“Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
It was spring, 2016 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Early winds rolled down the slopes of our mountain, and flowers peeked tentatively from the easing grip of thaw. Flagstaff, which is situated seven thousand feet above sea level, is a rich training ground for elite endurance athletes. Numerous lithe and rapid dreamers have made the town their home. They come to breathe this particular thin air, which will enrich their blood and improve the fuel upon which they run their grand dreams. This spring held particular significance because it was an Olympic year. The US track trials beckoned three months away.
At this point I’d lived in Flag for almost one year. Although I’d worked with numerous collegiate athletes, the local professionals had...
We all know what it feels like—that churning you get in your stomach before an important performance.
You may have felt it before a sports competition, in a new role at work, or during a high stakes test. The truth is, we all have nerves and feel stress when we’re under pressure to perform our best. For some, pressure sharpens performance (we call these people “clutch”). For others, pressure seems to bring out the worst (we call these people “chokers”). If you’ve ever secretly worried that you’re a choker, or ever feared that deep down you don’t have what it takes to rise to the occasion when it counts, this blog is for you.
The truth is that none of us is born clutch, or born a choker. Each of us has a part of themselves that retreats from challenge. And everyone has something within them that is ready to rise to the occasion. People who consistently rise to the occasion under pressure have a different way of...
This is the shortest blog that I have written. Period. Its brevity is for your sake. The less I say the more you will remember. I’m going to tell you a story about how I have seen this to be true, and I’ll share the science that explains why. Then I’m going to leave it at that.
At Northern Arizona University we have a problem. There is no free time (sound familiar?). My office sits near the main door to the Athletics Department, so I’m a constant witness to the human traffic: its volume, its speed, its mood. Our student athletes train twenty hours per week. Academically, most of them manage a full course load. Volunteer hours are mandated. If I were to list the coaches’ responsibilities I would triple the length of this paragraph. I’m keeping this short, remember?
I love my work as a mental performance consultant, and I always want to do more. I’m valued at NAU, but sometimes finding time to implement my...
As a coach and a practitioner of positive psychology, I don’t typically encourage my clients to focus on what they hate. And yet, that’s exactly what I’m about to challenge you to do.
Let’s back up for a second. Generally speaking, I’m a firm believer in the famous mantra, “where focus goes, energy flows.” Meaning, if we spend our days fixated on our problems, weaknesses and failures, we are likely to feel unmotivated, unproductive and downright depleted. (Raise your hand if your first response to this is, “Duh.”) And yet, this is precisely how most people operate day in, day out: hyper-focused on all of the things in their lives that aren’t going well.
To be fair, this is largely a result of our inherent negativity bias; two-million years of evolution has makes our brains are hardwired to hunt for possible threats as part of our survival instinct (Vaish, Grossmann & Woodward, 2013). But...
John Wooden was arguably the greatest coach in sports history. His teams won an NCAA record, seven national basketball championships in a row, and ten national championships in a twelve-year period. When people asked him how he was so successful, he often said it came down to his philosophy of success. For him, success wasn’t measured by wins and losses (although he certainly knew how to win!). No, for John Wooden, success was the “peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
I believe the same could be said of “high-performance.” What is high-performance? Is it money? Power? Fame? No, it’s none of those—although, many of the people who read these blogs have those things. I believe that high performance, at its essence, is doing the very best you can do. High performance is about leaving it all on the line, every...
By John J. Ratey, MD
A common phrase you hear even today: I feel kind of depressed, I have to get to the gym and boost my endorphins. While the idea of exercising to lift our mood is a solid one, it is not just about raising the endorphins. I became aware of this strong connection between exercise and mood and performance, when as a psychiatrist in Boston during the marathon craze, I began seeing marathoners who had to stop running because of an injury. They were coming to me, struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADD, among other psychological complaints. These were high functioning CEO’s, supermoms, ivy league students, and others, who had a noticeable shift when their exercise training was taken away. I could see first hand how their running was functioning almost as a “prescription” that could parallel some of our psychiatric medications.
While yes, it is true that endorphins are connected to an athlete’s nirvana like...
The soccer practice is drawing to a close. The head coach has left. I’ve stayed to watch the athletes wrapping up their drills – one in particular. Earlier, this athlete had been dribbling with just his prosthetic. I’d marveled. Now, he’s missing shot after shot. Finally, he hits the mark and his teammate murmurs something encouraging. The drill is over. The athlete storms across the field a short distance. There’s a painful urgency in his movements. Is he crying?
The athlete returns to the line and runs a few lengths with his teammates. Soon they’re done. A coach says something frustrated about fitness. I’m too far away to hear the specifics. The athlete picks up a chair and carries it to the sideline. Sitting down, he pulls his uniform over his head and leans his face into his hands. Although he’s stepped away from the group he hasn’t gone far. Does this mean he wants to be approached? Alone is available to...
“I am going to say it like it is,” Coach Brown told me, exasperation wieldy within his voice. “I’m not being mean. I’m just telling the truth.”
We are deep into a discussion about this coach’s manner of communication with his athletes. Known for his blunt comments, Coach Brown has welcomed my help in order to improve his effectiveness as a coach. This is not our first conversation. The several we’ve had prior to this one have elicited the same assertions from him: “I want to see effort; everything is a choice; you either want it badly enough or you don’t.” He’s turned slightly away from me, his expression matter-of-fact and committed.
Although each of the above statements rings with widely accepted virtues, they are not what this article is about. Rather, I want to discuss the manner by which one person tries to influence others regardless of the content of his message, and where problems in...
By Shannon Thompson
“How will you go about finding the thing totally unknown to you?” – Rebecca Solnit
“I’m worried about my future,” he said, she said, so many of them tell me, with differing looks and a wild variance between excitement and fear. “I have no idea what I’m going to do.” My work as a mental performance consultant for athletes provides me with numerous opportunities to discuss the unknown:
“The doctor doesn’t know what it is, “ the soccer player tells me about her knee pain, which has plagued her for weeks now.
“I don’t know when I’ll play,” says the basketball freshman, who has yet to start in a game.
“I don’t know where to focus,” explains the tennis player.
“What are my values?” The coach asks, exasperated as he tries to articulate his coaching philosophy.
“Who do I want to be?” so many repeat back to me, eyes wide at the...
By Shannon Thompson
By profession, I am a mental performance consultant for athletes. Simply put, my job is to help people perform at their best as consistently as possible. Several times a day I ask athletes to describe “who” they want to be, and then we discuss who they’ve already been during their best performances. Based on this information an actionable “mental performance plan” is developed.
The mental performance plan process has been a very successful system. Well-constructed plans have been credited with numerous wins and breakthroughs, as well as greater satisfaction in the effort that the athlete has given. However, even the most thoughtful plan is not fool proof—especially considering the fact that the plan is designed to influence human emotion, perhaps the most volatile force on earth! Our inner lives are wildly unpredictable. An immeasurable list of influences combines to create our emotional climate. Sleep, diet, hydration, the...
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