Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Complexity

(estimated 2-3 minute read time)

One of the many questions I ask clients may sound borrowed from a job interview: “What do you see in five years…?” But really, it’s a question of an internalview. The answers range from rich to vague and confused. And that question helps frame the next one: “When you look back on your life over the past five years…?

The day-to-day and the year-to-year can have the flavor of familiarity. Patterns abound. But there’s a process below the surface that speaks to the complexity of life. As you move forward with an aim, you are steeped in complexity beyond imagination. The further out or bigger the goal, the more complexity factors in.

What that translates to is people, things, obstacles, and events that are not in your present experience. If you look back five years, chances are high (regardless of whether you set an ambitious goal or not) that there are people that are in or out of your life, and events and problems that occurred that you didn’t foresee.  

This is one of the understated reasons why individuals don’t set goals or don’t set them too far out. The complexity can be overwhelming. And the courage and imagination to set the vision high can be daunting. Security, safety, and the known will always whisper in your ear to stay put. But this process of imagining a future self is the way that we develop the inner qualities to rise to the goal or vision.

Setting long-term major goals and creating a vision of your future self is the essence of evolution. If you consider who you would be if you became this future self, you have tapped into a deeper process of self-realization. Then the key is to hold this vision both loosely and in the present. Loosely because complexity will emerge with your first step forward. Think of your vision as a point on the horizon. You see the point in the distance within the enormity of the whole perspective, but details are vague.

And holding this vision “in the present” provides an internal compass regardless of the complexity of the situation. Responding and adapting to complexity (demanding, growing), and holding your vision (devotion) in the present will inform your smallest goals, decisions, and the way you problem-solve through obstacles.

photo credit: Tim Johnson (unsplash)

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Coping and Developing

There are two important processes happening when you move towards a goal. The goal may not even be explicit as you make choices based on value all day long. And the goal could be to not have a goal. But these processes are even more noticeable when you do have an idea where you are heading.

Coping represents management in the short term. Developing represents leadership in the long term. Coping without developing can be a lifestyle. Same problems come round and round managed in some fashion in the moment. Same frustrations. The unspoken goal here is for things not to change, to get a different result for the same choices and behaviors. Tools and strategies have become buzzwords in this vein. “I need some tools to handle this.” “I use this strategy when…”

Problem is when you stay in this type of loop, it becomes a closed system. “I know my triggers” but neglect the possibilities of becoming something more. States become traits and you get stuck avoiding or coping with the same situations. Development, in this case, presents as the edge of discomfort and something to avoid.

Intention at the leading edge of growth is doing, being, or having something new and better. It has to be of higher value, or you wouldn’t call it a goal, wouldn’t be motivated to pursue the outcome or quality in the future. This is the essence of development and represents an open system. One that embraces the complexity of the flow between the internal and external qualities and experiences of life.

In an open system of development, frustration or dissonance is not a signal to stop or avoid. These emotions are just messages to tell you where you are in the development of a skill or mental capacity. You can only handle so much change and stress at one time, so coping in this case is regulating the process. You regulate the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without losing sight of the path ahead. You cope with frustration, confusion, or loss and know that if you continue to adjust, learn, and practice, you will develop. Every stage is like this. Every plateau is just a message that a rise (or fall) is ahead. It is up to you to interpret the experience from a future self.

With both processes working towards a future goal, obstacles are seen in a different light. In an open system they are assumed. You will meet challenges. You can handle them and use them to become smarter and stronger. That is the purpose of the problems faced on the path of development. Growth requires resilience and learned, embodied experience with the pull of the future guiding.

Finally, control feels quite different when you are open to the challenges of developing. In a closed system you avoid, discount, or dismiss experiences beyond the edge of control. While developing in an open system, a sense of control comes from trust in your ability to learn and adapt (smarter) and regulate the dissonance (stronger). It’s comfort with the discomfort at the edges of chaos.

photo credit: Jametlene Reskp unsplash.com

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Ghost

One truism for athletes is “Father time always wins.” How long you get to play or compete in your field is both under your control– and not. The latter is very complex. But one thing I’ve learned is, for most athletes, the slope curves steeply downward towards the end of a competitive career. While knowledge and understanding grows, the physical capacity declines. With the decision to move on, a void opens wide and loud, and demands that you pay attention…

Well, 2022 will be remembered in some fashion as the year one of the greatest tennis players of all time bid farewell. Roger Federer left with a grace and class matching his career and manner on court. He offered a two-page letter to his fans that I urge you to read. If, rather than a good-bye, you consider his words as a vision for a fulfilling future, not a single box remains unchecked.

Even when they leave, the spirit of all the players and performers are out there with you above the field of play. Their memory exists in a wordless fashion as a part of history. Space has memory, and when you get down to it, it really is all connected.

There are enough salutes and well wishes for Federer out there. I would just like to share the impression I had of him when all the tumblers clicked, and I had the unlikely opportunity to see him front row at the US Open in New York City during his incredible run of five straight Open titles.

I’ll spare all the self-evident superlatives. What struck me was that Federer was like a ghost on the court. In an era of high decibel grunts, squeaky sneakers, and loud exhales, Roger moved about without a sound. Sure, you heard him stop, make subtle adjustments and, and at the time, the unparalleled explosion of the ball off his racquet. But in the process, Roger just seemed to float above the court and hover in graceful turns and purposeful lines as sublime and beautiful as any form of dance.

His face serene, not a muscle tense. One purposeful move flowed to another without a hitch in the transition. For the entire match my jaw hung slack. Truly I saw a ghost. I would look up to the huge stadium screen to see if the flat, digital version matched the true experience. Nope. How could it?  

While Federer was on his run of winning majors, over 100 other titles, and sitting at number one in the world, what I will remember most is how he played and competed. His grace and elegance belied the work and effort required to “make it look easy.” In a sports world growing in postures and chest-pounding, Federer offered no seam between the player and the playing.

He inspired the ephemeral and much-needed sense of awe. And, like most artists, left his mark extending the arrow of time in both directions.

photo credit: the author

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

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Reflective Coaching Practices V

The final reflective coaching practice examines space and time from a birds-eye view. We truly step back and search for patterns in the structure and quality of our coaching. Patterns that either move us forward toward short- and long-term goals—or create plateaus and stagnation. It is difficult to see these patterns from within. Making time to observe from a distance of time and space provides the practical point of view to see these patterns in action.

Reflect on Patterns. Was I aware of coaching patterns today? As we improve in areas, we become unconsciously competent in terms of skills and habits. This saves time and energy and allows for fresh experiences. The problem arises when we are working solely from these patterns that flow just below conscious awareness. Becoming aware of our teaching, language, and relational patterns helps to discover points of change and leverage. We can become aware of the autopilot mode and step back for a fresh perspective. Newness and novelty stimulate growth. So does fun! Going through the motions of a stale lesson plan may look outwardly active but is a passive approach to growth and can lead to the opposite of desired results.

Putting it all together, there are three very powerful reasons for incorporating these reflective practices. First, data and video offer externals—the content and products of performance, but reflective practices get deep into the process and context of the experience. First-serve percentage may be an important metric, but, in hindsight, you find that not all the serves were the same. Moments differ in intensity. The qualities of interoception, self-awareness, effort, and motivation are not evident in cumulative statistics. These important elements are captured in the reflective practice and are pivotal to next level performance.

Secondly, imagination, creativity, and vision require a different mental space than the immediacy of teaching, coaching, or practicing. Performance and deliberate practice require presence and attention to execution in the moment. The vision of a future and more highly evolved self flows from a deeper and more reflective space. One that includes past, present, and future selves. The blueprint may start from a blank page but provides the receptive space to the imagination and creativity we intuitively know as potential. Without engaging in this actualizing process, we simply get more of the same and are left to rationalize and wonder about the metrics generated from these “same” experiences.     

Finally, reflective practices respect the dynamic processes of challenge and support, of the developmental path of differentiation to integration. We learn, practice then incorporate. We challenge then repair. We push ourselves then rest. We challenge ideas and habits of thinking, then reflect.

The rhythm of this process is unique to the individual and is the lifeblood of development. Again, a product-focused culture is not fond of the reflective space required for this process. But without it, days and practices have a similar, mechanical tone. In these familiar routines we may know where we are and what we are doing—the ultimate in control— yet without employing these reflective practices where we are heading lacks the required vision and leadership. 

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 credits: Unsplash.com