Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Handling Success as Important as Handling Failure

Over the weekend, several NFL television commentators discussed the issue of parity in the league.  As a result of a topsy turvy first 3 weeks of the 2013 season, these experts felt that many teams, coaches and players were not preparing themselves adequately from week to week.  The number of upsets by underdogs was considered as evidence of a lack of focus on the part of the favorites, not just the parity between teams. Their take on it was that many teams were having a difficult time dealing with early season success. Complacency and arrogance were likely to derail the most talented teams. according to the commentators. Early season success was followed by thoughts that all these teams had to do was show up against weaker opponents to take home the win.  It was pointed out that every NFL team can be beaten by every other NFL team on any given Sunday. Taking a team lightly is risky for any team at this point in the season.  

It is easy to see how early season losses can be demoralizing or, perhaps, help re-orient a team; however, on the surface, it is more difficult to see how winning can derail or stop momentum and distract a team as well.

My experience is that many elite athletes and teams have as much or more difficulty bouncing back from a win as they do bouncing back from a defeat.  Both wins and losses are risky in that they each require athletes to refocus equally after a game or any competition, regardless of the outcome.

Some athletes are more likely to understand that they can learn more from a loss than any win than others. Too often, complacency can occur when players feel post-game satisfaction but do not feel motivated to seek to improve on a win.  A defeat is often able to get our attention much more effectively than winning is able to do.  However, it is important to learn from success as well as failure.

Emotional resilience (which I have written about a great deal in recent blog posts) is typically associated with the adversity of defeat.  For mental conditioning to be optimally effective, we must consider true emotional resilience to also include how to deal with success.  How to sustain focus in the wake or success is more difficult that we typically think.  Complacency after a win is as commonplace as demoralization after a loss.  

Next time you feel the exhilaration of success; celebrate, enjoy, relax, and then, get back to work, analyze, debrief, learn and focus on the next challenge.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Surprisingly Mature Leadership of Jason Giambi

“His leadership, his presence, for me not to use that, I would be an idiot. I’ve leaned on him so much. He’s not making enough money, I tell him that all the time. He’s the best influence on players I’ve ever seen — ever, and I’ve been around some pretty good ones.”  
--Terry Francona, manager of the Cleveland Indians, talking about the value that Jason Giambi provides to his team.  

Terry Francona has been a player, coach, minor league manager, and a major league manager for 13 years. In all that time, Francona said last week, he had never met a person like Jason Giambi.

The Cleveland Indians are currently 86-70 this season, and have been in the thick of the division, wild-card and playoff races.  He has hit 8 home runs and has driven in 29 runs in limited playing time behind starter, Carlos Santana.

Giambi, 42, a designated hitter for the Indians, is the oldest position player in the major leagues. He weathered a steroid scandal earlier in his career to become a respected veteran who was a strong candidate last winter to be the manager of the Colorado Rockies. Ultimately, the Rockies hired Walt Weiss as their manager. So Giambi decided to continue his career as a designated hitter — and unofficial captain — for Francona’s Indians. And, he has Francona's back.

“I kind of call myself the ‘Protector.' I protect what he cares about, which is playing the game hard, playing the game right, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Tito and I are one in the same. I care about my teammates like he cares about his team." 
“Every single guy — from the Latin players to the white guys to the black guys — I’m tight with everybody. I get to care about them with no ulterior motives. I just want to see them succeed. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I want them to turn into the best players they can, because I truly believe that’s the gift you give back to this game.” 
--Jason Giambi
Who knew that Jason Giambi would eventually grow up?  Does your team have a Jason Giambi?

Excerpts taken from (9/22/2013).  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mental Conditioning: Teaching Resilience and Recovery

The common notion is that sports psychology and mental conditioning are about developing athletes' mental toughness and designing the perfect athlete.

Practically speaking, my experience with the most effective techniques in working with athletes involves the development of the proper mindset for success.  For an athlete to develop total mental toughness, he/she must be able to deal with adversity effectively.  This ability is less about striving for perfection and more about developing emotional resilience.  This coping skill includes the ability to use mistakes, failures and losses as learning opportunities and moments for improvement and growth.  This is particularly true of the activities involved in the training and development of young athletes.  

The ability to learn from setbacks and recover from failure is a key component of a champions' mindset.   To understand this aspect of mental conditioning, one must understand the key difference between practice and competition.  During practice as well as game situations, athletes must be able to bounce back quickly; however, during practice, athletes must be encouraged and be willing to be more vulnerable to mistakes and failures as various drills and rehearsals are attempted.   Practice is the time to get out of one's comfort zone.   Practice is the time for learning.  Games are the time to perform.

Practice is a time for expectations to be about rehearsal, refinement and adjustments.  Game situations and competition should be about execution.  Too often, coaches as well as athletes maintain the same expectations for games as they do for practices.  This can create much confusion and anxiety in both coaches and athletes.

Coaches must take the time to understand the difference in situations and take into account when they are developing and shaping performance versus when they are in execution mode.

Are you always clear about the distinction between training goals and performance goals?      

Friday, September 06, 2013

Mark Spitz and the Practice/Performance Distinction

“During the time of of practice and training, it’s 80% physical and 20% mental; but one the gun goes off it’s the opposite: 80% mental and only 20% physical.”
--Mark Spitz, American Olympic swimming champion and winner of 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. 

This quote highlights the essential value of mental conditioning.  Preparation and deliberate practice is about training the body and creating strong muscle memory.  Mental conditioning concerns itself with learning the skills for quieting the brain and allowing the body to perform at its most efficient during competition events. 

Sports psychologists focus on the unique difference between training/development events and performance events.  Practice is practice and competition is competition.  Practice is for learning, challenging, tweaking, and making adjustments.  Repetition is the key component of training.  

Performance events are for execution.  There should be little in the way of new learning taking place.  This the place to quiet the brain.   

Many athletes and coaches emphasize mental toughness as a prerequisite for success.  While mental toughness is necessary for success, it is also true that quieting the brain is also necessary for peak performance.   

Do you have the skills to quiet your brain for peak performance?