Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Alabama Crimson Tide Rolls to 2009 BCS Championship with Mental Conditioning Program

With great interest and anticipation, I drove Sunday, January 24, 2010 to Birmingham, Alabama to attend a celebratory program to award Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban with the 2009 Leadership Innovation Award. The program and award highlighted the accomplishments of the Alabama football team.

During the acceptance speech, Coach Saban directly attributed his championship team’s chemistry and success to a mental conditioning program he employed. The mental conditioning program provided a "success mindset" that resulted in a BCS Championship win against the Texas Longhorns in the Rose Bowl.

Saban openly discussed his desire to change the culture of the team, after a 2006 losing season that, more importantly, included off-the-field misconduct and poor decision making by several members of the team during the off-season. With the help of the Pacific Institute of Seattle, the Alabama team learned about mental conditioning approaches to help them to achieve peak performance.

Opposing coaches could see the difference in the players right away.

“Alabama played with an attitude and viciousness that we did not,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said in 2008.

“I just saw a team that had a mentality,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, “They were going to be physical, they were going to play physical and they did.”

“I think it’s the identity that we’ve always tried to create,” Saban said. “Be aggressive, physical, play with a lot of toughness. Strike them, knock them back. Be aggressive and relentless in your style of how you play and how you compete.

Though these types of mental conditioning programs are perceived as new and cutting edge, the fact is that mental conditioning involves the application and teaching of cognitive and positive psychology. This approach is based on scientific research and principles that have been around for close to a half-century. It is one of the most widely used and validated mechanisms for behavior change. Many organizational and sports psychologists have been using this approach in their practices for years with considerable success. This area of applied psychology looks closely at an individual's beliefs and self-talk and the effect it has on behavior and performance. It is highly results-oriented.

“I don’t think the message is that different,” Saban said. “I think the things that it takes to be successful are the same regardless, whether it’s passion, commitment, hard work, investing your time in the right things, perseverance, pride in performance, how you think in a positive and negative way, the discipline you have personally -- you have to make choices in your decisions.”

Saban emphasizes that you must “develop champions before you can create championship results.” He also emphasizes the importance of creating the right processes to get the right outcomes.

The players who spent the summer on campus were enrolled in a dozen mental conditioning classes, designed to improve, in Saban's words, the "self-actualization, self-confidence [and] self-esteem" of his players. Twelve times each summer, the Alabama football team sits through 30- to 45-minute classes devoted to mental conditioning and character development. The Pacific Institute of Seattle was hired to design a program and lead the players through a series of awareness exercises and affirmations, such as:

"We are a team that's committed to excellence. It's represented in everything we do."

"Our defense is aggressive. We fly to the ball seeking always to cause big plays on every down. We intimidate our opponents."

"Our offense is consistently on top of their game."

"Our team is a family. We will look out for each other. We love one another. Anything that attempts to tear us apart only makes us stronger."

These affirmations reinforced the vision and outcome that the Alabama coaching staff was looking for and provided a language to communicate expectations and establish behavioral habits related to mental focus, teamwork, determination and priorities.

Saban also made the point that the program never once talked about winning, they only talked about their commitment to success, pride in performance and being the best you can be.

“That’s exactly how it was. To me, I thought it helped us out as a team. It made us realize that we have to focus night and day.”

--Marquis Johnson, cornerback.

Nevertheless, the program’s emphasis is on personal choices and accountability. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

“Honestly, you have to look inside yourself. The coach can only tell you and say so much. To play as a man, you have to look inside yourself.”

-- running back Glen Coffee.

Excerpts from Chattanooga Free Press, July 28, 2008; Tuscaloosa News, August 10, 2008 and September 8, 2008; Forbes, September 1, 2008; and Sports Illustrated, September 8, 2008.

For more on mental conditioning and peak performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance, and for the latest mental conditioning tools, click on: Peak Performance eCoach and request access.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tony Romo: Dallas Cowboys' Quarterback Learns About Accountability

"It's very easy in this profession to look at somebody else and blame. It's almost difficult to make yourself accountable to the rest of the guys. But when trouble arrived, we stayed committed to the plan. There wasn't all the little bickering and guys stayed committed to the team.

"I've only been playing for four years now, but we played two of them before and I felt like one of them was my fault. So I didn't feel like this was the most impossible thing ever that everyone made it out to be. The other thing is, if you're good enough you'll win. If I wasn't good enough to win a playoff game as a quarterback then I wouldn't have. It's very simple in the approach. It's just I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can, I'm going to commit to it fully, this team is and if we're good enough to win, we'll find a way to get the job done."

--Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys' quarterback, disucssing his maturity and sense of accountability.

In his first career playoff win after two defeats, Romo completed 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a 104.9 passer rating.

"That No. 9 over there has a long future that’s just beginning to reach its potential in my mind. You can put a lot of things together when you’ve got stability at quarterback. It falls off fast. It’s like holding Jell-O when you don’t have a quarterback."

--Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys' owner.

"He's certainly developed as a quarterback. This is a completely different team, the dynamics of this team are very different.

"And again, I keep saying this, but his approach is to try to get better every day. That's what's allowed him to grow and to develop, and it has a lot to do with how he goes about his business, and hopefully, he can continue that this week."

--Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys' assistant head coach.

Romo uses self-talk to overcome mistakes.

"I said to myself, 'OK, I threw an interception, but I can't play as if I'm afraid to throw another one, Romo said after an interception this year. "If I do, I won't play with the same tempo or speed or ability."

Romo is focused on continuous improvement. "Nothing excited me more than to work on something and see the improvement," said Romo, who finished the regular season with 26 touchdowns and a 1.6 interception percentage -- Dallas' best since Troy Aikman in 1998. "When I stop improving, I'll quit."

With that, the Dallas Cowboys have alot more in mind for the NFL playoffs.

"Our goals are much bigger than winning that first game," Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking said after the Cowboys beat the Eagles, 34-14, Saturday night, in the wild card playoff game. "That's just being dead honest with you. We have a lot left that we want to accomplish and do. This is just the tip of the iceberg for us."

"Know what? It won't be as much fun if we don't take care of business during the week and prepare the way we can," safety Ken Hamlin said. "Continuing playing is great, but we're not settling for this one game."

"That's what I love about this team, it's on to the next thing," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "You really don't have time to soak in what you just did."

Balancing focus, intensity and calm, Romo is extremely competitive.

"I know that sometimes my nature seems too light," said Romo, who became the first quarterback in Cowboy history to take every snap of the season. "But underneath I'm extremely competitive. I'm focused."

Excerpts from ESPN.com, Dallas News.com, New York Daily News, and CBSsports.com (January 4,10-11, 2010).

For more on the Dallas Cowboys franchise, click on Dallas Cowboys: Peak Performance Case Study.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kobe Bryant: Having His Best Year Ever?

From Yahoo Sports:

Is the NBA's Kobe Bryant better than ever? What keeps him motivated? How long can he go as he ages and withstands injuries?

For more on Peak Performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

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