Sporting Superstitions

Sporting Superstitions Versus Performance Routines. In this article Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance looks at both.

And How They Differ From Routines 

Sporting superstitions are surprisingly common. But do they cause more harm than good?

One of the lawn bowlers I work with recently asked me this question during a session. “What is the difference between a pre-performance routine and having some superstitions?” So good was the question that I decided to expand the answer that I gave her into this feature article on Sporting Superstitions.

Sporting Superstitions Versus Routines

In the work we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists, we use routines frequently. I suspect I use them more often than my colleagues at Condor Performance due to my extreme “you can’t control your feelings/thoughts” approach to consulting.

For a much deeper dive into routines it’s probably better if you read these articles here and here but here is a quick summary. Routines are basically just premeditated series of actions. I tend to leave thoughts out of the equation. These action sequences vary mostly in terms of duration and timing. Some routines are very short (a few seconds) whilst others can take hours. 

And we try to name them accordingly. For example, the routine that tennis players might use to get themselves mentally ready to receive the ball might be labelled a Pre-Point Routine or Pre-Receiving Routine. However, the longer routine before the start of the competition might be called a Pre-Match Routine. The middle part of this can be changed depending on the sport. For example combat sports athletes might have a Pre-Fight Routine.

Guaranteeableness (Made Up Word)

But despite these differences, good routines have one thing in common. They are built around actions that are intended to be guaranteeable. I typically prefer the word guaranteeable to controllable. Because the actions are guaranteeable then they can be entirely relied upon in any and all situations.

This is especially true when they are practised frequently and become automatic. And it is here that the majority of the benefit is found for this particular mental skill. In highly pressurised situations knowing that you can execute these predetermined actions amidst the chaos is the biggest contributor to composure. And composure is the biggest contributor to consistency. And consistency is the biggest contributor to sustained excellence.

Whether or not to include premeditated thoughts such as cue words in these routines is a contentious issue at the moment in international sport psychology circles. My issue with including any cognitive steps in these routines is that they simply are not guaranteeable. It’s all good and well in the calmness of practice to say to yourself “watch the ball”. But can you guarantee to remember to think this when you are feeling nauseous from nerves?

Actions Are Far More Reliable Than Thoughts

Instead, I’d rather my clients include the more reliable step of “widening their eyelids” (not saying to themselves ‘widen eyelids’, actually completing this micro action) in this example.

This way the cue word “watch the ball” becomes a bonus and not a requirement. If it’s used then great. If it’s not used then no biggie.

In doing this, we avoid what is known as metacognition. Metacognition is the process whereby you start thinking about your thoughts. Basically worrying about being worried. And it can snowball. Worrying about worrying about being worried etc.

So for the above example metacognitive worry might look like this. “Oh bugger I forgot to think to myself watch the ball”. And suddenly attention for simply completing the actions is diverted to a cognitive process that is completely unnecessary in order to complete the motor skill. You don’t need to have any dental-related thoughts before, during or after brushing your teeth. You just need to complete the action. 

A Difference In Flexibility

One of the major differences between sporting routines and sporting superstitions is flexibility.

Most sporting superstitions are concerningly inflexible. Because good routines are designed (not accidental) flexibility can be embedded from the very start. For example in the longer Pre-Performance Routines there will not be a set order for the actions. So they may have a checklist of several activities they want (not need to, want to) to complete. For example, listening to some music, or maybe doing mindfulness. But the duration and order of these can change if required.

For sporting superstitions, not so much. If an athlete feels like they need to put the left sock on before the right sock to play well then there’s not a lot of wiggle room in that. In this example lies another clue about the difference between sporting superstitions and routines. Although routines are certainly designed as a performance optimiser we are quick to point out that they’re not magic. In other words, the routine doesn’t cause a good performance – there is simple a correlation. The difference between correlation and causation is brilliantly explained in this four minute video. Most athletes who use sporting superstitions do so because they actually believe it will result in a better performance. This is mentally damaging on all sorts of levels. If you are one of these performers then it might worth getting in touch with us.

Famous Sporting Superstitions

I thought it might be nice to wrap up this article with some of the most famous sporting superstitions of all time. These two Bleacher Reports articles go through 25 famous and 50 famous Sporting Superstitions. My favourites from these lists are:

Richie Ashburn Slept with Baseball Bats

Hall of Fame slugger Richie Ashburn had his own way of keeping a hot streak hot. Anytime he had a particularly good day at the plate, he would be sure to use the same bat for as long as the success would last. And Ashburn went to extraordinary lengths to remain in possession of his lucky bats. Concerned that equipment managers couldn’t be trusted to keep his bat separate from all the other bats, Ashburn would take his bat of the moment with him each night. He even made room in his own bed for his lucky bats.

Wade Boggs Pre-Game Chicken.

If you want to know the secret to making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, 2005 inductee Wade Boggs might tell you it has something to do with poultry. In 1999 he revealed his entire career had been fuelled not by steroids, but by chicken! Legend has it that during his rookie season Boggs recognised some kind of correlation between his chowing down on chicken and games with multiple hits. He stuck to his superstitious diet religiously and his wife accumulated more than 40 chicken recipes for the 3,000 chicken meals she was tasked with producing each season. 

Are You Curious About Our 1-on-1 Psychology Services?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.

Emotions, Sport And Performance

Are you still trying to feel a certain way in order to perform at your best? Madalyn explains why you might want to consider another approach.

Emotions – The ‘E’ in METUF

  • As Sport Psychologists and Performance Psychologists we are often asked for ways to improve emotional management. So what exactly does this involve?
  • Through variations of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we can learn to manage our emotions in more helpful ways.
  • At Condor Performance the goal of our work when it comes to emotions is mainly to teach clients how to perform at the highest possible level whilst experiencing the full range of emotions. It is not about helping them feel better.
  • If you’d like more information about our sport and performance psychology services get in touch by completing the form on our Contact Us page.

Please Make Me Feel Better! 

In our profession, we deal with emotions on a daily basis. Athletes and Performers often ask us how they can learn to feel better. Most of the time this is a desire to feel a certain way on competition day. A day that is often riddled with a whirlwind of emotions from excitement to anxiety and everything in between. The work we do around emotions often begins with a deep dive into reality.

We’re probably never going to feel great on these highly meaningful days. And we will certainly never feel great before and during all competitive situations. As fellow psychologist Peter Clarke mentions in this Podcast interview “we have this thing in our mind of I gotta feel perfect, calm and confident and THEN I’ll perform well. Mate, if that’s the case you’re going to perform well a very, very small portion of the time.”

Our first job as Psychologists is to help our clients let go of the idea of wanting to control the way they feel. Emotions aren’t something we have a huge amount of influence over. Athletes and performers often come to us wanting to learn how to get rid of the “negative” emotions and replace them with positive ones.

In their defence, this is often what is taught to us from a very young age. Remember this from the movie A League of Their Own? “There’s No Crying in Baseball.”

Emotions And Performance

During the initial Kick Start Session with new clients, we often hear stories of struggles when it comes to feelings on game day. Performers often describe the many ways in which they try to control these uncomfortable emotions. We get remarkable insight into how much impact feelings seem to have on their performance. To understand how to manage emotions, we first need to understand exactly what they are.

Why Do We Feel Things?

It is important for athletes and performers to understand why humans experience emotions. In short, they play a very important role in our survival. There are countless examples of this but the classic is the very natural human feeling of fear. Being afraid of snakes for example is jolly useful. This fear acts as a major deterrent to going anywhere near anything that vaguely resembles a snake. Despite the fact that most snakes are nonvenomous we typically leave them alone mostly thanks to fear.

The Amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) produces emotions mainly to warn us or reward us. The well-known fight or flight response is basically about our internal warning system. It’s hugely beneficial in survival situations but not so much in performance scenarios.

Survival vs Performance

So what we know about emotions is that within a survival framework they’re really good at keeping us alive. However, emotions in the performance domain have a habit of getting in the way of us doing the things we already know how to do well. Our job as psychologists is to challenge the consensus that emotions have a direct impact on our performance. That is, to challenge the idea if I feel “bad” (i.e. nervous, anxious, doubtful) on game-day, I’ll inevitably perform “poorly”. One of the first questions I will often ask a new client is this one.

“How do you view the relationship between emotions and performance. If I were to draw an arrow between the two, which direction would the arrow be pointing and what would this mean?”

Nine times out of ten, the response I get is something like this. “How I feel usually determines how I perform”. But if we rarely feel fantastic come performance day due to our Amygdala then we’re in trouble, no?

The Reality Of Emotions in Sport

Little do most people know that it is actually the power we attribute to emotions that makes them so problematic. We assume greats like Roger Federer are all calm before and during matches. The fact is that even the best athletes in the world feel the full range of emotions we experience before an important event. Sometimes we forget that they are actually humans with a pumping amygdala just like the one you and I have.

What has made them so good in their performance domain is their ability to welcome and embrace these emotions and perform at a high level with them present. The ability to do this is a skill that can be developed by anyone. And just like learning the right technique the earlier this becomes a habit the better.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The main therapeutic framework we work within at Condor Performance is known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT (pronounced “act”) for short. This approach suggests that trying to get rid of unwanted emotions actually creates a lot of psychological distress. In fact this psychological distress is often worse than the original feeling.

This often has a maladaptive impact on our behaviour (or in this case, a negative impact on our performance). This is basically because we are trying to fight something we don’t have a lot of influence over.

Through the mindful nature of ACT, we can learn to reduce the impact of emotions. How? By building awareness and actually making room for them and learning to let these feelings come and go without a struggle.

ACT Works

ACT is an extremely effective therapeutic approach to mental wellbeing and mental performance. In terms of emotion management, ACT has built a reputation over the past 30 years in terms of its effectiveness in both clinical and performance settings.

In the sporting domain, mindfulness-based strategies within an ACT framework have assisted athletes in emotion regulation, particularly during challenging periods of post-injury rehabilitation (Bernier et al., 2009, Mahoney & Hanrahan, 2011, Gardner & Moore, 2017). The effectiveness of ACT has also been seen in other performance domains including the workplace, academia and the performing arts (Moran, 2015; Paliliunas, Belisle & Dixon; 2018, Pingo, Dixon & Paliliunas, 2020; Clarke, Osborne & Baranoff, 2020).

Acceptance

ACT is an umbrella term for a range of mindfulness-based skills, with acceptance being one of the most useful and important. Through the skill of acceptance, our goal for athletes and performers is to help them open up to the uncomfortable feelings they experience as part of the human condition, before accepting their presence and allowing them to be there, rather than trying to avoid them. The idea behind acceptance is that if we learn to make room for emotions in our lives (without trying to fight them off), their power is ultimately diminished. ACT assumes that it is the struggle with and fighting off of these emotions that give them their power over our actions.

The “Noticing Self”

There is a part of us that feels, and then there is a part of us that notices that we feel a certain way. It is important for performers to learn to notice their emotions as they arise and build more awareness of them – why? Because our default response to uncomfortable feelings is to turn away from them – try to suppress, avoid or escape them, or distract ourselves from them. This is catastrophic when it comes to the motor skills required in most sports. It quite literally stopped you from doing what you are naturally very good at (e.g. kicking a soccer ball etc).

A trap we often fall victim to in performance settings is getting sucked into this default response. Eventually, we become so caught up in trying to get rid of uncomfortable emotions (an impossible task), that it’s impossible for us to be intensity aware, present and focused on what we need to be doing in that present moment. To help athletes and performers develop the noticing skill, we ask them to practice intentionally and consciously noticing and acknowledging uncomfortable feelings. We might ask them to silently tell themselves what they notice they’re feeling. For example, “I’m noticing anxiety”, or “I notice I’m feeling worried”. Through accepting and noticing emotions, we can learn to sit with the discomfort and reduce its impact on our actions (e.g. kicking a soccer ball etc).

Emotion Validation

Without acknowledging the presence of uncomfortable emotions we can actually invalidate our own experiences. When our most inner and private emotional experiences feel invalid, we’re then at risk of falling victim to that unhelpful emotion default response (suppress, avoid, escape, distract). Following this, our default cognitive response is often “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I should be able to handle this better”.

Validating our emotions is a very technical term for comforting and reassuring ourselves (through some compassionate self-talk) that as part of the human condition, it is very normal to feel uncomfortable emotions when we encounter difficult situations. When we learn to notice, acknowledge and validate our emotions (in light of the important role they play in survival), this allows us to make room for them without feeling the need to struggle with them.

Commitment

But at the end of the day, there is a choice to be made. The athlete or performer can choose to:

  1. Feel these uncomfortable emotions and not commit to their actions, or
  2. Feel these uncomfortable emotions and commit to their actions.

Through mental toughness training our goal is to empower individuals to choose the latter. With the help of skills such as acceptance, noticing and validation, the decision to commit becomes much easier. 

Learning to Embrace Emotion

At Condor Performance, our goal is to guide athletes and performers towards a more healthy relationship with emotions. Because think about how boring would life be without them! The only reason we know happiness is because we’ve experienced sadness, so it is important as part of the human condition that we choose to welcome all emotions, pleasant and unpleasant. In the performance domain, we often view emotion in a negative light, but rather than looking at it as a sign of weakness we can choose to see it as a sign that we’re living. If you need help in doing this, then get in touch.

“Fake It Till You Make It”

One of our Senior Sport Psychologists, Gareth J. Mole, takes a look at the concept of “Fake It Till You Make It” in this brand new feature article.

Elite poker players are particularly good at the skill of “Fake It Till You Make It”.

Fake It Till You Make It … or Till You Feel It!

As many of my clients and colleagues will know I’m a big fan of the concept of ‘fake it till you make it’. However, potentially due to the word fake, and what it implies, this catchphrase is often misunderstood. So am I glad that I have finally had the time to write something on the subject. As always I welcome your questions and comments at the bottom of this page.

It is worth mentioning that in my consulting as a sport psychologist I typically use the term ‘fake it till you feel it’ rather than ‘fake it till you make it’. I do this intentionally. Making it implies the reaching of a goal and in much of the work that I do continual improvement is the main aim. You may be surprised to read that often I am unaware of the goals of my clients.

Fake it till you feel it gets to the very heart of the main model that my colleagues and I at Condor Performance use to assist our clients to improve. Namely, an adaptation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) developed by Steven C. Hayes. The reason for the adaptation part is down to us wanting an even simpler framework. Below, is a Post It note drawing of what I would consider the bare bones of ACT.

“Fake It Till You Make It” when looking at just Actions, Thoughts and Feelings.

Human Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

As you can see in the diagram our thoughts, feelings and actions are all separate from one another. The dotted line around actions is the key. Some of my clients will know this as a moat or a wall. We are trying to protect our actions from being railroaded by our very natural thoughts and feelings.

Note the varying amount of influence we have on each one. I’ve intentionally used the word influence rather than the word control as I find the word control can be very black or white. “I can control this but I can’t control that”, for example. In reality, we can’t really control much at all (maybe our effort but even then it depends on how you define effort) if the word control is used as a synonym for guarantee. We just have varying amounts of influence on stuff.

  • Quite simply, we have more influence on our actions than our thoughts.
  • In turn, we have more influence on our thoughts and our feelings.
  • Therefore logically we have much more influence over our actions compared to our feelings.

In other words, we have the least amount of influence over our feelings by far and by far the most amount of influence on our actions. And this is especially true when these same actions (e.g. a left jab in boxing) have been repeated a lot so that muscle memory takes care of the biomechanics. Basically, you don’t need to think about how to do it you just do it. Most adults who have been driving for a long time will be familiar with this feeling.

The Spectrum of Influence

Just to ram the point home, if we were to arrange thoughts, feelings, and actions into an influence ranking system actions would be at the top and feelings would be at the bottom. Thoughts would be in the middle, following?

So if we return to the fake it till you make it or fake it till you feel it concept this premise starts to become clearer as a form of psychological advice. The faking it part is actually all about body language. It is about portraying a certain emotion (or lack of) from the outside irrespective of what you’re actually feeling on the inside. Faking it, certainly by my interpretation, is not about pretending to feel something that you’re not.

So as explained in this previous article by my colleague Harley De Vos competence is far more valuable than confidence. Now in the work that we do this is most often in the context of the skill execution itself. But it can and should be extended to some of the less obvious actions pertaining to performance. One of these is body language. How competent are you at body language? Elite poker players seem to be the only performers who typically include working on this as part of their normal training. Maybe we all should?

Body Language Basics

One of the hidden bonuses about working on your body language is that you are effectively practicing one of the fundamental aspects of psychological flexibility. Because in working on your body language you will need to choose a way of looking – for example confident –and work out a way where your actual feeling – let’s say embarrassment – does not override your facial expressions, head position, posture, etc.

Often the most effective type of body language from a performance perspective is actually very neutral. I am not one for histrionics. Great body language should keep your opponents guessing. Hence the term ‘poker face’.

Conclusion

As I have become known for saying in recent years “they don’t hand out gold medals for who was thinking or feeling the best”. Very importantly thoughts and feelings needn’t have any impact on our actions. Especially if these actions are well rehearsed. However, it is quite acceptable and normal for our actions to have a one-way impact on our thoughts and feelings. And it is with this that the rest of that concept of fake it till you make it / feel it is complete. Basically, we fake it – we act confidently from the body language perspective without necessarily being confident and this often leads to increased feelings of confidence as a result.

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.

Coachability

How Coachable are you? Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the mental concept of coachability in this brand-new feature article.

Coachability might just be one of the most important mental components of team sports.

Preamble

I recently volunteered to assist with the training and game management of my son’s Under 9 soccer/football team. I will likely write a whole feature article on the entire experience later (a must-read for those involved in developmental or junior competitive sports). But for now, I’m only mentioning it to provide some context for this blog on coachability.

During the first game of the season, one of the other fathers and I were chatting on the sideline. By the end of the match, we basically agreed that the team could do better. Rather than grumble from the stands we felt it appropriate for us to lend a hand. Fortunately, this offer was accepted and Coach J and Coach G (me) got to work.

As I write this we are midway through the season. So far, two of the most common words during pre and post-training sessions have been coachable and coachability. As these young seven, eight and nine-year-old boys and girls learn to deal with competitive sports for the very first time some of them are highly coachable whilst others are less so. As you would expect.

So What Exactly Is Coachability?

While researching for this article the first thing that I realised is that coachable and coachability are not actually official words yet. The Cambridge Dictionary shows up nothing when you punch them into their online search. However, it does show up in The Britannica Dictionary suggesting they are trying to officially make it into the English language.

Their definition of coachable is “capable of being easily taught and trained to do something better.”

Focus And Motivation Come First

One concept that is obvious when it comes to the range of coachability is that some of them struggle to be coachable because they lack focus. Whilst others struggle because they don’t really, really want to be there. It is mid-winter here in Australia and La Niña has made for some pretty challenging training conditions. Which of course I love.

As a practising sport psychologist, this is a timely reminder that in psychology things aren’t always as they appear. Although on the surface it appears as if we have inherited a group of soccer players whose overall coachability is not great I am confident that this is most effectively addressed by helping them with their focus or motivation or both. 

And of course, this is my bread and butter. This is literally what my colleagues and I do five days a week, most weeks of the year.

Low Levels Of Coachability Are A Symptom

It is tempting to try and work out which players are struggling due to an inability to focus and which ones lack motivation but this is actually an unnecessary step. Regardless of how motivated and focused they are they can always improve. Improvement is a never-ending process. You never reach the finish line where it is no longer possible to improve.

Do I Know Too Much?

One of the challenges of being so qualified and experienced in sport psychology when assisting with your own child’s sporting team is not getting carried away. This is one of the main reasons why I insisted on doing it with somebody else. Coach J, a Scotsman, is a vital cog because not only does he have a great understanding of the sport but he also helps me to remember that these are youngsters at the very, very start of their sporting journey. They are not Premier League players. Not yet, anyway.

So the two of us have regular meetings whereby his knowledge of the technical and tactical gets mixed with my knowledge of the mental. And then we come up with a unified approach to training and games. What is apparent is how effective this is compared to the way that sport psychology is so often done.

Often the sport psychologist will come in and run a series of workshops without any involvement with the coach(es). Some professionals call this Working In Silos. Even more common is when the sport psychologist only helps with mental health issues. He or she is basically a therapist who happens to work with sporting individuals. For anyone who has watched the Ted Lasso TV series the way the work of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone is portrayed is more or less what I am referring to here.

But Back To Coachability

We need to acknowledge when coachability is an issue that it could be caused by poor coaching. Let’s be honest here. Not all coaches are equal and not all coaches are at the top of their game. 

If you are reading this and you are heavily involved in the running of a sporting team where you feel like coachability is an issue then I would suggest you start with an examination of your coaching staff. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • What are the qualifications of our coaches? Do they have some kind of formal training or are they just former players or mates of one of the decision-makers?

and/or

  • Are any processes in place that allow them to develop professionally? Or are they doing exactly the same this year as they were four years ago? 

and/or

  • Are the players given an opportunity to provide feedback about the coaches? It seems so one-sided that the coaches provide feedback to the players but rarely the other way around?

Coaching The Coaches

Once you’re happy that the coaching staff are not the primary cause of poor coachability then of course it’s time to help the players. Obviously, I am heavily biased but dispatching your coaches off to retrain as qualified sport psychologist (a six to eight-year process in most countries) is impractical and ridiculous. But what if sporting organisations give their coaches the opportunity of working alongside a sport psychologist or performance psychologist? Not because they too need therapy like Ted does in the Ted Lasso series. But because one of the most effective ways of improving the mental toughness of a sporting team is for it to come directly from the coaches who have the right mentors.

More and more of the work we do at Condor Performance is to mentor sporting coaches. Below, to finish off, I have listed of few recurring suggestions that come up over and over again in the 1-on-1 work I do with sporting coaches. If you want more, you know how to find us.

  1. Processes are more important than outcomes.
  2. Treat athletes as people first, performers second.
  3. It’s very difficult to help others if you are not looking after yourself first.

How To Measure Mental Toughness

Mental aspects of training, mental aspects of competing, general functioning / mental health and wellbeing can all be measured.

How To Measure Mental Toughness. It’s easier than it sounds. Basically, all you need is a device, an Internet connection and some honesty.

“I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition”

Bill Gates, Co Founder of Microsoft

Intro: How To Measure Mental Toughness

Okay, I’ll admit it. We’re a little jealous of professionals who assist athletes, coaches and teams with the physical side of performance. Tests like the VO2 max for cardiovascular endurance, and stretch and reach tests to measure flexibility simply don’t have objective mental equivalents.

In fact, assessing Mental Toughness is so tricky that when Condor Performance first started offering sport and performance psychology services back in 2005 we didn’t even attempt it. Instead, we simply asked a series of meaningful questions during the Kick Start Session.

But if not bothering with something because it was hard was something we did frequently then we’d be in the wrong business. So over the years, we have tried on an ongoing basis to improve how we assess the very areas we help our clients with. Namely their mental health and mental toughness. I will not go into any detail about why we measure mental aspects of performance (mental toughness) and mental health separately as you can read a full explanation of this in my recent blog post on this very subject here.

Measuring Mental Toughness Will Always Be An Estimation

Fact: There is no direct way to measure anything psychological. We can try to assess a number of areas via questions and/or observations but at best the results to these will act as a “guide”. Measuring Mental Toughness will always be an estimation, an approximation.

The exception to this would be a formal intelligence test (such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale). Although it would be easy to fake a poor score on the WAIS (by giving incorrect answers on purpose) it would not be possible to get a high score without actually possessing those abilities. This makes tests such as the WAIS more objective than most other psychometrics which rely 100% on opinions and/or observation.

With The Luxury Of Time …

With the luxury of time, the reliability of the information collected can be improved. For example, by asking the opinions of those close to the client as well. This is often called 360 Degree feedback. Observing athletes or performers in real-life situations can be a very valuable extra when attempting to measure mental toughness and mental health.

Imagine how useful it is to watch a tennis player smash her racket during a match compared with just a couple of questions about her emotions. Then imagine having this video footage of the outburst to use in a session. In our work, we typically only get this kind of data when working with highly paid professionals who are already being televised.

Relative Subjectivity

But just because the answers are opinions it doesn’t render these tools useless by any means. It just means we need to be mindful of their relative subjectivity when interpreting the results.

“What exactly are we trying to measure here?”. This is a great question when either choosing, designing or reviewing any psychological assessment. Our psychologists consider the main purpose of the questionnaires to be time savers. Instead of spending that first 30 minutes with the client to find out what makes them tick we already have some idea. This then allows us to move on to ‘solutions’ much earlier in the process. We’re mainly interested in these four general areas:

  • Mental aspects of training
  • Mental aspects of competing (if competing)
  • General functioning / mental health and wellbeing
  • Other important stuff like age, sport and long-term goals

Five Major Subcomponents of Mental Toughness

The open and closed questions then generate scores for various aspects of mental toughness and mental health. It looks something like this when we get the email from Qualtrics.


Summary Scores

Overall Training Mental Toughness = 72 %

Overall Mental Health = 63 %

Breakdown of Your Current Mental Toughness:

DURING TRAININGYOUR SCORE OUT OF 20PRIORITY
Motivation18 
Emotions9 **
Thoughts13 
Unity15 
Focus18 
MENTAL HEALTHYOUR SCORE OUT OF 21CATEGORY
Depression2 Normal
Anxiety12 E. Severe
Stress9 Mild

This provides the sport psychologist or performance psychologist with incredible insight into how to assist this performer. For example, using the above made-up example. This athlete or performer clearly needs to prioritise how they manage their emotions during training as well as their everyday anxiety.

Mental Health is screened for due to the inclusion of The Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) at the end of all our Mental Toughness Questionnaires. Due to the fact that 99% of our work is done 1-on-1 then we can work on both mental toughness and mental health at the same time without pretending they are the same thing!

I have to admit the name of our four questionnaires has become misleading. Why? Well, they measure more than just mental toughness now (they didn’t at the start – hence a bit like a nickname – it has stuck).

Four Free Mental Toughness Questionnaires

The four questionnaires are listed below. They can be completed by anyone for free looking to gain insight into the areas already mentioned. The questionnaires are all similar but use language relevant to that role (for example, officiating instead of performing). The coaches’ questionnaire is the most different as this also includes a section asking about the coaches’ perceived mental coaching abilities. Let’s not pretend or assume that being mentally tough and mentally well automatically makes you a good mental coach.

Law of Reverse Effect: Are You Trying Too Hard?

Theories Galore

One of the very best and worst aspects of modern-day sport psychology is the sheer number of theories we have. Boy, are there a lot to choose from. The upside of having so many concepts to draw from is it’s rare we encounter a challenge with no empirical guidance. Struggling with your confidence? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Finding yourself in the middle of a motivation rut during the middle of the season? Easy Peasy, we’ve got about a dozen processes that are specifically designed to help with exactly that. 

But of course, there is a downside as well. Information overload! Due in part to the fact that we employ quite a number of sport psychologists and performance psychologists and therefore are ethically obliged to agree with one another to a certain degree, we have always been interested in organising these theories in some way.

A Theory For All The Theories

By organising, I mean sorting them into different types so to speak. For example, which of them actually contain useful and useable processes. When you examine many of these models properly you’ll be surprised how many don’t actually contain applied advice.

Let’s take the Theory of Internal And External Motivation as an example. It is a great concept but somewhat lacking when it comes to tried and tested ideas on how to actually be more internally motivated for example. So, giving a workshop on types of motivation to a group of athletes rarely has any impact on their actual motivation. And then there are some theories that virtually nobody has come across. And yet without too much creativity, they have so much potential benefit it’s not funny.

Have You Heard About The Law of Reverse Effect?

One of these is The Law of Reverse Effect or sometimes called The Law of Reversed Effect (with a ‘d’ at the end of reverse) or The Law of Reverse Effort or The Backwards Law. Classic psychology, we can’t even agree on the name of the thing! Speaking of which have you voted yet for what you believe ought to be the correct spelling of sport(s) psychology from now? If not you can vote here to have your say.

Anyway, The Law of Reverse Effect suggests that “the greater the conscious effort, the less the subconscious response” or “whenever the will (conscious mind) and imagination (subconscious) are in conflict, the imagination (subconscious) always wins.”

Non-psychobabble takeaway? At some point, when your motor skills are automated enough (muscle memory has been established) then trying really hard to hit the ball, stick the dismount or make the right incision (surgeon) will actually have the reversed effect and make you worse. It would be like trying to sneeze or laugh better.

Neuroscience Time

How is this possible? Surely putting in the maximum effort is universally beneficial, right? Wrong.

In order to explain we need to tap into a little bit of neuroscience. When you complete a body movement your basal ganglia and cerebellum attempt to learn how it was done. The more you repeat the same movement the stronger this memory of the muscles becomes. After a while, the movement becomes automatic. In other words, it can be done and prefers to be done without conscious effort.

Thinking about how to complete this body movement acts as a circuit breaker for this automatic process. The muscle memory is blocked and your body goes back into a kind of novice/learning mode. The prefrontal cortex overrides the basal ganglia and cerebellum. As you can imagine in the work that we do this is very useful information. It informs us that it is not that trying too hard is the problem but rather what type of effort is best avoided. 

Have You Worked It Out Yet?

That’s right, it is the mental effort related to the technical aspects of what you do. The biomechanics of the putt, punt, pass or pivot for example. In essence, the very last thing that we want to be thinking about when you are lining up to take the crucial penalty is how to kick the soccer ball.

So if we spare ourselves from the technical or biomechanical elements of effort when we are under pressure to perform then what does that leave us with? It leaves us with mental effort about something other than technique. Basically, mental effort about something mental or something tactical.

For example, saying to yourself “trust your processes or stick to your processes” doesn’t interfere with the neurones involved in automatic muscle memory. So these cognitions can coexist quite happily with allowing your body just to do what it’s learnt how to do.

The same applies to reminding oneself about tactical aspects. Let’s use the previous example about taking a penalty in soccer/football. The decision about where to aim the shot is both necessary and non-interfering of muscle memory. These mental and tactical endeavours are already occurring in the conscious front part of the brain. Therefore they are by their very nature completely out of the way of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. No short-circuiting is taking place, not even remotely. Have a look at the below slice of the brain and note where they are located.

Thoughts Are Not Essential

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention in an article of this type that there is absolutely no need to have any kind of pre-meditated thoughts before or during one of these memorised body movements. The basal ganglia and cerebellum will do their job whilst you are thinking about almost anything other than how to do that skill. Please note that this is only for expert performance whereby the skills are automated already. This does not apply to novices who are learning the skills for the very first time.

To cut through all of this psychobabble the advice that I often give to my sporting clients is as follows. Put all your effort eggs into the preparation basket and then come competition time, just relax and have fun. And yes, this also applies at the very highest levels of competition such as world championships and Olympics etc. In fact, it’s even more important in these kinds of high-pressure situations.

For non-sporting performers such as those involved in the military, the medical professions and/or the performing arts this needs to be adapted. Why? Their performance areas are not organically fun in the same way that a cricket match, for example, is supposed to be. To these types of performers, I typically adapt the advice to the following. Put all your effort eggs into the preparation basket and then come performance time, trust your processes and try to relax. The outcomes will take care of themselves. This final concept will be the topic of one of my future blogs so if you don’t already get reminders when each article is added to the website then add your details here.

Interested But Need A Hand?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.

Sport Psychology for Soccer

Sport Psychology for Soccer (Association Football) is an insightful blog post by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance

Sport Psychology for Soccer
Sport Psychology for Soccer – The Mental Side of The World Game Is Still Hugely Underdone.

Soccer or Football or Both?

Before jumping into some of the many aspects that could come under the banner ‘Sport Psychology for Soccer‘ let’s establish facts.

Firstly, soccer is also known as football, the preferred term outside of the USA. This paragraph from Quora explains it best:

The correct full name of the sport still is Association FootballSoccer is a nickname and is seldom used outside of the US. Neither is wrong, but Football (or Fútbol, or Futebol, or all the other forms of the word) is the worldwide popular name of the sport.

The term soccer, however, might actually make more sense. Here in Australia, for example, the term football can refer to one of four totally different team sports. But if you tell someone you’re a, say, soccer referee, there is no chance they’ll think you officiate rugby league games.

The Most Popular Sport On The Planet

Soccer is by far and away the most played team sport in the world. At last count, there were 265 million registered players worldwide. No other sport comes close to this, see this PDF by Fifa with all the stats. Why is it so popular? And does this popularity give us our first insight into the psychology of the game?

The primary reason for the popularity of soccer is its simplicity. If you forget about official rules and regulations it’s unbelievably easy to organise a game of soccer. Ten or so people with a ball (actual or made) and something to aim at and away we go.

The other reason for the international appeal of soccer is of course unparalleled funding by FIFA. The governing body of the sport invests huge amounts of money in making soccer as accessible to many people around the world as possible. Of course, much of this funding comes from the success of flagship leagues and competitions around the world. Events like The FIFA World Cup and the English Premier League are money-making machines. This creates a huge unstoppable cycle whereby the success of these competitions increases funding and the funding is then partially used to further develop the game. This all increases the likelihood that young athletes across the world will pick soccer over another sport.

How is this linked to the first part of sport psychology of soccer? Simple, the more popular a sport the easier it is to motivate yourself for it. Whether it be external motivators such as a salary of a professional footballer or intrinsic motivators such as wanting to play well at the sport all your mates play – the popularity of an activity will always assist with the key sport psychology concept of motivation.

Sport Psychology is Not Just Mental Health For Sport

Sport psychology is currently going through a growth spurt. And just like a teenager, this can come with some growing pains. Mental health is now widely seen as an essential part of the performance puzzle. ‘Better People Make Better All Blacks’ so to speak. But there is still another mental side to sport that is unrelated to mental health. We call it Mental Toughness for performance. In other words, the mental aspects of both training for that sport as well as competing in it are separate from the mental aspects of being a human being.

This is not to imply that mental health is not linked with optimal performance in soccer or any other sport for that matter. Quite the opposite in fact. As sport psychologists and performance psychologists we do a lot of work assisting our sporting clients with their mental health. We do this because a) we can as registered psychologists and b) we know that it assists with both off-field and field areas.

However on many occasions when we work with soccer players what we are essentially doing is embedding mental skills training into their daily training environment. Below I have shared a couple of tips and would love to get your feedback via the comments section below.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Training Tips

This is the typical image of soccer practice. But it can and should be, so much more than that.

For training, we want our minds to be on the concept of constant improvement through high-quality effort. Actually, through the right amount of high-quality effort to be more precise. Furthermore, we want our training to be spread across four different areas. Physical, Technical, Mental and Tactical. Far too much training and practice are put into physical and technical compared with mental and tactical. The balance is better for the best teams in the world. If you want to join them then you’ll need to copy them.

There are many frameworks for Sporting Mental Toughness. Over the years we have developed our own due to the inadequacies of any coming out of the scientific and academic communities. We call our framework Metuf which is a word that we created from the original five subcomponents of performance-oriented mental toughness. Motivation, emotions, thoughts, team unity and focus. Although we’ll be keeping the name Metuf, this year (2022) we are in process of expanding these subcomponents as well as delving into one of two. For example, there are many emotions so treating all of them as similar is not especially future proof.

Sport Psychology for Soccer – Match Day Tips

Unlike in training when it’s normal to be trying our hardest, for matches we are better off just being as relaxed as possible. Having a Relaxed Competition Mindset is one of the key aspects of match day mental toughness. One of the best ways to actually develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset is by targeting the hour or three before you start the whistle. This blog post from 2019 goes into a lot more detail about how you can develop a Pre Game Routine.

Another mental skill that can be incredibly effective is to make sure you know the difference between your processes and outcomes as an individual soccer player. Of course, ideally, these are established as part of your mental training as per the above but the best mindset for most sports during competition is one that is either 100% process-orientated or mostly process orientated. Processes are actions you have a lot of influence on such as “running hard” or “communicating consistently”.

Outcomes are results and in a sport with 24 other people directly involved our influence on these results is not that high. Common outcomes for soccer are goals scored, goals conceded as well as games won and lost. And not to mention all the stats that can be created such as passes completed etc. Outcomes can be, and often are, very distracting. If you try your hardest after your team concedes a goal, I would ask why it took for your team to let in a goal for you to start to do something that you could’ve and should’ve done from the very beginning of the match.

Don’t Take My Word For It …

As the great Spanish player and now Barcelona manager Xavi so eloquently once said:

In football, the result is an impostor. You can do things really, really well but not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting – a legacy.

Xavi

Keen But Need A Hand?

If this article has motivated you to improve either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance but you feel like you’d benefit from an expert helping hand then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.


The Best Sport Psychology Quotes

This blog has some of the best sport psychology quotes. It’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists.

There are millions of sport psychology quotes, we have sorted through as many as possible and only added the “good ones” to this page.

40 of The Best Sport Psychology Quotes

The right kinds of quotes punch well above their weight. For such short sentences, they can really make us think. The challenge is picking through them all to separate the good ones from the well-intended garbage (trash). So we have decided to put on the plastic gloves and do this for you. Below are some of our favourite sport psychology quotes. As you’ll see it’s a smörgåsbord of quotes from coaches, athletes and psychologists. Furthermore, we have unpacked each quote a little. Essentially, providing a quick explanation about why it has been included in this ‘best sport psychology quotes’ blog. A number of these quotes are from our very own team of psychologists. This might seem a little self-indulgent but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

If you would like us to add your favourite sport psychology quotes paste them into the comments section below. Enjoy and please share with your networks. You have our full permission to copy and paste any of these to inspire or motivate or whatever.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Athletes

“There’s no way around hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there is always something you can improve on”

Roger Federer

Comment: If you want to go after it in life and explore your full potential as an athlete or performer, you are going to need to put in the work. Accepting the difficulty that comes from doing hard work is essential. As one of the greatest tennis players ever highlighted here, we can all learn from Roger Federer by believing that we can always improve in some capacity. A concept is known in Japanese as “kaizen”.


“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”

Dan Gable

Comment: This is such a great sport psychology quote. Maybe one of the best of all time hence why it’s at the top. So true. The medal, the trophy, and the prize money are just symbols. The real reward is the actual hard work. To this end, I am aware of many medal winners who don’t even bother to display them. They are in boxes collecting dust somewhere.


“It’s not who’s put up the fastest time in the world that year, or who’s put up the fastest time in the previous four years, but who can get their hand on the wall first today.”

Nathan Adrian

Comment: This quote perfectly sums up a lot of the early conversations we have with athletes. We have this idea that on game day we need to be feeling great and thinking positively, and that we won’t perform well if we aren’t. The reality is that no one feels great on game day. The athletes that come out on top are those that can put together the best performance despite how nervous they feel and how unhelpful their thoughts are. 


“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Wayne Gretzky

Comment: This could be the most famous sport psychology quote of all time. Why? Because it’s one of the best from one of the best.


“People say to me all the time, ‘You have no fear.’ I tell them, ‘No, that’s not true. I’m scared all the time. You have to have fear in order to have courage. I’m a courageous person because I’m a scared person.” 

Ronda Rousey

Comment: We have this idea that athletes are superhuman – they don’t feel nerves or fear, and never doubt their ability. This just isn’t the case – the top athletes in the world feel all the same things we feel before an important moment, but through years of experience have just become really good at performing with all of those unhelpful thoughts and feelings present. 


“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them; a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Muhammad Ali

Comment: Not sure ‘the greatest’ meant to infer the following but anyway. Far too many of the sporting pathways overemphasise physical and technical. There is far too little on mental, tactical and personal.

Even More Quotes From Athletes …

“It’s fun to be in a race with Ledecki. We love racing each other. We don’t get to do it often”.

Ariarne Titmus

Comment: Despite the pressure, hype and expectation, the main emotions Titmus felt in racing the legendary American swimmer Katie Ledecki at the 2021 Olympics in epic battles in the 200, 400 and 800-metre freestyle finals, were joy and excitement for the opportunity to do so. 


Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. While you can daydream for free, goals don’t come without a price. Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat. How will you pay for your goals?

Usain Bolt

Comment: This great quote gives us a possible sneak peek into why UB was one of the greatest of all time. He worked very hard in practice. He then relaxed (or tried to at least) on race day allowing that Time, Effort, Sacrifice, and Sweat to just bubble to the surface.


“I can only control my performance. If I do my best, then I can feel good at the end of the day”

Michael Phelps

Comment: One of the greatest Olympians of all time on the importance of focusing on your own performance and effort. At Condor Performance, we believe in the importance of focusing on process over outcome. A sentiment echoed by Michael Phelps.

“I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything.”

Michael Phelps

Comment: Michael Phelps on understanding the mind and how we can train it to help ourselves perform better. Phelps has always given significant credit to his mental conditioning as an overall factor for his success in competitive swimming.


“I was forced to learn a lot about psychology as a player, and as a captain to get the best out of others. There’s still a lot of scepticism about it in sport and the workplace, but dealing with fluctuations of form, and pressure, and being away from home is more important than your cover drive.”

Andrew Strauss

Comment: This quote is not one that we had not come across before researching for this blog. Coming from one of the great thinkers of English cricket. It accurately explains that technical abilities (such as hitting a cover drive) don’t mean much without the mental side. Our coaching model Metuf explains this via the use of an analogy of an aeroplane.


Preparation is everything and focus is the key. It’s easy to say you gave it your all out on the pitch. But the point is if you’d prepared you’d have had more to give and you’ve played better”.

Eric Cantona

Comment: This is such a great point from the Manchester United legend. What it sounds like he’s saying is there is only so much you can do on match day. Performers who take shortcuts in training hoping to “bring it” on match day are likely to be found wanting.


The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Gary Player

Comment: This quote was originally linked with Samuel Goldwyn but later popularised by Gary Player. What he/they are saying is actually 100% accurate. If luck is the random stuff in sports we have no influence over then we can reduce the role this plays in terms of results by ensuring high-quality effort. You can read more on the psychology of luck in sports here.


“I got more bruises, grass-burns and cuts in practice than in match play.” 

Jonty Rhodes
Jonty Rhodes

Comment: This quote is from legendary South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes. Despite retiring more than 15 years ago he is still considered one of the best fielders to ever play the same. The full article, from which the above was taken, can be viewed here. As can be seen from the profile page of our founder Gareth J. Mole, Jonty is a real favourite of his.


“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” 

Kevin Durant

Comment: There is an argument that the whole concept of talent is a bit of a myth. Essentially, when people refer to the talent they are basically meaning genetics. In other words one of the few factors of performance that we have no influence on at all.

The Michael Jordan Section:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: This is arguably one of the best sport psychology quotes of all time. It helps us to understand that performances at all levels and all types are full of errors. Knowing that processes (effort) and outcomes (results such as winning) are separate is key here. And as performers knowing we have a lot more influence over the former also helps.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: Again Jordan is showing us that it was his mindset that made him so special. Being able to distinguish between effort (“trying”) and results (“failure”) is so very important. One way to do this is to forget about being able to control anything. Instead, consider the amount of influence you have. The more influence the more mental value you might put on those areas.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: This quote is all about creativity. For example, during the Corona Virus, which was full of obstacles, did you stop? Or did you find another way to do the tasks you value?

More Quotes From MJ …

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and others make it happen.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: Actions and desires are not as linked as you might think. In the work we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists we don’t do as much work on thoughts and emotions as you might imagine. Why? At the end of the day, especially in sport, it all comes back to actions. Would you rather kick the ball in the right way whilst thinking negatively or kick it incorrectly whilst thinking positively?

“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”

Michael Jordan

Comment: As knowledge of sport psychology and sport science explodes we are at great risk of getting away from the fundamentals. In other words, it is becoming harder and harder for athletes to stick to the basics. The great coaches can have it both ways. Their sport psychology knowledge can grow without letting this overcomplicate their coaching. Do you know what your fundamentals are?

Sport Psychology Quotes By Coaches

“It’s what you learn after you think you know it all that really counts.”

John Wooden

Comment: John Wooden is considered by many as the first real mental coach in sports. He was either the first or one of the first to really take the mental side of performance seriously. In this sport psychology quote, he highlights the importance of never-ending learning.


“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”

Phil Jackson

Comment: Phil is most known for how we managed the tricky team dynamics of the Chicago Bulls team from the 1990s. If you are yet to do so we highly suggest you watch The Last Dance documentary.


“Comfort the challenged, and challenge the comfortable”

Ric Charlesworth

Comment: This quote is more or less about the concept of flow. Flow is basically trying to find the sweet spot between too easy and too hard. As coaches or psychologists, we’re trying to help those we work with to not only find this middle ground. But we also want them to have the skills to thrive once they find them.


“No judgment of your practice, just practice.”

Gary Olson, Yoga Teacher at The Ashram Yoga

“Self-talk is overrated. Don’t think about doing it … just do it”

Gary Olson, Yoga Teacher at The Ashram Yoga

Comment: I’m not sure whether Gary considers himself a coach but this feels like the most appropriate section for his two quotes. The above and the below. I came across these two quotes whilst doing one of his online hot yoga sessions and I instantly loved them.


Sport Psychology Quotes By Other Famous People

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

Mark Victor Hansen

Comment: Perfectionism is a common mental block in sport and performance. You can have some of the motivational qualities of it without the ugly side with a simple reframe. Instead of striving to be perfect aim to just be better. And do this through the right quantity of high-quality preparation. This quote is similar to a bunch that are related to ‘great being the enemy of good.


“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent van Gogh

Comment: You might be starting to sense a theme from some of these great quotes now. Doing and thinking are not the same. Focus more on doing and less on thinking. Would you rather be the best thinker of the doer in your sport or performance area?

Some Less Famous Ones …

“Confidence is a habit that can be developed by acting as if you already had the confidence you desire to have.”

Brian Tracy

Comment: Have you ever heard ‘fake it til you make it? Maybe a better version for sport psychology consulting is ‘fake it til you feel it’. This is so powerful. Waiting until you feel a certain way before you act that way is so very limiting. If you don’t know how then hire an acting coach and ask for them to help you. Or get in touch with us and we can include this as part of a larger mental training plan.


“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”

William Arthur Ward

Comment: It’s hard to be sure about this one. Does it mean that challenges in life are invaluable mental training? What is certainly clear is the proposition that there is a choice about how we respond to adversity.


“Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.”

T. Harv Eker

Comment: Similar message. Thoughts and feelings are not fused with behaviours. You can still do remarkable things regardless of how you might be thinking and feeling.


“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

William Jennings Bryan

Comment: In others separate feelings from the action. Accept the feelings but commit the actions. Then remember you did this so you can repeat the process later. For a lot more on confidence read this blog post by Harley de Vos.

Still More Quotes …


“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain

Comment: This quote speaks for itself.


“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Comment: This is such a great quote. In sport, worrying about what others (teammates, coaches) think of you is so common. Yet, it happens so much less than we realise. Furthermore, this has been confirmed via a number of lab experiments.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Psychologists

“Multitasking is seriously overrated. Try to do one task at a time and learn to do it with more purpose. “

Gareth J. Mole

Comment: I could write a whole book on this subject. Maybe I will one day! By multitasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at a time. After all, breathing is doing. It’s about trying to complete more than one non-automatic task at a time. For example, eating your lunch and typing an email. In my view, these kinds of tasks are always best of being done separately. There are many reasons but the main one is this kind of multitasking means the quality of both tasks is compromised.


“They don’t hand out winner’s medals to those who were feeling the best on the day, nor to those who were thinking clearly and positively. The medals only go to those who did the best.”

Gareth J. Mole

Comment: I am not sure if I can claim this or not. If it’s not something that popped into my head then I am not sure where it comes from. Regardless this is my favourite sport psychology of all time. If you are reading this and you believe you know the origin of this quote please email me and I will be happy to change the credit above.


We have this thing in our mind of I gotta feel perfect, calm and confident and THEN I’ll perform well. Mate, if that’s the case you’re going to perform well a very, very small portion of the time.”

Peter Clarke

Comment: This quote is taken from the first few seconds of Peter Clarke’s interview on the podcast Under The Lid with Scolls, Buck & Burkey. Once again it points out that we don’t need to be feeling a certain way in order to execute our motor skills under pressure. And in fact waiting to feel that way will limit the number of chances you give ourselves.


“Listen to everyone because even an idiot will have a good idea once or twice in their life. Then evaluate and pick out what works for you and commit to it.”

James Kneller

Comment: Our own James Kneller reminds us about the importance of listening. In sport we so often talk about the importance of experience. Well, that experience is comprised if you’re always listening to the same people over and over again.


“A competition is a normal performance on a special day.”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: This is the first of a new set of great sport psychology quotes from Performance psychologist Jonah Oliver. This quote typically gets mentioned at least once in each one of his Podcast interviews. Far too many athletes try and do something special on the big stage. They forget that just doing what they do best is normally the best approach.

“Go out there and be boring …”

Jonah Oliver

Comment: If you search online for “Jonah Oliver podcast interviews” you should stumble across a few where he mentions this great concept. I’ll leave it to the GOAT to explain the psychological benefits of going out there and being boring.

Sport Psychology Quotes By Unknowns

You are NOT your thoughts.”

Unknown

Comment: This quote might not even qualify as a quote. Maybe it’s just a fact. And certainly, in the work that we do as sport and performance psychologists, it’s a fact worth remembering. These five words are so powerful that they are the ideal final sentiment of this extensive list of sport psychology quotes.

If you know of a quote that does appear above but feel it should then please add it to the comments section below and we’ll add it next time we update this page.

Impulsivity Explored

Impulsivity Explored is a blog by leading sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole on the impact that impulsivity can have in performance situations.

Impulsivity
Impulsivity Explored is all about brain explosions that take place in the heat of the sporting contest. This is potentially one of the least investigated areas of modern-day sport psychology. 

Meaning of impulsive in English (Cambridge Dictionary)

Showing behaviour in which you do things suddenly without any planning and without considering the effects they may have.

Impulsivity and Reacting Versus Responding

How impulsive are you? Is impulsivity something you would benefit from working on? Would it have a direct benefit on your life or performance? When something happens to you, especially if it’s something that produces a lot of emotion, do you tend to react or respond?

Reacting and responding are slightly different from one another. One is impulsive the other isn’t. Can you guess which is which?

Reacting basically implies the resulting action was more automatic, less considered. In a nutshell, the brain was less involved. Responding on the other hand is suggestive of a much more considered action. One which was selected from a series of options. Due to this a response almost always takes longer than a reaction. In some cases much longer. Reactions are more impulsive, responses are less impulsive.

Impulsivity Can Be Useful … Sometimes!

It would be tempting to say that due to the above that responses are better than reactions. But this is not the case. Reactions serve a really important purpose in threatening or dangerous situations. Think about the benefit of your hand pulling away from a scolding hot object without you having to think about it. The speed of this reaction will, in many situations, reduce the amount of burning that occurs. This same reflex action allows a motorsport driver to react so fast that they appear to pull off the grid at the same time the lights go green.

But what if you are so good at reacting that you always react? And what if some of these situations would benefit more from a response. 

In the work that we do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists this issue is most common under the general banner of helping our clients with what could be called ‘reducing unhelpful impulsivity’. 

There are hundreds of examples where impulsivity can cause serious issues in competitive sports. Can’t think of any? Then take a look at this Bleacher Report blog of 25 of the most famous brain explosions in recent memory.

Think about the tennis player who can’t help but throw their racquet or abuse the umpire. How about the cricketer who is so upset about a catch being dropped off her bowling that she berates her poor teammate right there and then. ‘I couldn’t help it, my emotions got the better of me’. Really? Is that actually possible? I know it certainly feels like it but to reduce unhelpful impulsivity we first need to believe that our emotions have less power over our actions than they do.

But I Couldn’t Help It!

Blaming our emotions as if they are some invading alien life force that makes us act in a certain way is both inaccurate and very unhelpful. Just because it feels like we have no other option doesn’t make that true. 

One of the best ways to start reducing unhelpful impulsivity is to establish if the person who did the reacting was still happy with their actions well after the fact. Ideally at least one full day later. Was Serena Williams still pleased with how she reacted in the 2018 US Open final? If Will Smith was given the chance to go back in time would he still decide that slapping Chris Rock across the face at this year’s Oscars to be the right call? I can’t be sure as I have not asked them but I suspect both would love a do-over.

The reason why we want to establish this is to try and get an idea if the issue is really about impulsivity rather than morals and values. And you can imagine, someone who 24 hours after the fact still thinks that keying up someone’s car who parked poorly was the best choice of action in that situation would be better off focusing on their morals and values instead of their impulsivity. 

Most of the time, certainly in the work we do, the athletes or performers who reacted poorly realise this soon afterwards. Sometimes just seconds afterwards. Their morals and values are sound, they just need help converting certain reactions into more considered responses.

Fortunately, there are some tried and tested processes that when taken seriously can do just this. Here are three to whet your appetite.

Process A: Mindfulness

Regular Mindfulness helps reduce the overall power of thoughts and feelings. As some readers and many of my clients may know the best definition I have ever come across for Mindfulness is “increased awareness of the present moment with decreased judgement”.

One of the reasons why Mindfulness, if done regularly, is so effective in reducing unhelpful impulsivity is because it helps with both of these at the same time. When your awareness goes up you are basically using the information-gathering part of your brain and this shuts down the reacting part. By decreasing judgment, we are less likely to think that the umpire is doing a bad job and more likely to think he’s just doing his job.

“Which Mindfulness apps are the best” is a question we get a lot. The boring but honest answer to this is – it depends. Our advice would be to test out the five free apps listed here and pick your favourite. Feel free to use the comments section at the bottom of this blog to make other suggestions of Mindfulness apps you recommend or don’t and why.

Process B: Increase The Gap Between Stimulus And Response

This is not exactly the same as the above suggestion but is similar. The concept of there being a stimulus (for example, seeing someone take a parking spot you’d be indicating for) and then a gap and then the response was the brainchild of Viktor Frankl; the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor. This approach, which I have always found is most effective when combined with the below process asks us to come up with methods to a) make sure there is a gap and b) increase the duration of the gap.

Classics examples include counting backwards from 10 to 1 or taking two big belly breaths or, where appropriate writing down the emotions.

Process C: Lists

The final process designed to help improve this particular type of decision making is to work out ahead of time which types of situations are most likely to produce a response versus a reaction. For example, I am typically calm when behind the wheel of the car so I would not include any driving related scenarios in my lists. But to this day, despite what I do for a living, I still struggle to respond ideally when I witness most forms of prejudice (sexism, racism etc) so it makes sense for me to have these kinds of situations/stimuli on my lists.

You can have different lists for different areas where you might be unhelpfully impulsive. Even better, clarify what your best response and most damaging reaction might be for each. Sometimes the mantra RESPOND DON’T REACT is the best way to increase the gap.

Keen But Need A Hand?

If this article has motivated you to improve either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance but you feel like you’d benefit from an expert helping hand then Get In Touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at info@condorperformce.com and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services.

 

Powerlifting Psychology

Powerlifting Psychology is a free blog post by Condor Performance’s Madalyn Incognito on the mental aspects of the sport of Powerlifting.

Powerlifting Psychology is all about improving the mental aspects of this highly technical and physical sport.

Not a powerlifter or vaguely interested in powerlifting psychology? Fear not for the below article mainly uses the sport of powerlifting/weightlifting as an opportunity to look at some classic sport psychology concepts from a different angle. Read it before judging it!

Powerlifting Psychology – Introduction

Powerlifters are on a constant mission to find out just how strong they are (or could be). For those who are not familiar with this sport let me give a quick overview. Powerlifters attempt to lift the heaviest weight possible on three different lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift). The aim is to reach their one-rep max (heaviest they can lift in a single attempt) within 3 attempts. 

The all or nothing nature of lifting creates a lot of mental challenges. At the end of the day, in powerlifting, you either make the lift or you don’t. This can lead to a lot of all or nothing / black or white thinking. Powerlifters often speak about the fear of “Bombing Out” (failing to make one successful lift in the three attempts). The impact of missed attempts are often exponential. In other words for the mentally vulnerable one missed attempt can often snowball into three.

Falling Down The Rabbit Hole

After missing the first attempt, lifters become vulnerable to “falling down the rabbit hole”. The first attempt often sets the tone for the following attempts. It shouldn’t but it does. There are many different types of pressure but one is ‘reduced opportunities’ pressure.

The stakes become much higher, and our perceived importance of having a successful next lift dramatically increases. This often leaves lifters focusing too much on outcomes/results. In doing this the processes they need to be focusing on to get those outcomes can be neglected.

Preempting Thoughts Ahead of Time

Getting “hooked” is where our thoughts and emotions hijack our actions in an unhelpful way. One of the best ways to prepare for the threat of getting hooked is to preemptively identify what these thoughts might be. Basically, what am I likely to think in these situations and what to do about it.

Our mind is a reason-giving machine, the best ever created. Because of this, we’re really good at surviving. But we’re also really good at talking ourselves out of doing anything outside of our comfort zone. To help a powerlifter preempt competition day thoughts, we might ask:

  • “As you enter the venue, how is your mind likely to try and talk you out of doing this?”
  • “What is your mind likely to tell you as you approach the bar? 
  • “It is possible you might miss the first lift. What is your mind likely to say when that happens?”
  • “When you approach the bar for your third and final attempt, your mind is going to generate a lot of objections. What do you think it’s likely to say?”

Predicting the time and frequency of these competition thoughts can also be beneficial:

  • “How many times do you think your mind will tell you this before you approach the bar?”
  • “When will your mind start telling you all these things?
  • “How many times will your mind say this to you throughout the entire day?”

What To Do About This?

After identifying these thoughts and when we’re likely to experience them, we can take the final step which is to name them. Naming uncomfortable thoughts brings a sense of familiarity with them so they’re not as frightening on competition day, and creates a bit of distance between yourself and those thoughts. Some great examples include:

  • “There’s my mind reason-giving again”
  • “There’s the ‘I’m not good enough’ story”
  • “The ‘What if mess up” thought is back”

So a big part of the work we do at Condor Performance is in helping lifters handle these challenging situations and the associated thoughts more effectively. That is, by reducing their impact on performance. 

Flow and Trusting Your Body 

Elite lifters often talk about being in the zone when they compete. The scientific term for this is flow. Flow State, by Csíkszentmihályi and is when we are so intensely present in what we are doing time and distractions appear to vanish. In a state of flow athletes describe feeling extremely calm and relaxed but immensely focused on the task at hand as though they are in a ‘trace-like state’. During flow, time seems to slow down and there isn’t necessarily a lot of overt thinking going on; the athlete is totally and completely reliant on their body to perform on autopilot. It is during this state that athletes find themselves performing at a higher level than they normally would. 

Elite lifters often talk about being in the zone when they compete. The scientific term for this is flow, and it’s where one is so intensely present engaged in what they are doing, that they are in a state of hyper-awareness. In a state of flow athletes describe feeling extremely calm and relaxed but immensely focused on the task at hand as though they are in a ‘trace-like state’. During flow, time seems to slow down and there isn’t necessarily a lot of overt thinking going on; the athlete is totally and completely reliant on their body to perform in the way it has been trained to perform. It is during this state that athletes find themselves performing at a higher level than they normally would. 

Get Out Of Your Own Way

At Condor Performance we often talk about getting the head out of the way so the body can do what it already knows how to do, so we see a lot of value in the concept of flow. If you ask any elite lifter what they think about in the moments before a competition lift, you’re likely to get the response “absolutely nothing”. The best powerlifters in the world trust that their body knows what to do, and with enough training (and trust in their training program) they can go to competitions and consistently enter a state of flow right before they go to lift, through engaging in simple mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing. 

Powerlifting Psychology: Visualisation

Visualisation in powerlifting is becoming more and more popular as athletes begin to see the benefit of mental rehearsal on performance. For this to work, mental rehearsal needs to be as specific as possible, covering as many details of the competition day as possible from the actual lift itself, to the sound and temperature of the venue, to the feeling/sensation of clothes and equipment on the body during the warm-up lifts.

When visualising it is important to both set the scene and engage all of our senses. Lifters might want to visualise the different aspects of their entire competition day, including weigh-in, waiting around, seeing the audience for the first time, loading and unloading weight, warm-up attempts and hearing the commands for their actual lifts. 

However one trap lifters often fall into is only rehearsing successful lifts, often for fear of thinking about how things could possibly go wrong. This goes back to preempting – it’s important for lifters to preempt and visualise what an unsuccessful lift will look and feel like, how they’re likely to respond to this emotionally and cognitively, and rehearse how they want to respond to this and how they might coach themselves through it. This creates a sense of familiarity with unsuccessful attempts so that they don’t come as such a surprise on competition day, and allows us to pre-plan our response so we know exactly what to do in the case that it does happen.

Getting “Stuck”

One of the most challenging mental hurdles lifters talk about is getting “Stuck”. When a lifter sees no progress or doesn’t see progress at the speed they expected, they’ll often label themselves as being stuck. Something important to keep in mind is that there are many reasons why a lifter may physically plateau, but it is actually our cognitive and emotional response to this physical plateau that often exacerbates its duration. Our default response to seeing minimal to no progress includes thoughts of self-doubt, diminished confidence in our ability, and questioning whether or not all the work we are doing will be worth it. When a lifter becomes hooked by these thoughts, this often perpetuates the cycle of minimal progress. 

How To Get “Unstuck” 

It can be really beneficial for lifters who have become stuck, physically and/or mentally, to reflect on what life values they are fulfilling as a human being, (not necessarily as an athlete), that initially motivated them to pursue the sport and have kept them there up until now. Rather than looking at training through a purely athletic lens, we want to help them identify how lifting contributes to the individual living a rich and meaningful life, and through which of their life values this occurs. Many of the values that arise include:

  • Living a healthy lifestyle 
  • Self-discipline
  • Competing with Others
  • Learning new Skills
  • Attempting new challenges 
  • Never giving up 
  • Being responsible for my actions 
  • Feeling good about myself
  • Having a sense of accomplishing
  • Striving to be a better person

Shifting the lens on training from better athletic to better human allows for the rediscovery of the things an athlete truly values in life, and how they live in accordance with these values through their training (regardless of their results). This can serve as an internal driving force through prolonged periods of a plateau (perceived or actual) and is a process that can certainly help a lifter become “unstuck”. 

Powerlifting Psychology; Conclusion

Thinking about all the things that could go wrong isn’t something to be afraid of. In fact, when we expect and embrace the full range of emotions and thinking competition day brings about, they often seem a lot less threatening, and we’re giving ourselves the best chance to respond in a more helpful way.

Acknowledge that we can’t significantly change the way we think and feel, and therefore the goal of the work we do is to minimise the effect of these experiences on performance. And if you (or someone you know) want some help with any of this, get in touch.