only 4 tournament wins. 12 NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl. We can go on, but I think you get the drift.

The bigger and further out the goal, the more stress you will feel internally of you have no defined pathway. It is absolutely fine to have long-term goals but a sense of control comes from the moment-to-moment process of effort and execution in the moment. If you are heading somewhere you have never been, you need good directions. The straightaways, turns, and unexpected roadblocks can be managed with a plan heavy in the short-term with a focus on process. Which leads to:

A lack of process goals: If the outcome is the “what” in our plan, then the process goals are the “how” we get there. Over the years of competition, the biggest loss of potential happens in practice. While many work hard and give effort, often there is no direction or purpose to the practice. Doing the same things over and over is only part of the path. Process goals help to identify and focus on specific areas of improvement. Each practice, each hour (and each event!) is an opportunity to get better. But you must first have purpose (a process goal) in place to guide the intentional and deliberate practice.

An identity fixed to outcome: Here we make the connection to mindset. If your sense of self is tied to winning and losing then you will be on shaky ground and never get a sense of stability. A fixed mindset focuses on the black and white of outcome and talent. It is full of excuses when things do not work. A growth mindset focuses on the key elements of effort, attitude, and improvement and derives stability in that we are always a work in progress.

Unrealistic expectations: Our perception is our reality. When there is a big gap between our expectations and what the moment of truth presents us, then it is time to examine expectations. This does not mean you shouldn’t have high expectations. But, these need to be focused on what you can control. The bigger the goal, the more moving parts exist outside of your ability to control them. If you expect to give your best effort, adapt to circumstances, and compete your best, then these expectations are realistic for they are within your control. If you expect to be the best all of the time and this is your only expectation, this is not realistic and more importantly, the focus of energy is flawed. Notice how things continually return to having the mindset that allows you to be the best you can be in the moment. More on that in future posts. Next, we look at the final four sources of internal stress.

 

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, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.