Edition 74 (December 2018)

“You Can’t Unbake The Cake”

By Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

This month’s Mental Toughness Digest is another recent radio interview between Tim Webster of Maquarie Sports Radio and one of our sport psychologists – Gareth J. Mole. Audio on top, transcription below. Enjoy!

Narrator:                                Live on air and online at sportsradio.com.au. Weekend nights with Tim Webster.

Tim Webster:                       Now the psychology of sport and the man we love to talk to about all of this from Condor Performance, Gareth Mole, who joins me on the line. G’day mate.

Gareth Mole:                       Hi Tim.

Tim Webster:                       Look, very interesting article by one of your colleagues, Chris Pomfret, on post competition reviews. Now the subject this year of course, is Cricket Australia, you know how Cricket is. But in a general sense, post competition reviews would be commonplace, would they not?

Gareth Mole:                       They’re very commonplace Tim. And I would probably sum what I would say as they’re far more commonplace than they should be.

Tim Webster:                       Okay. So in other words, do we examine performance too much?

Gareth Mole:                       Absolutely. And it’s basically comes down to a bit of a flaw. And that is … I meant the intention of a post competition review is well intended. It’s to say look, we’ve just gone out there and we’ve tried our best or we just performed in the cricket match or in the golf tournament or whatever it is. And we want to improve. We want to find the areas we weren’t very good at and we want to improve. Now the fundamental flaw in the mindset Tim, is that the number of different things that go into a performance, particularly a team performance could run into the tens of thousands if you really break it down to what was that player thinking in that moment and how much time did that player spend practicing his kicking technique for example.

Gareth Mole:                       And so the idea of watching a cricket match back, or watching any sporting performance back is a little bit like eating a cake and trying to work out what was wrong with the cake by the actual cake. It’s just an impossible task.

Tim Webster:                       You can’t do it.

Gareth Mole:                       And in our experience, often when we just say to people, just focus all your energy into optimal preparation and just let the cookie crumble, it’s amazing how big an impact that often has.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah. Look as far as team sports are concerned, it’s all good in my view. And I know technology plays a very large part in all of this now. If you’ve lost a game, to have the Monday off and go and have a look at the video on Tuesday and the coach says well, have a look at that, that’s where we want wrong, that’s all good. But when I talk about over examining it, have we got into that realm now. And we’ll talk about Pat Howard and Cricket Australia in particular. Are we getting too precise with athletes?

Gareth Mole:                       I think so Tim. I think we spoke about it last time from memory, the idea that one of the underpinning factors of successful sporting performances is enjoyment. You know this element that we seem to have when we’re young and it can easily be eroded by the high performance system, where basically everybody in the high performance unit is really only results focused. And therefore you get this knock on effect with leads to examining every single thing. To the point of stupidity to be honest.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah and when you’re winning, you are going to having fun, aren’t you. And I wonder how often coaches actually say to players, hey listen above all else, just got out there and have fun because really Gareth, that’s what sports about.

Gareth Mole:                       Yeah. And the mentally astute ones, the ones who actually track the sports science into the psychology of the optimal performance. And there are some out there. Those are the ones that are quite likely to do it, because those are the ones who have seen case studies like Usain Bolt for example, during his obviously amazing athletic career, where he was intentionally injecting fun into what you would expect to be the most pressurised situations. And of course, seeing the results of that.

Gareth Mole:                       So I think if we were to have a look at the coaching landscape at the moment, you’ll find the number of coaches who are saying to their athletes, you know what, at the end of the day your primary objective is to enjoy yourself. I think they’re still in the minority. And I think the main reason for that is they incorrectly assume that that kind of advice is actually going to result in a decline in performance, in that people will clown around and sort of be larrikins, when it actual fact, it’s the total opposite. The “Relaxed Competition Mindset” is often the one that is necessary for you to play your best sport.

Tim Webster:                       What about a situation where, and god you hear this often, the team, the athlete are incredibly well prepared. They’re fit, they’re healthy, they’re feeling great. All of the tactics are in place. And it all falls apart and you get flogged. I mean as you say, there could be 10,000 reasons for that, and sitting around analysing forever, how much does that help?

Gareth Mole:                       Yeah, it doesn’t help at all. You’ll never be able to successfully unbake the cake. That’s the term that we use in my work. You can’t unbake the cake. Eat the piece of cake and go tell me about the quality of the eggs that went into that cake. It’s just impossible. You are completely correct. One of the things that is very common … and if we look at the basic pillars of sporting performance, there’s really four that underpin everything. So there’s the physical, so strength, fitness, flexibility. There’s the tactical, which is decision making. There’s the technical so literally how you hold a cricket bat. And there’s the mental.

Gareth Mole:                       So two of them are brain related and two of them are body related. And often what happens at the highest level is that athletes tend to very similar in three of those areas. They tend to physically, technically and tactically very similar, but it’s quite normal for some of the best athletes still to be mentally only average. And of course your example there is a classic, whereby the coach says you know we did everything in preparation. What they really mean by that Tim, is they did everything technically, physically and maybe tactically. They assumed the mentally side would take care of itself.

Gareth Mole:                       And the reason they got flogged is because their opposition took the mental preparation very seriously.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah right. Now Chris’s article is very interesting actually. And it’s worth a read. And it goes on to talk about and we hear these often. Commitment and concentration and confidence get that creativity, communication and then consistency. And the last one, culture. Now that’s where Cricket Australia has been highly criticised in that report. We can’t go through the whole thing. I think you’ve probably read all of it and I’ve read parts of it. The salient bits if you like. And everyone’s taking the fall. The chairman’s gone, the CEO’s gone, Mark Taylor’s resigned. Pat Howard was going to go, the high performance manager, and he’s gone early. And the guy that was involved in broadcasting.

Tim Webster:                       So it’s pretty much the lot. And I said on the air two or three weeks ago, that probably needs to happen because there’s something wrong with that culture. There has to be.

Gareth Mole:                       Yes it looks like that is the case. And what we don’t know is how much of those cultural issues where down to those individuals and their personalities, their preferences. And how much was it related to the bigger picture. The Argus review for example, which essentially said, it was a very much performance based review. In fact Pat Howard’s role was conceived via the Argus review. In other words, tied to the review, his particular role didn’t actually exist. So it’s a tricky one. There’s no doubt that his departure sounds like it’s a good thing. That’s what I’ve heard on the ground. But in terms of blaming, I’m not sure if it was him or whether he was simply going by the playbook that was created during the Argus review.

Gareth Mole:                       Which of course, if you remember, sort of happened when England successfully retained the Ashes over here.

Tim Webster:                       Yes that’s right. Yeah. Look we all know that you have to have a corporate entity running something like Cricket Australia, it’s very big business due to broadcast rights and player contracts, that sort of thing. But when you’ve got … bowling coaches, fitness coaches, batting coaches, do you need a high performance manager? I’m just wondering how Pat Howard would have dealt with somebody like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson in the ’70’s and tell them that they had to have an app and tell Pat what they were going to eat that night.

Gareth Mole:                       Yeah look, it’s a really good question Tim. I, for a long time, had a bit of an issue with the actual term high performance. I sometimes jokingly say where’s the low performance unit?

Tim Webster:                       You don’t want them.

Gareth Mole:                       In fact, jokes aside of course, as you’re talking about a conversation we had many months ago about how to invest in sport for … ironically there is an argument to say that that bowling coach who knows so much about how to make the ball reverse swing, maybe he should be spending his time not with the five best bowler’s in Australia, who probably already know more or less how to do that. But with 50,000 young cricketers, all around the country, who have absolutely no idea where to start when it comes to how to hold the ball appropriately to make it swerve in the air.

Gareth Mole:                       So the whole concept of high performance I think is one that probably wants to have a little bit of examination. To answer your question directly, does cricket or another sport need a high performance manager? Obviously my vote only counts as one, but I was in a boardroom and we we’re voting on this, I would be voting no, it’s completely unnecessary. What you just just said there, the coach by his or her very definition is kind of the high performance manager anyway.

Tim Webster:                       Of course, that’s right.

Gareth Mole:                       The performance manager. In fact, if you think about the English Premier League, the coaches there are not actually referred to as coaches, they call them managers.

Tim Webster:                       That’s right.

Gareth Mole:                       You know, so the manager of Manchester United, the manager of Liverpool. So I think if we’re talking about structural preferences to benefit Australian sport, I would certainly recommend that there be a lot more of the high performance decision making taken place through the coach and therefore, completely remove the idea of a high performance manager entirely. Or certainly change the nature of what they do, so that they’re not asking athletes to record the amount of carbohydrates they ate on the flight for example, which is what has happened.

Tim Webster:                       Yes, that’s exactly what’s happened. Look, I don’t how much time … and Pat Howard comes from a rugby background of course. I don’t how how much time he actually spent on the field with the cricketers or if it was done technically via an app. And I don’t want to just stick the boot to Pat Howard, because a lot of people have done that. I think there’s a lot more wrong with Cricket Australia than just him. But as a broad point, it just seems to me that all of these people taking a salary from Cricket Australia, and do we need all of them to get a high performance out of our cricketers?

Gareth Mole:                       Yeah I don’t think so. And maybe one of the causes is the fact the Cricket from a profitability perspective is one of the most successful sports in Australia. If you look at it from a business perspective, it’s profit, etc., is incredibly strong. And therefore, one of the knock on effects of that might be they have a lot more money to spend on stuff. And therefore, what they’ve ended up with is many too many chefs, simply because they can afford to pay for too many chefs. In many, many, many situations, because of the organic simplicity of sport, often the best policies are the simplest ones. And sometimes that means reducing stuff, simplifying their roles and just letting the guys got out and do what they love to do and do best.

Tim Webster:                       You know I’m going to come back to Brad Fidler and the success he had with the New South Wales state of origin site. Now there’s plenty of technicality around that. But you know, things like the captain’s run, when all they really do is go for a wander with the football in hand, and try to relax coming up to a big game. So my question to you is, on occasion, do we put too many things into an athlete’s head?

Gareth Mole:                       Absolutely. Absolutely, without a doubt, and I can say this with a lot of confidence, because it’s what I do six days a week, discussion with athletes and coaches about things like what are you doing in the 60 minutes or in the day before you go out and you play cricket or you go out and compete. And a big chunk of the work that me and my colleagues do at Condor Performance is about actually just reducing the amount of clutter that is in their mind. And sometimes that is difficult work Tim, because it means actually going against their official coach.

Gareth Mole:                       Sometimes we literally are required to say your coach is very well intended, but he or she doesn’t have any formal training in psychology and obviously we do, that’s what we do, and therefore, on this occasion, you’re just going to need to trust me that the best thing for you to do, and this is where Brad Fidler deserves a huge amount of credit, huge amount of credit, is just, on the day of a competition or the day before a competition, just relax. Do the same things you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re on holiday. If you like going for a coffee, great do that. If you like walking, going for a walk, do that. If you like listening to music, do that.

Gareth Mole:                       A lot of the things … a lot of the advice might be coming from very serious coaches or high performance type of personnel, may be in complete contrast to that.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah. Absolutely. Gareth, it’s always terrific to talk to you mate and thank you very much for you time again.

Gareth Mole:                       No worries Tim.

Tim Webster:                       Gareth Mole, sports psychologist and all of his stuff’s worth a read at Condor Performance.

Edition 73 (November 2018)

“Post Competition Reviews”

By Chris Pomfret (PSY0000966671)

This week I fielded an excellent question from one of our monthly clients regarding post-competition reviews. This person competes in an individual sport and had just finished a big weekend of racing… living the dream, essentially. A disappointing overall result was causing great frustration and they were second-guessing themselves as a racer and wondering exactly where all the hard work this season was actually leading them. They realised that this was in complete contrast to a competition only one week before, where a strong result prompted positive emotions and had them feeling optimistic about the rest of 2018 and beyond. Many of our discussions had been about taking a consistent approach before every competition, and their question was how they should approach the hours and days following a competition – win, lose, or draw.

The first thing we reflected on was enjoyment and ensuring that they did not lose sight of the things which drew them into the sport in the first place, the things that have kept them participating, and the things which they want to maintain in the long run. Given that it is a physically brutal sport they compete in, we distinguished between the fun elements (e.g. the things that elicit a big smile) and the deeper, more meaningful elements (e.g. the things that make them proud and challenge them).

Next we reflected on the nature of results themselves. No matter how easy or difficult, at the end of the day we can only influence results. That is, we can have an impact on the various outcomes in our chosen sport (a fast lap time, winning a heat, making a podium, being selected in a representative team) but we can never guarantee them. This isn’t to give ourselves an excuse for a disappointing performance or pretend that it doesn’t matter to us, but to bring our focus back to our weekly effort so that we can keep improving and ultimately shift results in our favour.

We then spoke about strategies for emotional release. As a reminder, emotions are neither good nor bad – they are just a primitive way of understanding our experiences. Of course I would rather feel happy instead of sad, but that doesn’t make happy ‘better’ than sad. The key thing is the intensity of the emotion and how we manage it. Most athletes do think about – and practice – regulating their emotions in the lead-up to a competition or when actually performing. Most athletes don’t consider how to handle intense emotions (desirable or unwanted) once they have finished competing. Whatever works for you in the lead-up to a competition is probably a good place to start in learning to handle yourself post-competition. As a general rule though, feelings are expressed through the body so often the quickest and easiest way to release that emotional ‘steam out of the kettle’ is by physical means such as deep breathing, movement, warm-downs, physical focus points such as stretching, or sensory stimulation such as showering. No matter the emotion you are experiencing, work on empowering yourself by releasing the emotion on your terms.

Next up, we discussed a specific framework for reviewing competitions from a mental perspective. We put aside important physical considerations such as fitness, strength and conditioning, training loads, flexibility, amount and quality of sleep the night before performing. We set aside non-sporting factors such as family, friendships, school, work, finances and life stressors. We put aside technical aspects of the performance (the biomechanics and tangible skill execution within races). We also set aside tactical considerations (decision making and bigger picture ‘smarts’ as an athlete) as these are issues constantly being reviewed with the coaching staff. This left us with the following categories, to which I posed the following questions:

  • Commitment:   how strong was your sense of desire to perform well in this particular competition? How much importance did you place on this weekend’s events? Looking back, what signs tell you that your heart was really in it? If we were to say this was just another set of races in a long career, why did you push yourself to do your best yet again? How are you rewarding yourself for putting in so much hard work? Can you put into words what makes weekends like this so special, especially when things do go to plan?
  • Concentration:   how well were you able to focus on what you wanted to focus on? What things captured your attention before, during and post-race? Were you aware of this happening? Have you practiced dealing with distractions? What are a few simple but relevant things you can turn your focus towards when next competing?
  • Confidence:   if confidence is know that you can do something before you try, where is the evidence (e.g. through practice and past competitions) that tells you what is possible? How well are you able to feel what you want to before and during races? What unwanted thoughts and emotions can you expose yourself to through practice so that you have faith in your ability to execute your skills by the time the next competition rolls around?
  • Creativity:   how flexible were you in your thinking? How well can you deal with the unexpected and think on your feet? How did you respond to the unpredictable?
  • Communication:   what messages were you sending yourself? What messages were you sending other people (verbally and non-verbally)? Were these deliberate? Have you practiced them and do you have a sense of how effective they are?
  • Consistency:   were your thought processes systematic, simple, clear and well rehearsed? Were you viewing external factors such as opponents, officials, weather conditions, equipment, facilities and spectators in a manner that suits you and your individual needs?
  • Culture:   how were you viewing your coaching staff, your support crew, your team members, and the wider group of athletes coming together? What was your sense of connection and belonging like? Are you feeling part of a broader community and does this need to be worked on in some way?

Finally, we took a moment to step back and view the competition from a big-picture perspective. As challenging as the weekend’s results were for this person, the competition represented just another step in a long journey towards a higher destination. Whether an outcome is considered a huge success or a major disappointment, there must be a means of learning from the experience and using it to drive further improvement. How, when and where this reflective practice occurs is up to you.

I’d love to hear some of your suggestions for post-competition reviews, so please email them through to chris@condorperformance.com and, as always, enjoy yourself.

Edition 72 (October 2018)

“Enjoyment and The Serious Business of Keeping It Fun”

By Chris Pomfret (PSY0000966671)

A common misconception regarding elite sport is that there is an inverse relationship between enjoyment and success. In other words, the higher up the ranks an athlete climbs, the more ‘serious’ things need to become in order to reach the pinnacle in their chosen sport. Or to put it another way, the pure joy a child experiences running / throwing / kicking / riding in their local park will eventually get lost as their passion becomes just a job. However, elite athletes are inevitably instructed to “just have some fun” or to “relax and enjoy yourself” during times of hardship or pressure or form slumps. You can imagine how confusing this must be for the athlete: one minute they are meant to be ‘all business’ and the next it’s ‘party time’. The implication here is that it should be easy to simply tap into the pleasure that (hopefully) caused them to pursue the sport in the first place. But how many top-level athletes – or athletes at any level, for that matter – practice the ‘fun factor’ along with all their physical training and technical skill development?

In terms of enjoyment as a concept, here are a few quick reflection points regardless of where you currently sit on your sporting journey:

Try to describe why you do what you do. What drew you in to it in the first place? What is keeping you there? Why do you want to continue? Why is it important for you to perform well?

Enjoyment involves fun (things that simply feel good and put a smile on your face) as well as deeper concepts like achievement, pride, satisfaction, growth and progress.

Usain Bolt was a great example of someone who enjoyed what he did. He worked incredibly hard so that when a competition came around he could have some fun, execute the skills he had been developing over many years, and celebrate his love of running. Enjoyment doesn’t mean we are always smiling and laughing, but we need to stay in touch with the things we love about our sport (or art or music or business or other performance area).

As with any concept in sport, quantification is essential. When we quantify something we put structures, values and measurements to it. If you can describe something you can start to understand it, which means you can start to improve it. Enjoyment is typically a vague concept and you could use the term ‘fun’ many times in conversation with your coach, for example, without actually talking about the same thing. Fun to one person could be fitness-related, while for someone else it’s beating people, while for another there’s a certain aspect of feeling a social connection, while for another they appreciate learning new technical skills. If we take Usain Bolt in his athletics career and imagine that we were his coach: how could we possibly make running more fun during times of hardship if we don’t even know what it is that he enjoys about running? It’s the same idea with other key concepts like ‘worry’, ‘stress’, ‘focus’, ‘fitness’, ‘tactics’, ‘pressure’… the list goes on. If you can put names / numbers / amounts / categories to something, you can improve it.

Regardless of your age or skill level, one relatively simple means of quantifying your experiences is to break things down into the following domains:

  • Mind, which includes thoughts (the words and pictures in my head), attitudes (the general ways I am looking at things), and beliefs (how I view myself, others, the future, and the world).
  • Feelings (your emotional energy and how intense it is).
  • Body (the messages you are receiving physically from head to toe).
  • 5 senses (what your attention is drawn towards in the areas of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste).
  • Actions (what you are doing, what you’ve stopped doing, things you are speeding up or slowing down, doing more of or less of etc.).\

Because enjoyment is a personal experience there are no universal rules to reignite your passion for the game. In a practical sense, however, you might benefit from any of the following:

  1. Rewarding yourself with fun non-sporting activities before and after training / practice.
  2. Creating small windows of pleasure and light-heartedness during practices (e.g. arriving early to mess around with team mates, or getting pumped up during certain segments of training such as racing people in fitness drills).
  3. Indulging yourself in relaxing or fun or special non-sporting activities on the morning of competitions to take your mind away from the event as much as possible.
  4. Emphasising interactions and activities with your teammates or peers after competitions to enhance a sense of community.
  5. Occasionally overlooking any objectives / targets you set for yourself within competitions (e.g. if you have any key performance indicators) and focusing on the thrill of movement and skill execution.
  6. Looking over your season schedule and breaking it into chunks with challenging objectives for each competition. Any tangible evidence of improvement can be celebrated as a reward for your dedication and passion.
  7. Glance at your weekly schedule and check that you have enough balance between sporting and non-sporting activities. It’s particularly important that you emphasise the ‘Lifestyle Choices’ pillar of performance (see previous Mental Toughness Digest editions on breaking performance down via the Metuf mental method ‘Simplifying It’). This can include areas in your life such as sleep, family, friendships, hobbies, leisure time, stress management and so on.

Enjoyment – and in particular a sense of fun – may not be as easily defined as other core components of performance such as physical capabilities, technical consistency or tactical wisdom. However, if you are able to conceptualise what you love about your chosen sport and take steps to improve upon this you will give yourself every chance of climbing towards the top and staying there. We would love to hear more about your own personal experiences with enhancing the fun factor and welcome your feedback via info@condorpeformance.com

Edition 71 (Sept 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

“The Rage Response”

With Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

This edition of the Mental Toughness Digest comes to you by way of a recorded radio interview between Tim Webster of Maquarie Sports Radio (Australia) and one of our senior sport psychologists – Gareth J. Mole who discuss the fine line between violence and aggression in sport. A transcript of the interview is in the works and will be added below in due course.

Edition 70 (August 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

Reflections on The Fifa World Cup”

With Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

The FIFA football (soccer) World Cup that recently wrapped up in Russia is arguably the biggest sporting tournament of them all and with that comes a unique opportunity to look at some of the psychological aspects that are associated with such a high profile, pressurised competition. In this edition of the Mental Toughness Digest we’ll focus mainly on how the knock out games are decided when the competing teams are deadlocked as well as a suggestion on how they could be determined without the need for the infamous penalty shoot out.

In the next edition (due out 1st September) we’ll turn our attention to the mental side of officiating after refereeing performances at Russia 2018 varied as much, if not more, than that of the teams.

Of the 16 sudden death matches at the recently concluded World Cup a quarter had to be decided by a penalty shoot out. For those of you who either don’t follow soccer or don’t follow the Fifa World Cup the penalty shoot out comes at the end of 120 minutes of play (90 minutes of normal time and 30 of extra time) when neither of the competing teams is winning. Teams take turns to kick from the penalty spot until each has taken five kicks. However, if one side has scored more successful kicks than the other could possibly reach with all of its remaining attempt, the shoot-out immediately ends regardless of the number of kicks remaining. If at the end of these five rounds the teams have scored an equal number of successful goals, additional rounds of one kick each will be used until the tie is broken hence the term “sudden death” (don’t get me started on what needs to be done to prepare players mentally during a sporting moment that contains the word “death”).

The first thing to mention about shoot outs is the fact that they’re not really a test of footballing abilities and therefore assuming that good footballers make good penalty takers would be a mistake. In many ways, particularly for the penalty taker (rather than the goalkeepers) it’s more like golf or shooting than soccer in that the ball is still, the target is known and there are no teammates to help you out. Mentally astute athletes of other target based individuals sports (such as golf) use action-orientated pre shot (attempt) routines to help them “stick to the process” and it was no surprise to see that the teams who had been / were working with qualified sport / performance psychologists seemed to use routines more effectively during these deciders.

Plug Alert: If you’re an athlete of a sport that has some “closed skills” (actions are self-paced that take place in a stable, predictable environment and the performer knows what to do and when – common examples are penalty shots in soccer / all golf shots) and you don’t currently use routines before you attempt these closed skills then you might like to get in touch with our new Head of Admin Claudia at claudia@condorperformance.com to ask about how one of our team of sport / performance psychologists can help you develop some.

Given that the penalty shoot out is not really a true test of footballing qualities in the purest sense then one does have to ask the question about why it’s used to decide the winner of some of the most important soccer matches ever played (the 1994 Fifa World Cup final was decided by one).

When I was about fourteen I had an idea on how these deadlocks might better be decided and so I wrote to FIFA with the suggestion. Below, I have pasted this submission for your interest. They did reply saying it was dangerous for the players which to this day I don’t buy for a minute. I think the real reason is that the decisions makers like the “spectacle” of the shoot out and the interest they get which for them is ultimately more important than “fairness”. I would love to know your thoughts via the comment sections below.

“The Eliminator System” 

At the end of 90 minutes of a knock out football match, if the teams have scored an equal number of goals, the coach of each team must remove three of his / her players so that the first part of extra time is eight vs eight (or in the event of any red cards during normal time the number of players that were playing at 90 minutes less three players). This reduction in players will dramatically open up space on the pitch and increase the chances of goals being scored. After 15 minutes of extra time, if one team is ahead in the goals tally they are the winner. However, if the teams as still deadlocks at 105 minutes then a short break takes place (5 minutes) whereby the coach removes a further three players each and another 15 minutes is now played. Again, the winner is the team with the most goals scored at 120 minutes. In the unlikely event that both teams have scored an equal number of goals after this second period of extra time then instead of going to penalties the coach removes 3 more players meaning (if no red cards) 2 vs 2 for the final 15 minutes – after which golden goal (first team to score) takes places.

One of the appeals of this system is increasing the role of the coach in that he’ll need to be Tactically Wise to remove the right players in the right order. The other bonus of this system is that it will provide a huge advantage to “fair play” teams who end the match without having had anyone sent off. In 11 vs 11 soccer being reduced to 10 players as a result of a sending off is a disadvantage but we’ve seen many examples of teams rallying in these situations. But 8 vs 7 or 5 vs 4 or even 2 vs 1 is a different kettle of fish.

Edition 69 (July 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

The Problem with Privilege”

With Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

Although I am delighted to see that the readers of the Mental Toughness Digest now comes from 27 countries around the world the vast majority of you are from wealthy, developed nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and The United Kingdom.

I suspect you have probably never considered there to be any downside in living somewhere that is prosperous and highly developed. Well from a Mental Toughness point of view, there is.

The problem with privilege, especially in younger athletes, is there is much less “organic” mental conditioning taking place compared with their counterparts from less developed nations. By organic – I mean the natural way in which a place will produce challenges that basically force those from that location to “find a way” to overcome them.

One of the best examples of this has to be fact that most of the top long distance runners over the past fifty years have come from Central or Northern Africa. The simple theory is that many of the young school kids from Kenya and Ethiopia (for example) had to travel long distances to and from school without any form of transport so started running there and back from a young age. Obviously there are tremendous physical benefits to this but what about the psychological gains due to doing something so hard from such a young age. All of a sudden, a 5000 meter Olympics final isn’t that big a deal – just another 5 km stretch to be completed as fast as possible.

At Condor Performance one of the ways in which we try to overcome this is by the introduction of what we call Mentally Harder Practice (or “Influencing It” to give it it’s offical Metuf label). If done correctly this mental method can be just as effective – potentially more so – at boosting mental aspects of performance than the organic equivalents that occur more frequently in certain harsh / harder environments. 

Mentally Harder Practice (MHP) is basically about doing anything during training that makes that practice session psychologically more challenging. I empathise mentally harder as it’s easy to incorrectly assume that physically harder means mentally harder. I recall once asking a high profile Rugby League coach what he did to make practice mental harder and he replied “to make the guys run up sand dunes in 35 degree heat”. I later asked his players about these sand dunes and more than half said they loved them. If you love it, it’s not mentally harder. In other words MHP is basically manipulating your daily training environment to be less comfortable and this is where individual differences really come into play. 

For example, one easy way to do this might be by playing with the thermostat so that in hot places, instead of cooling down the training facility either do nothing or heat it up. Or, for our Kiwi and Canadian readers in particular, when it’s freezing cold just let it be that way or cool it down even more!

There are three huge benefits to this type of mental training and I will use the above temperature example to explain. First, it varies training and we know the fastest way to demotivate an athlete is by having the same kind of training week after week. Second, if during an actual competition it was to become much hotter or colder than expected – this mental method will lessen the impact. Finally, it will require a greater level of concentration along the lines of you’ll need to work harder not to let the “oh boy it’s cold/hot” derail your processes. 

A double word of warning before you get too excited and ask your coach to start throwing rotten eggs at you during your next training session. First, make sure that none of your MHP ideas put you in physical danger and / or increase the risk of injury. Using the example above of practicing in the cold on purpose it would be essential to properly warm up your body before such a training session. Second, make sure your ideas don’t put you in psychological danger either. By psychological danger I mean creating an environment that is so hard it actual causes some kind of long term mental scarring to take place. The safest way to do this is by only adding small mental demands to training – a bit like increasing the overall weight of a dumbbell by a kilogram or two in certain physical training exercises to reduce the risk of tearing a muscle.

If in doubt about how to find the mental “sweet spot” (just testing enough to make it mentally harder but not so hard to risk issues) then please contact us via info@condorperformance.com and ask for details about our 1-on-1 sport psychology / mental training services – making sure to let us know which country you’re from so we can email you rates in your own currency.

Edition 68 (June 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

Radio Interview”

With Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

Recently one of our senior performance psychologists, Gareth, had a chat with Tim Webster from Macquarie Sports Radio (Australia). Below is both the actual recording of the interview and below that the transcript and below that … space to write your comments, thoughts and questions. Enjoy!

Tim Webster: All right, let’s talk a bit of psychology. They do say sometimes that sport can be 80% in your head and 20% ability – or is it the other way around? Well let’s find out. When you hear that our sports people turn to sports psychologists for help and you wonder how prevalent that is. Well let’s find out I’ve got Gareth Mole from Condor Performance Sports and Performance Psychology on the line. G’Day Gareth!

Gareth J. Mole: Hey Tim!  How are you doing?

Tim Webster: Good, how often do sports people turn to you?

Gareth J. Mole: Not as often as you would think, Tim. I suppose the peculiarity of our profession is that most people are completely aware that the mental side plays a massive role. The old cliché that golfers seem to use is that their sport is 90 percent mental. And yet for some reason it doesn’t transfer into a massive percentage of athletes and coaches using our services to the degree where you would think based on what we specialise in.

Tim Webster: Yeah interesting you should mention that because I actually asked Greg Norman that question some years ago. He didn’t say 90% but he said 80. He said we can all play on the tour, we can all shoot rounds of golf under par, and then it becomes the mental side of it and you see golfers, don’t you? Often, and they seem to implode and that has to be it, it can’t just be the ability to play the game. It has to be mental.

Gareth J. Mole: Yes Absolutely.  My response to Greg’s 80 percent would be two things one, as athletes improve the mental side becomes more dominant. The fact is that with an eight-year-old playing golf with his buddies it is predominantly technical. The guy who can chip the best is probably going to do the best. It is very technical at that level but what happens (and there’s a growing amount of research for this) is that as athletes improve everybody becomes good at the technical. I mean let’s be honest and look at tennis as an example. If we look at the top 100 tennis players in the world technically they’re all very, very good. Physically (that means fitness strength, cardio fitness and flexibility) they’re all very, very good. So therefore what’s making the Roger Federers of  this world consistently better than the guys ranked 100 or 500 given that  physically and technically he’s not that much better than them. It really boils down to what’s left and of course what’s left is the  mental side. A good way of adding a little bit of detail to that 90 or 80  percent mental debate is; golf becomes 80 to 90 percent mental when you get to the point where you can’t really improve  your back swing or your fitness and therefore the remaining improvement needs to come in things like concentration, confidence, motivation and the like.

Tim Webster: There’s so many examples to use. Currently Novak Djokovic is in a real bad patch with his form, and he was the dominant player in the game for many years along with Rafa and Roger of course and he’s only 30 and Roger is significantly older than him. Rafa is about the same age now he’s coming back from an elbow injury. But you’d think he wouldn’t be playing if the injury were still plaguing him physically so then is it plaguing him mentally?

Gareth J. Mole: The interesting thing about Novak is of course a couple of things happened. He got married and that massively improved his performance for a patch. There’s a reason for that, which essentially is based on the distribution of pressure. If you’ve got a successful home life then suddenly getting knocked out in a semi-final of a Grand Slam isn’t the tragedy that you thought it was compared with if you were unhealthily obsessed as a single person. Then of course the injuries, the changing of the coaches is quite an interesting thing to observe from afar. At that level the fascinating  thing about the coach-athlete relationship at the highest level is the  likes of Boris  Becker or Stefan Edberg are not telling the likes of  Djokovic how to hit backhand.

Tim Webster: No, no.

Gareth J. Mole: They must be predominantly coaching the mental side and the fascinating thing from our perspective is – is being a former player a sufficient qualification to dispense psychological advice?

Tim Webster: Good question….

Gareth J. Mole: My gut instinct is no it’s not. With all due respect to somebody who’s won five or six Grand Slams as Boris Becker may have. What mental strategies that have been recommended by the scientific research (which of course is what we use to make sure that there’s no guesswork involved in our work) is being used? What I think is going to happen over the next five to ten years – and we’re only just starting to see it – I think you’ll start seeing a much greater percentage of coaches consulting with sports psychologist. We started to see a shift in the last couple of years and the theory behind that is you don’t want to send an ex-athlete off to university for seven years to get a psychology degree because by the time they’ve finished everyone would have forgotten about them. And you probably don’t want to force a psychology student to play 200 games in the NRL either.

Tim Webster: Understood.

Gareth J. Mole: So, the ideal combination is where you get the people who really know their stuff in this area (which of course is us) and you put them with a coach and the combination of our knowledge with their experience in sport should be pretty useful when it comes to them coaching athletes at the highest level.

Tim Webster: Yeah look there’s so many examples currently to use  but I’ll tell you one that worries me and tell me if I’m being worried  unnecessarily. Young rugby league players and there’s probably a few  we could nominate, Jackson Hastings for example, who’s had all sorts of dramas at Manly. Now the kid is only 21 and the pressure that the game places on him mentally worries me.  Should I be worried about that?

Gareth J. Mole: Look it’s a good question. The short answer is no. This is a question that we’re constantly weighing up (me and my colleagues) regarding the overlap of mental health and what we call “mental toughness”. Going back to my initial comment about sports psychologist being used less than you would think. My feeling is one of the major contributing factors to why that is, is the confusion between mental health and mental toughness and a very simple way of separating them is mental health is serious stuff such as depression, anxiety and stress (which anybody could be suffering with). It’s a real issue and it shouldn’t be taken lightly and me and my four colleagues at Condor Performance are a tad controversial in that we personally believe that sports psychologists probably shouldn’t be helping rugby league players with clinical depression given that there are fifteen or sixteen thousand clinical psychologists in Australia.

Tim Webster: To deal with that.

Gareth J. Mole: Who are very experienced at dealing with that and therefore we believe that mental health should be taken very seriously but shouldn’t be confused with mental toughness. Mental toughness is like the technical side and the physical side and would apply to all athletes of all levels. We’re talking about basic concepts such as concentration. Can someone who’s concentration is pretty good be improved to become excellent so that it’s almost infallible. 

Tim Webster: So, when athletes come to you, what’s the main thing that they want to improve? Performance?

Gareth J. Mole: Yes, it’s a whole bunch of words which start with the letter C. When people first contact us they fill in a mental toughness questionnaire. It’s a self-report measure. It’s just one of the other weaknesses of psychology unlike a fitness test which you can’t fake it, so you can’t fake a beep test. You can totally fake a psychological test because you can give answers based on what your dad wants to hear for example. Our self-report measure generates a whole bunch of scores and scores relate to areas that we regard as critical for performance and are entirely mentally related such as concentration confidence, commitment, creativity, communication. The term mental toughness is actually a little bit broad because it’s quite possible for someone to contact us whose commitment level is excellent, but their confidence is way down.

Tim Webster: yeah yeah…

Gareth J. Mole: And one of the reasons why we insist on working with almost everybody one on one whether they be a team sport  athlete or an individual athlete is because of the fact that everybody’s  mental profile is different and therefore the solutions are different too.

Tim Webster: I could talk to you for a long time but let’s just finish with this. Jason Day has recently said he’d love to be the world number one again but he had all of these things going on in his life.  Golfers are going to concentrate, there’s that C word again, over four days in a major championship surely that requires a lot of mental toughness, focus, what?

Gareth J. Mole: Yeah, Test cricket and golf require amongst the most amounts of concentartion because they go for so long …

Tim Webster: Hours and hours.

Gareth J. Mole: Yeah, the way we do it very simple, and if there’s any cricketers or golfers listening there’s they can implement this. During a four-hour round of golf you only really want to be concentrating for about seven or eight minutes. So, the majority of the time during a round of golf (and this applies to Test cricket as well) is not spent playing cricket or golf. Think about it. You hit a tee shot.

Tim Webster: And then have you walk.

Gareth J. Mole: So, the huge mistake made by most of those “start-stop athletes” is they try to concentrate from beginning to end unaware that human beings just aren’t capable of maximum concentration for longer than about an hour. Most of us will peak at about 45 minutes. One of the simplest mental strategies for this is the use of routines, pre-shot routines, whereby you only start your concentration about 10 seconds before each attempt and you are intentionally switching off about five to 10 seconds after each attempt.

Tim Webster: I’m with you. You’ll see Jason Day do that the pre-shot routine where he does that little flutter with his eyes and it’s exactly the same thing every time and then you’ll often see him laughing and smiling with his caddy or his playing partner whereas Tiger Woods on the other hand looks like he’s focused and zoned in all of the time is he?

Gareth J. Mole: My feeling is that Tiger wouldn’t have been able to achieve what he achieved at his peak if he wasn’t using some pretty effective switch on / switch off strategies like I’ve just mentioned. 

Tim Webster: The whole subject fascinates me. Thanks Gareth, thank you very much.

Gareth J. Mole: Thanks Tim.

Tim Webster: That’s Gareth Mole from Condor Performance.

Edition 67 (May 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

The Next C is for Culture”

By David Barracosa (PSY0001733584)

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read the previous edition of the Mental Toughness Digest would have been introduced to the story of Thomas, the young fisherman. The interesting part of Thomas’ story from a Mental Toughness perspective was that despite him not catching any fish for 14 days straight he maintained a motivation for the sport due to his focus on and enjoyment of the process. Reading this got me thinking about how this story of an individual would relate on a bigger scale to either a sporting team/organisation or even for an individual sports athlete training within their camp. It’s my belief this is where one of the biggest buzzwords in sport at the moment comes into discussion – culture.

The idea of culture has been spoken about extensively recently due to the ball tampering saga that came over the Australian Cricket Team during their recent tour of South Africa. After the dust had settled and the individuals who were responsible for the act were handed down their punishments, a lot of questions were still being asked about how a group of highly regarded / paid professional athletes could have ended up in a predicament such as this? What was going through their minds and through the locker room that lead them to making such a decision? The talk switched from individual motivations to team culture and the importance of this mental element within the fabric of sport was, and potentially still is, being debated in social and professional sporting circles. Before I go on I wish to acknowledge that not every Australian cricketer was involved in the act of ball tampering and their names should not be smeared as a result. However, every Australian cricket player, coach, official and any other support staff has a role within and a responsibility to the culture within the team.

Culture is the collective mentality and values of a particular organisation and group of people. It is something that can be inherited from those who were previously members of said organisation but can also be quite fluid as some individuals depart and new individuals join. The right culture should never be “assumed”. A culture of sorts will always exist when a group of people come together and form a team whether they’re active in creating it in their preferred way or by letting it happen naturally. I’m of the opinion that it is something that should be named openly among everyone and worked on actively so each individual associated with the organisation can have a sense of ownership and pride over what they have created. Not only this but a strong and positive sense of culture also gives the organisation an identity; provides a guiding light to the individuals that can both be used as a motivator as well as creating a sense of accountability for everyone’s individual actions; can promote the wellbeing of an individual as they can feel accepted and belong; and, maybe the biggest thing of all, gives everyone the chance to develop a strong sense of each of Other Cs of Mental Toughness (Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency).

If you are a leader of a team, or even a member of one, I hope as you read through the list of consequences that come from creating the right culture it gets you thinking about your organisation and what you can be doing to create an environment where all of this is possible. If this is the case, then my recommendation is that you waste no time in creating a situation where people can begin to contribute to a discussion and the shared values of the organisation can be formalised. From our perspective, one of the key things that should be kept in mind and included within the process is that we can only control our efforts and therefore the culture and pursuits of the organisation should focus on giving people the opportunity to achieve consistent and high quality effort, rather than having an obsession with results. People often talk about a “winning culture” within a team but for us, if this idea of “winning” is only focusing on the results you attain then you leave yourself and your organisation vulnerable when things are not going to plan, something it’s fair to say occurred for those individuals within the Australian Cricket Team. The team can have goals that strive towards certain achievements but along the way the true reward and meaning comes from how the team and individuals within it worked towards their achievements, not what was reached at the end of the road. Think about Thomas and his fishing endeavours.

A big part of our role when we work with an organisation is helping them to create discussion and opportunities that drive the ideas of culture for them. Every organisation is different and if you wish to discuss how you can achieve the right things for culture within your organisation then we would love to hear from you.

Edition 66 (April 2018)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance. 

Please note that this current edition of the MTD was written and published before the Australian cricket team ball tampering incident took place but remarkably what you'll read below is highly relevant to this saga. The "Win At All Costs" mindset is the opposite of Mental Toughness.

Two Weeks of Fishing”

By Gareth J. Mole (PSY0001372747)

The best examples of Mental Toughness happen well away from the spotlight – it’s just we rarely hear about them. Even as sport and performance psychologists the bulk of the time we spend with our sporting and non sporting clients is focussed on their potential mental improvements not so much their past mental achievements.

So you can imagine my delight when at a recent social event I was part of a conversation that contained one of the best examples of a Mental Toughness “cornerstone” I can remember in a long time; the unwavering commitment to the process regardless of the outcome. 

The father of a five year old boy told of his son’s sudden interest in fishing having watched some Netflix fishing shows. So the father decided it would be a great idea to take young Thomas fishing despite neither of them knowing nothing much about the sport. After buying some basic equipment and getting some tips from the guy in the tackle shop the plan was to head out the very next day to see what they could catch.

So the father and the son woke before dawn and headed out to the fishing spot suggested by the guy in the tackle shop. All day they fished, improving their casting technique and enjoying each other’s company as the hours ticked by. But no fish were caught that first day. So they decided to try again the following day but once again they were not able to pull any fish from the water. This continued for 14 days straight. On each day they’d wake before the sun came up and tried their best to catch fish (actually, anything alive that lived in the water) only to return home empty handed.

When the father finished telling the story the obvious question had to be asked “how did you maintain your enthusiasm / motivation day after day despite catching no fish”. The father thought about this for a while before explaining that Thomas seems to be almost entirely motivated by the actual process of fishing (sitting on a river bank holding a fishing rod with his old man) rather than the outcome of task at hand (the number, size and type of fish successfully caught).

There is an incredible lesson to be learnt here for those in both sport and performance situations. Although “results” are important and probably spoken about like they are the most important aspect of high performance if you’re not enjoying the actual process then ultimately you’re not going to get very fast. The reason for this is rather simple, results are only influenceable (imagine the number of factors beyond your control in trying to get a fish to bite a tiny hook or to get a small white ball into a four and quarter inch hole in the ground) yet your enjoyment of the process can be controlled / guaranteed (with the right approach).

Australia is currently learning this the hard way as it approaches the end of a 10 year high performance sporting model called “The Winning Edge” which obsesses about results. Yet ironically, the outcomes of the program are well below what were set as benchmarks eight years ago. Their goal for the 2016 Summer Olympics was to come in the top 5 yet Australia finished 10th on the medal table. The Winning Edge’s benchmark for the recent Winter Olympics was to come in the top 15 but when the final medal tally was produced Australia was a lowly 23rd.

Those in charge of the next 10 year high performance sporting cycle in Australia would do well to replicate young Thomas the fisherman’s mindset if they really want results.