Mental Health, Psychology

In the Absence of Presence

This post speaks to an important topic that relates to all fields. It was originally posted on the blog, A Father’s Path, but the information relates to every endeavor and offers something to truly think about…

(~three minute read)

The changes we’ve gone through as human beings since the end of the last millennium are catching up with us. Night after night, the evening news reels capture the disturbing patterns, and other media sources remind us of the general decline of mental health. This isn’t a doomsday speech but an attempt to point to a challenge that requires more than a change of policy or politicians. The problem is complex and so are the answers. And the most important answers won’t come from circles outside of our home.

One simple action (and symptom of something more corrosive) that has changed over the decades ripples out in a complex fashion: Acknowledgment. We barely receive it in the flesh, and we are invisible in our community of phones, tablets, headphones, and earbuds. We’ve segmented the social atmosphere and created a one-way capsule in lieu of the womb of nature and humanity.

The psychological equivalent of physical nutrients is to be understood by someone we value. Unlike hundreds of “hearts” and “likes”, to be understood, heard, and appreciated creates a resilient buffer for the maladies of daily life. Yet understanding comes far down the line from acknowledgment. You have to feel you exist before you can dive deeply into the reciprocal meaning of being understood.

And you have to acknowledge a problem to begin to see the solution– and there is no opposite of acknowledgment. Like all qualities, it’s either there to some degree or not. The closest we can get to non-acknowledgment is absence. I don’t acknowledge your presence. It seems many of the attention-getting entities survive on this process, seducing with a pleasure drip only to make us absent in our lives—and others. And to look up and acknowledge means to meet eye to eye with someone who is implicitly categorized as a “stranger” although you may have passed them in the grocery store or the health club for years.

Aliveness moves and living is an active process on every level. A flow. A relationship. In this period of history, it seems the only time we notice the aliveness between us is when we hear the hardest news. A loss of a child, a town consumed by a flood, mass shootings, an apartment building full of innocent beings crumbled by a warhead in the name of…   

We feel their presence in pain. We feel their absence in grief. But if we don’t catch ourselves, we fall back into the habit of passive consumption boxed in by four walls, creating an artificial divide from the natural world. We worry about updating the kitchen and if our doorknobs are the right style while we haven’t walked in the woods, played peek-a-boo with a young child, had a deep conversation with a loved one, played catch in a grassy field for no reason, witnessed a sunrise, gazed at the stars, or gave gratitude in silence. In otherwords, acknowledging with our presence that awe feeds the deepest of us all.

It all starts with acknowledgment. There’s nothing passive about admitting we are all in this together. If we keep turning away, keep plugged in, and keep hoping AI will meet human needs, slowly but surely the aliveness seeps from our core. And that emptiness feels heavy. It’s no surprise that every measure or attempted theory of well-being, happiness, or longevity has little to do with externals, or with things purchased. And everything to do with relationships. For as we are in our hearts, we are. But you have to risk feeling edgy or bored and turn your eyes away from passive attractions and pleasure traps. You have to acknowledge that connection requires movement, intention, energy… and presence.     

photo credit: Johannes Plenio   

Performance psychology

Above the Fields

Above the Field of Play turned four years-old on August 4th. One of the many things I’ve learned from sports (and life) is that you can have a well-articulated plan that becomes worn, incomplete, or obsolete. Or sometimes it evolves to something more than you anticipated. Since starting this adventure of trying to capture what is hard to express, but needs to be heard in, on, and above the fields of performance, well…I’ve changed. I’ve met many people, had many teachers in many forms, and been through life challenges that I never saw coming. And I’ve come to realize that my plan needs upgrading. 

With that said, moving forward, this space will be about providing information truly above the field of play, but also above the important life spaces that require the same knowledge, character, commitment, and dedication.

Originally, when I considered the space above the field of play, I thought of all the development that occurs in body and mind in to improve and perform in a way that honors the essence of growth and competition. And by competition, I refer to the origin of the word: to strive together. We can’t develop competence of any form without relationship. It doesn’t happen in isolation.

Yet information continues to explode, and lists, systems, and programs arise as if there is a template for the development of expertise. Not so. There are principles and guides that inform the endeavor. And the process is sacred ground that starts with a very clear idea of what you are willing to do, to give, and to give up on the rise to the rare air—the higher reaches above the field of play.

So, I will refer to the fields of play from here on. For if you go deep enough, the process of development and mastery within the whole of relationships is very much the same.  

Photo credit: Melanie Panepinto

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Reflective Coaching Practices IV

Each of the reflective coaching practices intertwine and amplify or depress the coaching process. In truth all the practices are connected, so the coaching practice of “Reflecting on Connections” simply validates that everything exists in relationship.  Harvard Business Review offers that people don’t quit their jobs—they quit their boss. To a great extent the same is true for kids who quit sports—or don’t reach their potential. The quality of the connection may not be measured in hard data, but it is felt in a culture and in a relationship. Connections drive learning and motivation in countless ways, providing the conditions for potential to unfold. So…

Reflect on Connections. How was the relationship influenced by today’s experience? The content of what we are teaching may vary somewhat, but the conditions of the environment can vary widely. Relationships that are challenging and supporting in genuine ways grow more and endure more. The whole is not just the sum of its parts and here is where the human element shines. You can get a sample of this by considering what you would do for someone you felt connected to and invested in versus someone who sees you as a replaceable part. Sport is riddled with this condition, evident in underperformance. Chemistry is an intangible that tangibly adds value to the process of improvement. The connection fundamentally grows from a coach listening to a player’s needs through a developmental lens. A ten-year-old and a twenty-year-old may have similar content in a practice session (free throws, hitting drills, footwork, etc.) but they are in different places in their psychosocial development. 

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

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photo credit: Isaiah Rustad (

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Away From the Field

In these uncertain times, many voids fill our day. Like store shelves, emptiness is a reminder of what was there only a moment ago. We can live without sports and without competition. But that is not the point. In the void we can see all the things we take for granted, all the actions and choices that bring richness and fullness to life.

First and foremost, distance is a great teacher. Insight, hindsight, foresight and empathy all require distance in time and space. Without time and space and the reflection it offers, our perceptions would remain the same. So, in this separation from the playing field, make a pact that you will have a ritual to remind yourself of the blessing of play and the vehicle to grow.

Second, make a sincere and honest inventory of where you have come from and where you are going, who you are traveling with–and why.

Finally, notice we cannot make the journey alone. Appreciate those who help you, push you, and cooperate so that we can develop a sense of competence—the very source of competition. We need connection and we need to grow. Without these developmental processes we feel the emptiness that cannot be filled by any substance. For nothing replaces love, community, and passion.


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

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photo credits: Max DiCapua, Francisco Gonzalez, Marvin Ronsdorf, Huy Phan (

Sports Psychology

Coaching Young Children

Recently I started coaching a middle-schooler who was new to the game of tennis. I did my usual assessment of skills and was pleasantly surprised given his lack of on-court experience. He’d taken a few lessons at another club and about halfway into the lesson he started sharing some of the negativity that came his way during that time. These were global comments on his ability based on what seemed to be a small sample size.

Criticizing other coaches is not helpful. But this boy was simply doing something very human—dealing with the confusion of experiences. In this case, his venting helped clear the space for a fresh start which is important to the learning process. You can’t have two competing self-concepts (“I am not very good” and “I am learning and improving”) in mind and expect to be present.

I have enjoyed coaching him and, interestingly, what started as a “just a couple of lessons” turned into a “We’d like to continue.” I offer this piece of information because it speaks to his parent’s tentativeness based on the previous experience. No different than any other relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever answered more questions prior to a first lesson. It felt like an interview for a defense department security clearance. And for good reason!

Because everyone is someone’s son or daughter.

And making that connection helps you to make some space between your plan, your needs, and to see that you are responsible for someone’s child.

kelly-sikkema-WRByZhruW6o-unsplash girl with racket

Notice that the title of this piece is “Coaching Young Children” and when we use this term we often think of little ones— four, five, six, seven-year-olds… But the point is we all share the same emotions and express the same feelings. They are child-like and nearly entirely nonverbal. Sure, the expressions may seem more mature as we age, and the context may be more complex. But there is a good reason why the emotional areas of the brain develop first and before we can even use words. Because it all comes down to meaning, something we feel and something very hard to explain. Every experience has meaning even if we deem it to be meaningless.

Coaching a young child, a middle-schooler or an adult may look different on the surface, but at the core it’s pretty much the same. It’s an experience based on understanding and connection. You can’t learn, grow or develop without meaning. In other words, changing anything whether it is wiring muscle memory or rewiring the idea you have of your potential as a tennis player, is expensive. It’s costly in terms of effort and time, and it’s fueled by motivation—the core of which is emotion in motion. Notice that motivation, emotion, motion, and motive all share the same root. The source is the same and nothing happens unless emotion fuels the process. We like to think that logic dictates. But the hard challenges we take on don’t often make sense from the outside. And it’s because the motivation will always be a unique fire and a singular experience for the individual.


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

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photo credits: Kelly Sikkema (