Motivation is about more than a subcomponent of sport psychology and mental toughness. This article looks at delayed gratification and more.
Too Many Theories
I have long held the view that most areas of psychology are blighted with too many theories. Don’t get me wrong, I know we need research to support our professional decision making. But in my view there are simply too many below par theories, models and papers out there. Google Motivation and sport psychology theories and you’ll see what I mean.
This then blows out the work load of applied sport psychologists such as myself. I try to read as many peer-reviewed journals on sport psychology as possible. Unfortunately have to sort through the mountain to find the gems.
Oh, and there are some real gems.
One of these is the work done around Delayed Gratification via The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments. Starting in the 60s Walter Mischel did a series of studies that gave us with a huge clue about the motivational requirements of successful people.
One Marshmallow Now Or Two Later?
In these studies, children between four and eight years of age were offered a choice. Each child, in turn, could pick between one small reward immediately or two later. One marshmallow now or two later, you decide? If the child decided to have two marshmallows later then it would be on the condition that the single treat was still there when the experimenter returned. This was normally after about 15 minute.
Remarkably in the majority of the testing about half the children gobbled down the one marshmallow almost immediately. The other half would exercise great will power and wait for the experimenter to return. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to “delay their gratification” tended to have better life outcomes. For example, these high will power youngsters went on to get better exam results. They were happier and more likely to have good relationships. They ended up with much better jobs than the lower will power kids.
Below is a 6 minute Ted talk which explains the concept and experiments in more details.
Although I am assume that Professor Mischel had little interest in the specific field of sport psychology I can’t imagine another branch of psychology whereby the concept of delayed gratification is more relevant.
Delayed gratification is really just “doing something difficult now in the hope that it will be prove worth it later on”.
Of all the hundreds of theories on motivation pertaining to sport psychology this is most useful. Quite simply put, one of the chief explanations about why so few succeed is because they can’t link their short term struggle with their long term aspirations.
Most athletes and coaches try and find shortcuts. They throw in the towel when the rewards for their effort are not immediate and obvious. They gobble down the single marshmallow instead of waiting for two. Very few people actually love getting up at 4am in order to do laps under floodlights. But the champions and champions-in-the-making do it anyway.
In the defence of ‘most athletes’ it’s unlikely that anyone has taken the time to carefully explain to them that improving is all about patience. Doing the hard yards in the preseason so the rewards can come during the season.
What If The Kids Had Been Coached First?
What would have happened had all the Marshmallow experimentees been coached beforehand. Imagine a performance psychologist had been allowed to spend time helping the kids mentally prepare first. How about the impact if a performance psychologist shows pictures of other kids succeeding. Imagine if all the subjects has been taught proper mindfulness techniques thus allowing ‘urges’ to just be noticed.
But of course elite sport, especially at the highest level, requires a little more delayed gratification than 15 minutes. On many occasions the truly meaningful “payoff” for effort might only be 10 or even 20 years down the track. That’s a long time to wait for that second marshmallow! Think about the young athletes who sacrifice time with friends and family whilst they are teenagers only to see the rewards in their twenties and thirties.
Remember, the experiments centred around one marshmallow now or two later. The children were not left with a brussell sprout for 15 minutes. This is a super important point. There was nothing mean about leaving the kids alone in a room with one marshmallow. The only difficultly some of them experienced was the tussle between their own strength of mind and their own temptations.
Applied Sport Psychology
At Condor Performance one of the ways we help those we work with to embrace delayed gratification is by encouraging them to keep track of their progress.
Key Performance Indictors can “bridge the gap” between the daily and weekly grind and possible moments of glory. These monthly checks act a little like licking the marshmallow but not eating it. They help remind us about what we might get later on down the track. They remind us about why we’re doing what we’re doing even if it’s uncomfortable. MCs are, in my opinion, the most powerful motivators available when you can’t actually use marshmallows!
Easier said than done? If you’d like to receive details about our sport psychology services then you can get in touch a number of ways.
The Reflective Work Journal of a Qualified Sport Psychologist
Towards the start of 2020, I started to keep two journals. The first one was (is) a paper and pen version for my personal life. I try to write in it daily as part of a morning mindfulness routine. The other journal is for my work as a sport psychologist. For this one, I just type a few pondering into a Pages document at the end of each working day. As my entries do not contain any clues about who my sporting clients are I decided to start ‘sharing the love’. By this I mean instead of all these musings being hidden away I decided to start “copying and pasting” some of the entries into this page for public consumption and debate. So feel free to use the comments section at the bottom to express your opinions about anything that I write about. Note that the entries are in reverse date order so you’ll need to scroll down for the older entries. Enjoy, engage and share.
Tuesday 23rd February 2021
A massive week of work draws to an end in Wagga Wagga. I feel I got the balance right between getting some major tasks done and spending some time with my mother (now close to 80 years of age). Roughly 10 years ago I did a business course in Sydney. One of the suggestions made by those running it was to create a manual whereby all the details of running the business I contained. The premise is very simple and very logical. Too many of the daily details of running a business are only in the brains of those who started the business. This is fine if that person is around forever but what happens if they’re not. Condor Performance has evolved massively in the last decade and now depends much less on me and never before. However, there are still too many little details which nobody else could do. This week I have re-visited this Master Document, now appallingly out of date, to ensure that if something ever happened to me that Condor Performance, her staff and clients would be as unaffected as possible.
Saturday 20th February 2021
For the first time in a very long time I intervened with one of my clients whilst they were completing. I may write much more on this later on down the track but as a general rule I am not a big believer that a sport psychologist should be too involved before and during competition. The logic is fairly simple. If we are doing our jobs well we will not be required during these times.
The reason why I decided to break this rule was pure coincidence. One of my young golfing clients is playing a tournament in Wagga where I just happen to be at the moment visiting my mother. With the assistance of the golfer’s mother, I was able to drive out to the Wagga Wagga Country Club and watch him/her play the last 4 holes of their first (of two rounds). The great thing about this golf course is that there are plenty of trees allowing for ample opportunity to watch relatively closely without being seen. Of course the area I’m most interested in watching whilst one of my golfers is actually playing a competitive round are their routines. (pre-shot). Upon closer inspection, I noticed this client would take a practice swing after each shot that she/he wasn’t happy with. The issue with this from a psychological point of view is that it makes the pre-shot routine inconsistent. Furthermore, you are telling your playing partners that you are not satisfied and remember your playing partners in stroke play golf are also your competitors. Fortunately, I managed to get an example of this on video which I showed the golfers after the rounds had finished. I asked if they could eliminate it for the second round. He/she did this and went 5 shots better. Now that’s applied sport psychology!
Thursday 18th February 2021
I’m currently in Wagga Wagga spending a few days with my mum. As she is getting on in years it is not unusual when I visit for her to ask me to help her with a few odd jobs. This time round it was to work out a way for her mobile phone to work away from her apartment. I am no expert on smart phones but I certainly know my way around the basic settings. After having played with her settings unsuccessfully it dawned on me that it might just be an issue with her service provider. I asked her how long she’s been with Vodafone and she said from the very beginning. I then asked her why she chose I had a phone over the other service providers and she couldn’t remember. It dawned on me that the only reason that she was still with Vodafone was because “she had always been with them”. Undeserved Loyalty are probably the words that I would use to describe this. It made me reflect on how certain words which we often regard is always been good or not necessarily always good. From a sport / performance psychology point of view loyalty is regarded as always being a positive. But is it? What if the party you’re being loyal to doesn’t deserve your loyalty? A good example of this might be in a team sport. On the one sense we want the players to be united and loyal to the badge on their shirt. But what happens if that team has a poor culture and treats certain members better than others. Is it still a good idea to be loyal to that team?
With the above in mind, my mum decided to switch from Vodafone to Telstra and now her phone works exactly how it supposed to.
Monday 15th February 2021
We have now confirmed the first of the future provisional psychologists they will be joining the Condor Performance team. I will wait until she has officially started in her new role but we are delighted that she is young, she is incredibly enthusiastic and she is based in central Sydney (near Parramatta).
Tomorrow I will head off to mum’s place in Wagga Wagga (NSW) for a full week of what I called Catch Up Work. Catch Up Work refers to all of the collective tasks that are contained within the important but not urgent list. In my role as the founding sport psychologist and General Manager of Condor Performance, there are literally hundreds of these little jobs. So once or twice a year I drive to Wagga and I basically put in a 100-hour working week. For anyone who is reading this who has never done a 100-hour working week, it looks pretty simple. You wake up and do a little bit of exercise then you work the entire day with small breaks for meals and then you go to bed. The following day you repeat. Of course, this is not to be recommended as the normal working routine. I, like most people, work somewhere between 35 and 40 hours a week typically. But this time only allows me to do the important and urgent stuff. The 100 hours of a Catch-Up Work Week allow me to do the rest. And maybe more significantly I get these jobs done without my work leaching into the rest of my obligations (E.g. time with my family) on a continuous basis.
Tuesday 9th February 2021
What a massive weekend for Condor Performance and dare I say sport psychology in Australia. Just over half our team managed to make their way to Sydney for a weekend of discussions. Not bad given Covid etc. David, James, Brian, Krishneel, Harley and myself made it with Mindy, Charlotte, Luke, Chris and Michelle not able to.
We had four 3.5 hour sessions in total. One on ‘general business’, one on ethics and then two on Metuf. Metuf is good but like most things could be better. The way to make it better is by getting the views of psychologists who have between them worked with a huge number of performers. Most of the tweaks we agreed on will show up later this year via new online course available at the sports.Metuf.com site. Until then, well only our monthly clients will get access to these improvements.
Thursday 4th February 2021
This is a really significant time for Condor Performance. First of all this weekend, we have our first get-together for our team of psychologists ever. I’m delighted that six of the 11 will be able to make the two-day meeting in Sydney despite there is still being significant challenges around coronavirus. I’m in the process at the moment of confirming the agenda item but it will be a nice healthy mix of general business and content-heavy professional development.
The next big thing on the Condor Performance agenda at the moment is that we look like we have secured the services of two young provisionally registered psychologists. These two professionals, both women by coincidence, will provide critical administrational and consulting support as three (yes, three) members of our team take some paternity/maternity leave during the middle part of the year. More on them later.
Monday 1st February 2021
I love it when the first day of the month falls on a Monday. It’s a special exciting when it happens on 1 February during a non-leap year as we will get to in a row. March 1st of this year is also on a Monday. Why? I use natural timeframes as key mental tools both in my personal and professional life. Life is chaotic so can be tremendously beneficial to have recurring mental separators. The start and end of the day are very useful ways to not get too caught up by the past not the future. The same can be done for weeks and months. As my clients and colleagues know I often suggest that the seven day week is an ideal organic frame work for considering processes. Whilst months on the other hand are excellent at trying to achieve small performance targets.
Condor Performance stalwart Dave Barracosa and I try to catch up in person at the beginning of each month. During these meetings we essentially spend about an hour looking at the month it’s just been completed. It’s highly driven by statistics and objective measures. We generally leave our opinions outside of the meeting space. In the case of the current meeting, we had an excellent January in terms of statistics. We then spend a little time planning the month ahead. Questions such as where do we want to be 30 days from now? This also only takes about 45 minutes. We don’t spend the rest of the day – roughly 6 hours – on our processes. Most of this discussion time is on existing processes which would potentially be improved regardless of how successful the previous month was. Sometimes we will introduce processes if the previous months have been significantly different compared with what we have been striving for.
Monday 25th January 2021
Although it is not something that we seek out we do occasionally do work which is much more about mental health and performance. This of course is something that we are completely allowed to do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists in Australia we are all registered psychologists with AHPRA. But what I have found recently is just how effective some of the classic sport psychology techniques are on common mental illnesses.
The number of my current clients are poor sleep is so helping them with a pre-sleep routine seems to be really impactful. Another is deeply depressed and is responding well to a much greater focus on her processes compared with her outcomes. This has made me reflect once again about whether the term ‘sport psychology’ is the most useful or not? However, until we agree on another one we might as well agree on the correct way to spell it. Recently I added a Call to Arms to have as many people vote on whether it is sport(s) psychology with or without an S. If you’re yet to cast your vote you can do so here until the end of 2021.
Monday 11th January 2021
Happy New Year everybody. I find the concept of taking a break fascinating. I have essentially taken the better part of five weeks off of work. On paper, this reinvigorates me and allows me to recommence my professional responsibilities with a lot of vim and vigour. But I find the complete opposite. After extended time off I find it particularly difficult to get going again. It’s almost like for me work is similar to physical activity. The longer you leave it between workouts the harder it is to start up again. When I work I get into a rhythm and routine whereby I just seem to be able to get everything done almost without having to think too much. This all comes to a grinding halt when you take five weeks off to go camping around New South Wales with your family. Does anyone else find this?
Monday 14th December 2020
Update from The Road. Although it’s not designed with this in mind my current holiday across New South Wales in a camper trailer is really good mental training. Living where we do the one thing that my family and I have is an unlimited amount of space. Spending five weeks inside what essentially is a small box is quite a mental test. Not much growth comes from staying permanently inside of your comfort zone.
And there are plenty of lessons along the way as well. Yesterday, at a campsite in Adaminaby (Google It) we discovered that we were would not be allowed to use the camp kitchen. One of the main reasons we stay in campgrounds is because the camper trailer is really only for sleeping. By that, I mean having a kitchen and bathroom nearby – especially with young children – feels critical. Having successfully used the camp kitchen once already yesterday we were stopped on the way back by the owner who told us the camp kitchen was only for those staying in cabins. My first reaction was to get aggressive. The unqualified lawyer in me felt like I needed to point out that had we known as we would not have booked into this campsite. However, before opening my mouth my wife beat me to it. She went with the completely opposite approach. “Oh, we completely understand sir. Can we just go up and get our cooking equipment which we left in there yesterday?” she said and asked. Immediately the demeanour of the owner changed from policeman to pal. “Well if you’re quick and you don’t make too much mess then I’m sure you can use it” he whispered.
Once again I feel this is a tremendous lesson for those involved in sport. When you want something do you go in with an aggressive approach that immediately puts the other party on the defensive? Have you ever tried a nice and polite way? If not, maybe it’s a time to give that a go.
Monday 7th December 2020
Something quite remarkable happened recently which I believe is relevant to so many of us nowadays. I’m about to go away on a five-week camper trailer holiday with my family where I’ll only be working on Thursdays. Hence my entries here will mostly stop until January 2021. Anyway, in preparation for this trip, we have for some time been trying to work out how to take out for bikes with us. Due in part to already having a bike rack for the car which goes on the table and partly due to the large space on top of the camper trailer when it’s closed I formed an opinion awhile ago that the only way to transport the bicycles was on top of the camper trailer. Sorry for the last several months I have been looking at ways to secure them to this 3 m x 2 m area. There certainly isn’t a standard way to do it so I’ve been exploring the unorthodox.
With less than a week before departure, I decided to drive to Canberra to one of the countries largest bike stores. On arriving at Pushys immediately asked, “Do you know a way to get four bikes on top of the camper trailer”? The shop attendant said he never heard anybody who had done this before. And then he asked this question “what is on top of the car”? As soon as he asked a question I realised what I had done. Some might call it Vertical Thinking, others might just say it’s jumping to conclusions.
In trying to work out a way to take my car, camper trailer, family and four bikes on holiday I had failed to explore the most obvious option. To put the bikes on top of the car – for which there are many excellent options on the market – and essentially leave the camper trailer empty. I feel there is a really valuable lesson here in anybody preparing for anything. Have you taken time to look at all the different options before you pick one to go with? The biggest barrier to this by far is the lack of time. Or certainly, that is my excuse in this instance. But as the famous Abraham Lincoln quotes read “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Friday 4th December 2020
Email to the team from David today:
Hello all, I hope everyone is enjoying their Fridays and has great plans for the weekend. I wanted to touch base because Condor Performance as an organisation hit an important milestone earlier today. As a collective we have now worked with 1000 Monthly Clients since we began delivering services this way. This is a massive achievement for the whole organisation and shows how far Condor Performance has come to establish itself as a major provider of sport and performance psychology services.
A milestone of this size does not get achieved without a skilled team delivering these services and promoting a positive image of Condor Performance as an organisation. So I want to thank each and every one of you because you all bring so much to the work we do and regardless if you’ve worked with a large or small percentage of these monthly clients your contributions are extremely valued. I am happy to say I work with this collective of amazing psychologists. To further reinforce how significant the team is I wanted to share below a couple of graphs that usually only Gareth and I get to see. The first graph in Green highlights the team batting average which has grown 5.09 this time last year to 5.67 at the beginning of the week. To have this kind of longevity and consistency with your clients during a year defined by a pandemic is amazing and worth a pat on the back for continuing to bring valued services to those individuals you work with. The graph in red highlights the strength in numbers of our team. We are at the point of our highest collective amount of active monthly clients and billable hours. At the beginning of December 2019 we had a total of 89 active monthly clients (110 billable hours) and as of Monday we had 150 active clients (187 billable hours). So again, we thank you all for the work you do with your clients and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve during 2021!
Tuesday 1st December 2020
This morning I drove down to the coast early for a one day meeting with David. These monthly meetings, which primarily act as a review of the month that has just ended, have become a mainstay of my work at Condor Performance and a key part of our success. One of the main topics for today’s meeting was how we motivate our amazing team of psychologists to give us a greater percentage of their working time. Due mainly to the monthly approach we use to sport psychology consulting delivering services for Condor Performance is a bit harder than most of the psychology jobs. The consequence of this is a lot of psychologists who give us between one and two days a week. This has provided enough opportunities for new clients up until this point but next year and beyond we’re going to need more of the team to increase their availability. The result of this discussion was a comprehensive eight page document entitled towards 2030.
Tuesday 23rd November 2020
One of my key roles at Condor Performance is to provide offical AHPRA supervision. By this I mean that some members of our team are currently in the process of doing the registrar program towards sport psychology endorsement. One of them, James Kneller, was lacking a few hours so we decided to put aside the better part of a day to catch up on some one on one supervision. Eight hours is a long time to be sitting in a room so I suggested to James that we do a “walk and talk”. So this morning we headed off on a 15 km circuit through Penrose State Forest. At one point due to the recent rains we came to a section that was flooded so we needed to improvise and build a temporary bridge out of fallen tree branches. I’m sure James thought that it was planned and part of the supervision but it wasn’t. See below the picture to prove it.
Monday 23rd November 2020
Did this quick video interview with Dave from BWA. Thought I’d add it here as both the questions and answers apply beyond hoops:
Thursday 19th November 2020
Recently I wrote a blog post about Perfectionism and have continued to think about it for a few days. In particular in relation to my garden! I am lucky to live on 5 acres of land. Furthermore I have decided to do all the maintenance myself. So weekly I probably spend between 5 and 10 hour on moving, clipping, weeding, hedging, pruning, digging etc. One reason I do this is that it’s impossible to perfect a garden of this size. I could, for example, spend 40 hours a week just on the weeding and there would still be weeds. I know what you’re thinking, why is a qualified sport psychologist spending so much time gardening? It’s a weekly reminder to focus on the process and let the results / outcomes take care of themselves. The funny thing is that I often get compliments about the state of our garden. I just see the weeds I missed, but am the only one. Are you like that? Do you only see the issues in your life / performance area?
Monday 16th November 2020
We have started to see the start of what we call December-itis. Basically this is when we get close to the end of the year and suddenly enquiries slow down and existing enquiries start to mention “in the New Year” a lot. Luckily a) we have had a very strong year and b) we expect it so we’re prepared.
Some exciting new. Two of the team are newly pregnant so 2021 will contain some joy and some challenges. Apart from myself, no Condor Performance psychologist has had a child whilst consulting for us. This is where the monthly options can be tricky as the sport psychologist / performance psychologist is basically ‘on call’ for the whole of the month in which a client has paid / is still active.
Tuesday 10th November 2020
Working from the glorious Wagga Wagga (New South Wales) this week. Why? My Mum has an apartment here so from time to time I will put in a massive work week free from the distractions of home. Maybe considered first world problems but juggling two children under the age of ten, five acres of land that grows as you watch it and the overseeing of all things Condor Performance can be a challenge. A week in Wagga allows me to focus on the latter with the added bonus of popping down to the river for one or two swims a day? I am sure many professions now enjoy this but the work of a sport psychologist in 2020 really is flexible.
Friday 6th November 2020
In case you are reading this years from now and need help with when this is being written. Here is something that might help. This was the week in which the United States voted to remove President Trump after one term. Some of you might not naturally see the link between political elections and competitive sport. But for me as a sport psychologist, it’s obvious. In both industries it’s all about the win. But it’s also about how you don’t win. What is hard to believe is how President Trump refused to concede defeat. You learn a lot about someone’s character when they don’t finish on top. In fact, I think I will expand on this topic via the next edition of the MTD. Speaking of which all recent editions can be seen via this link.
Thursday 29th October 2020
After every session all our sport psychologists and performance psychologists send a follow up email. From time to time I send one I feel it would be worth sharing. Below is one such email, with the name of the client removed from obvious reasons:
“This is a brief follow-up from our most recent session. We briefly spoke about the importance of you giving yourself credit for the slight increase in body weight due to following the processes of priority one. Despite the fact that body weight is only influenceable it is still a lot more influenceable than many of the statistics that players use to increase confidence. We turned our attention to Priority 2 and spent the majority of the session talking about the Accept and Act concept. This is a very powerful mental skill that is designed to show you that feelings and thoughts are different from actions. In knowing this and practising it on a regular basis you will be able to choose preferred actions irrespective of how you are feeling and thinking. The most obvious action that you can start working on immediately is positive body language (PBL). Please try and test this out in classroom situations and by making a few errors in practice on purpose.
Accept and Act: Accept the thoughts and emotions, choose the best ACTION
See below more on PBL:
Monday 26th October 2020
Such have been the volume of enquiries this year about our sport psychology services we have a couple of luxuries. First, we can basically ensure that each of our psychologists can work with the number of clients that want to. For some of the team this is less than ten. For other’s it’s either full time or on the way to full time. Due to the fact that only a few of the team want more and more clients proves that the consulting we do is hard, not for everyone. 2021 will be the year of ensuring the existing team want to slowly increase the amount of their working week is with Condor Performance.
On the weekend was both the AFL and NRL grand finals. I watched both. The Melbourne Storm won the latter and it certainly looked like one of the reasons was due to better mental conditioning. Their opponents, the Penrith Panther, seems overawed by the occasion. So I couldn’t help myself. Just did a search for the word ‘psychologist’ on their official website. Sure enough, nothing.
Monday 12th October 2020
Had to kill a snake on the weekend (was in my compost). Was very scared before, during and after but accepted these natural emotions and focussed on the action (swinging an axe). You’d be surprised what you can still DO when you’re s***ing yourself.
Decided to stay up and watch the Merseyside Derby on Saturday night. I can’t recall the last time I saw such as one sided game in terms of luck. Liverpool appeared to have a whole season’s worth of officiating 50 / 50s go against them. Their manager – normally one of the most mentally astute coaches – could not contain his frustration after the 2-2 draw. Watch for yourself in the below video of the post match press conference.
I find it useful to ponder what I would do if I were the club’s sport psychologist in this situation. My instinct would be to remind them that they don’t have much / influence on all of the aspects that went against them. I would remind them that you can and should feel what you feel but that feeling doesn’t mean acting. You can feel furious but still act (like an actor) calm. I feel this would have been more powerful. The world going nuts but the Liverpool players and manager appearing calm.
Tuesday 13th October 2020
Brother Ben pinged me this article overnight. It’s a great article about a great coach but Mr. Klopp is not a registered psychologist.
But it got me thinking about the correct and appropriate use of the term sport psychologist (or performance psychologist or just psychologist). Some people may not be aware that the term is protected. What this means is is against the law to use it without approval. There are pros and cons of this. The biggest benefit is it allows consumers to know very quickly that their psychologist has had to prove their abilities. This is not the case with unregulated, unprotected titles such as mental skills coach, performance coach etc. The challenge is educating the public about this very notion. We have improved in this regard over the last ten years but there is still huge amounts of awareness work to be done.
There are two disadvantages of the protected title ‘sport psychologist’. The first is the stigma of the word psychologist. I have written more about this in the past. The second con is that many of the rules of continued registration are created by psychologists that are very different to us. By different I mean their work and our work only vaguely overlap. I sometime liken us to different types of chef. Yes, a sushi chef and an Italian chef both produce food but the processes they use are very, very different. Getting a sushi chef to create some ravioli from scratch is like a asking many traditional psychologists to help athletes and coaches to help with mental aspects of sport only.
Friday 9th October 2020
Oops, bit of a break since my last entry. Why? Small break around New South Wales with the family. Yet another upside to Covid. We are all being forced to get to know our local areas more. Would I have visited places like Mudgee, Tamworth and Coffs Harbour it it weren’t for The Corona Virus?
My ability to switch off from work is still a work in progress. But I am better than I was. What certainly helps is being in a place different from where you normally work. There really is no substitute to waking up in a place you have never been before.
Back and work now and the main aim of the next few weeks is helping the 11th and probably final member of our team settle in. Charlotte is our first non Australian based sport psychologist having just got back to New Zealand. A former elite water polo player, clinical psychologists and in a time zone better suited to those in the USA – we are super existed to have her on board.
I never intentionally aimed for a team of eleven. But now that we have one I suppose it’s kind of cool given that this is the number of player on each team for some of the world’s most popular sports. Field Hockey, Football (American), Soccer and Cricket all have 11 players each.
Monday 14th September 2020
Dave is away this week so I will be handling all admin and incoming enquiries. Given how much we have grown over the last few year I am slightly nervous about my ability to handle them all. Due to the fact that we make ourselves available via phone for as long as required for those wanting to work with one of our sport psychologists then even 20 to 30 enquiries a week is tricky to manage.
I started watching the new behind the scenes documentary on Spurs last week. From a CPD point of view it’s gold, pure gold. To be able to see and hear how players interact with each other, coaches and admin staff at that level is priceless. One thing is for sure though, which I suspected anyway, is that the mental side is still not a speciality position at many of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s hard not to imagine how I would go about my work if I were the ‘in-house’ sport psychologist of a Premier League club. For a start, if I were at Tottenham Hotspurs I insist the players stop leaving their stuff lying around the place!
Weds 2nd September 2020
Another month done, another monthly meeting completed. As we try and always do David and I caught up in person yesterday to look back at the month that has just ended and plan for the one that has just started. Here is what the raw numbers look like as of the end of August 2020:
~ We have delivered 4400 months of sport psychology / mental training since moving to the monthly approach to consulting in 2010.
~ Together we have worked with a total of 925 performance clients over the last 10 years. Some of these clients are sporting organisations so although our sport psychologists / performance psychologists might assist dozen of individuals at a certain club or franchise this still only counts as a single client.
~ These 925 clients are 73% from the sporting world with the rest being non-sporting performers. The 675 sporting clients come from a total of 41 sports with golfers and soccer players still being the most common. Almost a quarter (154) of all our sporting clients from the past decade come from these two sport.
Monday 31st August 2020
Plans for my home office starting to come alone. This is the bad boy I have in mind. My time working from Moss Vale Working Spaces will likely wrap up this year as the need for face-to-face sessions has gone from low to zero in 2020. The real advantage of working from an office at the bottom of your garden is that I will be able to work in sprints. This is the concept of working with 100% concentration / conviction for about 2 hours and then taking a proper 30 – 45 min break. I have tried this at Moss Vale and it’s very hard and there is nothing much for me to do during the breaks. At home, I can do some gardening, pop up to the house for a proper meal, play with the kids etc.
Our fantastic admin assistant Emily has had to take a break from work for personal reasons. Initially, I was a touch disappointed. Maybe a little like a team sport athlete who loses a valued teammate due to injury. But then I realised how much stronger and more flexible Condor Performance as become over the last couple of years. In a nutshell, the fact that we have secured the services of such wonderful psychologists has allowed David and myself to do less client work. This basically means that between the two of us we can manage the extra admin workload created by Emily’s departure.
Friday 21st August 2020
More quality TV for anyone intersted in the mental side of performance, not just if you’re a sport psychologist. The World’s Toughest Race is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Hosted by my doppelgänger Bear Grylls. I binged on all 10 episodes over the last week. It helps to put some of the mental challenges faced by our clients into perspective. These athletes, and they really are athletes, are getting tested to their limits. Technically, mentally, physically and tactically to the extreme. The interviews with the teams are packed with mental toughness vernacular. Grit, perseverance, resilience, mental stamina and so much more. I was left pondering how many of the 66 teams might have engaged a sport psychologist or performance psychologist as part of their preparation. My guess, some but not enough.
Tuesday 18th August 2020
Big day, news. The interview that I did with Dan Abrahams a few weeks ago has just been published. Here is Dan’s blurb and below that the actual episode:
I’m excited to release a NEW episode of The Sport Psych Show. This week I speak with sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. Gareth spent his younger days in South Africa and credits this for his love of sport. He then moved to the UK and went on to undertake his psychology undergraduate at the University of Leeds after which he moved to Australia to complete his Masters in sport psychology at the University of Western Sydney. In 2005 Gareth set up Condor Performance, a (now) 10 strong team of Australian sport and performance psychologists. Condor Performance has grown to become the largest independent sport and performance psychology practice in Australia.
We speak about what the future of sport psychology might look like, specifically greater role clarity; stronger regulations in the field; cohesion between coaches and psychologists; the landscape of sport psychology across the world and hopes for the future.
Friday 14th August 2020
Something has been bothering me recently. What is the correct spelling of sport psychologist / psychology? So I did some research. The correct term is actually ‘sport psychologist’ using the non-plural version of the word ‘sport’.
One of the reasons why the term ‘sports psychologist’ (technically incorrect) gets used almost as much as the correct term ‘sport psychologist’ is due to two reasons. First, they sound exactly the same when you say them (try it). Secondly, from a logical point of view if the psychologist works across many sports (as opposed to just one – which most of us do) then it might make more sense to use the plural version of the word sport.
For more on this subject read this very informative blog post by Canadian sport psychologist Kate F. Hays where she correctly points out that the original correct spelling was actually without the s – so sport psychology and a sport psychologist.
Monday 17th August 2020
I have been thinking a lot recently about how many psychologists might be the ideal number for the Condor Performance team. The fact is, at this rate (of enquires) we could potentially have close to 50 performance and sport psychologist by the end of the decade. But just because we can, do that mean we should?
It reminds me of a story from many years ago, just after I moved to Australia. We took a trip to the Central Coast and arrived after dark on a Friday evening. We had not made dinner plans so as we were driving into The Entrance we spotted what looked like a Steak House. The restaurant was located in a huge otherwise empty lot. We parked and walked in and asked for a table for two. The maître d’ smiled back and told us that they were fully booked. He went on to ask if we wanted to make a booking for not another night but another month! Before leaving I asked why they didn’t expand. After all, they had plenty of room in the lot in which they were located to triple the seating area. The maître d’, who I suspect was also the owner, replied with a line that I will never forget. he said “because bigger often gets in the way of better my friend”. Some fifteen years later, Condor Performance faces the same dilemma. Never say never but my feeling is that he was correct. I can see how we can maintain (even improve) the quality of our sport psychology services up to a team of about 12. However, beyond this number it would be very hard. The quality of our work might be compromised. And nobody wants that.
Wednesday 5th August 2020
I have often said that one of the best ways to really learn more about the mental side of sport is through sporting biographies. No, no the ones where they write a book in their twenties just because they are famous. I am talking about in depth 500+ page books that athletes and coaches write after they have retired. Why is this important? Basically, you will only get the real truth when the writer is not worried about you steeling his or her secrets. I have a growing collection of such books and as my team know I try and lend them out and encourage them to read as many of possible. Some of the best, most insightful reads are those belonging to lesser known athletes. In due course I will use this page to not only list them but provide a rating system as well.
But more and more nowadays the infomation we consume is coming from non-books. Documentaries are getting better and better by the month and last night I stumbled across a cracker. The Fall is the amazing story of the ‘bits you never knew’ of the 1984 Olympics. More specifically, the women’s 3000 meters where Zola Budd and Mary Decker clashed both literally and figuratively. It’s a great reminder for sport psychologists or anyone involved in human improvement of the importance in seeing the person before the athletes. Zola, in particular, was seen as a product. A “thing” that could help others. In 1984 I was 8 year old and living in South Africa. So the name Zola Budd is very familiar to me. But I had no idea about the backstory. All I can recall was that Zola used to run without running shoes! Now that’s mental toughness.
Thursday 30th July 2020
Over the last couple of days there has been some friction between myself and one of the other psychologists on the team. There are certain company policies that we have at Condor Performance. Most of them are written in a document we call The Players Guide. This guide has evolved over the last ten years as a kind of expectation of behavioural standards. To follow everything to the letter is demanding, but it’s what we expect. At Condor Performance we expect excellence in the work our sport psychologists and performance psychologists are doing. Why? Mainly as they getting paid well to help others become excellence. In the past I would have handled the non compliance by this psychologist poorly. By threatening them with their job. This time I accepted it and we developed a plan for this psychologist to still be involved whilst not obsessing about some of the small stuff. This was made possible by the fact that he or she does appear to be doing a great job with their sporting clients. Advice to coaches / leaders: If someone is doing an above average job of their main work task the it makes sense to cut them a little slack in other less important areas.
Tuesday 28th July 2020
At Condor Performance we love a good milestone. We love it when our sporting clients reach certain milestones, especially the ones they were targeting. But we also enjoy and celebrate our own achievements. What could a sport psychologist or performance psychologist possibility celebrate as a consulting milestone? Well here at Condor Performance, plenty as a matter of fact. Most of our milestones are around the number of months that we have delivered as individuals and as a team. And today David reached a milestone that I think may never be surpassed. He started delivering his 2500th month. The below video explains more. Dave, you truely are an inspiration to yourself, your family, your clients and your colleagues. Well done.
Monday 27th July 2020
We spent the weekend with friends. I was reminded about the impact that the Corona Virus has had on job and job security. It made me reflect on how well we’ve navigate the pandemic from a business point of view. After all, working with a sport psychologist is not essential. Sure, to some athletes whereby we’re their main coach it might feel like we are, but we’re not. Not in the same way that a nurse is essential, for example. So the fact that we have more monthly clients than we did in Feb is a true credit to the Condor Performance business model and those who work for us. Well done team.
Monday 20th July 2020
Today we reached double figures in terms of the number of psychologists we have on our team. For the first time, our potential clients have a choice between ten outstanding psychologists. The latest is especially exciting. Krishneel is fluent in Hindi which opens up endless possibilities in terms of word in India. We are so proud of the diversity of the Condor Performance team. Our differences are what makes us stronger as a team. It allows our clients many more options compared with if we were all middle aged white guys. With Krishneel’s ran-on debut this week I feel we are only two psychologist short of our Dream Team. It’s a Dream Team that has been building for a decade now. For the final two places we’ll be looking ‘across the ditch’ to New Zealand. There are many reasons why we’d like our final two sport psychologists to be Kiwis. But the main one is to do with the fact that in New Zealand any psychologist can call themselves a sport psychologist. I should say that any psychologist who feels capable can use the term sport psychologist legally. Not, of course, the case here in Australia.
Monday 13th July 2020
A bit of a break between this and the last entry due to taking some time off. I will not go into too much detail about how I spent this time due to wanting this journal to be about working reflections but the time off involved a lot of mountain biking.
Back to work now and a massive week of sessions as all of my monthly clients kindly agreed to not have any sessions last week. This means a week or two of many more sport psychology consultations than normal. I am very proud of our monthly coaching approach but it does have one limitation. When the psychologists want to take considerable time off. This is why. Our clients pay for a whole month of our attention. So even though we might only have two of three sessions during the month we are available to answer their email, text questions. So if we are totally unavailable for more than a week then technically we’re not providing them what they have paid for. We get around this in a number of ways. First, as there are now ten psychologists consulting then new clients only start working with those who will not be taking leave in the coming few months. Second, we communicate with existing clients well in advance so they are not expecting sessions or replies to emails/texts during times we are away.
Thursday 2nd July 2020
Just finished an epic two day meeting with David. David is like no other psychologist/colleague I have even worked with before. In less than ten years he has evolved from provisionally registered psychologist to the engine room of Condor Performance.
Much of our recent success is down to his effort and excellence. The two day meeting we just had is basically a review of the last financial year and the plans for the next one. We have managed the challenges of the Corona Virus very well. Now it’s time to put pedal to the metal. Our mission statement reads:
The long-term objective of Condor Performance is to become and then remain one of the preferred providers of sport psychology / performance psychology / mental toughness services in the world. Both as a consequence and cause of this goal our aim is to create professional ‘nirvana’ for our staff – for them to be very well paid for something they love and are really good at.
You can follow our pursuit of this lofty aim here via this Reflective Work Journal of a Qualified Sport Psychologist.
Friday 26th June 2020
Today was all about my run-on debut on The Sport Psych Show. This is a podcast that I have come really admire over the last 12 months. Even the episodes that I don’t agree with are valuable. I had the idea to chat to Dan “on air” about what sport psychology might look like in 2050. In fact this very blog post was a kind of prep for it. And that’s how it turned out. I will not go into too much detail about the conversation as I don’t want to spoil it before you have had a chance to listen. But we did indeed predict what the landscape for a sport psychologist would look like 30 years from now. And we created a new word too. “Hope-o-thesis” which is like a hypothesis but with less evidence in which to make the educated guess. When the episode is published I shall add it here as well as a full transcription.
Thursday 25th June 2020
Today Liverpool Football Club won the most prized trophy in English football for the first time in 30 years. I know that as a sport psychologist I am not really supposed to support certain teams. Why not? Well on paper let’s say you support Team X. Then let’s imagine Team Z bring you in as their sport psychologist. Is the fact that you support Team X going to become a conflict of interest? Is it an issue even if you don’t believe it is? With this in mind I tend to hide the fact that I support certain sporting teams.
But today I will make an exception. I have supported LFC since I was about 11 or 12 year of age. When I moved to England in 1986 I was asked which team I supported? I didn’t have one so I asked ‘which team is the best’? At that time, Liverpool dominated everything. So they become my team. They won the league two more times with me as a new fan in 1988 and 1990. Before the morning, the time The Reds were crowned English Camps I was 13. I am now 43. The competition was called The Football League First Division, it’s now called The English Premier League. I lived in England, I now live in Australia. Sport was just my passion back in 1990, in 2020 it’s my passion and my vocation. And it add the cherry to the cake. It appears as is Liverpool have won the league by putting psychology first. Their manager, although not a qualified sport psychologist, certain carries himself as one.
With my interview tomorrow with Dan Abrahams on my mind I can’t help but ponder if this is a glimpse into the future. The mental aspects of sport and life drive all the other areas.
Monday 22nd June 2020
The Premier League is back? After a 3 month break due to Corona Virus we get to watch the rest of the season. So this morning I got up at 4am to watch the Liverpool vs Everton game. A draw, but one more points for the reds. Only 5 more (points) needed now. It’s looking very likely that it might come down to the Manchester City game next week. During the game, the first I have ever seen with no crowd, I reflected on the psychological impact of the crowd. Or in this case, the lack of one.
On paper, the crowd is not something you’d want to be too aware of. Let’s put it this way. If playing in an empty stadium is an issue then maybe your focus is a little too wide during games. In the heat of the sporting battle most of your attention most of the time wants to be narrow and external. Not soo narrow that you’re only looking at the ball all the time but narrow enough so you’re not too aware of what’s going on off the pitch.
In other news I was delighted to hear back from Dan Abrahams over the weekend that I will be joining him on hid podcast this Friday. I stumbled across Dan’s The Sport Psych Show during the summer (Bushfire Summer) and have binged on a couple of episodes a week ever since. I think this is glimpse into how we might learn in the future. There is just no comparison for me between listening to an applied sport psychologist talk about his / her experiences compared with reading about book by theoretical sport psychology (potentially written by someone with little / no actual experience working with performers). If Dan publishes the conversion I will link it above plus some additional reflections.
Friday 18th June 2020
Someone it’s the really simple stuff that makes us enjoy out work. Had this video made from a YouTube clip of a Condor sent to me by a past client. I will now use it as the intro to all our upcoming social media videos.
Oh, and heard back from Dan Abrahams about a possible date for me to be a guest on his podcast. Yippee!
Wednesday 17th June 2020
YET TO FINISH>>> Today we completed the paperwork for the first new registar that we are supervising towards the sport psychology endorsement. It was a chance to go through the competencies, some of which I agree with much is just not in line with my values as a sport psychologist. Below I have pasted them and highlighted in green the areas I disagree with (i.e. feel should not be included).
Competencies required for sport and exercise psychology endorsement
Sport and exercise psychologists use their knowledge of psychology to provide services to the community to enhance personal development and wellbeing from participation in sport and exercise.
Consumers of the services of sport and exercise psychologists include:
elite and professional athletes
coaches and sports managers
umpires and referees
personal trainers and exercisers
performance artists including dancers and musicians
community groups, and
individuals and organisations interested in optimal performance.
Specific services of sport andexercise psychologists include:
the assessment of obstacles to optimal performance and design of individual mental skill and concentration strategies
athlete counselling to overcome stress, anxiety and interpersonal conflict
the implementation of team selection and enhancement programs
and specific interventions to manage overtraining, injury rehabilitation and managing work-sport balance, transitions and retirement from elite levels.
In addition to the generic competencies demonstrated by all registered psychologists, sport and exercise psychologists must have the following specialist skills and possess the following specialist capabilities:
Knowledge of the discipline:
a broad understanding of sports administration and the roles of psychologists, including in professional and amateur sports, organisations and committees administering sport, government-supported institutes, commercial sports bodies and clubs, state and local government sports and exercise facilities and initiatives, and the fitness industry
understanding the role of psychological factors in sport and exercise, including mental skill development, concentration and mental preparation, motivation, emotion and cognition science applied to exercise participation and sporting excellence
knowledge of sports medicine and science, including exercise physiology, biomechanics, human kinetics, motor learning and control, nutrition and eating behaviour, and sports injuries
knowledge of evidence-based psychological techniques for assessment including standardised measures, interview methods and video analysis, and
knowledge of evidence-based psychological interventions applied to sport and exercise, including coaching, counselling, and group and team interventions
Ethical, legal and professional matters:
understanding ethical issues in various sport and exercise settings and how to appropriately manage them (for example, issues of working with minors, informed consent, managing confidentiality within teams), and
competence in communicating a sport and exercise psychologist’s ethical obligations to others (for example, coaches, teams, families)
Psychological assessment and measurement:
Competence in the use of survey, interviewing and structured questionnaire methods relevant to the psychology of sport and exercisecompetence in the use of assessments relevant to determining factors sometimes associated with participation in sport and exercise, including:
stress, including anxiety and depression
pain and injury profiles
eating and dietary issues
drug abuse or dependence
interpersonal conflict, and
competence in using multiple methods of evaluating sport and exercise psychology status, including video analysis, psycho-physiology, behavioural assessments, collateral reports, single case designs, group ratings, and measures of mental flow and mental control
individual approaches, including cognitive and behavioural interventions, including mental skills training coaching psychology, including for motivation and goal setting, and counselling, including for stress, interpersonal and lifestyle issues group approaches, including: team building techniques, including facilitating group cohesion, and coaching psychology, including for performance enhancement community approaches, including: education about the psychology of exercise advocacy for health and wellbeing, and social marketing promoting health and wellbeing from exercise and sport
research and evaluation:
Identification of psychological questions that arise from sport and exercise psychology practice and the design of appropriate research strategies communication of research methods and findings to non-psychologists in sports, health and community settings, and the transformation of research and evaluation findings into policy and program development
communication and interpersonal relationships:
Communicating psychological factors relevant to sport and exercise to:
community groups, and
provision of consultancy advice about psychological matters relevant to sport and exercise participation
communicating the obligations of a sport and exercise psychologist in various roles and settings (for example, to umpires, the media and press), and understanding the role of psychologists within the multi-disciplinary administration of sports and exercise, and to be able to demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills, both orally and in writing, within multi- disciplinary teams of coaches, physiotherapists, dieticians, exercise scientists, sports physicians and other health and exercise professionals
Working with people from diverse groups:
the ability to apply knowledge and understanding of how the practice of sport and exercise psychology is influenced by social, historical, professional and cultural contexts. This includes demonstrating the ability to competently and ethically practice with people who differ from the psychologist in ways including, but not limited to: differences in age, race, colour, culture, gender, geography, language, sexual orientation, educational attainment, and socio- economic status and religious-spiritual orientation. This includes sensitivity and knowledge of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Practice across the lifespan:
competence with clients in childhood, adolescence, adulthood and late adulthood, as relevant to the work of a sport and exercise psychologist in the context in which the psychologist is employed.
Monday 15th June 2020
I don’t normally work on the weekends but this past one was an exception. Fellow Australian based sport psychologist Kirsten Peterson organised a free, two day CPD event. (CPD stands for continued professional development and is a compulsory part of maintaining registration as a psychologist). On Saturday I set up the projector and large screen in my home office and watched interview after interview. Most of the speakers were Australian so although I didn’t know them all personally I had heard about the majority.
At the end of the Sunday, although exhausted, I was pleasantly surprised by what I has listen to. Naturally I disagreed with a number of the assertions made but I suspect this is both normal and health. One of the common points of disagreement was around whether humans can or can’t control their thoughts and emotions. As I explain in the Thoughts section of Metuf Online I am very confident that it’s better to refer to varying degree of influence. I avoid using the C work all together in my work now.
After the event I did draft an email to one of the speaker but decided not to sent it as it does appear to come down to what your definition of control is. I have always thought of control as being like “ensure” even “guarantee”. So when I say that people can’t control their emotions I am saying we can only influence then, we can’t guarantee them. Furthermore, control and no control are too simple, too black and white. The comeback from some might be that control doesn’t mean guarantee. As can be see via the various offical definitions of the verb to control here it does appear that control can mean influence a lot. So why, then does it sound much better in my head to simply use the word influence (none, little, lots, huge amount)?
Maybe control is where influence goes to the dark side. By this I mean maybe it is factually and semantically accurate to say that some people can control their actions for example. But it is in their best intersted to believe this or are they better of believing that they have a huge amount of influence?
I would be glad to hear from fellow sport psychologists on this very topic by using the comments section at the very bottom of this page.
Wednesday 10th June 2020
Two 60 minute supervision sessions with Harley and James today on the same topic. On the weekend there is going to be a free CPD event called “Thriving in Uncertainty: Insights from Elite Performance Psychologist”. The event is free and so due to the CPD requirement of their registrar program I suggested they both attend despite it occurring across the whole weekend. I say despite as I am a huge advocate for the importance of rest so part of me is not thrilled by the fact that they’ll have to sacrifice most of their weekend for this.
Due to the fact that we are now by far the largest private practice of sport psychologists and performance psychologists in Australia it feel wrong for us not be to included in these kinds of events. By just like in sports, we do most of our talking on the pitch. Our growth speaks for itself, for the people involved with Condor Performance.
I was tempted to suggest which speakers – half of whom I know – the guys should and should not listen to. In the end, we agreed we’d focus on messages not the messengers. We’d play the ball, not the man (or woman). More on this even after it’s taken place.
Tuesday 9th June 2020
Physically exhausted after the long weekend. We had some “sporty” friends come to stay for the whole weekend. So each day we did something active with the kids. One of these was playing a full length football match on the new pitch that I lay over the summer. I consider myself pretty fit for someone in their mid 40s. But jogging and swimming fitness is totally different from the start-stop requirements of football. I didn’t really notice during the match but this morning I could hardly walk. I desperately need the heated swimming pool in Moss Vale to reopen. The heated water seems to have almost magical benefits on niggles and stiffness. Alas, I suspect that indoor swimming pools will the amongst the last type of facility to reopen after the corona virus restrictions.
Speaking of the post Covid-19 era, all our business KPIs are up (better) in May than they were in April. Number of active monthly clients, which peaked in February at just over a hundred and then dropped back to 80 in March today got back to 100 again. We have been accused in the past of over measurement, of been too intersted in the stats. But I must say, by measuring most important aspects of your businesses (processes and outcomes) you remove the guesswork during uncertain times like these. Condor Performance and our collective goals will be largely unaffected by this pandemic. I know this because the numbers tell me so.
Wednesday 3rd June 2020
To say I have a lot of work balls in the air at the moment would be an understatement. Unlike most of the psychologists who work for us, who spend almost all of their time focusing on our sporting clients, I wear many other hats at Condor Performance. It’s only Wednesday and already this week I have had lengthy conversations with accountants, our partners and some potential partners. Both of the latter two had some encouraging signs related to the awareness of Fake Practitioners operating in the sport psychology space. I have always chosen to ignore what some people describe as charlatans. Why? I suppose it boils down to a preference for focusing on the positives of our sport psychologists and performance psychologists instead of being distracted by the “opposition”.
There are some early signs that those who are clearly charging for psychological advice but who have no formal qualification in this area might start getting a tap on the shoulder.
In the evening we continued to watch The Last Dance on Netflix. Documentaries like this one should be compulsory viewing a wannabe sport psychologist. Far too much of my training was theoretical. During the supervision that I currently provide, I am more likely to suggest something like a sports documentary than a textbook. The 10-part documentary series provides an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls‘ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98. The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow the team around for that entire season, and some of that never-before-seen footage is pure gold.
Tuesday 2nd June 2020
A new month, a whole bunch of new opportunities. I assume I am a little odd when it comes to my relationship with time. By this I mean I use and consider certain timeframes in a way very, very few people do. As my current and past sporting clients will know I have strong views on how best to use (think of) weeks, months and years.
Years are the best timeframe for long term goals. In psychobabble, these are called outcome goals and tend to be the type you might dream about. For example, you might have the aim of winning a certain number of matches in the upcoming season. These types of goals, which more recently I have been calling Preferences, can be useful especially if you’re low on motivation. Weeks are ideal to focus on effort and processes. What can I do this week to improve my sleep? And months are the ideal bridge between the two via some kind of progress checker. For example, you spent 20 hours during May trying to improve your focus. So on 1st June, you do some kind of concentration self-assessment. Handled in the right way, I feel all three of these ought to be essential ingredients in all individuals and teams looking to get the most out of themselves. Often when I am the consulting sport psychologist to pro sporting teams I am mainly making sure everyone is using the above. Then I leave and let them enjoy the fruits (outcomes) of their labour (effort/processes).
Thursday 28th May 2020
One of my favourite things to do during the Aussie winter is go for an ocean swim at the Beverley Whitfield ocean pool in Shellharbour (NSW). Until last week the pool has been closed to the Corona Virus. So I drove down the mountain with extra enthusiasm this morning knowing it was open just in time for winter. The car trip from Moss Vale is just over an hour so ideal to listen to a podcast or two. This morning I enjoyed Dan Abrahams’ conversation with Brendan Cropley via the 90th edition of The Sport Psych show. Wow, too many excellent topics for me to go through here. I was especially pleased to hear them talk about the benefits of a sport psychologist knowing the language of sport. The lads spoke about the pros and cons of having a sound understanding of the sports of your clients. From my point of view it’s 80% pros. It’s better to have it and not need it than want it and not have it.
I got back to Moss Vale at 10 am on the dot and due to my salty morning indulgence felt obliged to work without a break until dark. Normal for most people, but I normally prefer to work in sprints (see entry below). Over the last week, I have been vastly improving the format of the shared Google sheets file I use with all of my clients. I am not sure about how many of the other Condor Performance psychologists use this specific tech but for me it’s essential. The new format has passed the first two tests before I can role it out with all of our sporting clients. Test one is that it feels right to me. Test two is that is ticks many of the boxes suggested by recent research. The final test is to present it to the rest of the team and get their feedback. Only then will it be ready.
Monday 25th May 2020
Another packed Monday. Exactly 12 hours of high concentration, high intensity and highly varied work. Working in sprints really helps. Working in sprints basically involves doing about 2 hours of work and then taking a 30 minutes break between each of these sprints. The premise is simple. Human brains are not designed to focus fully hour after hour after hour. There is a very good reason why very, very few school or university classes are longer than 2 hours.
I also use a rough routine to make sure I have some idea about what I will be doing in each of these blocks. I try and keep my Monday morning blocks free from sessions with my monthly clients. This allows me to go through all their files and reminder myself how best to assist them as individuals. More or less in line with one of my favourite quotes of all time:
If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend eight sharpening my axe.”
I try to spend about 20 minutes at the start of each week “planning” for each of my sporting clients. I suppose I am lucky in that due to having the limited number of clients at any one time I can do this.
I also spent some of today researching professional bodies (unions) as due to the size of Condor Performance I am noticing a greater need for such a concept. A not-for-profit organisation designed to assist sport psychologists like me with the stuff we can’t do or don’t want to do but that needs to be done nonetheless. Of all the professional bodies the website of The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) looks the most promising so I send them as email – watch this space.
My early evening sessions went well. It’s great to see how much more comfortable clients are at having session via Zoom now. It’s hard not to reflect back to 2008 when we first starting using videoconferencing and it was considered “controversial”. This is one silver lining to the current Corona Virus.
Saturday 23rd May 2020
Sometimes the boundaries between personal and professional get blurred a little. This seems especially true for a sport psychologist. Such was the case this evening when we watched The Dawn Wall documentary. Are you kidding me? For those of you who have not seen it is an unbelievable story of perseverance. Free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.
The movie made me remember a couple of key truths about the work I do as a sport psychologist. First, some people have unbelievable amounts of organic mental toughness. Tommy and Kevin’s motivation and emotional intelligence appeared to be almost natural. A little like the hand-to-eye coordination of some young athletes. Secondly, it’s a reminder that although some athletes and coaches regard their sport as ‘the ultimate mental test’ is rarely is.
With all due respect to my many golfing clients and other golfers who feel like a 2 footer on the 18th to make a playoff is ‘real pressure’, watch The Dawn Wall and let me know if you still believe this. When the margin for error is so low and the consequences are so high (survival, not sliver medals) then it can put a different perspective on things. I am undecided if I will actually suggest to my sporting clients to watch The Dawn Wall or nor. But if I do, I shall be sure to include their feedback here.
Friday 22nd May 2020
I am starting this reflective journal in the middle of a global pandemic. So I thought it might be fitting to kick off with a little advice. Although these suggestions (below) are related to the Corona Virus they could easily be used for other mentally challenging situations. Note these are just instinctive suggestions of a qualified sport psychologist. No attempt has been made to cross-check the tips with the lastest sport psychology scientific literature.
The above is the first very entry of this Sport Psychologist Reflective Journal. Therefore there are no entries older than this one from Friday 22nd May 2020.
Emotional Intelligence. Can we control our emotions? Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole takes a deep dive into the topic of emotions.
Sport psychology and its big sister performance psychology are minefields when it comes to terminology. What I mean by this is that related terms gets thrown around often and easily. Some of these words are more common than others. For example, ‘mental toughness’ and ’emotional intelligence’ are used and misused more frequently than ‘team unity’ and ‘flow’.
Those of you who are familiar with Condor Performance (the psychologists) and Metuf (the model) will likely know that for a long time we have tried hard to define such terms. For example, for us mental toughness is an umbrella terms that pertains to the “Big Five” aspects of the mental side of sport / performance. In fact, the word Metuf is an acronym for motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus. And of course, mental toughness is not to be confused with the other ‘
But what about the “Big Five” terms themselves. When we use the words emotional intelligence for example are we all in agreement about exactly what we are talking about? Not in my experience, not even close. In fact, I find emotions and related discussions to be the most confusing, and risky, of all the sport psychology concepts.
Some Recent Examples
Let me use an example to explain. Recently on social media I saw a screenshot of a presentation that contained the words “controlling their emotions under pressure”. It was a bullet point next to the words composure, one of “six keys to being resilient” (according to the slide). I added this comment “It is not possible to control emotions, only influence them. It is psychologically dangerous to imply you can”. I will not go into detail about the back and forth that took place after this initial comment except to say this. It would be very useful if there was a censuses on how emotions work and what we mean by emotional intelligence.
With that I will give my professional opinion and expand on my “it is not possible to control emotions” comment. As an applied sport psychologist it’s not really my job to prove that the below is correct, or scientifically robust. Having said that, at Condor Performance, we do collect a huge amount of internal data as part of our mission to be constantly improving. Some academics might argue that because our data is not converted into scientific articles and then submitted for peer review that it is meaningless. I will save my counterargument to that assertion for another time / blog.
Our Guide to Emotional Intelligence
First and foremost we want to agree on what emotions are. They are feelings. Many of these feelings are enjoyable like joy and excitement. Many are not that fun such as fear, nerves and frustration. Then there is the feeling of not feeling anything at all – often called apathy. Some recent studies suggest there are 27 main emotions that most humans experience. This “feels” about right. Especially if you remove the ones that sounds like emotions but are actually thoughts (like worry, for example).
In browsing the list of these 27 emotions I have picked eight as very common for athletes, coaches and other performers:
With these in mind we turn our attention to the question what is your relationship (as a person) to these and other feelings? Is it useful to find the cause of your excitement (for example) so you can replicate it at will? Are strong feelings of anxiety and fear bad – to be stopped like some kind of emotional disease? Do we control our emotions or do they control us or neither of these?
This Is How I Explain It To My Clients
Emotions are just part of the human experience. Internal feelings are one of seven sources of information (stimulus) available to most of us most of the time. The others are sight, sounds, smell, thoughts, touch and taste. All of these groups of stimuli vary in terms of their pleasantness. For example, drinking fresh and sour milk activate different taste buds but both are taste sensations nonetheless. You can apply the same to all seven. We experience fear and excitement very differently but both are emotions, nothing more, nothing less.
The first and most important part of being emotionally intelligent is just becoming better at noticing and experiencing different emotions. Yes, both the pleasant and the unpleasant ones. There are many ways to go about this but there are a couple of rules to ensure it’s helping. Don’t try and change the emotion directly. Wether it be via mindfulness, meditation or moonwalking your task is to “increase your awareness of your feelings with decreased judgment”. I often like to do this by going through all the senses so that there is no real difference between the internal two and the external five. Here is a link to 16 minutes “Really Simple Mindfulness” audio recording we created recently in case you want a helping hand.
Technology – Friend or Foe?
You can certainly use one of the myriad of Apps as well (too many now to list) but remember this. Mindfulness, like exercise, shouldn’t cost you anything. You do not need a gym membership to improve your cardio fitness. You don’t need to pay for the Premium version of an App in order to do mindfulness. Even our “Really Simple Mindfulness” audio recording above is only really designed as ‘training wheels’ until you get the hang of it by yourself.
So becoming better at observing your emotions is the first part of emotional intelligence. But it’s not the only part.
The second part is about realising that although you can never control your emotions you can sometimes influence them. And that choosing to do this might assist with what you’re trying to do (achieve etc).
For example, you might decide that you would like to feel as calm as possible before competitions (exams, performances etc). In your attempt to influence this (NOT CONTROL) you might design a Pre Competition Routine that is full of tasks they YOU find relaxing. With practice (repetition) the likelihood of you feeling calm the hour before kick off or tee off will increase. But real emotional intelligence comes with knowing that there will never be a guarantee (synonym for control) that you will in fact feel calm and relaxed.
Don’t Try And Change Emotions Directly – Ever
And not even here you are not trying to change your emotions directly. If you relaxation tasks are actions (preferable) then you’re really influencing your preferred pre game actions and hoping they make you feel calm. This is very different from trying to calm yourself down.
How do we deal with this? We just notice these unexpected feelings alongside all the other sights, sounds and thoughts of the situation. Which if you’ve been doing this on a daily or weekly basis (see above) as part of your training will be child’s play.
For those of you who stumbled across this article in search of an applied definition of emotion intelligence then copy and paste this.
“Emotional intelligence is the ability observe and label your own human emotions and to know when and how to influence them”.
Gareth J. Mole, Sport Psychologist @ Condor Performance
Sporting comebacks are easier to understand when you look at the different areas that make up optimal sporting performances.
The Term ‘Comeback’ Is An Interesting One
What first comes to my mind when I think about ‘sporting comebacks’ is ‘coming back to what’? The Oxford Living Dictionary defines comeback as ‘a return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful’. Which of courses begs the question successful as defined by who and what?
What are some of the most memorable comebacks that you have been involved in as a coach or athlete? How about as a sports fan? Is it the size of the deficit that was overcome or the amount of surprise caused?
Last year, in 2019, we were treated to two of the most remarkable comebacks I can ever remember. But each earned the label epic comeback for very different reasons.
Tiger Wood’s Comeback Win at The 2019 US Masters
Apologies if you already know all of this. However, it’s important for the non-golf followers out there to be aware of the facts around this remarkable sporting victory.
Tiger dominated the international golf scene for just over a decade. It is easy to understand why many regard Tiger’s ‘hot’ years as having no equal in individual sports. Lance might have been a contender but we all know what happened to him! Roger had to share most of the spoils with Rafa and Novak.
Of Tiger’s fifteen major titles fourteen of them came between 1997 (winning his first US Masters) and 2008 (a third US Open). Fourteen majors in eleven years mean he was averaging more than one per year during his glory years.
The Decline …By His Standards
Only Tiger will really know what contributed to the slide in his form. He went from more than a Major a year to none for the following ten years. Theories-a-plenty suggests a combination of factors. Maybe ageing, injuries, improved opponents and non-golfing scandals or a combination? Between 2009 and 2018 his trophy cabinet did not continue to fill up at quite the same rate as per the previous decade.
The above graph is very telling in many ways. For me, the most meaningful takeaway is this notion of success as defined by who and what – as mentioned earlier. I work 1-on-1 with dozens of professional golfers who would love to have Tiger’s trophies from 2010 – 2018 where he managed “only” 9 tour victories (and no majors). In other words, like so much in sport psychology, comebacks are all relative.
Tiger’s win at Augusta in April 2019 will be regarded as a comeback because he used to win these events without even breaking a sweat. Then he didn’t for a while. This resulted in many of these lesser golfing achievements (top 5 and top 10 finishes for example) getting ignored, dismissed or underplayed. Let me say it again. Most pro golfers would give their left leg to have achieved what TW did during his “slump years”.
Sporting Success Is About So More Than Trophies and Medals
I advise my athletes and coaches to be mindful of not letting results (influenceable) play too big a role in what they regard as success. And if you must use sporting results collect a whole bunch of stats not just wins.
Our Metuf model suggests there are five major areas that all contribute to performance success. Physical, Technical, Mental (which includes emotional) and Tactical Preparation act as four ‘engines’ on a performance plane. The rest of the aircraft is like their health and wellbeing. To increase your chances of winning anything you’re better of focussing on there five areas. Sport psychology stalwart Dr Chris Shambrook says it best. “Focus on the input, and let the output take care of itself”.
Tiger is now known to have had a number of physical and personal challenges for most of the previous decade. Maybe these were enough to result in him “only” coming 2nd and 3rd in the hardest golf events in the world. But we will never really know (nor will he) because we can’t unbake the cake.
What Tiger had to endure from a physical point of view (injuries and surgeries) would have been enough to force most athletes into retirement. But most athletes don’t have the mindset (grit?) of Tiger Woods.
The nature of sport, especially at the pointy end, is that you just don’t have a chance to dominate if one of your four engines is not functioning properly. Of course, a much more common scenario across all sports are athletes who are physically fine (injury-free at least) but whose Mental Preparation and Toughness isn’t optimised. If this sounds like you please get in touch, we can help, it’s what we do.
The Rest of the Plane
The other major aspect of performance is ‘the rest of the plane’. We could refer to this as mental health and wellbeing. In my work as a sport psychologist I prefer to think about this from a solutions point of view. For example, sleep, nutrition, relationships, rest and purpose to name some of the most common.
It would certainly appear that these areas of Tiger’s life have improved significantly over the past year or so. I would suggest they may well have had an equal – or greater impact on Tiger’s comeback than his return to full fitness. But we will never really know (nor will he) because we can’t unbake the cake.
During the famous green jacket ceremony Tiger finishes it by saying ‘Yeah, I’m excited about show and tell at school’. This suggests how he is thinking about his family in the immediate aftermath of his most epic comeback ever.
Although there is still a lot of data missing proving the link between improved wellbeing and sporting results trust me the two are heavily linked.
Genuine sport psychology will only become mainstream when sporting decision makers realise that happy athletes win more – a lot more.
Another Epic Comeback in 2019
Some comebacks take much less time that the ten years it took Tiger to win another major. Some only take 45 minutes in fact.
Lets fast forward a few weeks and move from the greens of Augusta to the floodlit nights of Champions League football (soccer). The Champions League is Europe’s premier inter-club competition where the best teams from all the major leagues take part in a separate competition the following year.
Again, if you know how the Champions’ League work then skip this paragraph but it’s important to put all examples into context. The Champions’ League consists of first a round robin “pool” format (similar to FIFA World Cups) and then a second knock out stage. All the matches except for the final are played over two legs. This means that the scores from each pair or games get summed to decide the overall winner of the tie. In the event of deadlocks (even number of goals scores across the two games) the team who scores more goals ‘away’ from home will prevail.
In last year’s semi-finals Barcelona (of Spain) took on Liverpool FC (England) and Ajax (Holland) played Tottenham Hotspur (England). After the two first games, it was looking very unlikely that either of the English teams would advance to the final in Madrid. Barcelona took a 3-0 lead into the second leg meaning a single goal for the Catalans’s at Anfield would mean LFC would need to score 5 against arguably the best team in Europe! Ajax fans were forgiven for starting to think about a trip to the Spanish capital after their team beat Spurs 1-0 in London. So they would take a lead, an away goal and home field advantage into the decider.
Yet Despite All The Odds …
Yet despite all the odds both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur prevailed. Both the second leg matches were remarkable in their own way and worthy of the label comeback. But the Liverpool comeback would have to go down as one of the comebacks of the century. Especially given that it resulted in them going onto to lift the trophy a couple of weeks afterwards.
There are some lessons to be learnt here from the men who orchestrated these comebacks. For a start, both the managers (head coaches) of these two famous English team appear to take the mental side very seriously. The have created a ‘never give up’ attitude with their respective playing squads. I suspect that their comebacks are always less of a surprise to them than their fans.
In fact, Jurgen Klopp – the German coach of Liverpool – described his players during the press conference after their remarkable 4-0 comeback semi final win as ‘mentality giants’. This is a term I have not come across before but will be passing onto my coaching clients for sure.
How about you? Have you been involved in a sporting comeback? If you have add the details to the comments section below. Better still, describe your mindset before and during the comeback for others to read and benefit from.
Goal Setting is one of the best known of all mental skills – but we have come a very long way since the old days of S.M.A.R.T. goals.
This article was originally written in 2019 but has recently been updated. It now includes examples pertaining to the Corona Virus and associated challenges.
There are roughly 5000 separate searches for the term ‘goal setting’ every 24 hours around the world. This is the same number of searches for the term ‘sport psychology’. This suggests that athletes, coaches, students, bored teenagers and performers have heard of goal setting, want to do some but don’t really know how.
Before we help you out with this let’s remind ourselves of something important. It’s useful to seperate processes (methods) and their intended outcomes. In other areas of sports science, this is much easier. For example, in physical training one of the intended outcomes is cardio fitness. I assume you could list dozens of activities (processes) that would help improve cardio fitness. Moreover, you would never confuse skipping (for example) with the outcome of cardio fitness.
The Same Applies For Mental Training
The same framework can and should be applied to mental training but rarely is. Goal setting is the method. It’s a process but what are the intended areas we’re trying to influence when we do some goal setting? Furthermore, just like skipping which can be done well or poorly not all goal setting is the same. Most of the goal setting I have seen in the skipping equivalent of doing it once a year and hoping this will have a long last impact on cardio fitness.
Many sport psychologists will tell you that goal setting is all about improving motivation. But I would argue that it’s much broader than that. In fact, if done properly goal setting can become the entire foundation of your personal and sporting/performance endeavours.
Goal setting the Condor Performance way is really Goal getting. Setting long term outcome goals is actually rather easy. It’s the stuff required to get you there were the magic happens – so to speak.
Start With Your Preferences
The scientific literature refers to them as outcome goals, performance goals and process goals. It also suggests that ideally you’ll have all three types as part of your “goal setting” plan. I would agree.
Preferences are a much better label than outcome goals. The hard reality of elite competitive sport is that very few will actually achieve their long term goals. Preferences will soften the blow if you don’t make it without impacting on your motivation. Preferences want to be long term; between one and five years from now. They also want to be about both life and sport (performance). A simple 5 x 2 table of future preferences is ideal.
This is nothing revolutionary. The highly overrated S.M.A.R.T Goals might get you to the same place as the above exercise. One of the key aspects missing from many goal setting systems is the concept of influence. It’s essential that the person coming up with their long term preferences knows this. We only have some influence on these futuristic outcomes.
I am updating this blog in the midst of the 2020 Corona Virus and associated challenges. I will use it to prove my point from the above paragraph. Almost every sporting goal set at the start of 2020 will not happen. Is it your fault? Of course not, you only have some influence on these preferences.
When doing goal setting / getting with my clients I normally start with preferences. But not always. If I feel that for the individuals in front of me (on the screen) ending with preferences will be best then I do just that.
Progress – The Key To Effective Goal Setting
Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that you have started with your long term preferences. You have done your 5 x 2 table and have ten sporting and personal achievements clarified on paper. What next? The research calls them performance goals, we call them monthly checks.
Monthly Checks are typically performance aims and indicators that we have more influence on compared with our long terms preferences. Normally, we have a lot of influence on these key performance indicators. And here one of the secrets of many of the world’s best athletes. Due to having more influences on their KPIs compared with LTOGs they value the former more than the latter. Most competitive athletes do the opposite and wonder why they spend so much of their time frustrated.
Examples of monthly checks might be statistics from competitions. For example, maybe you’ll track ‘greens in regulation’ for all rounds of golf for the month of February and compare that with March. Or maybe you focus on training progress instead. Maybe you see if all that skipping is actually doing anything by repeating a heart rate recovery test at the start of each month.
Processes – How Champions Are Really Made
The final piece of the goal setting / getting puzzle is arguably the most important. What processes (activities) are best right now for you? By ‘right now’ I mean today and this week. There are two keys in doing this effectively. First, realise (know) that you have even more influence on your processes that you do on your progress and preferences. I would say ‘a huge amount’. You have a huge amount of influence on how to spend your time. Secondly, focus on what you can do. Good process planning doesn’t even consider what you can’t do not what you used to be able to do.
The current Corona Virus is a great example of this. Most athletes and coaches around the world are spending too much time thinking (talking) about what they can’t do right now. This common but unhealthy mental habit then makes it harder to think about the thousands of ways around challenges like lockdown.
If you’d like some professional help to set and then get some goals then get in touch. You can request a Call Back (form to the right on computers, below on smaller devices). Even better (as it gives us more background on you) is complete one of our questionnaires in which you can ask for info on our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.