Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mental Focus: Spurs Stay Alive in NBA Playoffs

"You really don't think about the magnitude of making or missing it, you just think about trying to get the best shot that you can get.  It went in today, but I think it's the best shot I could have got in that situation."

--Gary Neal, San Antonio Spurs rookie, who miraculously sent the fifth game of the NBA series into overtime with a three-point shot on Wednesday night.  

Neal is an undrafted 26-year-old rookie and former European journeyman who the Spurs signed this season after giving him an audition on their summer league team.  Neal's shot tied the score and helped the Spurs to rally to keep them from elimination.  

Neal was the NBA rookie leader in three-point shooting percentage this year.  

Peak performance in any sport requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to maintain focus on the multiple factors that need your attention. Split-second decisions regarding play selection, direction and speed of your shot, best steps for execution, an assessment of your opponent's capabilities, the condition of the court, etc. all require one to maintain a high level of focus during actual play.

Researchers in psychology and physiology have determined that individuals must regulate this high focus or it will lose its overall effectiveness and potency through continual use, resulting in "focus fatigue."

The time between plays or points needs to be used to relax, to wind down, to move into a lower level focus state and to regroup in preparation for the next point or play. The next play or point will again require a high level of focus.

Excerpts from the (April 28, 2011) and Focus:  Peak Performance Field Guide #4.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

NBA Opening Round Requires Team Peak Performance Mindset

A look at the NBA playoffs this weekend shows what mental preparation and conditioning is going on behind the scenes as teams look to find or maintain an emotional edge.  

Boston Celtics

“I love our team.  We do some things that are a little nuts, but they have a way to play together and they trust each other and as a coach; that’s all you can ask for.”
--Doc Rivers, head coach of the Boston Celtics, after beating the New York Knicks and sweeping the opening round series with their Eastern Conference rivals, 4-0. 

Despite a subpar regular season, the Boston Celtics are moving forward to the second round in the NBA playoffs.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Three C's of Team and Organizational Wisdom

"Compete with your competitors, but collaborate with your customers, and cooperate with your colleagues."

Competition.  You see it at home in children.  It's called sibling rivalry.  It is natural.  You see it at school with students.  The school system instills it in us and reinforces it.  At work, bosses insist on it.  Competition is the name of the game.  "Winning" as Charlie Sheen calls it.  I see it in the workplace.  It's everywhere.  It particularly comes out when resources are scarce.  I win, you lose.  It is the law of the jungle.  It gets played out in every company there is.

Unfortunately, my experience as a corporate consultant has been that in the workplace, this type of "winner take all, all the time" mentality is very destructive and is likely to keep your company from succeeding and being profitable.  I have seen it time and time again.

Why?  Because the competitive behavior that has been learned so well is difficult to tone down, even when it is necessary for success.  In order for companies to be successful they have to rein in their competitive streaks, at least internally with customers and colleagues. But, most bosses, businesses and organizations don't believe it...until it is too late.    

So, several years ago, I developed a game, "Pass and Shoot," that I play with teams during team training and retreats, etc.  This game is derived from the Prisoner's Dilemma game that was popular years ago.  At the beginning of the game, the instructions are to win.  The way to win is through trust, cooperation, communication, information sharing.  Teams can win if they are willing to cooperate and communicate, rather than being naturally adversarial and overly competitive.  However, once the players' competitive juices (and a little paranoia) start to flow, it is very difficult to control.  Players in the game with do whatever is necessary to avoid cooperation and will find it more important to block another team from looking good, rather than work for a win-win scenario (which is what the stated objective of the game is).  In most instances, participants would bet on their instinct to mistrust and protect.  They would rather see the entire ship go down than let down their guard and collaborate.  

"Pass and shoot" and other games of this type prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that competitive instincts are very difficult to control and can be the downfall of most teams if one is not aware of the pitfalls and consequences.

So, what is to be done?  First of all understand that the competitive nature of humans must be acknowledged as well as harnessed and directed at the competition outside the company not within the company or with customers.  Secondly, make sure that people learn how to collaborate with customers to determine what they need and how they need it delivered. After all, you are there for the customer and the customer is buying your product or service with their money. Thirdly, it is important to curb your competitive nature when working with colleagues. You need each other to succeed.  Lastly, though it is difficult to do, it is more important that you work toward a common goal than it is to be seen as an overly competitive, stab you in the back person who loses control, steps on others, assumes the worst of others and can't "play in the sandbox."

So, like I said, remember:  Be competitive with competitors, but be collaborative with customers and cooperative with colleagues.  Doing anything else will jeopardize your team and create barriers to success.

What do you think?  




Monday, April 11, 2011

Rory McIlroy: Will he bounce back?

"It was a character-building day, put it that way, I'll come out stronger for it." 

 --Rory McIlroy, 21-year old professional golfer, who was leading the 2011 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on the last day only to falter out of contention on the last nine holes.   

McIlroy began Sunday's final round with a 4-stroke lead. By the end of the tournament he was 10 strokes behind the eventual winner, South African Charl Schwartzel.  McIlroy shot a final round 8-over-par 80 to fall into a tie for 15th place. 

However, based on this interview, I predict that Rory McIlroy will bounce back from this failure quickly and have the focus, perseverance and tenacity to fight his way back in the world of professional golf.

It appears he will put it behind him and learn from his mistakes. More importantly, he is not reading too much into his play on the back nine.  

Though he is young and inexperienced, he put a positive, philosophical spin on the loss.

"For 63 holes of this golf tournament I was leading," said McIlroy.

Excerpts from (April 10 & 11, 2011).

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Confidence: How Important Is It?

"I didn't have any doubts, but I wasn't sure I was going to win."  
 --Gabriella Sabatini, a former professional Aregentine tennis player, who was one of the top players on the women's circuit in the late-1980s and early-1990s. She won a women's singles title at the U. S. Open in 1990, the women's doubles title at Wimbledon in 1988, two WTA Tour Championships in 1988 and 1994, and a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games. 

Despite considerable athletic talent, strong popularity and the beauty of a screen star, Sabatini seemed to consistently conflicted about her ability to win.  Many critics and experts had expected much more from Sabatini and felt that her overall career performance had left something to be desired.  

"Confidence isn't optimism or pessimism and it's not a character attribute. It's the expectation of a positive outcome. It is essential" - Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of the book, Confidence.

Framing and optimism are everything, as Andre Agassi demonstrates in this great quote from a panel (with Lance Armstrong) at the Milken conference in April 2006:

After wrist surgery, Agassi was ranked number 141 in the world in 1998. As Agassi said, he tried to look on the bright side, "only 140 people in the world could beat me."

A lack of confidence effects capability and reduces all-round ability. When confidence is high, real breakthroughs are possible.

It's possible to affect and, thus, manufacture confidence. Indeed it is a vital process to avoid the kind of expectation trap described below.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, performers' situational-specific confidence, or 'self-efficacy', is based on four primary sources of information.

The first and most important factor is past performance accomplishments. What we have achieved in training and competition forms the basis of future expectations of success or failure. Repeated success naturally leads to positive expectations of further success, higher motivation and enhanced self-belief.

Unfortunately, the drawback of this principle is that failure can give rise to a downward performance spiral and a 'snowball effect' whereby a performer starts to believe that success is unattainable.

Of course, such an athlete does not mysteriously lose his or her physical skills and talents, but without confidence in these abilities high-level performance is rarely achieved. This is the 'expectation trap', which has put many a gifted athlete into permanent decline.

In research, confidence has been shown to consistently distinguish between highly successful and less successful athletes. Although many people mistakenly assume that confidence reflects performance - i.e. we become confident once we have performed consistently well - it is becoming increasingly evident that confidence can be established, or 'manufactured' beforehand.

Several assumptions that can interfere with self-confidence and positive ways of thinking are:

ASSUMPTION: I must always be successful at every challenge that I undertake. This assumption is a totally unrealistic assumption. In life each person has his strengths and his weaknesses. While it is important to learn to do the best that one can, it is more important to learn to accept yourself as being human, and deficient. Let yourself feel good about what you are good at, and accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you don’t need to.

ASSUMPTION: I must be perfect, and loved by everyone, and satisfy everyone. Again, this assumption is a totally unrealistic assumption. All human beings are less than perfect. It’s well advised to develop personal standards and values that are not very dependent on the approval of other people.

ASSUMPTION: Everything that happened to me in the past remains in control of my feelings and behaviors in the present.

ALTERNATIVE: While it is true that your confidence was especially vulnerable to external influences when you were a child as you gain maturity appreciation and point of view on what those influences have been. In doing so, you can choose which influences you will continue to allow to have an effect on your life. You don’t have to be helpless based on what happened in the past.


Emphasize Your Strengths. Grant yourself credit for everything that you can do. And bestow upon yourself credit for every new experience you are willing to try.

Take risks. Adopt the attitude of: I never fail, because there are NO failures. However, sometimes I find out what doesn’t work and once I’ve learned what doesn’t work in a given situation, I can test something else.

Use Self-Talk: Use self-talk as a tool to counter harmful assumptions. Then, tell yourself to stop. Substitute more reasonable assumptions. For example, when you catch yourself expecting yourself to be perfect, remind yourself that it is impossible to do everything perfectly, and that it’s only possible to do things to the best of your ability. This allows you to accept yourself as you are working towards improvement.

VISUALIZATION (Make mental movies): Picture yourself in scenes that you currently have low levels of self confidence in. But see yourself behaving in the way that a person who has tremendous confidence  would. There are powerful Self-hypnosis and NLP processes that you can use to instill a sizable amount of self-confidence from within your subconscious mind. There are even NLP techniques that will let you take confidence that you do have in areas of your life, and then transplant that confidence to areas of your life that require more self-confidence!

Excerpts from Inside Tennis (April 2011) and the Peak Performance eCoach.  

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I Know, I Know, You Were Expecting Something Pretty

The NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Final is supposed to be a thing of athletic beauty and artistic splendor.  It is expected to be spliced into an awe inspiring "One Shining Moment" video.  Right?  

If you read what has been written and hear what has been said about the game between Butler and champion UConn, the words "ugly," "embarrassing,' "bad basketball," "poor shooting," etc. are most frequently used.  For many it was uninspiring and, certainly, not an exciting brand of basketball.  You aren't going to have many people looking at the game films or the highlights over and over, year after year.  

However, I suggest that you should look at this game very closely.  Despite the lack of beauty, one team was going to be champion.   One team would take home a trophy that every team and player in the country covets and few possess.  

What I learned from this game, is that this championship and every championship is about two teams slugging it out for supremacy. This game was about mental toughness.  It was about keeping your head in the game and never giving up.  It was about believing in your system and executing, and dealing with setback after setback.  Both teams took leads that they could have built upon.  Only one team did.   

Jeremy Lamb, UConn freshman, who gave his team a much needed spark in the second half, said, “I saw one time we scored, one of them put his head down. I said, ‘We got ‘em.’” 

This game was mental as well as physical.  This game was about effort in the face of adversity.  

"Every time we play hard, great things always happen to us," Kemba Walker, the MVP of the NCAA tournament, said.

This game was about perseverance.  It was about overcoming barriers.  It was about dealing with strong defensive pressure.  Every shot was contested.   Both teams wanted it, both teams gave maximum effort.  Both teams continued to run their offense and make adjustments to take advantage of their opponents. 

Despite being down by 3 points at halftime, Coach Jim Calhoun of UConn understood the championship would hinge on which team was able to mentally withstand the other.

"The halftime speech was rather interesting," Calhoun said. "The adjustment was we were going to out-will them and outwork them."

In the second half, UConn responded and took home the trophy.

We were unstoppable," Walker said. "That's why we're national champions."

Excerpts from and (April 4, 2011).