Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Winning Super Bowl X-Factors: Patriots vs. Seahawks

Welcome to my annual Super Bowl prediction!  OK, that's not true.  This is the first time.  I've never attempted this (I did do a post Super Bowl analysis once upon a time).  Please be gentle.

Anyway, here goes.  With all unfathomable, unknownable and unpredicable factors being accounted for and controlled, the most important intangibles, or X-Factors, in winning this year's Super Bowl XLIX are:

X-Factor #1:  The New England Patriots have the longevity, stability and culture of a proud and successful franchise with a mindset and expectation of winning.  Similarly to the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, the Patriots have a strong organization that has installed a unique system of success and excellence that has stood the test of time.  Advantage:  Patriots

X-Factor #2:  The Seattle Seahawks have incorporated a very systematic approach to mental conditioning that is unmatched in professional sports.  Their collective use of sports psychology. positive psychology and mindfulness has provided great value.  They believe in their ability to be resilient and have leveraged that for two years. They could not have comeback against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship without this cultivated and deliberate approach. They have the mental skills to deal with adversity and bounce back from real-time setbacks.  Advantage: Seahawks.

X-Factor #3:  The Seattle Seahawks are defending Super Bowl Champions.  They have the recency effect going for them.  They will have swagger.  Advantage:  Seahawks.

X-Factor #4:  The Patriots have lost the last two Super Bowls in which they have played.  They were favorites in each loss.  They have a Super Bowl albatross around their necks.  They are slight betting favorites again.  The Seahawks are slight underdogs.  Advantage:  Seahawks.

X-Factor #5:  The Patriots have lost the last two Super Bowls in which they have played.  They were favorites in each one.  They have the motivation of having something to prove.  They are not playing the New York Giants.  Advantage: Patriots. 

X-Factor #6:  Deflate-Gate has been a great distraction to the Patriots.  This has to affect their focus and preparation to some degree.   Advantage; Seahawks.

X-Factor #7:  Nevertheless, the absurdity of the media coverage and sensationalism surrounding Deflate-Gate has kept the Patriots loose and relaxed.  Advantage: Patriots.

X-Factor #8:  Marshawn Lynch is in full beast mode.  He has also kept the Seahawks loose and relaxed, by taking the focus and pressure off the rest of the team.  Advantage: Seahawks.    

It is difficult to quantify each of these X-Factors, but if you add them all up, I give a slight edge to the Seattle Seahawks in a surprisingly low scoring game.  Overall Advantage:  Seahawks.  

What's your prediction?  Your comments are welcomed.          


Friday, January 16, 2015

Performance: A Function of Talent, Skills, Preparation, and Mindset

I am a performance video junkie.  In following people on Facebook or perusing YouTube videos, I have watched an abnormally crazy number of great performance videos related to all types of activities. What has been amazing to me about the comments (beside the incredibly inappropriate and/or negative ones) is the frequency of comments about how talented the performer is.  The second most frequent comment is how the viewer wished he/she could do that.

These comments provide great insight into the type of mental conditioning that is so pervasive and so counterproductive to success and excellence. Many people incorrectly assume that performance, success and excellence are primarily a result or function of talent (by definition, a seemingly fixed asset).  Thus, their wish is that they had been annointed somehow with the talent for that activity, sport, etc. Alas, they weren't lucky when talent was handed out.  But, what's luck got to do with it?

What they do not realize is that those so-called talented people were also simply highly invested in learning to do the activity.  Ultimately, each of those individuals spent an incredible amount of time mastering the steps involved in the achieving the result that you see:  the performance.

As Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, points out, successful people approach problems as a learning process. While invested in the result, they see it as an opportunity to learn and grow and, therefore, are not paralyzingly afraid of an imperfect result. They view their skills as capable of change, growth and improvement. Dweck identifies this as a growth mind-set.

Individuals with a fixed mind-set, on the other hand, see their talent or ability as finite (and, typically pre-determined). You're creative and artistic, or you're not. You're good in math, or you're not. You're a great player, or you're not. If you see yourself this way, Dweck says, any mistake or failure is dreadful.  But also, any attempt to learn and grow is also to be avoided.

So, if you possess a fixed mind-set, you think your future success is determined by the hardware and software package (i.e., talent or potential) that was given to you at birth.  

Dweck's work has had major implications for coaching and peak performance.  The way we talk about performance to others and ourselves, she says, tends to foster one mind-set or the other. "You're so talented," is praise from someone with a fixed mind-set and might make developing athletes, performers, and students begin to fear their performances.  This type of "feedback" is such that any failure, setback, or less than optimal performances that could suggest they aren't so good. not so talented.  This dynamic sets up the development of anxiety and aversion of the activity itself.   

"You must have worked very hard to do that well," is an example of a more effective communication of praise.  This statement is more rewarding, reinforcing and encouraging of more hard work.  It leaves room for more risk-taking and discovery.

People with a fixed mind-set are constantly judging their underlying talent, Dweck says, and think others are judging them, too. "The growth mind-set is not about universal judgment," Dweck says.

If too focused, people get caught up in their self-concept and identity.  I am good or I am bad.  I am talented or I am not.  Learning and growth takes a back seat to the protection of the self.

What Facebook and YouTube video posts don't typically provide are the images of the long hours of grueling and monotonous practice that goes into the performances that we see posted.  Of course you don't see those posted.  That would be too boring.  Nobody would sit in front of their computer, tablet, or smartphone watching that.  But that is what you need to understand, acknowledge, and praise when you comment on those videos.

If I could, I would create coaching software that allows you to see a great performance video once and then the video would become unavailable to the viewer until they had watched a follow-up video that showed them all the necessary steps to achieve the results.  After a specified number of hours of viewing the practice video, the performance video could then be viewed again.  That would be great coaching software.   

Until then, I challenge you to consider that the next time you are on Facebook or YouTube and see a video of a great performance, you comment:  "I bet that took hours and hours of practice." Now, that would be a useful comment.      

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Tony Romo's Playoff Composure

"You just have to stay in the moment and understand the game, It doesn't end after the first quarter, second quarter. You just have to keep calm. I've played enough games to understand that. Maybe I didn't do that as well when I was younger.''
-Tony Romo, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, after a 24-20 comeback wild-card playoff victory over the Detroit Lions.  
Romo provided leadership to the Cowboys with his perseverance, tenacity, composure, and experience.  After being down 20-7 to the Lions, the Cowboys with Romo at the helm, bounced back and took over the game with 17 second-half points to win.  They now play the Green Bay Packers next weekend in the quest for a berth in the NFC championship game on the road to the Super Bowl.   Romo endured six defensive sacks and constant pressure from the Lions during a difficult first half to end up with 293 passing yards for the win.   
"If you are mentally tough enough, and you've been through it, and I think experience helps you, you just get rid of those thoughts and understand that this game is going to go all the way to the end," Romo said. "Just don't give them anything to let this game get out of reach and it will find a way to get back at the end."

Romo has the ultimate goal, the Super Bowl, in mind.  “As players, we all want to be playing in that game and holding that trophy at the end of the year,” Romo said. “Just hoist it up and know that you accomplished your goal that you set. I know that’s my goal. I mean, everything else is just peanuts compared to it.”
An experienced, talented but much maligned quarterback, Romo, who has won only two playoff games in his career, understands the importance of taking advantage of rare opportunities for championships.  "More than anything, you just know that every season is a different season,” Romo said. “I was around football enough to know, three or four seasons before then, how tough it can be.”

Romo's composure has rubbed off on the team.

"This team has done an unbelievable job with composure," tight end Jason Witten said after the game. "It's been that way since April. I think when you experience what we have the last few years, there's a mindset. The change that you wanna see, you have to go do something about it. I've said it all year, we watched those games, we talked about the handful of plays that were difference-makers in [the] game."

Will the talent, preparation, and mental conditioning of the Cowboys prevail in Green Bay?

Excerpts from (1/3/2015 & 1/4/2015), (1/4/2015), (1/4/2015), and (1/6/2015).

For more on Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, check out the book:  Razor Thin:  The Difference Between Winning and Losing.