South African Sport Psychologist

Gareth J. Mole is widely regarded as one of the leading sport psychologists in the world and is very proud of his South African heritage

Sport Psychologist South Africa
Gareth J. Mole is a South African sport psychologist now living in Australia. He works with athletes and sports coaches from around the world via webcam technologies.

Meet a South African Sport Psychologist

Gareth John Mole is a world-renowned and proudly South African sport psychologist. He was born in Transvaal in 1976. That’s what Gauteng was called back then. His father is a South African and his Mother an Aussie.

Maybe a career in sport was his destiny. He was named after the great Gareth Edwards. Edwards was a standout rugby union scrum-half (halfback) for Wales and during that era.

He attended St Peters Preparatory School in Rivonia whereby his love for all sports started. “Most of my memories from St Peters are sports-related” he reminisces. “Of course in those days it was mostly rugby [union], cricket and athletics” he adds.

Born Near A Race Track

In the 1980s Gareth and his siblings could be found either watching or playing sport at the family home. The property was only a few KMs from the famous, Kyalami race track.

“Although there was no Formula One at Kyalami in those days there was still plenty of motorsport taking place all the time. The background soundtrack to my childhood was the roar of racing cars and the screech of tyres” Gareth recalls.

“Competitive motor racing is mentally very, very hard. Although the drivers and riders require supreme fitness it’s really their mindset and tactical abilities that separate the good from the best” he states.

Nigel Mansell was far from being one of the fittest Formula One drivers during his time. But his mental toughness and outstanding tactical preparation resulted in him being one of the best competitors of the Eighties”.

From South Africa To The World

At the age of ten, Gareth moved from South African to The UK to attend boarding school. It was at Oundle that the breadth of his sporting knowledge grew exponentially.

“Had I stayed in South Africa I suspect that my sporting knowledge might have remained somewhat limited. My time in England exposed me to many of the other major sports – in particular, football (soccer), hockey, squash and volleyball” Gareth says.

After finishing up at Oundle and taking a gap year, Gareth moved north in order to do a Psychology Degree at the University of Leeds. It was during the undergraduate years that his preexisting love of sport fused with his new psychology training.

“Sport psychology was only a small inclusion during my degree at Leeds but it was enough for me to think – I like this, I want to be a sport psychologist” he states. I also remember thinking if there were any other South African sport psychologists at that time. Maybe I could be the first South African sport psychologist ever?

At the time Masters degrees in The UK specialising in Sport Psychology were virtually non-existent. So in 2004, he found himself on a one-way flight to Sydney, Australia.

Australia From 2004

“Oh, how things have changed. Now England is one of the best countries in the world in order to qualify as a sport psychologist. But in 2004 there were more options in Australia – so that’s where I went” Gareth declares.

After finishing his Masters and therefore becoming a qualified sport psychologist he set up Condor Performance – which had a very international perspective right from the start.

“I didn’t like the idea that I would only be able to assist athletes and coaches from Australia” Gareth recalls, “so from the very beginning we were on the front foot regarding webcam technologies such as Skype”. He goes on to say “As the technology improved word soon caught on that athletes and coaches from anywhere in the world could access our performance psychology services. Interesting, and maybe due to the dearth of sports psychologists physically located in South Africa we got and continue to get many enquiries from Cape Town to Johannesburg and everywhere in between”.

Sticking By The Term Sport Psychologist

As many qualified sport psychologists find out it easier to use terms such as ‘mental skills coach’, ‘performance coach’ or just ‘coach’ Gareth has always stuck by the much-maligned title of ‘sport psychologist’.

“I liken sticking with the term ‘sport psychologists’ to those who have stuck by South Africa during the tough times,” he says. “When all the best dentists in the country leave then, of course, they are making the problem worse”. He goes on “the main reason that many choose not to refer to themselves as psychologists – despite having the qualifications to do so – it due to the stigma attached with the word psychologist”.

He concludes “the only way to remove that stigma is for sport psychologists to do excellent work and then keep using the title sport psychologist so that eventually it will not be associated with mental health problems and therapy/counselling”.

Webcam Sport Psychologist

Gareth is one of the pioneers of delivering sport psychology services via webcam. In fact, in the early days, when this kind of technology was brand new he was the ‘webcam sports psychologist’ more so than the ‘South African sport psychologist’ in some circles. In fact, he was one of the very first sport psychologists in the world to work through an internet connection and webcam.

Nowadays with huge improvements in the area of videoconferencing due to platforms such as Zoom, Skype, WhatApp video, FaceTime video and Google Hangouts Gareth and his colleagues at Condor Performance do 99% of their performance psychology work this way.

Zoom is currently Gareth’s favourite form of webcam system due to the extra features like screen sharing, virtual whiteboard and the option of recording the sessions.

If you’d like more information about working 1-on-1 with Gareth you can email him directly at gareth@condorperformance.com. Make sure to include details of your location, sport, goals and current mental challenges. He will typically get back to you within 48 hours.

Performance Mindfulness

Sport Psychology draws from many models but recently Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) is gaining some serious momentum.

Performance Mindfulness is simply mindfulness techniques for performance enhancement purposes.

If you are not formally trained in psychology, you might not know this. Under the banner of “psychotherapy” there are hundreds of different approaches. Sometimes called models or philosophies some work together whilst others are literally opposites. For some mindfulness (or performance mindfulness) is everything, for others it’s nonexistent.

At Condor Performance, we are open to our psychologists using whichever therapeutic models they believe are best. One of our core values is ‘always do what’s in the best interest of the client’. This eliminates the need to force all of our performance and sport psychologists to use the same ‘tool kit’.

CBT and ACT

In my applied work with sporting clients I have tended to use two major models. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been my go-to philosophies since 2005.

I should mention that I am not that thrilled that both of them end in the word ‘therapy’. The word therapy, to most, suggests a night clinical or counselling framework. This is not exactly the best label when helping professional golfers with their pre shot routines (for example).

Like many psychology students from the 1990s I was exposed mostly to just CBT models during my undergraduate years. In fact, so dominant was CBT in the early part of my training that I assumes it was ‘the only way’ to help clients!

Despite this I was always uncomfortable about the idea of helping people to think too differently. Quite frankly it just felt too hard without any real benefit. There was something missing from CBT’s toolkit. Luckily due to psychologist’s CPD requirements I was constantly being exposed to new ideas.

Russ Harris in 2013

In 2013 I was supervising a young provisionally registered psychologist called Alice Williams (now fully registered). During supervision sessions Alice had a lot of questions about both mindfulness and performance mindfulness. I knew I didn’t know enough. So the two of us travelled to Canberra to take one of Russ Harris’ Intro courses into ACT.

The two-day event was a game changer as we say in sporting circles. It made me realise that the C from CBT needed to come with a warning.

Warning: Thoughts (cognitions) should not be tampered with unless in exceptional situations.

There was nothing wrong with the B from CBT at all. Behavioural therapy seemed to be highly effective and a “gold mine” for sport psychology purposes.

The Wild Beast Analogy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was first developed by Steven C. Hayes in the 1980s. His starting point was that the cognitions of human being are very much like wild animals. You can try and tame them but ultimately they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

So instead of trying to directly change our thoughts we are far better off accepting them most of the time.

This makes complete sense to me. Imagine trying to get a tennis player to always have the same thoughts before they serve. Or to always think positively. Now imagine that that tennis player is in a very difficult situation. Maybe she is slightly injured or maybe she’s double match point down. Now, not only is she in a bind but we’re expecting her to think a certain way too!

Take a look at this before and after 2013 expert from a couple of hypothetical sessions.

Before 2013 (Discovering ACT)

Sport Psychologist: What do you think before each serve?

Tennis Player: Not quite sure ..

Sport Psychologist: I want you to be sure …

After 2013 (Discovering ACT)

Sport Psychologist: What do you think before each serve?

Tennis Player: Not quite sure ..

Sport Psychologist: Great, it’s your actions that count. What do you do before each serve?

The Misuse of The Word Mindfulness

Mindfulness has and continues to be confused with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Mindfulness is an increased awareness of the present moment with decreased judgment. It’s just one part of ACT, a very important part but it’s not the entire model.

When I use ACT to inform the one-on-one mental training I do with my sporting and non-sporting clients, I do so in the following way.

First, I explain that uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are a part of the human existence. The wild animal analogy can help here.

Next, I explain how thoughts are separate from actions. You can try this now. Start rubbing the top of your head whilst at the same time thinking how silly it is to rub one’s head. Even better say out loud “I will never be able to rub my head whilst talking”.

Mental Separation

All too often in the human experience thoughts, feeling and actions are regarded as inseparable. The favoured term in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is fused. Therefore the separation of thoughts from actions is logically called diffusion – a key part of ACT.

So we have to get better at accepting our thoughts. You can try this alone to start with but it is very hard. Or you can use free or paid apps or audio guides. Recently we created this 16 mins free audio called Really Simple Mindfulness.

Really Simple Mindfulness

This brings us to the final part of ACT, the commitment part. By commitment, what we are really saying is committed actions. And this is my mindfulness and ACT are so useful for sport. More so than almost any other human endeavour sports are facts full of actions. There are a virtually unlimited number of tasks that can be actioned.

So performance mindfulness is really just normally mindfulness but in a performance settings. And it’s in these settings that fusing (getting caught up) with your thoughts can be so damaging.

If you are curious about finding out more about the work we do at Condor Performance a great place to start is to listen to some of the recorded answers to the most frequent questions we get by clicking here. Or get in touch via one of these methods:

Mindfulness for Sport; The Power of The Present Moment

Below is a 2016 article by David on the same subject matter.

Mindfulness for Sport is a key performance mental skill without which you might just be found wanting when the pressure is up.

In every sport and performance area, there are a significant number of variables and factors that ultimately affect performance and results. Obviously, one of our jobs at Condor Performance (Applied Sport and Performance Psychologists) is to make sure that our clients have direct access to the mental skills that are most likely to help with these variables. Mindfulness For Sport, or Really Simple Mindfulness, is one such skill.

One idea we encourage the athletes and coaches we work with to focus on during training and competition is the present moment. It is here where we have the best opportunity to stay grounded and focused.

What I tend to notice when discussing the present moment with people is that the old cliche of “one step/shot/swing/etc. at a time”. However, without any commitment to a change in behaviour this belief merely acts as a “bumper sticker” mental skill. How about strategies that actually help you remain in the ‘here and now’?

Before I go further, I want to acknowledge a view that I’ve heard that some of the more stop-start sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and volleyball, are better ‘organically’ for staying in the present. There is some logic to this as these sports are broken down into smaller ‘chunks’. For example, separate points of shots or holes. During the period between these events, athletes are able to apply strategies such as pre-performance routines to help stay in the ‘now. Mindfulness For Sport is really about using such routines to ensure this happens.

Even In Dynamic Team Sports

But Mindfulness For Sport can work for all sports, you just need some creativity. Being able to bring ourselves back to the present moment by finding opportunities to break the match/game/race down into smaller events is not limited to start-stop sports.

All sports have natural points of breaks, pauses and checkpoints. These ‘gaps’ lend themselves to being associated with breaking sport down and applying a mental skill at these times.

In basketball, this could be crossing half-court when possession changes. In football (soccer) maybe when there is a free kick or throw-in? For both rugby codes moments when possession changes hands and you are lining up offensively or defensively. Even in swimming how about when you push off the wall to start the next lap?

As you can see, these moments don’t have to be very long. This is because the skills we want to apply are designed to be simple and effective. We don’t want to issues by overthinking via the work through a checklist of items each time this occurs.

If you’d like to ‘dip your toes’ into some more Mindfulness for Sport related techniques for sport and performance then skip straight to the Emotions section of Metuf for Sports by clicking here.

Pre Competition Routines

How do you spend the hours before you compete? More importantly, does this time help or hinder your performance?

How do you spend the hours before you go into the heat of battle? More importantly, does this time help or hinder your performance?

Although most our 1-on-1 clients comes from sport (about 70% athletes, 20% coaches) we do assist a select number of non-sporting performers (10% roughly). Some are doctors (medical personal), others are students and there’s even the odd politician and crane operator amongst them.

If there is one thing that all of these Condor Performance clients (past and present) have in common it’s this. Their abilities will be tested via some kind of upcoming event. For the athletes and coaches that we work with these tests tend to come in the form of sporting competitions. For the rest it could be an exam, a speech, a board meeting, a concert, a sales pitch or procedure.

In fact one of the women that I did my Masters of Sport Psychology at UWS with went on after graduation to specialise in helping couples mentally prepare for the pressure of their wedding!

Pre Competition Routines or Pre “Huge Bloody Event” Routines, therefore, are be mainstay of modern-day performance psychology.

Pre Competition Routines – The Basics

Regardless of what type of event it might be the same basics rules are the same. You’re trying to time your “A-Game” for that event, for when it matters. And if for any reason your A-Game is simply not possible then doing whatever is required so that your B-Game is on show. As opposed to your D or E game.

In many ways, one might sum up the work that performance / sport psychologists do as being just that. We help athletes, coaches, sporting officials and non-sporting performers to be as good as possible when it counts. Note the ‘as possible’ part. Trying to be excellent 100% of the time is both impossible and therefore counterproductive.

But how exactly do we go about helping performers to be as good as possible when it counts?

Pre Competition Routines are Mental Skills

For a start, we take the individual differences that exist between people very seriously. What this means is that although all of the Metuf mental methods we suggest are scientifically based the way we introduce them is highly tailored to the individual. It may come as a surprise that we actually do very, very little group work. Even when we’re working with a sporting team the most common way we provide our sport psychology services is via one-on-one consults.

In other words, we almost never present to the athletes as a group. It’s just not an effective way to have a long-lasting impact on their mental toughness and/or wellbeing. As one of the very first psychologists to join our team put it “it’s like trying to give a group haircut”.

The one-on-one conversations that dominate our working time ensure that the psychological skills are all based on the needs and the wants of that person. In some situations these can be the exact opposite of what we suggested to his/her teammate an hour beforehand.

But the sports science ensures that despite the highly tailored nature of our work there are still common threads that keep the complex tapestry together.

What’s The Main Aim Of A Good PCR?

One such common thread is the importance that is given to the lead up to a competition. To put it bluntly, the day or three before the competition is a time that is often skipped when looking at optimal performance strategies. It often slips between the cracks of practice and competing.

In my work I consider it to be part of the competition. In other words competition for my clients starts with a Pre Competition Routines not the actually completing part. For sports that either last a long time (cricket) and/or have long tournaments then this process can last for days rather than hours.

First of all, you need to know what the main aim of this lead-up time is – rest and relaxation.

Now you know the aim you need to know how to go about it. Easier said than done, right? Here are two golden rules. First, the word routine(s) is probably not the best choice of words here. The word routines can suggest it’s got to be the same every single time. This can be stressful and therefore defeats the purpose. Maybe a better term is Pre Competition Preferences. Even better if not wanting to exclude non-sporting performers might be Pre Event Preferences.

The second golden rule is this. The relaxation techniques you choose want to be action based not thought based. Why? We have a lot more influence over our actions than our thoughts. Quite simply, the actions – especially once repeated – will get the job done when it counts.

Finally remember the time for training is over once the Pre Competition Routine starts. You’re not going to get any better at catching a ball the day before the world series. Nor are you going to be able to improve your fitness on the morning of the finals. But you can easily use up some of your physical and mental resources well before the starting whistle if you are not careful.

A Real-Life Example

Over two consecutive Tuesdays last year, I made my way to Sydney (I live two hours again towards Canberra) in order to work with a small but exceptional group of cricket coaches. On both occasions, the workshop started at 11 am.

For the first workshop, I decided to get up early and accept that I might get stuck in traffic. So, having had breakfast far earlier than normal I left home with an hour extra in case of traffic. After an hour of driving two things happened within quick succession. First, the traffic was far worse than Google Maps said it was going to be. Second my wife called to say I had taken both sets of car keys accidentally.

Luckily her sister was in Sydney and was planning on taking the train to our place later so all I needed to do was give her the keys. A frantic 30 minutes of phone calls later we agreed on a place for me to give her the keys. But the deviation and traffic now meant that I’d only be arriving just before the first workshop with the coaches.

I tried and succeeded to a certain extent to use exactly the same kinds of stress-reducing strategies that I have spent the past 15 years teaching to my clients. I made it just before the start of the workshop and delivered it to the best of my abilities.

Feeling Better Prepared

Fast forward a week for the second workshop and this time I decided to drive down to Sydney the night before and stay with friends. For a start, there was no traffic on that Monday night and so the drive down towards the coast was actually quite relaxing. That night I went to bed early and even had time for an ocean swim the following morning. I arrived with bags of time before the 2nd workshop. I couldn’t have been more relaxed and rested. Although the cricket coaches might not have noticed the lead up to the second workshop allowed me to bring my A-Game for Workshop 2. Whereby I felt my B Game was the best I could manage the week before.

If you’d like help either creating or improving your Pre Competition Routines then get in touch via our Contact Form. One of our team of psychologists (or Emily) will get back to you with detailed information about our 1-on-1 services. 

What Is Mental Toughness?

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are the main topics that are addressed in this article.

What is Mental Toughness? For us, it’s a bit like one of the engines on a four engine plane.

No Agreement At This Time

It is important to state from the very beginning that there is currently very little agreement within the sport psychology community about what is really meant by mental toughness. In fact many researchers and psychologists working in sport and performance don’t even like the term mental toughness. Some don’t like the actual label whilst others don’t believe it should be a seperate concept to mental health. With this in mind the below assertions are just my professional opinions. Not surprisingly they are shared by my colleagues at Condor Performance.

Defining Sporting Mental Toughness

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are amongst the main topics that I will address below. Please use the comments sections at the bottom to let me know if you agree or disagree and why. And don’t forgot the why.

Mental Toughness Is Not The Same As Mental Preparation

Is the pursuit of more clarify we need to clear up the most common furphy first. Mental Toughness is the target, the outcome, the ‘thing(s)’ we’re trying to improve. Mental Toughness is not a process. Mental Toughness is the cake. It’s not the beating of the eggs.

A more accurate but less appealing label for mental toughness is actually ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. But in the same way that you’d sell less Advil if you called it only by it’s scientific name (ibuprofen) mental toughness is both punchier and more appealing to the consumer. If you want to see the importance of getting the label right have a look at this.

Furthermore, mental toughness is the umbrella terms for ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. What this means is that is refers to a complex interplay between a number of very different mental aspects. It works the same way as intelligence. Intelligence is now known to be made up of different types. So saying some is intelligent or not is less than usual. First up, it’s too black and white – where is the cut off? But more importantly it ignores the fact that someone can be high in visual-spatial intelligence and low in verbal-linguistic for example.

So a much more relevant question is what are the subcomponents of mental toughness? What are the common psychological outcomes we’re looking to improve as psychologists working in sport? After we have agreed on that, we can focus on the best methods, processes for improving them.

The Aeroplane Analogy

At Condor Performance we an use an analogy that the competitive athlete is like a four engined plane. This is best explained via this 15 minute video below.

Most human beings do not require super fitness, amazing physical strength nor excellent flexibility in order to function, thrive and be good at what they do. In fact, only relatively small amounts of physical activity may be needed in order for most people to experience the day-to-day benefits of exercise on their wellbeing. 

But if this person happens to be an athlete – and in particular an athlete of a physically demanding sport then these small amounts of psychical activity will not be sufficient. Especially if they want to go as far in their chosen sport as possible. 

If the purpose of the aircraft is simply to go for short 20 minute flights as part of a hobby group for amateur fliers then it still needs to function but the efficiency of the engines is less critical compared with an aeroplane that wants to fly as far as possible (safely).

After 15 years of helping mostly athletes with mostly their performance mental toughness, I believe that it is best broken down into these five key psychological subcomponents:

  • Motivation (towards training and competing)
  • Emotional Agility (before / during training and competitions
  • Thought Shaping through values
  • Unity (Team cohesion)
  • Focus on demand

Be Careful Of Synonyms!

Most of the other labels that you’d expect to be here are either synonyms of one of these words or a type of one of the subcomponents or a combination of the both of these. For example, the words concentration and attention are both synonyms of focus. I know from some of my academic contact that some don’t agree with this. In other others focus and attention are not actually the same. To them I say this. They are close enough, let’s not overcomplicate things just for the same of it.

Confidence, pressure. fear and feeling relaxed are all types of emotions. Flow, one of the most common words in modern-day sport psychology, is really just a blend of high focus whilst executing tasks that are not too easy nor too hard.

How Do We Improve Mental Toughness

As mentioned before trying to improve mental toughness as a whole thing is a waste of time. Much in the same way that trying to improve intelligence is. Once you start asking yourself the question how do I improve motivation or emotional agility then the magic start to happen. First, common sense and/or experience will produce a few ideas.

Try this experiment with kids. As them to brainstorm way to improve mental toughness. See what happens. Now repeat and ask them to come up with was to improve group unity. Bam!

If you type the word ‘motivation’ into Google Scholar you get 4,270,000 results. We know a lot about motivation and how to improve it. If you type ‘mental toughness’ in you get a mere 18,400 results. That’s more than 200 times the amount of knowledge on motivation compared with mental toughness.

If you are not happy with common sense alone then turn your attention to the research. Or better still start working with someone who has gone through all the research on your behalf. At Condor Performance I am blessed to have an amazing team of psychologists who do almost of the consulting. This allows me the time to get my geek on and consume performance psychology like a bear coming out of hibernation.

If you’d like to find our more about how to work with one of our team on your mental toughness then get in touch now.


The Best Sport Psychologist You Can Be

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole makes 5 suggestions on how to be ‘the best sport psychologist you can be’ and in turn lift the entire profession.

I believe that I am currently the best sport psychologist that I can be.

At what stage in a career do you have enough enough experience to start giving advice? Some might suggest that it’s best to wait until the very end or even into retirement. The issue with that is you’re likely to be making suggestions well after you were at your best. In my view, the ideal time to be given advice is when you’re at your peak.

Meant with confidence, not arrogance I feel that I am currently at the peak of my powers as a sport psychologist.

I started working as a sport psychologist shortly after completing my Masters from the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2005. I was 28 and very keen to start working with sporting clients – some would say I was too keen.

Can You Be Too Keen, Motivated?

Of course you can. Motivation, like most performance desirables is best somewhere in the middle. In other words, being too motivated and not motivated enough are both issues. Been too keen can lead to poor decision making. Maybe a better label for to motivated is desperate. In 2005 I was desperate to start working with sporting clients.

Condor Performance came about due to the lack of jobs out there for qualified sport psychologists. My mindset was simple. Instead of getting frustrated by the lack of opportunities if I haven’t tried to create some for myself.

I am now 43, not 28 so officially middle aged. I am now married to a ‘legend’. We have two amazing kids and live near Moss Vales (New South Wales). Oh, and Condor Performance has grown from a one-man band with a few clients to a growing team of nine sport psychologists and performance psychologists.

Between us we have hundred of sporting clients from all around the world.

Lesson From The Journey So Far

With all of this in mind, I have put together a short list of suggestions. Of course, if you are either a sport psychologist or trying to become one then these will be both immediately and obviously useful. But as I look down at the list that I jotted down on paper earlier it’s already obvious to me that many of the ideas are likely to be handy for sporting coaches too. In particular sporting coaches who are already aware of the huge role that sports psychology plays in terms of helping athletes become the best that they can be.

Quite frankly, I am over trying to convince anyone that the mind (the brain) is an important aspect of human performance and that it can and should be targeted for improvement.

Tip One: Know Your Sports

Having an in-depth understanding of as many major sports as possible is, in my view, the foundation of being an excellence sports psychologist. There are many reasons for this but the most prominent are:

  • A good understanding of how sports works will allow you to build rapport with clients of those sports in a way that nothing else will
  • If you work less on mental health issues and more on performance challenges (like I do) then it’s likely the conversations will become very “sporty”. From sessions with golfers that are 100% dedicated to improving different types of pre-shot routine for various types of golf shot to workshops with gymnastics coaches who want views on the different mental demands of the different types of gymnastics disciplines and apparatus

My own knowledge of sport comes mostly from my childhood. I remember watching every ball of every cricket test match during my long school holidays. I remember creating my own tennis scoreboard using an old whiteboard so I could play umpire during Wimbledon matches. So you could say that I have been studying the sports side of sports psychology since I was about five or six years old. And South Africa during the 1980s was a great place to feast on live sport – as the bans from international competitions meant that regional and interstate rivalries were at there most frequent and engaging.

Familiarity With Sport Is How We Build Rapport

Over the years I have employed and supervised dozens of sports psychologists. I have, at times, been dumbfounded by the lack of passion and knowledge that many of them have when it comes to sport. And we’re not talking about boutique sports here like dragon boating or synchronised swimming. We are talking about major sports that at certain times of year are everywhere like golf, tennis, football and basketball.

In fact, so important is sporting expertise for me that I include it as part of the interview process. Nowadays, I am less intense but still require incoming sport and performance psychologists to self-asses their own sporting knowledge.

Universities with sport psychology courses take note – include sport as part of the student’s requirements and thank me later.

Can you learn a passion and proficiency for sports even if your childhood was not like mine? Of course. If mental challenges like managing emotions and improving motivation can be overcome then so too can your understanding of sports. But it’s not going to happen by accident – you’d better get to work.

Tip Two: Personality Counts – Big Time

I know this is a controversial one but I am writing an opinion piece here so hear me out. The best sports psychologists I have met – some of whom I am very fortunate to have to work for me – have all been very likeable and very intelligent. By likeable I mean you’d almost prefer to be their friend instead of their boss. By intelligent, I mean super smart. The kind that doesn’t require a calculator when going through some of the numbers we gather once a month to monitor our own performance as “performance psychologists’.

You would imagine that in order to complete a university degree – the step before pursuing a career as a sports psychologist – you’d need to have at least some degree of mental quickness and people skills. Alas, this doesn’t always happen which of course makes my job of finding suitable candidates when we’re looking to expand so much harder. 

Tip Three: Never Stops Improving

The Japanese have a lovely word for it Kai-zen – which loosely translated into English means ‘constant improvement’. Maybe all professions fall victim to this. Once fully qualified is can be frightfully difficult to get some sports psychologists to actively continue their professional development. At Condor Performance we decided that prevention was always better than a cure and have, for as long as I can remember, paid for our psychologists to attend relevant conferences and other CPD events. By paid for I mean we both purchase their accreditation and allow them to attend during working time – not as part of their own leave.

I suspect some of my team think we’re doing it for their benefit but in actual fact, we’re doing is for ours. The best athletes and coaches in the world will only want to work with the best support staff in the world. It’s a horse and cart or chicken and egg thing.

Tip Four: Convert Frustration into Fuel

At the time of writing (2019), if you get a fancy sign with the words “Local Sports Psychologist” and stick it up by your front gate or door very, very few potential clients will come knocking. In the same way that some sports are organically very frustrating (golf and cricket are the first two to come to mind) so too is the profession of ‘sports psychologist’. In other words, nothing comes easy.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying there are professions out there without challenges and roadblocks but ours would have to rank inside the top 10% of ‘most difficult to convert years spent studying into take-home pay per week’.

I have had many conversions with sports psychologist colleagues (not Condor Performance employees) where the frustration was so much that it felt like I was in a session with a golfer who just couldn’t win his first tournament regardless of how hard he tried.

In fact, one chat over coffee in particular really sticks in my memory where I used such a golf analogy. Golf is frustrating ‘on purpose’ so that only the mentally tough would ‘find a way’. If it’s too hard for you, take up jogging instead.

Tip Five: Become A Sporting Coach Yourself 

Ok, honesty time. This is the only one of my tips that I currently don’t do myself. But it’s not due to a lack of motivation but a lack of time. I would like to be around as much as possible whilst my children are still young.

If so much of coaching is actually sport psychology under a pseudonym put your money where your mouth is. Start using your training to help your local sports teams. Of course, three barriers are likely to stop you.

  • Few decision makers will let you have a go. That’s right, despite 6 or 7 years of formal training towards how to make humans perform better your local netball team is still more likely to pick a former player as their head coach
  • You don’t want the accountability that comes with being Head Coach. Rightly or wrongly when we help sporting clients to improve their mental toughness there is rarely, if any, accountability if we don’t actually get the job done. But ask any coach at any level what will happen if they can’t produce results – they’ll know the answer

Last But Not Least

  • No time to do both. This is my excuse. With less work (the majority of my working time at Condor Performance is on essential admin tasks) one of the first things I’d do is offer my services pro bono at one or two of the local clubs near me. By I know that doing a good job – or the best job possible – would take up a lot of time and so this will have to wait until my kids and my company are all a little bit older.

Looking for work (more work) as a sport psychologist? Check out our jobs page here.

Communication is King

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

Plato
Chris Pomfret communicating with legendary mountain bike coach Donna Dall.
Chris Pomfret communicating with legendary mountain bike coach Donna Dall.

Note: This article was written and published before major improvements were made in late 2018 to Metuf – the name given to the collection of mental skills that we use with our sporting and non-sporting clients. Due to this, the 5th paragraph mentions Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency. In the latest version of Metuf, these have been replaced by Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus. For more information about Metuf please visit The Metuf Online homepage.

Warning: If you’re not part of a traditional team sport and therefore think that an article about communication doesn’t apply to you in the same way it might apply to a rugby or soccer player for instance then think again. “Team” by our definition basically means group which basically means more than one person (typically with a common goal). So if you’re an individual sport athlete then your team is probably your family, your coach(es), your sport and performance psychologist (hopefully one of us) and anyone and everyone in your life with whom you have a relationship and therefore could help or hinder you with your goals. Of course for athletes of traditional team sports all these “support” people also apply but the overall number of personnel in your “team” is probably larger as you would include all the people you compete with.

Let’s start with a question. Is communication really a mental skill or is it more of a life skill? Well to be honest most psychological skills are life skills (some obvious whilst other are in disguise with a fake moustache and a wig) if you think about it. Let’s take commitment as an example. Yes, commitment (motivation, drive) is a mental nugget that is hugely valuable in sport and performance but really it’s useful for everyone in every situation. The kind of commitment that high performing athletes have to get up at 5am and train is not that different than the commitment shown by plumbers who get up at a similar time in order to earn an honest income.

Simply put, as human beings (no offence to any animals reading this we just don’t know enough about what makes you tick yet) our mental strengths and weaknesses spill into everything we do. Although at Condor Performance we tend to assist athletes, coaches and performers improve mental areas such as communication mainly for performance enhancement in most cases it benefits them well beyond their chosen sport and performance area (a nice side effect to working with someone trained in both general psychology as well as sport and performance psychology).

First we’ll clarify exactly what communication is and break it down and then afterwards we’ll provide insight into a couple of simple mental methods for improving it.

Although some people / professionals like to regard communication to include “communicating” with oneself our system of mental toughness training (Metuf) doesn’t as we feel there are better words for concepts like self-talk (e.g. thinking). Anyway, the word itself in English derives from the Latin communicare meaning “to share” and it’s technically not possible to share with yourself.

So how do we share (communicate) with others then? Basically, in either a non verbal (body language and facial expressions) way or a verbal way (words and all the things associated with the spoken word such as tone, volume, pitch etc). Then of course there is both the production of these (e.g. talking, grunting, throwing our racket etc) and the receiving of them too (e.g. listening, sensing distress just by the look on someones face).

As both sporting and non sporting clients of ours know one of the greatest strengths of the Metuf approach is the “breaking down of complex concepts into smaller, clearer more manageable parts” and we feel the best way to start improving communication is through a combination of exactly this and our Controlling It mental method.

Rather than rate yourself in terms of the 2 x 2 matrix formed by Non Verbal and Verbal along the side and Productive and Receptive along the top just assume all four facets of communication are important (by the way reading and writing are also technically part of the communication picture but have been left out of this article for the sake of simplicity). Try to spend 5 minutes a week on trying to improve each cell of the Matrix (20 minutes in total). For example, for Non Verbal x Productive you might practice doing something more conspicuous when angry such as squeezing the grip of your racket/bat/whatever you have nearby. For the Verbal / Productive cell it might be worth seeing if you can navigate the content of what you’re saying towards more Controllable / Highly Influenceable topics such as effort and away from less influenceable ones such as other people and uninfluenceable distractions such as your genetics.

As well as experimenting with how different WORDS can impact on your relationships why not also try seeing how difference ways of saying things can impact on the message too. For example try whispering “please send me more information about your services” and then say exactly the same eight words again in your normal voice.

The Off Season is Really the On Season

‘The off season is one of the best times for elite athletes to be working on their mindset’ says International Sports Psychologist Gareth J. Mole

Early morning training session
The best athletes in the world are also mentally the strongest

Note: This article was written and published before major improvements were made in late 2018 to Metuf – the name given to the collection of mental skills that we use with our sporting and non-sporting clients. Due to this, the article below mentions ‘pillars’. In the latest version of Metuf, the pillars have been replaced by an analogy of an aeroplane. For more information about Metuf please visit The Metuf Online homepage.

The “Off Season” is an odd sporting term implying almost that athletes and coaches from around the globe only have two gears – “On” during pre season and the competitive months were they give everything and then “Off” for the rest of the year whereby they go and hibernate like bears in the winter time.

This Black and White / Either Or / Binary way of conceptualising the sporting year is counterproductive – certainly from a mental standpoint. Almost without a doubt the origin of the term Off Season comes from a bygone era when training was regarded as almost entirely physical (strength and conditioning plus motor skills) and therefore there was probably some logic – particularly in physically demanding sports  – to a few months of allowing the body to recover before “going again”.

However, this whole idea falls apart pretty quickly when you look at high performance preparation through the lens of 21st century sports science whereby more than half of the areas of improvement require little or no physical movement whatsoever.

As anyone who has completed our online Mental Toughness program – Metuf – will know and current and former monthly clients of ours will know even better we like to “Simplify” and “Complete” preparation into the following five pillars Physical Capability (PC), Mental Toughness (MT), Tactical Wisdom (TW), Technical Consistency (TC) and LifeStyle Choices (LC).

If we assume these 5 pillars are of equal importance then really only Physical Capability (PC) requires more body than mind with the other 4 pillars being dominated by “above the neck” processes.  So for highly demanding physical sports (for example CrossFit, rugby union, rugby league, American Football, AFL and endurance sports – to name the first few to come to mind) then it’s really only Physical Training that might want to be reduced during the gaps between the end of the competitive season and the start of the next preseason.

In terms of time frames at Condor Performance we are strong believers that the sporting year / season is not a particularly useful “performance” concept when compared with months and weeks. We encourage our 1-on-1 client to use months in order to monitor progress (through the use of what we call Monthly Checks) sometimes known as Performance Goals or Key Performance Indicators in academic and business circles respectively. Then, we urge them to switch their attention to arguably the most valuable unit of time of them all – the week – in order to plan and then complete the highest possible quality training across all five pillars. As a general rule, when this is done well it frees up large amounts of time (as the higher quality reduces the amount of quantity/time required for equal or greater improvement) and typically results in 52 weeks of “the right amount” of effort instead of 40 weeks of overdoing it followed by 12 weeks of undergoing it (oh, how very common this is).

One of the biggest clues is how you feel mentally and physically at the end of the competitive season. If you are desperate for the break then there is a good chance you’ve been overextending yourself and would benefit from exploring one of the best kept performance secrets out there – you don’t get to the top by doing more you get there by being smarter. 

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: With Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole

Tim Webster (Macquarie Sports Radio) and Gareth J. Mole (Condor Performance) chat on the radio about various Sports Psychology topics.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Tim:                                            All right, let’s talk a bit of psychology. They do say, sometimes, that sport can be 80 percent in your head and 20 percent ability. Or is it the other way around? Well, let’s find out.

Tim:                                            Well you hear often 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. Good date Gareth.

Gareth J. Mole:                   Hey, Tim, how are you doing?

Tim:                                            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 in to a massive percentage of athletes and coaches using our services, to the degree where you would think they would. Based on what we specialise in.

Tim:                                            Yeah, interesting you should mention that because golf, I actually asked Greg Norman that question, some years ago. He didn’t say 90 percent, but he said 80. He said “Look 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 can’t just be the ability to play the game. It has to be mental.

Gareth J. Mole:                         Yes, absolutely. A good way of, 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 an eight year old playing golf with his buddies, it is predominately 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, Tim, and there’s a growing amount of research for this is that as athletes improve, because everybody is good at the technical … let’s be honest, let’s look at tennis as an example.

Gareth J. Mole:                        If we look at the top 100 tennis players in the world, technically, they’re all very very good.

Tim:                                            Yes.

Gareth J. Mole:                   Physically, that means fitness, strength, cardio fitness and flexibility. They’re all very very good. So therefore, what’s making the Roger Federers of the this world consistently better than the guys ranked 100 or 500, given that physically and technically he’s not that much better than them. And really it boils down to what’s left if everybody is more or less even when it comes to those. And of course, what’s left is the mental side. And that’s a good way of, I suppose, adding a little bit of details to that 90 or 80 percent mental. The full answer 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 need to come in things like concentration, confidence, motivation and the like

Tim:                                            There’s so many examples to use, currently. Novak Djokovic being one of them. Now, in a real bad patch with his form, and he was the dominant player in the game for many many years along with and Roger of course. And he’s only 30 and Roger is significantly older than him and Rafael’s 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 was still plaguing him physically, so then is it plaguing him mentally?

Gareth J. Mole:                      Well, you would expect, yeah. The tricky thing when it comes to what we do is because we don’t have direct contact with those particular players. And so in many ways we’re just like tennis fans like the rest of us where we watch them in the Australian open and so on and so forth. And it’s tricky to know exactly who’s involved in the entourage, so to speak. For those kind of complications. The interesting thing about Novak is of course, couple of things happened, I think he got married and that massively improved his performance for a patch.

Gareth J. Mole:                        And there’s a reason for that. Which essentially is based on the distribution of pressure. If you’ve got a successful home life, suddenly, getting knocked out in a semi final of a grand slam isn’t the tragedy that you thought it was if you were obsessed, unhealthily obsessed as a single person. And then of course, the injuries … the changing of the coaches, very very frequently is quite another interesting thing to observe from afar. Because of course, at that level, the fascinating thing about the coach-athlete relationship at the highest level is, if we’re to be completely honest, the likes of Boris Becker for example, or Stefan Edberg, they’re not telling the likes of Novak Djokovic how to hit a back hand.

Tim:                                            No no.

Gareth J. Mole:                      They must be, predominantly coaching the metal side. And the fascinating thing from our perspective is, is being a former player a sufficient qualification for you to dispense psychological advice?

Tim:                                            Good question.

Gareth J. Mole:                       Now, my gut instinct is no. It’s not. With all due respect to somebody who has won five or six grand slams as Boris Becker may have. What mental strategies that have been, I suppose 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. And therefore, what I think is going to happen over the next five to ten years, Tim, and we’re only just starting to see it, is, I think you’ll start seeing a much greater percentage of coaches consulting with sports psychologist. We’ve 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.

Gareth J. Mole:                      And you probably don’t want to force a psychology student to play 200 games in the NRL before you then allow him to help some.

Tim:                                            I’ve got you. Yeah I understand.

Gareth J. Mole:                    So the ideal combination is where you get the people who really know their stuff in this are, 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:                                            Yeah, look there’s so many examples, currently to use, but I tell you one that worries me, and tell me if I’m being worried unnecessarily about a young ruby league player, in this instance, and there’s probably a few we could nominate. Jackson Hastings who’s had all sorts of dramas, mainly confrontation with his captain. Out at a night club. And he’s been flicked down to reserve grade four. Allegedly the rest of the year. Now, kids only 21. And the pressure that that places on him, mentally, worries me. Should I be worried about that?

Gareth J. Mole:                 Yeah, look it’s a good question. Look, the short answer is no. He lives in Australia, this is one of the best countries in the world to be, if the wheels start falling of anything. Compared to so many other places. So, I don’t think so. There is a question of … and it’s a question that we’re constantly weighing up, me and my colleagues. Of, the overlap of mental health and what we call mental toughness. Just to very briefly go back to my initial comment about sports psychologist being used less than you would think. My gut instinct as to 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 the stuff which, depression, anxiety, and stress for example. Which anybody could be suffering with.

Gareth J. Mole:                      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, Tim, in that we personally believe that sport psychologist probably shouldn’t be helping rugby league players with clinical depression. Given, that there are, I think 15 or 16,000 clinical psychologist in Australia …

Tim:                                            To deal with that, yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                     Who are very very 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. Now, mental toughness, we believe is like the technical side and the physical side. Would apply to all athletes of all levels. We’re talking about a basic concept such as concentration. Can someone who’s concentration is pretty good, be improved to be so that it’s excellent? So that it’s almost infallible? So in that example that you just mentioned with Jackson, where, are you concerned. My gut instinct, again, I don’t have anymore information that you probably have.

Tim:                                            No.

Gareth J. Mole:                    But my feeling is, there’s a lot of cases in many different sports where the first thing that they’d kind of want to work out, is, is this particular athlete … have some kind of a mental illness? In which case, they go down that path. Or, are they actually mentally fine, but some of the issues that they are struggling with, just due to the fact that no one at the club, the coach, is not particularly skilled when it comes to coaching mental aspects such as confidence and [crosstalk 00:11:02].

Tim:                                            Yeah, and they become ostracised. So.

Gareth J. Mole:                    That’s right.

Tim:                                            So when athletes come to you, what’s the main thing that they want? Improve performance, obviously, yes?

Gareth J. Mole:                    Yeah, so it’s a whole bunch of words that start with the letter C. And it’s quite remarkable, because they kind of all start with the letter C. So typically when people first contact us, they fill in a mental toughness questionnaire. And it’s a self report measure. That’s one of the other weaknesses of psychology, unlike a fitness test, where you can’t fake it, you can’t fake a

Tim:                                            No.

Gareth J. Mole:                   You can totally fake a psychological test. Because you can give answers based on what your dad wants to hear for example. But it’s a self report measure and it generates a whole bunch of scores and those scores related to areas that we regard as critical for performance and entirely mental toughness related. And they are basically things like concentration, confidence, commitment, creativity, communication. So sometimes the term mental toughness is used like a single concept. Like “oh, can you help me with this particular athlete, because he’s mentally weak, can you make him mentally tougher?”

Gareth J. Mole:                    The term mental toughness is actually a little bit broad. Because it’s quite possible for someone to contact us who’s commitment levels, there’s one of the C words, the commitment levels is excellent. But their confidence is way down. And then someone else contacts us and it’s the exact opposite. In other words, they’re actually quite confident, when it comes to playing and training et cetera. But they’ve lost all their motivation. And one of the reasons why the, we insist on working with almost every body one on one, whether they be a team sport athlete or an individual athlete, is because of the fact that every body’s mental toughness profile is a little bit different. And therefore, you can imagine the work that’s getting done with someone who’s confidence is high, but who’s commitment is low, is very different from the work that’s done with someone who’s profile is the opposite.

Tim:                                            Yeah, and look it’s a fascinating discussion, it is. And thank you for sparing the time. And I could talk to you for a long time. But let’s just finish with this, and come back to golf. Because Jason Day has recently said, yeah he’d love to be the world number one again, but he had all of these things going on in his life last year, his mum became very sick, his wife had a miscarriage, and life was awful. Now, he says, “Life’s great at home and I’ve got nothing to think about but golf.” And he stopped going to the gym, because that was hurting him, he just concentrated on playing golf. But if it’s rugby league or rugby union or AFL, you’re playing for 80, 90 minutes. Golf is, you’ve got to concentrate, there’s that C word again. Over four days in a major championship. Surely that requires a lot of what mental toughness, focus, what?

Gareth J. Mole:                    Yeah, look. Let’s be honest. Anything, any test cricket in golf, are pretty remarkable in that …

Tim:                                            Hours and hours. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                      Yeah. The way we do it very simple, and if there’s any cricketers or golfers listening they can absolutely implement this. During a four hour round of golf, Tim, you only really want to be concentrating for about seven or eight minutes. So the majority of the time, during a four hour 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 and you then have a …

Tim:                                            Then you walk for …

Gareth J. Mole:                    That’s right. Now walking …

Tim:                                            Hopefully 300 meters. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                    That’s right. Walking, even if you duff it, you probably still have to walk for about 45 seconds. So, the huge mistake made my most of those start-stop athletes that we call them. Any sport which involves attempt, stop, attempt, stop, attempt.

Tim:                                            Got you. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                    All of those table sports. The big mental mistake made by all of them, is they try to concentrate as best they can from the beginning and they aren’t aware that human beings just are incapable of maximum concentration for longer than about an hour. Most of us, will peak at about 45 minutes. It’s why school classes normally are around about 45 minutes or an hour. Because they know this kind of thing. And therefore, if your sport is something that goes for longer than an hour. And involves start, stop, start, stop, one of the simplest, easiest to implement mental strategies is the use of routines, pre-shot routines.

Tim:                                            Yeah, all of it. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                        For golf, whereby you are only starting your concentration about ten seconds before each attempt. And you are intentionally switching off about five to ten seconds after each attempt. So with the exception of putting, because there’s no walking involved. That virtually guarantees that you are resting your mind for a lot longer between the shots than you are using your mind just prior to each shot. And therefore, concentration levels could potentially be maximised day after day after day. Because you’re not concentrating for four hours, you’re concentrating for about 25 seconds and then resting for another few minutes.

Tim:                                            I’m with you. Yeah. God it’s a fascinating subject and that’s absolutely true in relation to golf, and I know I said it was the last thing, but just one more thing because it does fascinate me. 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:                        Well, yeah, again, another very interesting question and all I can do is, I suppose, comment based on what I’ve seen. 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. It’s just, we just know from the research, Tim, human beings can not concentrate for four hours at a time. So my feeling is that there was either, a little bit of gamesmanship going on with Tiger, whereby he was able to mentally switch off but have everyone else think he was not switching off. So that of course they would copy him and mentally burn out on the 12th hole. Which is what most people do.

Gareth J. Mole:                     Either he was doing that, or he was just switching on, switching off and we had no way of actually telling. What Jason’s doing there with the laughing and joking around with the caddy, that’s the much more obvious way to do it. Because by doing that and being overtly relaxed between shots, those actions, as a general rule, actions lead the mind. That’s the philosophy that we use. In other words, we don’t actually spend a whole lot of time trying to change peoples thoughts. We spend a lot of time helping people change their actions. Which leads to, generally, more useful thought.

Tim:                                            Yeah, right.

Gareth J. Mole:                      And the chances of you forgetting to switch off, if you are chatting to your caddy about the movie you saw a couple of days ago, are much lower, let’s be honest. There’s a much higher risk if you are only mentally switching off, but it still looks like you have laser focus throughout the entire full round.

Tim:                                            Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                      It would be easy to forget.

Tim:                                            Yeah. It’s all very fascinating. So Condor Performance Sports and Performance Psychology. We’d find you on the net I’m sure if anyone wanted to get in contact?

Gareth J. Mole:                      Yes, Tim, absolutely. And I look forward to speaking to you further whenever you guys want to have a chat about the mental side. As you could probably tell, we could probably talk on a weekly basis and I’d be more than happy to make myself available for that.

Tim:                                            Yeah, well that’ll be lovely because the whole subject fascinates me. Thanks Gareth, thanks very much.

Gareth J. Mole:                         Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                                            That’s Gareth Mole from Condor Performance.

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: Controlled And Uncontrolled Aggression In Sport

Tim Webster, from Macquarie Sports Radio, talks to one of our Senior Sports Psychologists about the fine line between controlled and uncontrolled aggression in team sports.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Tim:                                            Well, we were on the air last weekend when this happened, and we watched it and could’t quite believe it. Andrew Gaff from the Eagles broke the jaw of young Fremantle star Andrew Brayshaw, which required broken-jaw surgery, and of course a lot of missing teeth. If you saw him on television last night, this young boy’s a mess.

Tim:                                            Now, Daniel Harford, a former Hawthorne and Carlton great, has said the treatment of Andrew Gaff has been shameful. Now he got an eight-week ban for it, so the question is, is the treatment of Andrew Gaff shameful, or is what he did shameful, and the psychology of all that? Now a guy that we go to quite often, and we love talking to him about all of this is sports psychologist with Condor Performance, Gareth Mole.

Tim:                                            G’day, Gareth.

Gareth J. Mole:                  Hey, Tim.

Tim:                                            It was a horrible incident, wasn’t it?

Gareth J. Mole:                 It was a horrible incident. I was actually watching the match, completely missed it when it happened live, but obviously I’ve, and now like many AFL fans, had the opportunity to watch the 4,000 slow-motion replays and obviously form an opinion on it.

Tim:                                            Now Andrew Gaff is very remorseful. He says it’s the worse 48 hours of his life, the couple of days after it, and ends up at the Tribunal and gets eight weeks. Now people are saying that’s not enough, and the social media being what it is, everyone’s going for nothing short of putting him in the stocks, putting him in jail, or banning him for life, so the psychology of that? Well, let’s talk about him first and then we’ll talk about Brayshaw. How harmful is that for Andrew Gaff?

Gareth J. Mole:             Yeah, it’s a good question, and it’s a good place to start, because obviously that’s what’s happening right now. We don’t have a time machine. We can’t go back and undo the incident, so that’s definitely the most important area to focus on. I mean, essentially, the broader question, Tim, is the impact that public opinion have when they’re coming down on you? From one perspective, there needs to be an acknowledgement that if having the public give their opinion about what you do is not something you’re comfortable with, then the majority of professions exist to keep you completely safe, you know, if you’re a librarian or a dentist, you’re going to get very, very, little public scrutiny. So there needs to be some sort of acknowledgement that as you progress up the sporting ladder, there is going to be an increase in the amount of attention that comes from people that you’ve never met, and of course social media has just put a huge magnifying glass on that.

Gareth J. Mole:              Without knowing either of the Andrews, the way that I would try and answer that question would be, you would hope, that with the resources available to AFL clubs, which is very impressive in comparison to many sports, you would hope that there would be a qualified person working in the background, which essentially would mean that that criticism is not having a long lasting devastating impact. So that would be the hope, and at the end of the day, it is easy for us to say, but it is just people giving their opinions and that old schoolyard phrase of, sticks and stones, sort of, kind of, applies to this situation. The vast majority of the criticism is simply words and people giving their opinion.

Tim:                                            You know, once upon a time, and I’m not for one second condoning violence, I mean that would’ve happened in a game of football, whether it’s AFL, rugby league, rugby union, the penalty would be handed out and we’d move on, but it’s almost endless now. People who maybe don’t know anything about football, and just see it and describe it being the worst they’ve ever seen, and they want him banned for life et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So it goes on, and on, and on, with the social media. How harmful is that to Andrew Gaff?

Gareth J. Mole:            Yeah, I mean, I think one of the really important things for us to try and get our head around is, I noticed there was an article written by the father of somebody who, I believe, was killed by a one-punch hit, essentially saying it should be treated exactly the same as if you went up to someone in the street and clocked them around the face with your most powerful fist. I personally don’t believe that is appropriate. I mean, if we just use a very simply example, Tim, one of the hardest sports, rugby league, if I was to bump into you in the supermarket and give you my best rugby league tackle, which is not that impressive, but I grabbed you by the ankle, and you could potentially sue me, and you’d be successful, but yet, that happens 250 times every single time two rugby league teams play each other. So I am a strong advocate of the fact that within sporting contexts we cannot apply exactly the same mechanisms and rules that apply to people walking around the street, so the context is crucial here.

Gareth J. Mole:              Those two, if the two Andrews had been in a pub catching up, and the exact same incident had happened, then we, I think, treat it completely differently, but it happened within a sporting battle, if we can use that word, and there’s probably countless numbers of similar kinds of incidents that take place every week, but we just don’t hear about them because of course, they don’t cause any injury, and therefore they just kind of get brushed under the carpet, but the context is critical, I think.

Tim:                                            Well, yeah. I think suggesting criminal charges for assault, which some did suggest, is just going way too far. Andrew Gaff himself, and look we just got to take him at face value, said he was actually not aiming for his face, but he collected his face in a horrible way. I think the thing that troubled a lot of people the most was that he just seemed to hit him and then run away. So that whole heat of battle thing on a football field, and we’ve discussed this before, haven’t we, when players know what the consequences are, and they still do things like what Andrew Gaff did, it did, I must say, I shake my head.

Gareth J. Mole:                Yeah. I suppose one of the questions is, is it realistic to expect players to be able to, players of any sport, to be able to do what most humans are unable to do? So what we saw there, if we’re talking a little bit of neuroscience here, is what’s commonly called the rage response, is how people describe it, and the research is pretty clear. When you do something which falls under that label of the rage response, you basically don’t really know you’re doing it, and the common sort of feedback of people who’ve been involved in these kinds of actions is within a second of doing the particular act, they know it was kind of wrong. The neuroscience behind the rage response is basically to do with fight and flight. Essentially we’ve evolved over tens of millions of years, so that if anything is of perceived threat to us, then we kind of react in a similar way to pulling your hand off a hot oven, it just sort of happens. Now some people will be better at that than others, for whatever reasons, genetics, and so on and so forth, but there are things that you can do to reduce the chances of it happening, the most obvious thing is to reduce player stress.

Gareth J. Mole:               If someone is much more relaxed, if you are much, much more relaxed as a baseline, within a game, which is totally possible, it’s what we do all the time, therefore, it’s going to require something much, much bigger to trigger the rage response. If you’re quite stressed anyway, and there’s lots of things that can cause stress, like a close match, you know, a local Western Australian Derby is probably pretty good at increasing stress-

Tim:                                            Well, that’s what it was. Yeah, that’s right.

Gareth J. Mole:              That’s right.

Tim:                                            Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:               His baseline stress is high, and then a few things are happening and basically, bam, rage response, and he does it without being able to stop it.

Tim:                                            Yeah, look, AFLs a game, and it’s traditional, they just do it, it doesn’t happen in rugby league or rugby union, or in the real game, and they come on the field and they push each other and shove each other and it’s all a bit of argy-bargy before the game even starts, and while the game is on, so is that part of it? So that escalates him, he push, shove, push, shove, and you know how you get yourself, if someone does that to you, you get really cranky, “Well, for god’s sake, leave me alone” and eventually you lash out. I mean, I suppose that’s what could’ve happened in this instance.

Gareth J. Mole:         That’s definitely part of it, Tim. And the other sport, of course, is ice hockey-

Tim:                                            Yeah. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:              … which is exactly the same. Those two sports are exactly the same where’s this quite bizarre acceptable level of push and shove, and you know, we’re obviously guessing here, but you’d have to expect what you just said to be absolutely valid. If you’re a young man, pumped full of testosterone, extremely excited about the idea of playing in a WA Derby, or any match to be completely honest, and then you add on top of that just the little bit of additional fight or flight, or stress that comes with little push, little shove, little push, little shove, little push, little shove, suddenly the amount of incidents, or what needs to take place during the actual match to trigger the rage response is obviously going to be much, much less. So I think it’s a reasonable hypothesis, if that was outlawed entirely from AFL and ice hockey, so, “Sorry guys, you now need to be the same as all other sports-

Tim:                                            Yeah, just back off.

Gareth J. Mole:                … you cannot touch, there’s a chance that what we saw would never have taken place.

Tim:                                            Okay, now I’m really concerned about Andrew Brayshaw. I saw him on television last night getting into a car, I mean the kid’s a mess. He’s only a kid. It’s his first year of AFL football for Fremantle and he’s an emerging star. He’s got a wired-up jaw, then teeth displaced, and blood all over his face still, after being in hospital. Now, the psychological effect on him, when he eventually comes back to playing the game, I mean you’d only be human if there wasn’t something going on in your mind, surely?

Gareth J. Mole:              Yes, and I mean this is a very well-researched area. Basically, it’s what happens when an athlete is both injured, and there’s a whole can of worms there, so suddenly they go from be able to do full training to literally being able to do nothing, and therefore, how do they use that time and not let the fact that the stuff they’re doing, which is probably re-hab, a lot of that sort of work, isn’t demotivating? So that’s one area. And then, of course, the other area, which is what you’re probably eluding to there is the fear factor of when he next-

Tim:                                            Yes.

Gareth J. Mole:                … gets back into the … You know, these are very well-researched areas, because of course, people do get injured all the time. The advice that I would give to anybody who’s listening who’s in a similar situation, and you know, it may sound simple to put that, the injury that you’re talking about in terms of Andrew Brayshaw’s, in a similar category to any other injury, but it is part of the same challenges, is basically, focus on what you can control in the present moment. So there will be little things that he can do, or any player can do to improve the chances that they can get back as quickly as possible. Then there’s probably just a little bit of rationalisation that could be useful, Tim, in that if you really are concerned, get the statistics out. It’s the same mechanism of people who are petrified of flying, you know, the statistics of you dying on an airplane are about, less than one percent of the chances of you being injured in a car, so there’s probably a benefit to him sitting down and going, “Well, actually, to be honest, I’ve played how many hours of AFL since I was a kid, and nothing like this has ever happened? How many matches of AFL are played every year, and this happens once every three years? The chances of it happening to me again, are probably one in a million.”

Tim:                                            Yeah, and I could’t agree with you more about the jostling in AFL, and you’re right, it happens in ice hockey too. I mean, that would just annoy most people, you know, you got a chest bump, and a push and a shove, and if you’re having a bad day, or you’re just, you know, your fuse blows, I mean that sort of thing’s going to happen, isn’t it? I think you’re right. I think probably it would be a big thing for the AFL to do, but just ban that all together, say, Well, there’s no more of that, let’s cut that out, and there’s obviously going to be a less chance of your thumping somebody.

Gareth J. Mole:               Yeah, I mean, if we’re talking about the evolution of the way that the mind works, which I think is incredibly important, it’s all very well to say, “Well, yeah, but it’s in the context of an AFL match, and so it doesn’t really matter.” The fact is, is that if we go back a thousand years, and you get two guys who are basically pushing and shoving each other, the cortisol, which is the stress hormone, is going to go up.

Tim:                                            Yeah. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:         We simply don’t have the capacity to go, “Oh, well, you know what? It’s all part of the game. This is all just fun and games.” So the fact that I’m getting needled in the back before the match has even started, you know, it’s just unrealistic-

Tim:                                            Yeah, I agree.

Gareth J. Mole:            So there’s no doubt the simplest way would be to … And of course, one interesting thing is, I don’t know how many team sports exist out there across all different countries, 30, 40, 50 common, popular team sports, if only two are doing something and the other 40 aren’t, then probably it’s a bad idea.

Tim:                                            Yeah, I agree.

Tim:                                            Always great to talk to you, mate.

Tim:                                            You can find Gareth’s stuff at Condor Performance, he’s one of the psychologists there.

Tim:                                            It’s great to talk to you always. Thanks mate.

Gareth J. Mole:             Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                                            That’s Gareth J. Mole

Further comments were provided by Gareth to the Sunday Times newspaper in March 2019 ahead of the preseason clash between the West Coast Eagles and The Fremantle Dockers. The PDF of the article can be viewed below.

This 2010 Sydney Morning Herald article, also featuring Gareth, is on the same topic.

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: Over Analysis In Elite Sport

Tim Webster, from Macquarie Sports Radio, talks to one of our Senior Sports Psychologists about over analysis in elite sport.

Radio Interview:

Transcription:

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 J. Mole, who joins me on the line. G’day mate.

Gareth J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. 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 J. Mole:                    No worries Tim.

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