Mental Blocks

Mental blocks are common in sports like gymnastics. Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole explores what they are and how to overcome them.

Mental Blocks are more common than you might think …

In this article we will explore the concept of mental blocks. Specifically the kinds of mental blocks that we commonly encounter in a sport and performance context. Without a doubt, some sports are likely to product more mental blocks than others. Which ones? Those that require manoeuvres such as gymnastics, surfing and all equestrian sports to name the most obvious.

For the rest of this article I will use gymnastics as an example. This is what the situation typically looks like when we find out about the mental block. A young gymnast is preparing for a major upcoming competition. For the uneven bars she is confident about the whole routine expect for the The Def (see below).

The Def (bars)

Description: The Def is a Gienger release move with an extra full twist. In simpler terms, the Def is a skill completed on the uneven bars where the gymnast releases the bar, completes a back salto layout with one and a half twists (540°) before catching the bar again.

In the mind of this hypothetical gymnast The Def is a mental block. It’s a skill that is so hard that she can’t imagine being able to do it in training; let alone in competition.

So how we know it’s a mental block as opposed to a different type of block? Is it enough to just take this athlete’s word for it? Not really.

What are the other kinds of blocks?

The main ones are physical and technical blocks. A physical block is when the body simply will not allow for the skill to be executed at this time. This might be due to injury, or literally the size of athlete. Think about a junior basketballer who wants to dunk the ball. She knows how but is just not tall enough (yet) to get anywhere near the ring.

A technical block, on the other hand, is when an athlete currently doesn’t have the “muscle memory” to execute a certain skill. A great example of this is when it golf, a few year back, they allowed long handled putters. For the non-golfing readers, this is a putter (used on the green) that is much longer than normal ones. The technique required to use this new type of putter is not the same as for a normal, shorter putter. So, many players tried it, had technical blocks and then went back to the old style.

Finally, We Have Mental Blocks

Or maybe we should call them genuine mental blocks. A genuine mental block is when the performer really believes that they will not be able to perform the skill. And it’s this belief, and nothing else, that is actually getting in the way of them doing it.

So here are no physical nor technical reasons why they shouldn’t be able to do this skill. One of the most compelling pointers it’s a mental block is if the performer has already done the skill in the past. 

Let’s go back to our example of the gymnast. If she has executed The Def before but can’t anymore this suggests a mental block.

Some sport psychologists might like to find out if there is reason for this. Was there a bad fall once? Maybe she saw another gymnast try and fail? Maybe someone has told her it’s impossible. Personally, I prefer to spend the majority of the mental conditioning on how to help them overcome the mental block. And these suggestions, below, are likely to the same regardless of the cause. And remember, these is not always a cause. This is mainly due to the limited amount of time that we have without our sporting clients. On average, via our monthly approach to consulting, we spend between 90 and 120 minutes “in session” with our clients. So it’s not that we are uninterested in the causes of things (such as mental blocks) it’s that we don’t have time to really get into them.

Baby Steps 

Baby steps refers to simply breaking down the skill into smaller, more manageable parts. Of course this is normally the coaches’ domain but not all coaches are mentally astute. Competence (actions) before confidence (a feeling) is the key here. Competence before confidence means that an athlete needs to be able to do something competently in order to feel confidence. In other words telling them “you can do it” is not very effective. Baby steps are a great way to overcome mental blocks. If done right there is never a large leap in difficulty.

For example, let us imagine that The Def is a 9 / 10 in terms of difficulty. What does a 7 look like? And and 5 or 3? Once these have been established then the gymnast can go back to the number in which they feel competent. Let’s say 4/10. With some patience, they can then work their way slowly up through the numbers. Do not, under any circumstances, jump from a 6 to 9 for example.

Seperate Actions from Thoughts from Emotions

Another way to overcome mental blocks is by realising that actions, thoughts and emotions are not one and the same. By this I mean separate actions, emotions and thoughts into different types of stimulus. This can be done away from training to start with. Through processes like Really Simple Mindfulness anyone can learn to observe their emotions and thoughts and therefore not let them stop certain actions from taking place.

As some of my clients know I like to prove this during sessions. For example, I will ask them to tap their head whilst saying to themselves “I am tapping my thigh”. Once the athlete knows that action are genuinely independent of thoughts and emotions they can use this in training. Using the current example, this means accepting that thoughts such as “I will never be able to do this” are fine. Feelings of panic are to be accepted and they don’t have to stop you from taking the first step (literally).

And if you combine these two ideas, the combination tends to be very effective.

As always, if you’d like a helping hand let us know. 

Coaching The Coaches

Sport psychologists Coaching The Coaches is becoming more and more normal as competitive sport finally start to understand what we do.

Coaching the coaches

One of the great professional delights for us here at Condor Performance is the opportunity to work alongside sporting coaches. We are privileged to work with coaches across many sports and levels of competition. Most of this consulting is 1-on-1 whereby we help them improve both their own mental toughness as well as their mental coaching skills. Of course these two areas are related but are far from one and the same. So coaching the coaches really means coaching the coaches mentally.

The process of collaborating with coaching staff provides a range of challenges and rewards distinct from working directly with athletes. It is immensely satisfying for us to help coaches redirect some of the vast amounts of time and energy spent on their players back into improving their own performance. That’s right, coaches are performers too even if they don’t actually strap on the boots.

An Unlimited Appetite for Learning

Increasingly at the elite level of sport there is a trend for coaches to take off-season trips. The idea is to ‘pick the brains’ of other organisations in order to bring new perspectives back home. “Study tours” are fascinating exercises with a host of educational benefits. However they’re not exactly cheap and that thing called ‘life’ can get in the way.

We are huge advocates for these study tours but accept they will not be possible for most coaches. Luckily there is a workaround. Start working 1-on-1 with a qualified sport psychologist or performance psychologist from the comfort of your own home.

Of course when it comes to the practical application of coaching tasks and responsibilities it is the coaches themselves who are the experts, not us. But we become involved to provide mental skills training to the coach, not to start developing game plans or overhaul training regimes.

Five Key Questions

Below you will find five key questions for coaches directed at their own performance, not that of their athletes.

HOW ARE YOU PERFORMING OUTSIDE OF THE PLAYING ARENA?

Before we discuss the mental side of your coaching performance, let’s take a moment to look at the bigger picture. Improving your performance in areas which don’t at first appear to be directly linked to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of coaching will in fact directly benefit your work with your athletes. Attending to ‘off-field’ matters will help to increase your physical and mental energy. It will sharpen your focus when coaching. It will enhance your enthusiasm for your duties. Furthermore, it will promote enjoyment of your role and contribute to your general wellbeing. Finally, it will help to address (prevent) burnout in the longer term. The major targets for improvement for any coach, from a lifestyle perspective, are:

  • Nutrition. No doubt you’re encouraging your athletes to put the right fuel into their bodies? And while you may not be running around on the court with them it’s important that you do the same. This isn’t just necessary for general health but also for enhancing your mood and improving concentration. Taking care of your nutritional needs seems fairly obvious at first glance. But that’s why it often takes a back seat to other tasks which seem more urgent at the time.
  • Sleep. Unfortunately this is not an exact science and a great night of shut-eye can’t be guaranteed. There are various factors which can get in the way of sleep. So anything you can do to increase the chances of a good night’s rest will have flow-on benefits to life and sport. Taking basic steps to plan for and implement good sleeping habits sounds sensible enough. Like nutrition, sleep can be one of the forgotten components in the grand scheme of coaching performance. See this great PDF for more details.

WHAT DOES MENTAL TOUGHNESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

The mental qualities you hope to see in your players are easy enough to picture. But what does mental toughness actually look like for you personally? What are the skills you’re seeking to keep improving upon in order to perform at your best? Below are some points that keen-eyed readers will recognise fall along the lines of the Metuf model. These are all areas we often discuss when coaching the coaches.

Motivation.

What are your reasons for coaching and wanting to do it well? The immediate response to this may be that you love your chosen sport. However it’s helpful to clarify this passion further. Why exactly does coaching appeal to you and what are the rewards which you get in return for your efforts? Knowing what matters to us in terms of our chosen sport means that we can keep these values as non-negotiable aspects of our sporting lives.

Emotions

How well are you able to manage your emotions? That term – manage – is used deliberately and is not a result of the growing ‘business-speak’ in modern society. Although the term ‘control’ is thrown around freely in sports, we cannot control our emotions as we cannot guarantee them. What we can guarantee are the actions that we pick in response to our feelings. Developing competency in recognising and better understanding one’s own emotions – and the impact of these emotions on performance – benefits the coach in their work and enables the coach to teach their athletes similar skills.

Thoughts

Do you spend the majority of your time worrying about aspects you have little or no influence on? For example, your opponents? Food for though, no?

Unity

How well are you able to get your message across to others? Are you able to receive and interpret messages well from others? How effectively can you get messages across to yourself? Communication is a hugely under-utilised skill. Normally this is due to lifelong habits which we have developed in everyday interactions. Even minor modifications can yield powerful changes in tasks such as teaching biomechanics or managing different personalities.

Focus

How well are you able to focus on what is most relevant and useful in your role as a coach? It is equally important to improve your attention in preparation as well as in competitioN. Are you prioritising one over the other at present?

DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO DEVELOP YOUR SPORTING IQ?

Out on the playing surface, tactical wisdom refers to knowledge about the sport. It’s about decision making skills and knowing ‘when’ to or ‘why’ to do something. There is an enormous difference between ‘how to’ shoot for goal (technique) vs. determining if a shot or a pass is best goal (tactics). Developing decision making skills is something which the vast majority of coaches I’ve encountered have revelled in. I enjoy helping them to teach their athletes how to become smarter and to read the play. How to be proactive rather than reactive.

Off the playing surface these same principles apply for coaches. We want to encourage them to continue learning, to seek new knowledge, and to gain deeper insights into their sport. Tactical wisdom for coaches isn’t restricted to coming up with new game plans. Instead, tactical wisdom is looking at the bigger picture and planning how to acquire and utilise knowledge for the benefit of your athletes. As a coach, if you can recognise what your strengths and weaknesses are knowledge-wise then you’ve immediately begun a process of filling in any gaps and strengthening the existing foundations.

IS YOUR BODY GETTING ENOUGH ATTENTION?

Improving the strength, fitness and flexibility of athletes is of course a key consideration for any coach on any given day. However, we are talking about coaches here and the risk with this group is that enhancing the physical capabilities of athletes will always take priority over your own needs. Taking the time to plan specific goals for improving your physical capabilities and implementing weekly effort towards these goals will benefit your work with clipboard and whistle. It may even help you to come up with some new ideas for punishing your athletes with torturous fitness drills!

ARE YOU REFINING AND UPDATING YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS?

When discussing technical consistency with an athlete, we would be talking about their ability to execute movements and apply skills the way they want to over and over again across all conditions in competition. That is, ‘how to’ do something. One of the primary concerns of a coach is to help teach athletes these skills. So in order to improve your performance as a coach it is worthwhile considering ‘how to’ teach your charges. It is one thing to demonstrate to a javelin thrower the method for launching that piece of equipment. However, it’s another to be passing on that knowledge in a way that is effective and of most benefit to that individual athlete. It’s hugely useful for coaches to break from habit where possible and review how they go about executing their skills in their role as a coach. How effectively are you teaching your athletes and how satisfied are you in your current ability to pass on skills/knowledge/information to others? As with all the previously mentioned pillars of performance, ongoing improvement in the ‘how to’ of coaching players is the goal here regardless of which technical elements are areas of strength for you as an individual.

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

Work-Life Balance For Elite Performers

Performance Psychologist Chris Pomfret muses about how off-field endeavours can actually help with on-field performances.

Work-Life Balance For Elite Performers

Has there ever been a better time to consider your work-life balance? The Corona Virus, although devastating, is a reset and rethink opportunity for many of us. Are you spending too much time on one area of your life to the detriment of another?

The parents of our younger athletes will often ask us how they might encourage their kids to take their schoolwork seriously. Understandably, young athletes can struggle to see what relevance of studying or exploring long-term work options has to achieve their sporting dreams.

It is here that the answers hides. What if you could prove to elite athletes and performers that sometime less is more. What if they knew that hitting the maths books was actually going to help them play better on Saturday morning?

Multiple Pursuits; A Key to Good Mental Health

Let’s start with a fact. Playing careers are short at most levels for most athletes in most sports. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the need for athletes be participating in a ‘dual career’. Or at least for them to be taking steps to prepare for their post-athletic life. Most competitive athletes retire at a young age. Think of gymnasts who are ‘over the hill’ in the twenties. This not only impacts on their lifestyle and their finances but also ‘bigger picture’ areas such as their sense of self, their social identity, and their sense of direction in life.

In US college sport, for instance, approximately 1% of collegiate athletes become professional athletes. And the average professional sporting career only lasts around 3.5 years (1). One area where the US college system ‘has it right’ is that athletes are required to maintain grades whilst studying in order to play. Traditionally this has not been the case elsewhere in the world, where club-based sporting systems are prevalent or professional development pathways are separated from the education sector.

Heading In The Right Direction

This has changed in recent times however, with athlete education and career guidelines now being set by national governing bodies across the globe.

In Australia and New Zealand many of the major sporting codes now require professional athletes to undertake vocational training as part of their contracts. Essentially a focus on health work-life balance is becoming compulsory like gym sessions. After all, many of these sports have very high injury rates. And some of these injuries, that can happen in seconds, can end sporting careers once and for all.

In the past, professional clubs have ‘paid lip service’ towards career, personal and welfare development. This was due to a belief that their athletes should be focusing solely on improving on-field rather than off-field. To be fair, this hasn’t been helped by a tendency for many athletes to prioritise their sporting activities above all other pursuits. Not surprisingly, athletes choosing to maintain a non-sporting activity achieve better jobs and are happiest with their life beyond sport than those who focus exclusively on sport (2).

T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A.

Some research has suggested that engagement in dual career activities may actually lead to a performance benefit for athletes. That’s right, work-life balance is good for now and later! This may in part be due a sense of balance in life and a sense of security from preparing for the future (3). Interestingly, a recent study showed only 31.9% of elite Olympic athletes decide to follow the ‘sport only’ career path (2). A case study of a club culture within the Australian Football League suggested that club culture supporting whole person development was associated with on-field performance rather than being irrelevant or even competing against performance (3).

In the work that we do in this areas we often use a made-up term called T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A.

T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A. stands for ‘The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At.’ This essentially involves something outside of your chosen sport that provides you with:

  • A sense of reward
  • A purpose in life
  • Something to challenge and stimulate you
  • Something to develop skills and competencies for self-improvement
  • Activities to take your mind off training, practicing, playing or competing

In other words, T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A. helps to provide that elusive ‘sport/life balance.’ We prefer this made-up label as it doesn’t imply it has to be obviously job related. For many of my sporting clients T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A. has been a hobby. Or just trying to become a better father, brother or friend.

The Clincher

As the growing body of research shows, when T.O.T.I.W.B.E.A. is defined by an athlete as an academic goal (such as completing a course of study) or as a vocational goal (such as working towards a long-term profession) there are significant rewards to be gained during their playing days and in the years that follow. What this research also shows, however, is that there are a range of barriers to successfully balancing sporting and non-sporting career progression. Chief of these is the issue of ineffective time management (2), along with a lack of understanding or support for dual career development at the family, club or organisational level (4).

With the above in mind it should come as no surprise that time management is organically woven into all the consulting that we do at Condor Performance. By this I mean it would be difficult to imagine us working 1-on-1 with an athlete over an extended period of time without us examining their schedule in detail. Often serious psychological challenges can be overcome by simply looking at what you do and don’t do on a weekly basis. Or by considering the quality of your time as a seperate concept to the quantity.

Would you like some help with your work-life balance? If you would like some professional assistance on anything raised in this article please reach out to us via one of the following ways:

References

  1. Tshube, T. & Feltz, D.L. (2015). The relationship between dual-career and post-sport career transition among elite athletes in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Psychology of Sport and Exercise (Elsevier), 21, 109-114.
  2. Lopez de Subijana, C., Barriopedro, M. & Conde, E. (2015). Supporting dual career in Spain: Elite athletes’ barriers to study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise (Elsevier), 21, 57-64.
  3. Pink, M., Saunders, J. & Stynes, J. (2015). Reconciling the maintenance of on-field success with off-field player development: A case study of a club culture within the Australian Football League. Psychology of Sport and Exercise (Elsevier), 21, 98-108.
  4. Ryba, T.V. et al. (2015). Dual career pathways of transnational athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise (Elsevier), 21, 125-134.

Motivation, Sport Psychology and Marshmallows

Motivation is about more than a subcomponent of sport psychology and mental toughness. This article looks at delayed gratification and more.

Child eating two marshmellows
“If you don’t eat this marshmallow, you’ll get two later on”

Too Many Theories

I have long held the view that most areas of psychology are blighted with too many theories. Don’t get me wrong, I know we need research to support our professional decision making. But in my view there are simply too many below par theories, models and papers out there. Google Motivation and sport psychology theories and you’ll see what I mean.

This then blows out the work load of applied sport psychologists such as myself. I try to read as many peer-reviewed journals on sport psychology as possible. Unfortunately have to sort through the mountain to find the gems.

Oh, and there are some real gems.

One of these is the work done around Delayed Gratification via The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments. Starting in the 60s Walter Mischel did a series of studies that gave us with a huge clue about the motivational requirements of successful people.

One Marshmallow Now Or Two Later?

In these studies, children between four and eight years of age were offered a choice. Each child, in turn, could pick between one small reward immediately or two later. One marshmallow now or two later, you decide? If the child decided to have two marshmallows later then it would be on the condition that the single treat was still there when the experimenter returned. This was normally after about 15 minute.

Remarkably in the majority of the testing about half the children gobbled down the one marshmallow almost immediately. The other half would exercise great will power and wait for the experimenter to return. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to “delay their gratification” tended to have better life outcomes. For example, these high will power youngsters went on to get better exam results. They were happier and more likely to have good relationships. They ended up with much better jobs than the lower will power kids.

Below is a 6 minute Ted talk which explains the concept and experiments in more details.

Here is the video link to Joachim de Posada’s TED talk in 2009 that we keep banging on about in the context of delayed gratification as a key mindset for peak performance. Enjoy.

Although I am assume that Professor Mischel had little interest in the specific field of sport psychology I can’t imagine another branch of psychology whereby the concept of delayed gratification is more relevant.

Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is really just “doing something difficult now in the hope that it will be prove worth it later on”.

Of all the hundreds of theories on motivation pertaining to sport psychology this is most useful. Quite simply put, one of the chief explanations about why so few succeed is because they can’t link their short term struggle with their long term aspirations.

Most athletes and coaches try and find shortcuts. They throw in the towel when the rewards for their effort are not immediate and obvious. They gobble down the single marshmallow instead of waiting for two. Very few people actually love getting up at 4am in order to do laps under floodlights. But the champions and champions-in-the-making do it anyway.

In the defence of ‘most athletes’ it’s unlikely that anyone has taken the time to carefully explain to them that improving is all about patience. Doing the hard yards in the preseason so the rewards can come during the season.

What If The Kids Had Been Coached First?

What would have happened had all the Marshmallow experimentees been coached beforehand. Imagine a performance psychologist had been allowed to spend time helping the kids mentally prepare first. How about the impact if a performance psychologist shows pictures of other kids succeeding. Imagine if all the subjects has been taught proper mindfulness techniques thus allowing ‘urges’ to just be noticed.

But of course elite sport, especially at the highest level, requires a little more delayed gratification than 15 minutes. On many occasions the truly meaningful “payoff” for effort might only be 10 or even 20 years down the track. That’s a long time to wait for that second marshmallow! Think about the young athletes who sacrifice time with friends and family whilst they are teenagers only to see the rewards in their twenties and thirties.

Remember, the experiments centred around one marshmallow now or two later. The children were not left with a brussell sprout for 15 minutes. This is a super important point. There was nothing mean about leaving the kids alone in a room with one marshmallow. The only difficultly some of them experienced was the tussle between their own strength of mind and their own temptations.

Applied Sport Psychology

At Condor Performance one of the ways we help those we work with to embrace delayed gratification is by encouraging them to keep track of their progress.

Key Performance Indictors can “bridge the gap” between the daily and weekly grind and possible moments of glory. These monthly checks act a little like licking the marshmallow but not eating it. They help remind us about what we might get later on down the track. They remind us about why we’re doing what we’re doing even if it’s uncomfortable. MCs are, in my opinion, the most powerful motivators available when you can’t actually use marshmallows!


Easier said than done? If you’d like to receive details about our sport psychology services then you can get in touch a number of ways.

Emotional Intelligence and Managment

Emotional Intelligence. Can we control our emotions? Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole takes a deep dive into the topic of emotions.

Sport psychology and its big sister performance psychology are minefields when it comes to terminology. What I mean by this is that related terms gets thrown around often and easily. Some of these words are more common than others. For example, ‘mental toughness’ and ’emotional intelligence’ are used and misused more frequently than ‘team unity’ and ‘flow’.

Those of you who are familiar with Condor Performance (the psychologists) and Metuf (the model) will likely know that for a long time we have tried hard to define such terms. For example, for us mental toughness is an umbrella terms that pertains to the “Big Five” aspects of the mental side of sport / performance. In fact, the word Metuf is an acronym for motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus. And of course, mental toughness is not to be confused with the other ‘

But what about the “Big Five” terms themselves. When we use the words emotional intelligence for example are we all in agreement about exactly what we are talking about? Not in my experience, not even close. In fact, I find emotions and related discussions to be the most confusing, and risky, of all the sport psychology concepts.

Some Recent Examples

Let me use an example to explain. Recently on social media I saw a screenshot of a presentation that contained the words “controlling their emotions under pressure”. It was a bullet point next to the words composure, one of “six keys to being resilient” (according to the slide). I added this comment “It is not possible to control emotions, only influence them. It is psychologically dangerous to imply you can”. I will not go into detail about the back and forth that took place after this initial comment except to say this. It would be very useful if there was a censuses on how emotions work and what we mean by emotional intelligence.

With that I will give my professional opinion and expand on my “it is not possible to control emotions” comment. As an applied sport psychologist it’s not really my job to prove that the below is correct, or scientifically robust. Having said that, at Condor Performance, we do collect a huge amount of internal data as part of our mission to be constantly improving. Some academics might argue that because our data is not converted into scientific articles and then submitted for peer review that it is meaningless. I will save my counterargument to that assertion for another time / blog.

Our Guide to Emotional Intelligence

First and foremost we want to agree on what emotions are. They are feelings. Many of these feelings are enjoyable like joy and excitement. Many are not that fun such as fear, nerves and frustration. Then there is the feeling of not feeling anything at all – often called apathy. Some recent studies suggest there are 27 main emotions that most humans experience. This “feels” about right. Especially if you remove the ones that sounds like emotions but are actually thoughts (like worry, for example).

In browsing the list of these 27 emotions I have picked eight as very common for athletes, coaches and other performers:

  • Anxiety
  • Calmness
  • Confusion
  • Envy
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Satisfaction
  • Triumph

With these in mind we turn our attention to the question what is your relationship (as a person) to these and other feelings? Is it useful to find the cause of your excitement (for example) so you can replicate it at will? Are strong feelings of anxiety and fear bad – to be stopped like some kind of emotional disease? Do we control our emotions or do they control us or neither of these?

This Is How I Explain It To My Clients

Emotions are just part of the human experience. Internal feelings are one of seven sources of information (stimulus) available to most of us most of the time. The others are sight, sounds, smell, thoughts, touch and taste. All of these groups of stimuli vary in terms of their pleasantness. For example, drinking fresh and sour milk activate different taste buds but both are taste sensations nonetheless. You can apply the same to all seven. We experience fear and excitement very differently but both are emotions, nothing more, nothing less.

The first and most important part of being emotionally intelligent is just becoming better at noticing and experiencing different emotions. Yes, both the pleasant and the unpleasant ones. There are many ways to go about this but there are a couple of rules to ensure it’s helping. Don’t try and change the emotion directly. Wether it be via mindfulness, meditation or moonwalking your task is to “increase your awareness of your feelings with decreased judgment”. I often like to do this by going through all the senses so that there is no real difference between the internal two and the external five. Here is a link to 16 minutes “Really Simple Mindfulness” audio recording we created recently in case you want a helping hand.

Technology – Friend or Foe?

You can certainly use one of the myriad of Apps as well (too many now to list) but remember this. Mindfulness, like exercise, shouldn’t cost you anything. You do not need a gym membership to improve your cardio fitness. You don’t need to pay for the Premium version of an App in order to do mindfulness. Even our “Really Simple Mindfulness” audio recording above is only really designed as ‘training wheels’ until you get the hang of it by yourself.

So becoming better at observing your emotions is the first part of emotional intelligence. But it’s not the only part.

The second part is about realising that although you can never control your emotions you can sometimes influence them. And that choosing to do this might assist with what you’re trying to do (achieve etc).

For example, you might decide that you would like to feel as calm as possible before competitions (exams, performances etc). In your attempt to influence this (NOT CONTROL) you might design a Pre Competition Routine that is full of tasks they YOU find relaxing. With practice (repetition) the likelihood of you feeling calm the hour before kick off or tee off will increase. But real emotional intelligence comes with knowing that there will never be a guarantee (synonym for control) that you will in fact feel calm and relaxed.

Don’t Try And Change Emotions Directly – Ever

And not even here you are not trying to change your emotions directly. If you relaxation tasks are actions (preferable) then you’re really influencing your preferred pre game actions and hoping they make you feel calm. This is very different from trying to calm yourself down.

How do we deal with this? We just notice these unexpected feelings alongside all the other sights, sounds and  thoughts of the situation. Which if you’ve been doing this on a daily or weekly basis (see above) as part of your training will be child’s play.

For those of you who stumbled across this article in search of an applied definition of emotion intelligence then copy and paste this.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability observe and label your own human emotions and to know when and how to influence them”. 

Gareth J. Mole, Sport Psychologist @ Condor Performance

Sporting Comebacks – A Mental Perspective

Sporting comebacks are easier to understand when you look at the different areas that make up optimal sporting performances.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after sinking his putt to win during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The Term ‘Comeback’ Is An Interesting One

What first comes to my mind when I think about ‘sporting comebacks’ is ‘coming back to what’? The Oxford Living Dictionary defines comeback as ‘a return by a well-known person, especially an entertainer or sports player, to the activity in which they have formerly been successful’. Which of courses begs the question successful as defined by who and what?

What are some of the most memorable comebacks that you have been involved in as a coach or athlete? How about as a sports fan? Is it the size of the deficit that was overcome or the amount of surprise caused?

Last year, in 2019, we were treated to two of the most remarkable comebacks I can ever remember. But each earned the label epic comeback for very different reasons.

Tiger Wood’s Comeback Win at The 2019 US Masters

Apologies if you already know all of this. However, it’s important for the non-golf followers out there to be aware of the facts around this remarkable sporting victory.

Tiger dominated the international golf scene for just over a decade. It is easy to understand why many regard Tiger’s ‘hot’ years as having no equal in individual sports. Lance might have been a contender but we all know what happened to him! Roger had to share most of the spoils with Rafa and Novak.

Of Tiger’s fifteen major titles fourteen of them came between 1997 (winning his first US Masters) and 2008 (a third US Open). Fourteen majors in eleven years mean he was averaging more than one per year during his glory years.

The Decline …By His Standards

Only Tiger will really know what contributed to the slide in his form. He went from more than a Major a year to none for the following ten years. Theories-a-plenty suggests a combination of factors. Maybe ageing, injuries, improved opponents and non-golfing scandals or a combination? Between 2009 and 2018 his trophy cabinet did not continue to fill up at quite the same rate as per the previous decade.

Tiger won most of his golf tournaments (so far) during the first half of his career.

The above graph is very telling in many ways. For me, the most meaningful takeaway is this notion of success as defined by who and what – as mentioned earlier. I work 1-on-1 with dozens of professional golfers who would love to have Tiger’s trophies from 2010 – 2018 where he managed “only” 9 tour victories (and no majors). In other words, like so much in sport psychology, comebacks are all relative.

Tiger’s win at Augusta in April 2019 will be regarded as a comeback because he used to win these events without even breaking a sweat. Then he didn’t for a while. This resulted in many of these lesser golfing achievements (top 5 and top 10 finishes for example) getting ignored, dismissed or underplayed. Let me say it again. Most pro golfers would give their left leg to have achieved what TW did during his “slump years”.

Sporting Success Is About So More Than Trophies and Medals

I advise my athletes and coaches to be mindful of not letting results (influenceable) play too big a role in what they regard as success. And if you must use sporting results collect a whole bunch of stats not just wins.

Our Metuf model suggests there are five major areas that all contribute to performance success. Physical, Technical, Mental (which includes emotional) and Tactical Preparation act as four ‘engines’ on a performance plane. The rest of the aircraft is like their health and wellbeing. To increase your chances of winning anything you’re better of focussing on there five areas. Sport psychology stalwart Dr Chris Shambrook says it best. “Focus on the input, and let the output take care of itself”.

Tiger is now known to have had a number of physical and personal challenges for most of the previous decade. Maybe these were enough to result in him “only” coming 2nd and 3rd in the hardest golf events in the world. But we will never really know (nor will he) because we can’t unbake the cake.

What Tiger had to endure from a physical point of view (injuries and surgeries) would have been enough to force most athletes into retirement. But most athletes don’t have the mindset (grit?) of Tiger Woods.

The nature of sport, especially at the pointy end, is that you just don’t have a chance to dominate if one of your four engines is not functioning properly. Of course, a much more common scenario across all sports are athletes who are physically fine (injury-free at least) but whose Mental Preparation and Toughness isn’t optimised. If this sounds like you please get in touch, we can help, it’s what we do.

The Rest of the Plane

The other major aspect of performance is ‘the rest of the plane’. We could refer to this as mental health and wellbeing. In my work as a sport psychologist I prefer to think about this from a solutions point of view. For example, sleep, nutrition, relationships, rest and purpose to name some of the most common.

It would certainly appear that these areas of Tiger’s life have improved significantly over the past year or so. I would suggest they may well have had an equal – or greater impact on Tiger’s comeback than his return to full fitness. But we will never really know (nor will he) because we can’t unbake the cake.

During the famous green jacket ceremony Tiger finishes it by saying ‘Yeah, I’m excited about show and tell at school’. This suggests how he is thinking about his family in the immediate aftermath of his most epic comeback ever.

Although there is still a lot of data missing proving the link between improved wellbeing and sporting results trust me the two are heavily linked.

Genuine sport psychology will only become mainstream when sporting decision makers realise that happy athletes win more – a lot more.

Another Epic Comeback in 2019

Some comebacks take much less time that the ten years it took Tiger to win another major. Some only take 45 minutes in fact.

Lets fast forward a few weeks and move from the greens of Augusta to the floodlit nights of Champions League football (soccer). The Champions League is Europe’s premier inter-club competition where the best teams from all the major leagues take part in a separate competition the following year.

Again, if you know how the Champions’ League work then skip this paragraph but it’s important to put all examples into context. The Champions’ League consists of first a round robin “pool” format (similar to FIFA World Cups) and then a second knock out stage. All the matches except for the final are played over two legs. This means that the scores from each pair or games get summed to decide the overall winner of the tie. In the event of deadlocks (even number of goals scores across the two games) the team who scores more goals ‘away’ from home will prevail.

In last year’s semi-finals Barcelona (of Spain) took on Liverpool FC (England) and Ajax (Holland) played Tottenham Hotspur (England). After the two first games, it was looking very unlikely that either of the English teams would advance to the final in Madrid. Barcelona took a 3-0 lead into the second leg meaning a single goal for the Catalans’s at Anfield would mean LFC would need to score 5 against arguably the best team in Europe! Ajax fans were forgiven for starting to think about a trip to the Spanish capital after their team beat Spurs 1-0 in London. So they would take a lead, an away goal and home field advantage into the decider.

Yet Despite All The Odds …

Yet despite all the odds both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur prevailed. Both the second leg matches were remarkable in their own way and worthy of the label comeback. But the Liverpool comeback would have to go down as one of the comebacks of the century. Especially given that it resulted in them going onto to lift the trophy a couple of weeks afterwards.

There are some lessons to be learnt here from the men who orchestrated these comebacks. For a start, both the managers (head coaches) of these two famous English team appear to take the mental side very seriously. The have created a ‘never give up’ attitude with their respective playing squads. I suspect that their comebacks are always less of a surprise to them than their fans.

In fact, Jurgen Klopp – the German coach of Liverpool – described his players during the press conference after their remarkable 4-0 comeback semi final win as ‘mentality giants’. This is a term I have not come across before but will be passing onto my coaching clients for sure.

Mohamed Salah’s ‘Never Give Up’ T-shirt epitomises Liverpool’s mindset in Barcelona victory in the 2019 Champion League semi final.

How about you? Have you been involved in a sporting comeback? If you have add the details to the comments section below. Better still, describe your mindset before and during the comeback for others to read and benefit from.

Goal Setting – Done Right

Goal Setting is one of the best known of all mental skills – but we have come a very long way since the old days of S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Did you set some goals at the start of 2020 and then have them scuppered by the Corona Virus? Did you think to adjust your goals accordingly? Goal setting is actually the easy bit, it’s the getting that’s tricky.

This article was originally written in 2019 but has recently been updated. It now includes examples pertaining to the Corona Virus and associated challenges.

There are roughly 5000 separate searches for the term ‘goal setting’ every 24 hours around the world. This is the same number of searches for the term ‘sport psychology’. This suggests that athletes, coaches, students, bored teenagers and performers have heard of goal setting, want to do some but don’t really know how.

Before we help you out with this let’s remind ourselves of something important. It’s useful to seperate processes (methods) and their intended outcomes. In other areas of sports science, this is much easier. For example, in physical training one of the intended outcomes is cardio fitness. I assume you could list dozens of activities (processes) that would help improve cardio fitness. Moreover, you would never confuse skipping (for example) with the outcome of cardio fitness.

The Same Applies For Mental Training

The same framework can and should be applied to mental training but rarely is. Goal setting is the method. It’s a process but what are the intended areas we’re trying to influence when we do some goal setting? Furthermore, just like skipping which can be done well or poorly not all goal setting is the same. Most of the goal setting I have seen in the skipping equivalent of doing it once a year and hoping this will have a long last impact on cardio fitness.

Many sport psychologists will tell you that goal setting is all about improving motivation. But I would argue that it’s much broader than that. In fact, if done properly goal setting can become the entire foundation of your personal and sporting/performance endeavours.

Goal setting the Condor Performance way is really Goal getting. Setting long term outcome goals is actually rather easy. It’s the stuff required to get you there were the magic happens – so to speak.

Start With Your Preferences

The scientific literature refers to them as outcome goals, performance goals and process goals. It also suggests that ideally you’ll have all three types as part of your “goal setting” plan. I would agree.

Preferences are a much better label than outcome goals. The hard reality of elite competitive sport is that very few will actually achieve their long term goals. Preferences will soften the blow if you don’t make it without impacting on your motivation. Preferences want to be long term; between one and five years from now. They also want to be about both life and sport (performance). A simple 5 x 2 table of future preferences is ideal.

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going! Do you know where you want to get to a year from now? What about five years from now?

This is nothing revolutionary. The highly overrated S.M.A.R.T Goals might get you to the same place as the above exercise. One of the key aspects missing from many goal setting systems is the concept of influence. It’s essential that the person coming up with their long term preferences knows this. We only have some influence on these futuristic outcomes.

I am updating this blog in the midst of the 2020 Corona Virus and associated challenges. I will use it to prove my point from the above paragraph. Almost every sporting goal set at the start of 2020 will not happen. Is it your fault? Of course not, you only have some influence on these preferences.

When doing goal setting / getting with my clients I normally start with preferences. But not always. If I feel that for the individuals in front of me (on the screen) ending with preferences will be best then I do just that.

Progress – The Key To Effective Goal Setting

Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that you have started with your long term preferences. You have done your 5 x 2 table and have ten sporting and personal achievements clarified on paper. What next? The research calls them performance goals, we call them monthly checks.

Monthly Checks are typically performance aims and indicators that we have more influence on compared with our long terms preferences. Normally, we have a lot of influence on these key performance indicators. And here one of the secrets of many of the world’s best athletes. Due to having more influences on their KPIs compared with LTOGs they value the former more than the latter. Most competitive athletes do the opposite and wonder why they spend so much of their time frustrated.

Examples of monthly checks might be statistics from competitions. For example, maybe you’ll track ‘greens in regulation’ for all rounds of golf for the month of February and compare that with March. Or maybe you focus on training progress instead. Maybe you see if all that skipping is actually doing anything by repeating a heart rate recovery test at the start of each month.

Processes – How Champions Are Really Made

The final piece of the goal setting / getting puzzle is arguably the most important. What processes (activities) are best right now for you? By ‘right now’ I mean today and this week. There are two keys in doing this effectively. First, realise (know) that you have even more influence on your processes that you do on your progress and preferences. I would say ‘a huge amount’. You have a huge amount of influence on how to spend your time. Secondly, focus on what you can do. Good process planning doesn’t even consider what you can’t do not what you used to be able to do.

The current Corona Virus is a great example of this. Most athletes and coaches around the world are spending too much time thinking (talking) about what they can’t do right now. This common but unhealthy mental habit then makes it harder to think about the thousands of ways around challenges like lockdown.

If you’d like some professional help to set and then get some goals then get in touch. You can request a Call Back (form to the right on computers, below on smaller devices). Even better (as it gives us more background on you) is complete one of our questionnaires in which you can ask for info on our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.

Mental Toughness Is Not The Same As Mental Health

Leading Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole explains the difference between Mental Toughness for Performance and Clinical Mental Health.

Mental Health and Mental Toughness are not the same.
Being Mentally Well and Mentally Tough are not the same thing.

There is an encouraging change taking place behind the scenes in elite sport around the world. Mental health (wellbeing) is starting to be considered an important part of sporting excellence. This is a welcome change from the “win-at-all-cost” and “suck it up” ideologies that existed before. But it’s not all roses and bubblegum. With this Wellbeing Movement there is a risk that many people involved in the pointy end of sport will confuse mental health with mental toughness. Of course although they are related due to both being related to the mind, they are not one and the same.

Thousands of Psychological Models

Psychologists the world over vary considerably when it comes to which frameworks they use to inform their work. Maybe more so than any other regulated profession disagreement about which theories are best is common. On the one hand this is healthy as it encourages robust discussion – a key improvement ingredient of any profession. The issue with psychology, especially sport psychology, is both the size of the disagreements and how they’re handled.

When I started Condor Performance in 2005 one of my goals was to only have the healthy bit (above). By this I mean I set out to put together a team of sport and performance psychologists who all agreed on the core elements of what we did. To this day I am happy for the team to disagree about the smaller stuff but we need to be in unison about which framework is best for our sport and performance clients.

In 2005, most of the sport psychology theories were geared towards either performance enhancement or person enhancement. Often the ideas contained within wouldn’t work together. In fact, some of them would actually damage the other side. As a new qualified sport psychologist I was not satisfied with this status quo. Our clients deserved better.

Metuf Is Born

This was my starting point. Most registered psychologists are quite capable of assisting people with mental health issues (e.g. severe depression). However not many psychologists can help sporting clients with their “mental game”. The part that is getting referred to in famous phrases like “golf is 90% mental”.

I wanted to be able to do both, I wanted to bake my cake and eat it. Then I wanted other performance psychologists to be able to do the same. As 99% of the consulting we do at Condor Performance is one-on-one then I wanted to be a councillor, a coach or both to our growing client base.

Metuf didn’t come about suddenly. In fact the main elements from Metuf didn’t even have a proper name before 2010. They existed as a series of worksheets that we’d use with our clients. These PDFs, now part of our archives, declared that general wellbeing and happiness are not the complete psychological requirements needed to reach ambitious sporting goals.

There are other psychological aspects that may not be that useful for normal, everyday people. But these mental skills are mighty useful when it comes to achieving consistent success. The best umbrella term for these extra psychological strengths is Mental Toughness. 

Pre Shot Routines – A Great Example

Whenever I am asked to defend this position – that mental toughness and mental health are not the same – I use the same example. One of the most useful mental skill for start-stop sports (like golf, shooting, lawn bowls) is a Pre X Routine. For golf, that X is shot but for tennis it’s means point. These short routines have nothing to do with mental health and wellbeing. They never have, they never will.

As Metuf evolved so did it’s place in the bigger picture. We used to believe the ideas would only really work on the mentally well. In other words in the early days we’d often refer our clients to clinical psychologists for “fixing” first. But eventually we worked out that many people where quite capable of working on their mental health and mental toughness at the same time.

Where Does The Word Metuf Comes From?

Despite there being hundreds of mental skills that can be used to enhance human performance there are only a few mental targets. By this I mean when you seperate mental health from mental toughness and try to break down the latter into smaller parts you’re not left with a lot. When we refer to mental toughness five potential improvement areas keep coming up over and over again:

Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus. 

The first letter of each of these five words spells Metuf – which is pronounced with a soft ‘e’ as in egg not a hard ‘e’ as in me.

If we look at these five labels we can see where the confusion between Mental Health and Mental Toughness can come from. The first three in particular look like they’d be pretty handy for anyone struggling with their mental health (think depression and motivation, or severe anxiety and emotions). 

But the M in Metuf that stands for motivation is from the context of performance not daily life. The kind of interventions that a clinical psychologist might use to motivate someone with clinical depression don’t resemble the kind of Mental Methods we use to motivate mentally well athletes, coaches, officials and performers. And the same applies for the E, T, U and F.

The Aeroplane Analogy

The analogy that we have been using more recently is that competitive athletes are like four engines aeroplanes. Overall wellbeing is like the main body of the aircraft, Mental Toughness is like one of the engines. In other words there is no point in having Rolls Royce engines if they’re attached to an aeroplane that is falling to bits.

A full explanation of this analogy can be seen through the Introduction Videos of our online Mental Toughness training courses. These intro videos can be seen for free before you decide if you’d like to pay for the entire course.

If watching some video presentations isn’t your thing then reach out to us instead. We now have a team of almost ten psychologists. All of whom can help you with either your mental health, your mental toughness or both.


Mental Health Challenges for Athletes

Are athletes and coaches more or less likely to experience mental health issues compared with the general pollution? Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole addresses this and other related questions.

Mental Health Challenges for Athletes
Mental Health Challenges for Athletes

As this previous article suggests at Condor Performance we consider Mental Health and Mental Toughness to be different concepts. Not opposites nor completely unrelated but far from one and the same.

Mental Health is ‘the condition of the mind’ as it relates to the individual and their ability to function. Genuine mental health issues will most likely have an impact across a number of aspects of the sufferer’s life.

So the severity of the mental illness is related to how they function as a person interacting with their society. If this person is an elite athlete then of course it might impact on their performances. However, it’s likely to hinder them in a number of other areas as well. By way of an example let’s consider a competitive athlete who has clinical depression. This serious mental challenge may well decrease their motivation to train in their chosen sport. But if it’s a genuine Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) then their motivation will be down across most (all) areas of their life not just their sporting commitments.

The most extreme cases result in the sufferer being institutionalised. For example, having to spend time in either a hospital or prison.

Sporting Mental Toughness, on the other hand, doesn’t work like that. It’s much more likely to be confined to performance aspects only. Let’s use the example of a team sport such as volleyball. One of the subcategories of Sporting Mental Toughness (SMT) is Unity (cohesion, group dynamics, culture). It’s very possible that the lack of team unity experienced by a volleyball team has no adverse affects away from training and games.

Mental Issues Common In Sport

If you’re looking for some cold, hard facts about mental health issues common in sport I have added a couple of articles to the bottom of this article. But this is how I see it. Athletes are human too so as humans they are susceptible to all the normal psychological risks of the general population. However, the world in which they find themselves might increase the chances of facing certain mental issues.

One great example is stress. Eloquently described in the below TEDx video by volleyballer Victoria Garrick. High performance circles are breeding grounds for stress. This is especially true for those involved in low or non-paying sports. The demands of training and competing on top of a job and/or study can be really stressful.

A recent Ted Talk about The Mental Health Challenges faced by Athletes.

There are some excellent questions being debated at the moment around all of this. One is ‘surely everyone would want to be mentally tougher not just performers?’ Not really. First, building genuine mental toughness is very hard. So, although everyone can attempt to it’s probably not worth it if you’re not likely to encounter ‘extreme mental challenges’.

An Analogy

Think of it as being similar to physical health and physical strength. Everyone could try and work towards being able to lift 150 kgs but how useful is it for most of us? Where is the ‘return on investment’? Maybe using the equivalent training time to practice mindfulness would be more sensible. But if you are a weight lifter, rugby player, bodyguard or defensive tackle – for example – then developing the muscle strength to be able to bench press that amount of weight clearly has a pay off in their performance areas. If you’re a librarian on the other hand, not so much. No disrespect to librarians intended. I am sure many librarians are elite performers in their field. But upper body strength is not that beneficial in pursuing librarian excellence.

Developing Mental Toughness works the same. Although everybody would probably be happy to process extraordinarily levels of focus (for example) is it worth investing the time required to get there if you’re never really going to need it?

Some recent publications have asked the question ‘Are Mental Toughness and Mental Health Contradictory Concepts in Elite Sport?’. In other words, do increasing levels of mental toughness have a negative impact on mental health? My contribution to this discussion would be as followers.

No, unless the individual is mentally ill and chooses to only improve their mental toughness. This is like the weightlifter ignoring their broken wrist and continuing to benchpress anyway.

What Does The Data Tell Us?

Are athletes and coaches more or less likely to experience mental issues compared with the general pollution? Luckily, work has been done to answer this question. As mentioned in this excellent article by Joshua Sebbens, Peter Hassmén, Dimity Crisp and Kate Wensley “A study of elite athletes in Australia reported almost half were experiencing symptoms of a mental health problem, and the proportion meeting caseness cutoffs for mental illness were deemed comparable to community data (Gulliver et al., 2015). More broadly, Rice et al. (2016) conducted a systematic narrative review and also suggested the prevalence of mental illness in elite athletes was comparable to the general population”.

I believe this article confirms the values that my colleagues and I at Condor Performance have on this topic on the right ones. In summary;

  • Mental Health and Mental Toughness are not the same nor is one a “part” of the other.
  • Mental Health and Mental Toughness are not opposites whereby when one improves the other goes down and vice versa.
  • Keeping an eye on mental health needs to be part of all sporting programs.
  • Improving mental health has a direct benefit to performance.
  • Free mental health advice should come from anyone. Paid mental health advice should only come from those with recognised qualifications.

It’s Not Just About Problems

The Positive Psychology movement exists because many psychologists wanted to do more than just fix mental issues. Traditional psychotherapy tends to be to get people back to ‘just functioning enough’ and that’s it. It’s like leaving someone mid way through their journey.

Sport psychology and her focus mental toughness were, in many ways, the original positive psychologies.

Additional Reading Related To Mental Health Challenges for Athletes

The Problem with Privilege

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole argues that athletes from less developed nations might have higher levels of organic mental toughness.

One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free.
One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free

This article, The Problem with Privilege, was first written in 2018 and then updated in 2020.

Given the nature of the internet, I have no idea which country you’re from if you’re reading this article. But, given you can afford a device to access the World Wide Web then it’s reasonable to assume you are not currently below the poverty line.

So I suspect you have probably never considered there to be any downside of being privileged. Well from a Mental Toughness point of view, there can be.

The problem with privilege, especially in younger athletes, is there is less “organic” mental conditioning taking place. By organic I mean the natural way a place produces challenges thus forcing locals to “find a way” to overcome them.

Examples

Many of the best long distance runners of the past fifty years have come from Central or Northern Africa. The simple theory is that as young school kids from Kenya and Ethiopia they had to travel long distances to and from school without any form of transport. So they started running there and back from a young age. Obviously there are tremendous physical benefits to this. But what about the psychological gains due to doing something so hard from such a young age? All of a sudden, a 5000 meter Olympic final isn’t that big a deal. Just another 5 km stretch to be completed as fast as possible!

Mentally Harder Practice

At Condor Performance one of the ways in which we try to overcome this is via what we call Mentally Harder Practice (MHP). If done correctly this mental method can be very effective at boosting mental aspects of performance. No studies yet exist comparing MHP with growing up in a harsh environment. But my guess is that it would reduce the organic mental toughness gap between the first and the third world.

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

Ideas

One easy way to do some MHP is to play with the thermostat in training. In hot places, instead of cooling down the facility either do nothing or heat it up. Or when it’s freezing cold just let it be that way or cool it down even more!

There are three huge benefits to this type of mental training. I will use the above temperature example to explain. First, it varies training. We know the fastest way to demotivate an athlete is by having the same kind of training week after week. Second, if during an actual competition it was to become much hotter or colder than expected – this mental method will lessen the impact. Finally, MHP helps with two of the five aspects of mental toughness; [handling] emotions and [improving] focus. It helps with emotions as it makes training more emotional. This way you can really put your mental skills (like Mindfulness) to the test. Mentally Harder Practice helps to improve focus in the same way. It is much harder to focus when you’re too hot so you will get a genuine mental work out.

Word Of Warning

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

Reduced Consulting Rates For The Less Privileged

Speaking of privilege – did you know that at Condor Performance we charge less to work 1-on-1 with those from less wealthy countries. Yes, that is correct. Despite the fact that all of our sport psychologists and performance psychologists are from Australia are fees are one third less for certain clients. We use The Big Mac Index each year to work out the 15 most prosperous nations in the world. Sporting and non-sporting clients from these countries pay full rate. For all other clients from the rest of the world we offer a 33% discount.

This has allowed us to work with hundreds of athletes from around the world who would not have been able to afford our full rates. But one country has and is really taking advantage of this like no other; India. That’s right, we work 1-on-1 with more Indian performers than almost any other country. Why? For a start there are 1.3 billions of Indian. Think about that for a second. How many table tennis players in India compared with New Zealand? Next, culturally Indian regard psychology as an essential building blocks to success and happiness. Furthermore, there appears to be very, very few qualified sport psychologists in India. So it should come as no surprise that they look beyond India to work with a performance psychology expert.

The Problem with Privilege was written by legendary sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. Gareth is one of the psychologists who works for Condor Performance. He can be contacted directly via his email which is [email protected].