The Upside of Anxiety

Why does anxiety have such a bad reputation – especially when it comes to the impact on sport and performance? Our Founding Sport Psychologist addresses this question and many more in this brand-new feature article.

Is there really an upside to anxiety?

What … There Is An Upside of Anxiety?

Not too long ago, I was pulled into the General Manager’s office of one of the sporting teams that I’ve been working with for the last two years. I was told that my intensity was creating some anxiety for the players, especially before matches. He asked me, “Isn’t a sport psychologist supposed to reduce anxiety rather than increase it?”

My answer was simple … “no”.

What this short conversation made me realise is just what a bad reputation poor old anxiety still has. And how the general appraisal of anxiety is far, far worse than this very normal, common, sometimes helpful human emotion.

The concept that anxiety is bad and that eliminating it or reducing it is good for performance is arguably one of the most damaging myths floating around out there.

A Neurochemical Look At Anxiety

Let’s take a neurochemical look at anxiety first and foremost. Obviously, with full appreciation of individual differences, most people’s experience of anxiety is generally an increase in arousal (not that type 🤦). Not always, but often, this takes place before or during an important event or moment. Due to this, our bodies try to help us by releasing hormones like norepinephrine, adrenaline and dopamine. These hormones are typically very beneficial, but they do often feel unsettling. So, in many ways, anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe some of these many internal sensations:

  1. Thoughts related to appropriate worrying. “I really hope I don’t stuff up in tomorrow’s final”.
  2. Bodily Sensations – Feeling nervous, restless or tense. Having an increased heart rate. Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling. Having trouble sleeping. Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems (butterflies). Wanting to go to the toilet more than normal (for both numbers ones and number twos).

You will see that I have not listed the word ’emotions’ above, as typically, this refers to an individual’s unique experience. For example, when I am nervous, I tend never to sweat, but for others, this is the very first thing that might happen.

Misinterpretations Galore

Where many people go wrong is that they essentially misinterpret the above internal stimuli. Instead of seeing them as either very normal in the lead-up to something important (or even useful), they see them as a problem. They drastically misread these sensations as being an impediment to optimal performance.

So they don’t just worry; they worry about worrying. Or worse, they panic about the worry. This is called metacognitive worry. Sometimes, it can be useful to break down an individual’s experience of anxiety and just determine whether or not it’s actually possible to perform competently.

For example, lack of sleep. Next time you have a poor night’s sleep, go out and train and see what happens. The scientific evidence on sleep deprivation is incredibly clear now. Individuals would need to experience five or six consecutive nights of very poor sleep before it started to have a dramatic impact on anything that they were highly skilled at. One night of prank calls from the team’s practical joker isn’t going to do much.

Some of these misinterpreted reactions of anxiety are actually very beneficial. Look at how the body generally will increase our need to go to the toilet before an important event. Particularly in sports, it is obviously better if you have “emptied” your bladder and bowels well before the gun goes off. That’s all your body is trying to do. To help you. And yes, the fact that you have to go to the loo more often than normal is just a natural consequence of this.

And an increase in breathing rate …. fairly obvious, right? You get the picture.

Not All Anxiety Is The Same

I want to be absolutely clear here that I’m not suggesting that all forms of anxiety are harmless and/or beneficial. Clearly, there are some situations where the original experiences of nervous energy are so powerful that they genuinely block other homeostatic processes. Such as breathing, for example. However, even in these extreme clinical situations, a portion of the problem is caused by the misjudgement of the original internal stimulus.

But the vast majority of ‘anxiety situations’ that come across our desks as sport and performance psychologists are not these extreme types. It’s the normal kind, the healthy kind. It’s the upside of anxiety because the client is invariably involved in some fairly important stuff. Think Olympic Games and/or performing open heart surgery on a toddler. That kind of stuff.

The Inverted U Hypothesis

A large part of anxiety’s poor reputation can be traced back to a theory that is often called the Inverted U hypothesis. In summary, it suggests that too little or too much anxiety is bad for performance. As per the above graph, an upside U or inverted U. I remember very clearly being taken through this theory during my Masters of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Western Sydney University back in 2004. Back then, I did not question it for a nanosecond. Even worse, it was a significant part of my consulting in the first years of Condor Performance. I organically moved away from using it when I realised that the frameworks related to Psychological Flexibility were far more effective.

But it was only earlier this year, when we had the pleasure of having legendary sport psychologist Jonah Oliver attend our annual Condor Performance Summit, that I realised just how ridiculous this theory was.

You see, the theory is one of the most flimsy ever from a scientific point of view. The Yerkes-Dodson Law’s original formulation derives from a 1908 paper on experiments in Japanese dancing mice learning to discriminate between white and black boxes using electric shocks. This research was largely ignored until the 1950s when Donald O. Hebb’s concept of arousal led to renewed interest in the Yerkes-Dodson law’s general applications in human arousal and performance. But virtually no thorough investigation was ever done to prove that elite human performance depended on some anxiety and suffered from too little or too much. Yet, it was assumed to be true and still is in most circles.

So I Leave You With Some Facts …

  • Well-rehearsed gross motor skills are incredibly independent and stable of whatever emotions are being experienced at that time. But as long as these emotions are allowed to exist in their natural state. Anxiety is just one of the many different emotions we experience. In brief, you can perform optimally whilst you are very, very nervous.
  • Fine motor skills and/or novice motor skills are more vulnerable to some common byproducts of anxiety (e.g. shaking), but even in these situations, it’s still the misjudgement of the anxiety that is the greater threat to performance.
  • Anxiety, as with all emotions and many thoughts, is an outcome. It’s a consequence, a result of something. And therefore, we only have a small amount of influence on it.
  • The best way to manage anxiety is to accept it as a normal, healthy part of the human experience. It is even better to see it as an indication that something important is on the horizon. Notice it and commit to the actions/processes of the task at hand.
  • Trying to reduce anxiety is an example of experiential avoidance. Below is a great 4-minute video on experiential avoidance that is worth watching.

And As Always, If You Need A Hand …

Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology

What happens when one of our sport psychs sorts through the facts from the fiction of the immensely popular Apple TV series, Ted Lasso?

LOS ANGELES – JUL 15: Ted Lesso Cast at the Ted Lasso Season 2 Premiere Screening at the Pacific Design Center Rooftop on July 15, 2021, in Los Angeles, CA

Ted Lasso Is A Brilliant TV Show But …

Let me just start by saying I’m a massive fan of the show, Ted Lasso. 

For those who haven’t seen the miniseries on Apple TV, it’s well worth watching. The premise is a little bit far-fetched but highly entertaining. On top of the fun factor, there are some fantastic sport psychology concepts and messages contained throughout the seasons. But hidden subtly between the laughs and the logic are some lies. Due mainly to the popularity of the show I felt compelled to point out some of the aspects that are either inaccurate or unhelpful or even both.

I want to be absolutely clear that this is not a criticism of the storyline, acting, writing or premise of the show. But as an applied sport psychologist who has been working in elite sport for the better part of 15 years, there are just some things that are easier for me to spot compared with the layperson.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology – Possibles

Before I get to the inaccuracies, I thought it would be sensible to point out a few aspects of the show that are totally possible and/or useful.

For those who have not seen it the main character Ted Lasso is an American football coach brought in to be the head coach of an English Premier League (football/soccer) team. It is entirely possible for an elite coach from one sport to pivot and apply his or her expertise in another sport. The reason for this is very simple. When we break down sporting performance into the five most important subcomponents, only two of these are highly sports-specific. Meaning three of the five parts are not. Using this logic it means that the majority of the work required at the pointy end of sport is very psychological in nature. This is the case with Ted Lasso, who is mainly operating as the team’s mental coach.

Yes in 2023 it’s still rare for a head coach to come from a sport other than the one he or she is known for but this is no reflection of the plausibility. The rarity is more a result of some uncreative decision-making at the Board and CEO level.

More Coaches Swapping Sports

This will eventually change. As will the frequency whereby qualified sport psychologists start becoming assistant coaches and head coaches. I talked through this latter prediction during my chat with fellow sport psychologist Dan Abrahams on Episode 103 of The Sport Psych show.

The second aspect of the Ted Lasso show that is realistic is the American’s coaching style. Again without wanting to spoil it for anybody who is yet to watch it, it would be fair to describe Lasso’s coaching style as laid-back and consultative. There is a lot of literature on the standard coaching styles in sports, but there is no doubt that fewer and fewer elite sportsmen and women benefit from a benevolent dictator. The players of the fictitious Richmond FC are not scared of their coach. They want to play well, in part, because they like him.

There are lots of other aspects of the show that real-life sporting teams would benefit from borrowing, such as:

  • Training is a healthy mix of fun and bloody hard work.
  • Players and coaches are encouraged to be vulnerable (I’m currently working on an article entirely dedicated towards this topic. If you are yet to subscribe to our notifications, you can do so here).
  • Good mental health underpins good everything else.

Ted Lasso Sport Psychology – Near Misses!

Let’s start with the sport psychologist that appears from time to time in the show. The character’s name is Dr Sharon Fieldstone played excellently by actor Sarah Niles. It is possible due to the popularity of the show that this depiction of this particular sport psychologist is the most visible since the professional was first conceived more than 100 years ago.

However …

Is the work that she appears to be doing in the show an accurate portrayal of what real sport psychologists do? Well, not the one writing this article I am afraid.

In most of the scenes in which we can get some sense of the topics discussed between Dr Sharon and the members of the club, she appears to be operating more as a therapist than a sport psychologist. Is there a difference, I hear some of you ask?

If not universally, there ought to be.

The majority of the work carried out by sport psychologists would ideally want to be around mental aspects of performance. At least 60% but possibly more. Sometimes the remaining work can and should be around general mental health, depending on which other qualified professionals might be available to the players and staff. Not on a single occasion can Dr Sharon be seen to be targeting an improvement in football (soccer) specific mental skills.

The Ideal

Given the budget at this level of sport, every club should have a minimum of at least two full-time psychologists working side-by-side. The first wants to be a qualified performance psychologist to predominantly target performance consistency through mental skills training. Working alongside this individual should be a non-sport psychologist who is in charge of the players’ mental health. There are dozens of recognised professions that – on paper – are able to do this role. These include but are not limited to:

  • Clinical psychologists
  • All other types of psychologists
  • Psychiatrists

So, despite Dr Sharon using the title of ‘sport psychologist’ she is not really carrying out the role of one. This is confusing and unhelpful for anyone trying to get a clearer picture of what we actually do.

In other words, the work that she is shown to be doing on screen – which is very much around mental health – does not have a direct link with winning more football matches.

Note above I use the word direct very intentionally. There is now absolutely no doubt that good mental health underpins sporting mental toughness. In other words, there is a robust indirect link between the two. In the same way, good physical health underpins excellent physical capabilities such as fitness and strength. But working on mental health does not automatically guarantee sporting mental toughness. Because the latter is a separate layer of the pyramid and needs to be targeted directly by different processes.

Get Out Of The Consulting Room

One reasonable way to get a quick idea of what the psychologist is working on is where the sessions are taking place. When I am physically in the same location as my clients very little of the work is occurring in a consulting room. It’s mainly in the locker room or on the training ground (see picture to the left).

When we see Dr Fieldstone doing her stuff in the Ted Lasso show it’s taking place in a consulting room. Highly valuable, but not typical sport psychology work as per the title on the door of the room.

Ted Lasso’s Four Keys To Success

Throughout the episodes, there is a crescendo towards the completion of a very special list. This list is basically the four key ingredients that Ted Lasso regards are the most important for success.

Spoiler alert!

The fourth one below is only revealed at the very end of the last episode of the third season so if you are yet to get to that part, then you may want to stop reading now.

  1. Conditioning.
  2. Versatility.
  3. Awareness.
  4. Self-belief.

I don’t have an issue with the first three of these. They might be fairly obvious to most operating in professional sports, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be added to a list. I love the second and third ones, but I wonder what processes need to be implemented to approve them. Not only in soccer/football but any sport where they could be regarded as performance benefits. But I do have an issue with the fourth one.

Self Belief Is Overrated

Self-belief is a controversial concept in modern-day sport and performance psychology. Self-belief is predominantly a collection of thoughts that revolve around how competent somebody feels they are at something.

The issue is when there is an implication that these actions need this self-assuredness. In other words, without a certain level of self-belief, the motor skills are in jeopardy … even if they themselves are highly proficient.

This is not true. Certain thoughts and feelings are (at best) a bonus to performance consistency but not a requirement. In other words, Ted, you don’t need self-belief to play good football.

Given this, to improve The Ted Lasso Sport Psychology list from above I would replace the fourth item with Psychological Flexibility. And if you want a hand in improving yours then get in touch by completing the form on our Contact Us page. We will try to get back to you within two business days.

Mental Skills Etc.

Mental Skills are often confused with the methods aimed to help improve mental toughness. One of our sport psychologists sets the record straight.

Mental skills play a monumental part in sporting success.

Mental Skills Are… umm … Skills

The term mental skill (or mental skills) is one of the most misused in elite sporting circles. In fact, it’s used incorrectly almost everywhere in my experience. And here’s why.

The skills are the outcomes, not the processes yet most people accidentally refer to them as the latter.

When we talk about an athlete who is technically skilful we are referring to the amount of technical skill (ability) they already have. We are not referring to how they became skilful only that they are skilful. So with the technical side, it’s quite easy to separate the outcomes (ability) from the processes (how).

Let’s take a soccer (football) player as an example and consider the skill of dribbling the ball. Because the most common way to become better at dribbling is by actually dribbling a ball then the skill and the process got mixed up along the way.

But actually dribbling is NOT the only way to become better at dribbling.

As I explain in this 2020 visualisation video imagining yourself dribbling can be just as effective. So what we end up with is a variety of “methods” that can be used to become more skilful. And these skills are not limited to technical skills. They can and should include physical skills, tactical skills and of course mental skills.

The main reason that the term mental skills is used incorrectly is it is often used to describe the methods when it should be describing the outcomes.

Let’s All Use The Correct Terms

If I were in charge of the “sports science dictionary” so to speak I would insist on the following. All processes (activities) should contain the word ‘method’ or ‘process’ and all outcomes (abilities) should use the word ‘skill’. So for example catching a baseball is regarded as one of the technical skills of baseball. But there might be dozens of processes that coaches use to help their players hone this particular skill.

How This Plays Out For Mental Skills

There are two main reasons why this doesn’t happen for mental methods and mental skills as much at the moment. First, the mental side is less visible and less tangible than say the physical and technical aspects of performance. Secondly, there is very little agreement within the sport psychology community pertaining to exactly what are the most significant mental skills for optimal performance. How many are there? What are they called?

At Condor Performance, we have been diligently working away behind the scenes to come up with our own consensus. It is still too early for us to publish these findings, but I am happy to reveal exclusively to the subscribers and readers of the Mental Toughness Digest that we believe there are, in fact, six primary mental skills. And these six in actual fact all contribute to a seventh, the mother of all mental skills … consistency.

Inspired By Physical Skills

The area of sports science that does the best job of separating methods from intended outcomes is the physical side. Try to finish these sentences off by just using what comes to mind …

  • I could improve my flexibility by …
  • To improve my cardio fitness I could …
  • A great way to improve your upper body strength is by …

In these three examples, the word in bold is the skill – the thing you’re aiming to improve. Therefore the processes need to be added at the end. For example:

I could improve my cardio fitness by running, skipping, rowing, walking, cycling and/or swimming.

One physical with many physical methods. Probably hundreds if we really did some thorough brainstorming.

Now let’s see how you go with the mental side of performance by me revealing two of the six mental skills I alluded to above.

  • I could improve my composure by …
  • A great way to boost concentration is to …

Not Quite So Easy Is It?

Remember composure and concentration are the mental skills here. So the question is what processes might help improve them? Or maintain them if they are already excellent?

For composure (“the feeling of being calmconfident, and in control“) it would appear as if Psychological Flexibility is key.

For the mental skill of concentration, it seems as if sport-specific routines play a major role. Both routines for before you start competing or performing as well the those for whilst you are competing or performing.

What About The Other Four Mental Skills?

All in good time my friends, all in good time. As many of you may know in the past we have attempted to put some of our core ideas online for anybody to access. Imagine the explanation part of sport psychology consulting only, without the conversation part or the individualisation aspect. We are on track to replace all of these self-guided courses with updated ones by the end of 2024 and our followers will get first access when they are ready. In the meantime, the old version of Metuf is still available to trial for free online via this link here.

And if you want to access the full course you can do so via a whopping 60% discount using this code until the new versions become available:

newmetufcoming2024

Just copy and paste the above at the checkout where it says “Have coupon?” and away you go.

Metuf mental toughness training
Metuf – online mental toughness training

Control The Controllables

There is a lot of stuff we can’t control. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day, training and competition turns out.

Learning to control the controllables in professional surfing is essential.

Control The Controllables

Earlier this year Condor Performance turned 18 years old 🥳 .

As you might imagine there is not too much in common between the organisation we were in 2005 and the one we are now in 2023. But there are a few concepts that have stood the test of time.

One of these is the concept of control or influence as a pivotal aspect of our sport psychology consulting philosophy.

I was first made aware of this idea when I attended a professional development workshop entitled “Are You A Control Freak?”. I can’t recall the name of the presenter but I do remember the phrase ‘control the controllables’ being used a lot. More than enough for it is leave an impression and motivate me to find out more.

The premise was very simple, logical and appealing. There are a whole bunch of things that we encounter in our everyday lives which we don’t have much control over. Our interpretation of these “uncontrollables” plays a huge part in how our day goes most of the time. And of how our training or performance turns out as well.

Classic Examples

Let’s take the weather as a classic example.

We have absolutely zero ability to reduce the wind speed at any given time. But for a whole bunch of pursuits variation in wind speed will play a huge role in the outcomes and enjoyment of these activities. Golfers, for example, of all abilities score worse when playing in very windy conditions. Sailers, on the flip side, all underperform when the wind blows less.

When I first came across this theory almost 20 years ago it was very black and white. Basically, stuff could be broken down into one or two lists. The first list is everything that you can control. And obviously, the second list is everything that you can’t. It was a key part of my consulting weaponry between 2005 and 2010 … to get all of my clients to create exactly these two lists.

I would try to let these athletes and coaches populate these lists for themselves, but obviously part of the coaching process is to steer them towards “better”. “Do you really think you can control your results?”. Typically the uncontrollable list would contain items such as these:

  • Surroundings
  • Opponents
  • The Past
  • Weather
  • Results

And in the controllables list would be stuff like:

  • Myself
  • My Thoughts
  • My Teammates
  • My Effort
  • The Present Moment
  • My Feelings
  • My Actions

But There Was A Better Way

It took me a while to realise this black-and-white framework was not ideal. In other words, I was quickly able to see that there was a lot of stuff that was neither controllable nor uncontrollable. In fact, virtually everything was somewhere in between these two extremes.

For example, sporting results as one of the biggest distractors. Outcomes by their very definition are not controllable. But some are obviously more than others. In basketball, a player clearly has more influence over their own points tally compared with that of their teammates. The same applies to other people. Team-sport athletes clearly have more control over their own teammates than they do over the members of the opposition. “Hey Sue, try dropping back a few meters”.

So it was around 2010 from memory I moved to a spectrum of control. Anyone who attended any of my workshops from around this time would surely have been introduced to A Mental Dumbbell. The dumbbell was an analogy with absolutely no control on the left and maximum control on the right with the bar between the two sets of weights representing the variances between these two extremes. 

I Always Struggled With The Word Control

The word control in the English language kind of implies a yes or a no. So, as a psychologist who believes in the power of words ‘control’ felt like it was still very black and white. Yes, you can say you have some control over something, but why use this word when there is a far better word for this? Do you want to guess before you scroll down?

Time To Think
Time To Think

That’s right, it’s influence.

So the dumbbell was updated. The far left became ‘no influence’. The extreme right became ‘maximum influence’. And between is all the shades of grey needed. Some influence, lots, a little and so on. So when I hear (or read) Control The Controllables I hear (or see) Influence the Influenceables. Watch the video for a much greater explanation of how to “control the controllables”.

What Influence the Influenceables is really trying to do is to emphasise that various different factors are much more beneficial to obsess about than others. And crucially a lot of these are typically not as naturally exciting as a lot of the stuff that is better off being noticed as opposed to forced.

How Influenceable Are Thoughts?

It is impossible not to form some heavy opinions about where key psychological concepts should fall on the spectrum when this is a central aspect of your working life. In particular, thoughts, feelings and actions. Still, to this day there are a significant number of psychologists who suggest that humans have a lot of influence on all three of these. And in changing one you are likely to change the other two as well.

But that is just not true.

Acknowledging slight variations in the person, and the type of thought/emotion/action I firmly believe that this should be embedded in the value system of all performers. Your actions – especially the ones that have been well rehearsed – are highly influenceable. If you prefer the word control then they are highly controllable. When looking to ‘Control The Controllables’ basically it’s mostly these highly reliable motor skills. Thoughts are halfway down the spectrum. We have some influence but far less than our actions. And then feelings/emotions are very close to the left. We have a small amount of influence over them. Not nothing at all but typically less than many people believe.

Think about this for a second. Listen to your favourite song, and you might be influencing your mood for a few seconds, you might feel more joy. But try to feel joy for an entire day and you will fail every single time.

This Spectrum of influence, I find is a far better way to explain why at Condor Performance we are such advocates of psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is better understood as accepting thoughts and feelings whilst committing to our actions.

Recently, I put the below comment up on social media and it attracted quite a lot of controversy.

There is no such thing as an unhelpful thought or feeling. They just don’t exist. It is only actions (behaviours) that can/should be considered as either helpful or unhelpful. Nobody ever went to jail because they had some unhelpful thoughts and feelings. It is what they DID they put them in the slammer. Nobody ever won anything due to having helpful thoughts and feelings. It’s what they DID that got them the award/trophy/medal/certificate etc. Try to just DO BETTER whilst at the same time thinking and feeling whatever you just happen to be thinking and feeling at the time. 😎 #psychologicalflexibility

If you are reading this then use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this. Be honest, if you believe it’s wrong then say that but try and justify why you disagree with it. It was astounding to me how many people on social media threw their toys out of the cot when they saw this. But when I pushed them to explain themselves virtually all of them went quiet very quickly.

Working With Coaches

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my consulting in 2023 is working with a new wave of young sporting coaches from around the world. Most of them have realised that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be both a successful athlete in a particular sport and then go on to be a world-class coach.

All of these young coaches recognise the huge importance of sport psychology from a coaching perspective. And most of them don’t want to stop actually coaching in order to get a sport psychology qualification.

So the smart ones are baking their cake and eating it. What does that mean? These coaches continue to coach whilst becoming more mentally astute “whilst on the job” by working with an already qualified sport/performance psychologist like myself and my colleagues at Condor Performance.

In the work that I do with my coaches teaching them to Control The Controllables / Influence the Influenceables is a big part of the work. And making sure they can use this concept directly with their athletes. Coaching is stressful, especially at the pointy end so a chunk of consulting with coaches is also about helping them maintain good mental health.

As these coaches are genuine experts in their sports it is exciting to see how they take a number of different mental processes (like the dumbbell) and adapt them for their particular performance area.

If you are a sporting coach and you’d like some details about how to have a world-class sport/performance psychologist in your corner then get in touch today.

Team Unity and How To Improve It

Team unity, also known as culture, is the glue that sticks together the members of sporting teams so that they work together and not against each other.

LONDON, ENGLAND – July 18th, 2013: The Australian slip fielding cordon on day one of the Investec Ashes 2nd test match, at Lords Cricket Ground in London, England.

Unity, Cohesion, Harmony …

Team unity is also known by other names such as culture, team cohesion, and team chemistry. All of these labels describe the factors that can result in some sporting teams being completely unified. Whilst others can resemble the boys from the famous novel The Lord of the Flies. If you have never read the book I’ll sum it up for you. They end up killing each other!

Team Unity is possibly the most intriguing aspect of sporting mental toughness. It is without a doubt the area that athletes expect to be good at without having to do any work. All athletes understand that to improve muscle strength they’ll need to do some work. Most athletes understand that to improve managing emotions they’ll need to do some work. But most athletes expect their teammates to respect them just by existing.

In other words, the culture of most sporting teams, even the professional ones, is typically not that flash. The second factor is that regardless of the current state of your team’s culture it can be improved. That’s right, if it’s currently poor it can be bettered and if it’s already excellent it can still be improved further.

When Team Unity Falls Apart

Between 2005 and 2015 Kevin Pietersen was the top run scorer for the English men’s national cricket team. However, he was regarded by many of his teammates as a prickly character. They tried to address this but couldn’t. Many sporting teams would simply have accepted this and let him carry on playing.

However, unity was considered so important by The England Cricket Board they eventually stopped selecting their top batsman. This article explains the situation in a lot more detail.

How Is Team Unity Best Improved In Sporting Teams?

One of the best ways (but also one of the most costly) is to engage the services of a qualified sport psychologist. I am sure all psychologists working in sport have their own way of going about this. However at Condor Performance, when it comes to improving team unity we love to work mainly with the coaching staff.

One of the main jobs of the coach of a sporting team is to unify the team and then keep them unified. The problem is most of them attempt to do this delicate work under-equipped. This results in millions of well-intended coaches around the world doing an average job of this key component of performance.

So we work with the coach or coaches and put what we call The 10 R’s under the microscope. The 10 R’s refers to five pairs of words that each starts with the letter R. They provide a great starting point for discussions on how to improve the unity of any given team. Of course, these teams don’t have to be sporting groups.

Roles and Rules

It is virtually impossible for a team to be unified without clear rules and roles. If the individual members are not clear about their roles this will cause frustration and infighting. The ‘blame game’ is rife in sporting teams with poor role clarification.

The same applies to rules. What is and is not acceptable should form a key part of pre-season for all competitive sporting teams. The most effective rules are confirmed in consultation with all the members of the team. Then they are written down. Then all parties sign on the dotted line to agree to abide by them.

Does your team work together or are you just a group of individuals?

Relationships and Respect

It is important to mention that the members of a team don’t actually need to be the best of friends. In fact, they don’t even really have to like one another. But they do need to respect one another. Mutual respect tends to result from teams whereby cliques are not allowed to form. In other words, there is some kind of relationship between all members of the team. 

Reassurance and Reasons

More for the coaches but important nonetheless is giving frequent reassurance and reasons to the playing group. Humans are not mind-readers. Athletes are humans too. Some love getting reassurance that they are on track. Others need less reassurance. This is where the magic of the ‘why’ comes in. Letting players know why they’re progressing or struggling is the magic dust.

Ready and Relaxed

One furphy in elite sports is that one of the best ways to boost team chemistry is to win more. This is like putting the cart before the horse. In actual fact, one of the best ways is to help them prepare very well. Performers who feel ready and relaxed tend to get along much better than their stressed counterparts. And of course that proper preparation needs to include all aspects of performance. What are these again? Physical, Technical, Tactical, and Mental.

Recognition and Rewards

In most sports, the wins are often obvious. If your team wins the grand final you will not need our help in celebrating that. I am a much greater believer in recognising and celebrating the less obvious wins. What about the time that your teammate smashes her PB on the Beep Test? Or when all of you are able to attend training without anyone having an injury concern? Teams with a strong culture recognise these smaller milestones.

At Condor Performance we practice what we preach. Due to the monthly approach that we use in our consulting, we all accrue months. Each time a client pays for another month we add one month to our records for that psychologist. We then celebrate 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 months together. For example below is a short video we made when Brian hit 500 months recently.

Do You Need Our Help?

If you are part of a team and you’d like some info on how we can work with you and your teammates please contact us via one of the below.

Baby Steps

Learning to take small steps in the right direction is potentially one of the most important mental skills of them all. As Gareth explains in this brand new feature article.

Learning to take small steps in the right direction is potentially one of the most important mental skills of them all.

What Are Baby Steps?

Most of you have surely heard the term baby steps, right?

Maybe for some, it rings a bell from the classic Bill Murray movie “What About Bob?”. For the rest of you here is a two-minute clip from the 1990’s comedy classic which gets straight to the heart of this concept:

As brilliantly explained by “Dr. Leo Marvin” Baby Steps are about taking small, incremental steps. And as I will explain later they actually don’t have to be towards a goal. In fact, sometimes chasing a goal can create some surprising and unnecessary issues.

Baby Steps for Sport Psychology

Although the concept of baby steps originates more from psychiatry it is just as applicable to modern-day sport psychology. In fact, it might be even more beneficial in performance-enhancement settings than deficit-fixing ones.

There are a couple of important aspects to highlight first. To start with most of the really meaningful stuff in our lives takes a lot of time to develop. So although the concept of baby steps does not directly mention the speed of those steps I think it’s implied. Slow and steady baby steps.

The second aspect central to baby steps is that most improvement is kind of hard to see. Like the nervous steps of a toddler learning to walk sometimes it’s more shuffle than step. And of course, there is a lot of falling over. 

I have always held the belief that slow, steady, hard-to-see improvements are the best type. For they tend to be longer-lasting.

Sure, every athlete and performer has the potential to make huge improvements all of a sudden, but these are typically the direct result of years of hard work where suddenly everything clicked. In most situations, there were a ton of baby steps before the huge step occurred.

Baby Steps With And Without Goals

Despite rumours in some circles, I don’t have a problem with goal setting. Setting goals is fine as long as the “setter” has a vague idea of how much influence they have on what they are “setting”.

I am a decent squash player and one of my intentions for when I hit 50 (4 years from now) is to climb the squash Masters rankings. Now I might set a goal, for example, of trying to get into the Top 10 squash players of my age group in New South Wales. But I am blissfully aware that I only have some influence on this. Another way of saying this is the reaching or not reaching of that future intention is only partially up to me.

Think about it. The quality of the other squash players and their training processes play a monumental part in whether or not I will achieve this goal or not. Imagine if suddenly five of the best male squash players of my age suddenly decided to move to New Zealand to start up a business together. Without me doing diddly squat the chances of me achieving this ranking goal would improve dramatically.

On the flip side, if a small wave of squash-loving Egyptian and Pakistani immigrants moved to Australia in the next few years (both nations are traditionally very strong in this sport) then the chances of me achieving my goal would go down significantly. But without me doing anything differently. 

So how then do baby steps work without setting goals?

Basically, you try and make tiny improvements at something important but without having a bigger purpose. This might be hard for many involved in competitive sports where there might always seem like there is an end goal in mind.

One of the biggest myths about the world’s best athletes is that they all set goals. Absolute hogwash. A large chunk of them just want to get better over time, and then with a huge dollop of patience, they end up at the top of the pile.

Examples

The basketballer wants to improve her basketball abilities but is not too concerned about making it as a pro. The cricketer is obsessed with becoming a more consistent batter but has not sat down to clarify his cricketing intentions over the next 5 years.

Earlier I said setting goals can actually do more harm than good. There are two ways in which setting goals can trip up athletes and other nonsporting performers.

First, is the very existence of the goal as a huge dollar of unnecessary pressure. Now of course in an ideal world using a psychological flexibility framework pressure would not be problematic. In the same way that negative thoughts and feelings ought not to be problematic. The reality is that working with a qualified sport psychologist to ensure that this happens is still the exception, rather than the norm. So too much pressure is an issue for many performers still. And a lot of this unhealthy kind of pressure comes from the expectations of others and the future.

Imagine a golfer going into a golf tournament whereby only a win will give them enough ranking points to get into the Top 20 Order of Merit. The goal they set at the start of the season. Many psychologically inflexible golfers would perform better if they didn’t have this hanging around their necks as they stood on the first tee each day.

The other issue with goalsetting is actually when you achieve them. If not careful ‘getting there’ can act as a huge demotivator. Let me use the golfer from the previous paragraph to illustrate. So this golfer had a season-long goal of finishing in the Top 20 Order of Merit. Now, let’s imagine that he had a better-than-expected season going into the final tournament. In fact mathematically even if he comes dead last in this event he will still end up in the Top 20. Deep down, will he be as focused in these final rounds?

Baking Your Cake And Eat It 

The Japanese have a word that roughly translates to constant improvement. It’s called Kaizen. So a Kaizen Mindset might be the best way to use baby steps. And it’s best done by actually separating out the four performance pillars.

Let’s see if we can slowly improve your sporting abilities without concerning ourselves too much with where it might end up.

See if you can get some objective data on your current physical abilities. Now get to work and try and improve them ever so slightly over the next month. Then retest. Do exactly the same for your current tactical, technical, and mental abilities. For the mental part, you might like to consider mental health and performance-specific mental toughness as being related but not the same thing.

And if you need a hand, we can help you with both (get in touch here).

Music and Sport Psychology

Athletes have been using music for sport psychology purposes for decades. But what type of music is best? Gareth answers this and more …

Sport Psychology and Music – A Great Combination.

Music and Sport Psychology -Intro

Music is very emotional. So is the world of competitive sports. So it makes complete sense that they might be able to work together – and they do. Music and sport psychology have gone hand in hand also ever since the field was first invented over a hundred years ago.

Things really ramped up when athletes were able to listen to music via a portable playing device. For readers over the age of 40, they might remember the Walkman. Walkmans were then replaced by Discmans. MP3 players such as iPods (do they still make those?) took down Discmans. Fast forward to 2023 and the combination of a smartphone and platforms such as Spotify now allow us to listen to virtually anything at any time.

Technology And Sport Psychology

At Condor Performance we are big believers in taking full advantage of the wonders of modern technology.

We were delivering sport psychology consultations via Skype years before the term ‘Telehealth’ was coined. My very first session via webcam took place in 2006. Skype was only created in 2003! Obviously, nowadays we are spoilt for choice. Zoom is still the preferred option for most of our psychologists. But Google Meets and Microsoft Teams have both improved their features recently.

And it’s not just sessions themselves where technology is changing how sport and performance psychology services are delivered. Ever since moving to a monthly approach to our service delivery, we have allowed and encouraged our clients to contact us between sessions. Emailing, texting, and messaging via Whatsapp are ideal for small questions and reminders between sessions.

And of course, finally, there are the Apps. Such is the explosion of Apps designed to improve mental health and performance that we are currently working on a blog post dedicated to just this topic. If you are yet to get reminders after each new article is published then add your details here.

What Type of Music is Best for Sport Psychology?

Probably the most common mistake made in this area is the assumption that fast-paced energetic type music (such as rock and Punk) is naturally best to listen to before the big game. What if you are already very energised, for example by the organic importance of the competition that is about to begin? Do you really need to listen to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best when you’re struggling to keep down your breakfast?

Music for Sports Psychology

One of the cornerstones of our shared consulting framework is that it is better to learn to perform regardless of your current thoughts and feelings. In other words, if you hold onto the belief that you can only play well when you are relaxed, then you’re in trouble. Why? Thoughts and feelings are not that influenceable.

But music can genuinely change feelings. So how about you try this instead? If you’re listening to music as part of a pre-competition routine, then just pick songs that you like. Keep it simple. Also, remember that because the music is coming through a device and that devices are not guaranteeable you need to have a backup in case the battery dies or you leave it at home.

But some music helps us relax and other types do the opposite. This is true. If you are looking to try and change your arousal levels (not that type 😜) then do so as part of training not before you compete or perform. Ideally, if you have embedded some form of mental training into your preparation then part of this wants to be learning to “do” whilst feeling a wide range of emotions. There are not too many better ways to do this than through music.

Calming Music Playlist

Recently I created a couple of playlists on Spotify for my monthly clients. The first is a collection of calming-type songs. These songs would be ideal for an athlete who feels like they need to be hyped in order to perform well. Listening to these songs before training, to lower arousal, might lead them to change that belief for the better.

Calming Music for Sport Psychology

Energising Music for Performers

The songs below are designed to do the opposite. They are fast-paced and upbeat so should increase arousal when listening to them. So these tunes are well placed to be used in training for those who feel like they need to be relaxed to do well but know that the chances of them always feeling like that are basically zero. So pump yourself up in training and become psychologically more flexible.

Energising Music for Sports Psychology

And as always, if you need a hand with any of this or any other mental aspect of your performance then get in touch. Our Intake Team will always try and get back to you within 48 hours.

Practice Makes Permanent

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. The very concept of perfection, the idea that something is so good it can’t be improved, is flawed. Let us explain.

Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect. There really is no such thing as perfect. This hockey player is making his skill permanent not perfect.

This article was first written and published in 2020 but has recently been updated and improved. If you enjoy it and/or find it useful please take a second to share it with your online communities.

The Sporting World Is Full Of Clichés

The majority of them are normally harmless. However, some are either mentally beneficial or potentially damaging. A while ago I wrote a blog containing some of the best quotes from a sport psychology point of you in my opinion. But what about the duds? What about the quotes or clichés that sound good but in actual fact are detrimental to performance? Fortunately, there are a lot less of these “stinkers” compared to the good ones. Those that I would be more than happy to see my sporting clients right on post-it notes for inspiration outnumber the ones that should be binned.

It may come as a surprise to some of you that a number of the least useful but very well-known sport psychology quotes come from Vince Lombardi. I do not want to criticise Vince or take anything away from his amazing achievements as a coach. But some of the quotes that he is most known for are psychological bloopers. Chief among them are these three:

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

Vince Lombardi

I won’t go into too much detail about why the first two above simply send the wrong message to anybody playing competitive sport. Suffice it to say that for the first one think of Lance Armstrong and the “win at all costs mindset”. The second one, well, that just sounds like an excuse to me. I know it’s supposed to be cheeky but saying you only lost the game because you ran out of time is no different to saying you only lost the game because the opposition scored more points than you.

Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect

But it is this third quote that I really have an issue with. In particular, the shortened version which is ‘practice makes perfect’. Fun fact ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ currently gets 976,000,000 hits on Google. ‘Practice Makes Permanent’, the correct version, gets half the amount at 515,000,000 results.

For those of you who we have had the privilege of working with since we opened our doors in 2005, you’ll likely be aware of the fact that we do not do too much by way of cognitive restructuring during the mental conditioning process. By this, I mean that by and large, we let people think what they think. We would much rather help our clients to accept their thoughts and execute their motor skills regardless. Sometimes this philosophy is slightly misunderstood as us not being interested in cognitions at all. This is not true, let me explain.

Certain practitioners who subscribe to the ever-increasingly popular Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model may choose to be completely distant from the meaning of words and the potential impact of one inspirational quote versus another.

This Is How We Help Our Clients To Bake Their Cake And Eat It

There are many, many types of thoughts. Let’s conceptualise thoughts in terms of how permanent they might be. A simple way to do this is to divide thoughts into two separate types. The first group, which we could call VABs (for values, attitudes, and beliefs) tends to be more permanent. They create most of the other types of thoughts, the second type. We could call these Current and Individual Thoughts (or CITs). 

This Is How VABs And CITs Interact

We all have some very well-ingrained beliefs. Let’s imagine someone who has an ingrained belief that at work everybody should dress in a smart and presentable way. This would mean that they value people who take pride in their own appearance and choice of clothing. This is likely to have been the case in the past. It’s the case now and very likely to be the case in the future. It’s a permanent belief, one that would be hard to change.

Now imagine that somebody with these values and beliefs starts a new job. On the very first day, they are provided with a mentor to show them the ropes. This mentor has come to work in attire that would potentially be more suitable for a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The VAB about dressing well at work then combines with a desire to leave a good first impression to create a whole bunch of CITs. For example “I can’t believe she’s come to work dressed like that” and “don’t say anything, look beyond the Hoody and smile”.

It Works The Same In The World Of Highly Competitive Sport

For example, consider an athlete who values effort above results. And maybe this athlete has a coach who has a ‘win at all cost mindset’. The athletes’ VABs might result in CITs such as “coach is going to be pissed again because we lost despite playing pretty well”. 

How this all plays out from a Mental Toughness Training point of view is quite simple. As sport psychologists and performance psychologists, we see the benefits of spending some time on your values, attitudes, and beliefs. This can be done in many ways but ‘hoping for the best’ is not one of them. Most people simply develop their values, attitudes, and beliefs from their childhood. It’s typically a very organic process. Now this is fantastic if you have been surrounded by psychologically astute people since you were born. But this is rare. For most of us, we would need to sit down regularly in order to clarify our VABs. If you have absolutely no idea about how to go about it get in touch by completing your details on our contact form.

One of my beliefs, not just as an applied sport psychologist but as a person too, is that the concept of perfect does not exist. Striving to be perfect at something is alright as long as you know you’ll never get there. I am a very logical person and it is this analytical part of me which has led me to believe that chasing perfection is like trying to find the Loch Ness monster. Just because people talk about it doesn’t make it real. 

This Is The Reason Behind The Belief

Perfect implies that no more improvement can take place. As improvement is never ending then this renders the concept of perfection as a misnomer. Think about it, each time you get to something that you mislabelled as perfect you can still improve it further! So it wasn’t perfect in the first place, now was it?

It should come as no surprise having read this why I dislike the “practice makes perfect” principle. And no Vince … perfect practice doesn’t make perfect either!

What practice can do, if you go about it in the right way, is make something permanent. Practice makes permanent correctly suggests that through the process of repetition, it will eventually become a habit, an automatic action that requires little or no front-of-mind awareness. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

Often when I am helping my sporting clients with their values and I manage to convince them to replace practice makes perfect with practice makes permanent they ask me about how long it would take to make something permanent. Quite often the 10,000 hours principal comes up which is another furphy. There are too many variables to that question. It will depend on the complexity of the task and genetic factors. Are you starting as an absolute beginner or are you already reasonably adept at it? 

Having said that I did stumble across this very cool TEDTalk recently which suggests that a massive amount can be achieved in the first 20 hours:

But the goal for competitive sports and anybody wanting to perform consistently at their best should always be the same. You need to put in the effort so that the main motor skills required become automatic. This allows you to go into high-pressure situations with the aim of being present and enjoying yourself. Trust that the practice has made these skills permanent. Accept whatever thoughts and feelings that you happen to be experiencing on the day.

And of course, if you need a hand with all of this give us a shout.

Sport Psychology Barriers

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole outlines the eight most common sport psychology barriers and how to overcome a few of them!

There are many barriers to fully embracing sport psychology. One of them is what you imagine it to be like. Something like the above? Not even close …

The 8 Biggest Sport Psychology Barriers

At Condor Performance we speak to a lot of people who make enquiries about our sport psychology services. Since we have been operating we would have spoken to approximately ten thousand parents, coaches, athletes, performers, and sporting administrators. In doing so we have learned a lot about the reasons why many performers still don’t bother to include bonafide sport psychology as part of their plans.

With this in mind below we will outline the eight most common of these barriers and where possible help you to put a step ladder up against a few of them. As always we welcome your comments and questions either publicly (via the comments box below) or privately (via [email protected]).

Sport Psychology Barrier #1: No Idea There is A Mental Side of Sport / Performance

Mental Toughness is not as tangible (visible, obvious) as the other performance areas. Consequently, it’s not targeted for improvement because many athletes have no idea their mental performance can be developed and strengthened just like other more obvious areas such as skills and fitness.

The only way around this barrier is through some kind of education so that an awareness of the mental side takes place. This will happen automatically if working with a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist but there are other ways too. One such way is to invest in your sports science knowledge via videos such as the one below.

This video runs for 11 minutes.

Sport Psychology Barrier #2: Confusing Mental Training with Something Else

Similar to the above but arguably worse. It’s very common for athletes to fall into the trap of thinking that working on the physical, technical, and tactical aspects of their sport will naturally result in greater mental toughness. So for example, because it took commitment to get up at 6 am to go for a run in winter, it will automatically result in an improvement in your overall commitment.

Although this might happen, it also might not. Sport psychology, as with all types of psychology, wants to be and should be heavily evidence-based. What this means is that the mental skills (or methods) used to improve mental toughness have been tried, tested, and approved. For example, sitting down and writing a Why Statement may well be a better motivator for most people.

Even those who are aware of the importance of the mental side, and are motivated to try and improve it, can be left really struggling to find genuine, dependable ways to actually work on it. Most resort to Googling questions like ‘how to improve my concentration’ which results in millions of websites full of contradictory ideas.

Sport Psychology Barrier #3: Hoping For A Magic Bullet

By “magic bullet” we mean those who expect that a single session with a sport psychologist will suddenly make them mentally tough. That all of a sudden their nerves will vanish. And they’ll be able to motivate themselves at will and focus like a fighter pilot. When this doesn’t happen, they bail well before the sport psychology process starts to bear fruit.

The only way to overcome this barrier is to trust in the process and be patient. There are many ways to help with this. One is to remember that improving the mind is a lot like improving the body. No one ever expects to go to the gym and have a 6-pack after one session with the exercise physiologist. Not even a dozen sessions. It works the same with sport psychology. If you want results fast, fine, listen hard, and apply the mental skills but don’t expect miracles.

Sport Psychology Barrier #4: Confusing Mental Toughness with Mental Health

Unfortunately, the words ‘psychology’ and ‘psychologist’ still evoke thoughts of mental illness and disorders. Therefore, a large number of athletes incorrectly feel that seeking the assistance of a sport psychologist or performance psychologist is a sign of mental weakness. A few years ago I wrote an entire blog post on this which you can read in full here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #5: It’s Too Expensive

Even when none of the above barriers apply, often cost gets in the way. The current recommended hourly rate for psychologists is over $250 an hour. This is the most awkward of the sport psychology barriers as it’s relative to your own income/wealth. For some people, $250 an hour is loose change but for others, it’s a fortune.

At Condor Performance, instead of reducing our rates and cheapening what we do, we add extra value to our 1-on-1 sport psychology services instead. How? Our rates are per month not per session so we allow and encourage email/text communication between sessions. Furthermore, the first session is not charged for, it’s free. For a more in-depth understanding of our monthly approach browse the answers to our FAQs here.

Sport Psychology Barrier #6: There Are No Sport Psychologists Near Me

The Corona Virus was a terrible thing but there were some benefits. Suddenly, the whole world realised that a sport psychology session via video call is just as good as one where the sport psychologist and client are in the same room. We knew this early on and started delivering sport psychology sessions this way as early as 2008. So maybe this barrier is not really a barrier nowadays but we’ll still keep it here anyway.

We’re almost at the point now where we could say that sessions via Zoom, FaceTime video, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams, and other platforms are better than what we call Same Place Sessions. Why? For a start, they are a lot more convenient with no travel time required. Athletes and performers can and do have sessions just before practice, competitions, and sometimes – where allowed – during both of these.

In 2023, our current team of psychologists delivers roughly 400 sessions per month between them. Of these, 380 would be via webcam.

Sport Psychology Barrier #7: I already tried seeing a psychologist and it was not effective …

This is a tough one. First, make sure the previous profession was actually qualified. The qualified ones, such as our whole team, are still outnumbered by the unqualified ones and the underqualified ones. In Australia, you can check to see if someone is a registered psychologist here.

But even if they do have the right credentials that is no guarantee of their effectiveness. Sometimes there are simple personality clashes. Other times, they are just not trained in the right area of psychology. This has always been one of the biggest advantages of choosing Condor Performance as your provider in the space. In the unlikely event that you don’t click with one of our team, we can simply transition you to another.

Sport Psychology Barrier #8: Now Is Not The Right Time ...

Tricky, tricky, tricky. If your Granny passed away so you had to postpone your start then this sounds like a sensible option rather than a barrier. But most of the time when we hear this it’s for other stuff. I am too busy. I’m in my off-season. I have just picked up an injury so need to focus on that. I have too much going on. I’m playing really well, will get in touch when I am in a slump.

Trust me on this, the best time to start improving mental aspects is and always will be now. How? Easy, fill in the contact form here, and one of our team will be in touch as soon as possible.


Time Management for Elite Athletes

Time management is one of the most useful starting points for athletes and coaches looking to take their performance to the next level.

Time management
Time management – A Key Mental Skill for All Performers

Time Management 101

Try to answer all these time management questions as quickly as possible without a calculator or Google. How many hours in a day? How many days in a week? Now, how many days in a year? And how many weeks in a year? Finally, how many hours in a week?

I suspect you were going along fine until the final question, correct? Most people instinctively know the answer to the first four questions. But the majority have to work out the answer to the final question.

Yet, I am of the view it’s the most useful number from a time management point of view. The answer, of course, is 168. 168 is the number of hours in a week (24 multiplied by 7). Last week, this week and next week will all have this in common. Your week and my week contain exactly this number of hours each. We all have this number in common and it acts as a great leveler in the pursuit of constant improvement.

There are 168 Hours In Evert Single Week

The most successful athletes and the ones trying to knock them off their perch all are blessed with 168 hours per calendar week. When helping my sporting clients with their time management I often start with an analysis of their 168 hours.

168 Hours A Week – Start From There

To start with, what you’re probably most interested in – improving your results – is only something you can influence. You can not control (guarantee) your outcomes and achievements. Nor can anyone else for that matter. Yes, that’s right. This is also true for precision sports like golf, dance, lawn bowls, etc.

To increase the chances of reaching our goals we’d want to shift our attention toward highly influenceable stuff. For example, how we might use our time in the coming days, weeks, or months. These are commonly known as processes.

Processes are simply highly influential recurring actions.

Past effort and actions (for example, how hard we tried during this morning’s gym session) are results. They have become outcomes as they can no longer be changed. Unless you are the owner of a time machine, of course.

Furthermore, future effort and actions (for example, what you plan to do by way of meditation when the season starts next month) are only a little influenceable. In other words, you can plan, research, and practice now but this doesn’t guarantee anything for later.

In other words, how you decide to use your 168 hours each week at the moment is one of the most influenceable aspects you’ll ever come across. This is especially true if you are mentally flexible enough to update your plans in unforeseen future circumstances.

Record Your Baseline

One of the best places to start from a time management point of view is to spend a whole week simply recording your actions. A basic 24 x 7 table is just fine. Either via a computer file or old school paper and pen, it doesn’t matter.

Ideally, leave judgment words off the page (or file) so that it purely states what you were doing during that time. For example, rather than recording the word ‘nothing’ during the time you were chilling out over the weekend, you’d write ‘relaxing’ or ‘reading’ or whatever the observable action was. Also, try and record the start and end times of the actions and do so as you go rather than at the end of each day when your memory will limit you.

This exercise typically has a major benefit right off the bat. It will increase your awareness and therefore start to help you in becoming more purposeful. Being more aware and purposeful are two of the more underrated mindset ingredients of performance excellence.

But you can use this data for a lot more than simply increasing your awareness and intentionality. You can use it to influence your future time too.

Quantity And Quality are Different

The best way to do this is via an analysis of the quantity and quality of your current time – the time you recorded. It is essential that you consider quantity and quality as separate – because they are. Start with quantity as it’s simpler. Using categories such as sleeping, physical preparation, and mental preparation, for example, calculate the amount of time you spent on each according to your data collection (not memory).

If you do this properly then the total of this calculation will be exactly 168 hours. When the number comes out to less than 168 hours you have missed something. If it’s more than 168 hours then let me know as you’ve increased the amount of time available in a week and we’ll make a billion dollars together!

Some of my sporting clients when I have asked them to do this have enjoyed converting these time tallies into percentages by dividing the number of hours by 1.68. For example, if there was a total of 52 hours of sleep across the seven days then this means that 31% of that week was spent asleep. Percentages can be a more useful metric when considering our values. You would expect the processes that we regard as being most valuable to have the highest percentages next to them. So if there is something in your life that is tremendously important (e.g. relationships) and it has a low percentage this allows you to consider what you might do to increase the time spent on that activity.

Next, it’s the turn of quality. The simplest way to question the quality of time is by considering how many things you were trying to do at once with one being the ideal (more than one being the biggest indicator of poor quality time).

Multitasking Is Overrated

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated. The science is clear now, the best way to do a poor job of a task is to combine it with another task (or tasks). You can also think about how present you were during the activities. The more present and engaged the higher the quality is likely to be.

Multitasking (or being a multitasker) is seriously overrated.

Every parent will know this full well. Being with your kids whilst also trying to reply to some emails is just never going to have the same quality as really being with them (with the laptop closed and out of the way). I am fortunate in that by nature I am a terrible multitasker. This basically means that I go to great lengths during my week to make sure that I’m only doing one important thing at a time.

Finally, consider if the blocks of time were on purpose or by accident. For example, watching some television intentionally would be regarded as a much higher quality activity compared with doing the same thing by accident – because there was nothing else to do.

Processes that are carefully considered ahead of time are always likely to be higher in quality than “winging it”. This is incredibly obvious in my 1-on-1 consulting as one of the growing numbers of psychologists working for Condor Performance. Sessions that take place after having spent 15 minutes reviewing client notes are always higher in quality. Of course, this is not always possible such as when the previous session ran over time. But by leaving gaps between all sessions, and therefore creating some planning time, I personally find the quality of my work is enhanced.

The final part is to really ask the hard question. Do I want my time moving forward to be the same as it is at the moment in terms of quality and quantity?

Failure To Plan is Planning to Fail

And if not, try and adjust accordingly. For example, if you regard becoming mentally tougher as an important part of your goals and yet your mental preparation is only 1% of your time at the moment then you might like to try and see if you can boost this to 5%.

This is one of the biggest paradoxes of modern-day sport psychology. The fact that virtually everybody now recognises the tremendous value of improving mental aspects. Yet, despite this, the default amount of processes spent trying to improve the mind is either little or none at all. Remember processes are simply highly influential recurring actions. This means being aware of the importance of improving the mind is not enough. There actually needs to be recurring activities taking place every week aimed at improving it.

For many of my clients and myself included the future plan is enough. I don’t actually tally the time moving forward I just try to stick to the new regime as best I can. This typically prevents the ugly side of time management from taking place whereby the plan becomes a major source of guilt and frustration.

Would You Like Some Help?

All of the psychologists who work for Condor Performance use time management techniques for their own ‘performance enhancement’. Furthermore, we are very experienced at showing others how to improve their time management abilities. If you’d like help with this or any other mental aspect please reach out via our contact us form here.