Focus for Sport And Performance

Focus for Sport and Performance
“Focus for Sport and Performance” – A Critical Mental Skill

Intro: Focus for Sport And Performance

Focus is arguably one of the most crucial components of sporting and non-sporting performance. High-performance realistically isn’t possible without it.  Because of this, it’s one of the areas of mental performance we work on the most. Focus is what the f is Metuf stands for. One quick and simple way to measure your current levels of focus is to complete one of our Mental Toughness Questionnaires here. Focus for sport and performance can be measured and improved.

As Sport and Performance Psychologists our clients often ask us for ways to become more focused, stay focused or refocus after. But to understand how to improve focus, we first need to understand exactly what it is.

What Is Focus?

In psychology, ‘focus’ is defined as mentally attending to something while tuning out any other irrelevant incoming information. And like every other mental process, it plays an important role in helping keep us alive. Our survival is ultimately aided by our ability to attend to stimuli and extract information from our social and environmental surroundings. The ability to focus is a mental process that is present from birth, indicating it’s something we’re hardwired to do. It plays a vital role in virtually every life domain.

Focus In The Performance Domain

There are many different types of focus. But the two most relevant to performance domains are Focused Attention and Sustained Attention. During focused attention, we attend to a target stimulus for a given period of time, allowing us to rapidly detect changes and react/respond in an appropriate way. We might focus our attention on an external sensory stimulus, for example, something we hear, see, smell or feel, and in doing so can formulate a quick and immediate response to this stimulus if required.

The performance domains where one might need to engage in focused attention are those where individuals are required to respond with speed and accuracy. For example racquet, ball and combat sports as well as emergency service work (e.g. police officers, paramedics), security and defence work.

Sustained attention, or what is commonly known as concentration, is where we focus on a task for an extended period of time. Complete attention is given to the task until it is over. Any irrelevant sensory information is filtered out. This type of focus is crucial for long-distance and enduro-sports, musical and theatric performances or surgery. Basically, anything that requires an individual to concentrate for a prolonged period of time. A swimmer (left)) requires focused attention whilst on the blocks followed by sustained attention during the race.

Because focus plays such a large role in high-performance across the sporting and non-sporting performance domain, it can be valuable to learn about the different ways we can enhance and improve our focus, starting with mindfulness. Focus for sport and performance is not identical to the kind of focus that might be required in the classroom for example.

Meditative Focus 

The benefits of meditation extend beyond the general health benefits it’s commonly known for. In the performance domain, meditation is commonly used to bring our attention to the present moment, and focus our mind on the task at hand. Meditation is in no way the production of more positive thinking or a way to stop thinking altogether. At the end of the day, thoughts are something we have only some influence over.

Every single moment of the day we’re thinking, whether we want to or not. The purpose of meditation is actually to heighten our awareness of the present moment, including any external experiences (sensory stimulus) and internal experiences (such as thoughts), and to observe them without judgement. Or as little judgment as possible. This heightened awareness allows us to focus on the task at hand and fully engage in what we are doing, in spite of everything going on around us.

Focus for Sport And Performance: FAM and OMM

There are many different styles of meditation. Focused Attention Meditation (FAM) and Open Monitoring Meditation (OMM) are two of the most common in performance settings. During Focused Meditation, the individual attends to one single target and is aware of their wandering mind so they can bring their focus back to that target. Attention may be drawn to a visual stimulus, sound or any other sensory experience, and practising this form of meditation can improve our ability to filter out irrelevant sensory information and maintain attention to a single thing (Yoshida et al., 2020).

Open Monitoring Meditation on the other hand is where an individual observes any private experiences they have. These include thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, urges and cravings. The aim of this exercise is to watch these inner experiences come and go without struggle or judgement. This heightened state of awareness increases our presence in the current moment. It allows us to attend to the task at hand and again, fully engage in what we’re doing. 

There has been some research into the effects of these types of meditation on attentional control and thought processing, with Focused Meditation resulting in more specific, solution-based problem solving, and Open Monitoring Meditation promoting broader thinking and the development of new ideas (Lippelt, Hommel & Colzato, 2014).

Screen Time And Sleep

Aside from the benefits of meditation on our cognition and focus, sleep also plays an important role in these mental processes. We know that sleep deprivation can severely impact our decision making, alertness, memory, learning and reaction time, as well as our mood states and stress regulation.

One of the biggest causes of sleep disruption today is screen time, particularly its proximity to bedtime.

Electronic device usage prior to sleep can have a significant impact on sleep quality. Research has shown that individuals who use their mobile phones right before sleeping experienced a decline in both focused and sustained attention the following morning (de Oliveira et al., 2020). To enhance your sleep quality and reduce the impact of screen time usage on your focus the following day, it is ideal for athletes and performers not to be on their phones right before bed. One way of giving yourself the greatest chance for a good performance is through switching off any electronic devices as early as possible before sleeping.

Flow And Focus for Sport / Performance

The word Flow is also thrown around in the sporting world when we talk about focus. Flow refers to a state where an athlete or performer is fully and completely immersed in what they’re doing. What we know about flow is that in this state physical performance is heightened, because the individual is completely present, attending solely to the task and filtering out any irrelevant information. The benefits of flow on performance extend across the sport and performing arts domain (Swann et al., 2012; Martin & Bhattacharya, 2013; Csikszentmihalyi, Montijo & Mouton, 2018).

Based on Flow Theory, individuals who struggle to get focused or stay focused are probably experiencing one of two things – they’re either experiencing anxiety or boredom. The two variables at play here include the individual’s skill level and the difficulty of the task they have been asked to do. If an athlete’s skill level is relatively lower than the difficulty of the task, this often creates a lot of anxiety for them disrupting flow. On the other hand, if an athlete’s skill level is relatively higher than the task difficulty, this often leaves them feeling bored and struggling to engage in the task as they’re not challenged. To create an environment where flow can occur, skill level and task difficulty need to be roughly equal. 

Flow and Focus are very closely linked

Matching Skill Level and Task Difficulty 

Matching skill level and task difficulty can be particularly tricky in a team or group setting where you have individuals of varying skill levels and experience. For athletes in a group training setting where the prescribed sets or drills are too “easy”, creating artificial constraints on performance or setting artificial thresholds for success to increase difficulty can help in keeping them engaged. For example, if a boxer is asked to spar against a less experienced opponent, setting higher point thresholds or introducing artificial rules to make the round more physically and mentally demanding might aid them in entering a state of flow. 

Throwing a minimum of three strikes per combo, only leading with a feint or a double jab, or starting a combo with anything but a jab are some artificial rules that can be introduced to increase the difficulty of the round and help the athlete engage in the task where their experience level isn’t matched. For a swimmer hitting well below the times they need to be hitting during an endurance set, introducing a more difficult breathing pattern or a higher dolphin kick benchmark off each wall might introduce some additional physical and psychological constraints to a relatively easy set. 

It is important for athletes and performers to shift their thinking from what they can’t get out of a session to what they can get out of a session. Through enhancing task difficulty in an artificial sense we can help them to better engage in the session, and this will increase the chance of them leaving the session feeling as though they’ve gotten something out of it.

Narrowing Your Focus

Sometimes we underestimate the value of setting objectives or targets for the session we’re about to do or the week of training we’re about to commence. Narrowing our focus to a small selection of focus areas when we train (and even compete) is an attentional style that promotes concentration and helps us filter out all the irrelevant information around us.

I often find that athletes, particularly those on the younger side, struggle to engage during training and even on game day because they don’t know what to think about. They’re often trying to focus on too many things at once, which can lead to a lot of overthinking. For players who just can’t get their head in the game, this is most likely the reason why. Particularly during the development stage where athletes are trying to learn a whole range of new skills, it can be difficult to see them engaged in what they’re doing because they’re having to think about and remember so many different things. Trying to focus on so many different skill areas isn’t always the most efficient way of working towards progress, and it can often be hard for us to physically see our progress and use this as motivation to keep going. 

Focus Goals

To see more engagement on the field, narrowing their focus might help. Focus areas can be changed on a daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Choosing one, two or three areas of focus or ‘focus goals’ can help athletes know what they need to attend to. They can then bring their attention back to these if it wonders and then stay engaged in what they’re doing. Clarifying these focus goals ahead of the session, week or month also allows them to take ownership.

Focus goals allow athletes to recognise their progress more clearly and take accountability for their efforts during training and on game day. There is no real excuse for not knowing what the objectives of the session or game are. Increased accountability is a large part of the philosophy of my primary superior Gareth’s approach.

Do You Need Help With Your Focus?

It’s clear that focus is an integral part of any performance arena. If you’re an athlete or performer looking to develop some of these ideas further please get in touch by completing our Contact Form here. Focus for sport and performance can be improved and qualified psychologists are the ideal teachers.

References

de Oliveira, M. L. C., de Nogueira Holanda, F. W., Valdez, P., de Almondes, K. M., & de Azevedo, C. V. M. (2020). Impact of electronic device usage before bedtime on sleep and attention in adolescents. Mind, Brain, and Education, 14(4), 376-386.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., Montijo, M. N., & Mouton, A. R. (2018). Flow theory: Optimizing elite performance in the creative realm.

Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving-kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity–A review. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1083.

Marin, M. M., & Bhattacharya, J. (2013). Getting into the musical zone: trait emotional intelligence and amount of practice predict flow in pianists. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 853.

Swann, C., Keegan, R. J., Piggott, D., & Crust, L. (2012). A systematic review of the experience, occurrence, and controllability of flow states in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(6), 807-819.

Yoshida, K., Takeda, K., Kasai, T., Makinae, S., Murakami, Y., Hasegawa, A., & Sakai, S. (2020). Focused attention meditation training modifies neural activity and attention: longitudinal EEG data in non-meditators. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 15(2), 215-224.

Mental Resilience: What Is It and How To Get Some!

Mental Resilience is a term that is getting used more and more at the moment both in elite sport and everyday situations. In this short article by Condor Performance sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole he unpacks the concept of Mental Resilience for the education and enjoyment of the followers of the Mental Toughness Digest.

Mental Resilience is about the mostly ‘mental skills’ required to bounce back for setbacks.

What Exactly is Mental Resilience?

Mental Resilience is a term we hear a lot at Condor Performance but actually don’t use that much. Those who enquire about and use our sport and performance psychology services will often ask us to help them boost their ‘mental resilience’.

So we will oblige without actually uttering the words ‘mental resilience’ that much. One of the reasons for this, which I feel will inspire a whole new blog on the subject in the near future, is that you don’t need to talk about an outcome to get there. There is no need to talk about winning to increase the chances of it happening. Mentioning team unity is optional in the work we do in boosting it. And there is no need to actual talk about mental resilience whilst developing and implementing process to develop it.

The other reason we don’t use the term ‘mental resilience’ that much is that from our point of view ‘mental toughness’ is a slightly better description of the work we do. My elevator pitch when anyone asks me what I do and I say I’m a sport psychologist is something like this. “We help performers improve their mental toughness and mental health. When combined this goes a long way to allowing them to fulfil their potential as people and as performers”.

Mental Resilience vs. Mental Toughness

So our psychologists are basically using ‘mental toughness’ as a synonym of ‘mental resilience’. Note this is a major issue with modern day sport psychology. There are dozens of terms that get used by different practitioners that have a lot in common or are exactly the same as other terms. For example, focus and concentartion refer to exactly the same psychological concept. One thing, yet two words (labels) at least.

But maybe mental toughness and mental resilience are not exactly the same.

For readers who are either current or past Condor Performance clients or just avid followers of our regular Mental Toughness Digest posts may know we try to keep mental toughness as simple as possible. This is another ‘issue’ with sport psychology in 2021 which we are trying to do something about. It can often be too complex for its own good. The research is often highly academic and theoretical in nature, something forgetting that the end users almost always need and want really simple, practical solutions to common performance challenges. Again, a whole article could be created on this very topic.

The Metuf Big Five

Our team of psychologists (ten at the time of writing) generally break mental toughness down into five smaller, more manageable areas to work on. These are motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus and spell out the word Metuf. With this in mind, how does resilience fit into the Metuf Big Five? Is it something seperate? Have we stumbled across a sixth? Should it be Metuf-R?

Will will come back to these questions later.

It’s hard to find anything close to a consistent definition for either mental toughness or mental resilience but if we ditch the ‘mental’ part beforehand here is what the words ‘toughness’ and ‘resilience’ mean according to Cambridge’s free online dictionary.

Toughness refers to “the quality of being not easily defeated or made weaker”.

Amazingly the two examples listed are: 1) She has a reputation for toughness and resilience and 2) He demonstrated the skills and mental toughness that are crucial for a goalkeeper.

Resilience means “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”.

And the origin of the word is even more interesting and revealing.

resilience (n.)

1620s, “act of rebounding or springing back,” often of immaterial things, from Latin resiliens, present participle of resilire “to rebound, recoil,” from re- “back” (see re-) + salire “to jump, leap” (see salient (adj.)). Compare result (v.). In physical sciences, the meaning “elasticity, power of returning to original shape after compression, etc.” is by 1824.


So resilience, it appears, required someone unfortunate to occur before the bounce back. Whereas toughness doesn’t. In sport and performance the five most common setbacks are probably these:

1. The Mental Resilience required to come back from injury

The physical effort needed to recover from a serious sporting injury is obvious. But what about the role the mind plays in this often overwhelming task? Consider motivation alone. That rehab program, which is so important but can be so frustrating (as it reminds you of your injury moment by moment) doesn’t get done without strong internal commitment. For more on the psychology of injuries read this blog by my colleague David Barracosa.

2.  responding after getting dropped

By ‘dropped’ I refer to not being selected for reasons other than an injury. In team sports this has become more common as more and more coaches use rotation policies. Regardless, it’s not easy to be told that you’re not playing this weekend after a week of solid effort. The message we often give our sporting clients in these situations is to use the disappointment to your advantage. In others words emotions are ‘energy in motion‘ so use the frustration of being deselected to improve your preparation. Take your emotion out on the rowing machine, not your coach.

3.  Keep training during a pandemic

Most people will agree that the current Covid-19 pandemic and related issues very much count as a setback. I have been quite shocked at the number of athletes and coaches who have down tooled during the pandemic. “There is no point in me working hard when I don’t know when my next competition will take place” is something we are hearing a lot at the moment. Really? So you don’t want to get the jump on your rivals during a time when you have a lot more influence over all aspects of your preparation? The most challenging of times allow those with the best mental toolkit to raise to the top. And boy, these are the most challenging times.

4.  The Mental Resilience required to perform well when life gets in the way

When life gets in the way refers to what happens to your immaculate training program for the week when your get gastro, for example. This phrase was first coined by our colleague Chris Pomfret. The ideal response to this kind of challenge is to focus as quickly as possible with what you can do. What you can’t do is typically obvious and unchangeable. Using the example of a sudden stomach bug, maybe you need to switch from actually ‘hitting balls’ to ‘visualising hitting balls’. If you have not idea how to visualise then watch this free 25 minute short video. And make sure to add some comments below about how to adapted the ideas for your sport and performance area.

5. Immediate psychological recovery – Bouncing Back whilst competing

There is one kind of setback that is especially common in competitive sport. To my knowledge it’s doesn’t have an offical name so let’s just call in In Game Setbacks. Although I’m very respectful that many sports don’t actually use the word game to refer to their competitive situations. In Game Setbacks refer to something going wrong in the heat of battle. Imagine a fullback in rugby league or union dropping the first high ball they try to catch. Imagine the ice hockey player missing an open net with 5 minutes to do whilst her team are one goal behind. Imaging a clay target shooter missing the first four targets are the day.

The mental skills that are most effective in these situations are the ones related to allowing the performer to ‘move on as quickly as possible’. Accept and act, basically. The best way to go about this will depend on your sport and just how much your performance is actually impacted by setbacks. This is where we come in …

If you are an athlete, sporting coach, sporting official or non sporting performer and would like the assistance from one of our growing team of sport psychologists / performance psychologists then the best place to start is by completing the applicable Mental Toughness Questionnaire at here. Once done, one of our team will then get back to you with your results and, if you have asked for it, detailed information about our sport psychology services.

Conclusion

Earlier I posed the question is mental resilience a part of mental toughness or seperate? At this stage, I feel it can fit under The Metuf Big Five. If you look at the suggestions above you’ll find all of them are versions of motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus. And maybe a good way to think about the fact that resilience needs setbacks is both sport and life a full of setbacks.

Psychology of American Football / Gridiron / NFL

Psychology of American Football. Picture from Big Stock Photo. LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 03 2019: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback, Gardner Minshew during the NFL game between Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium

The Psychology of American Football – An Introduction

American Football is one of those sports that goes by different names. The official name is gridiron but most of those in the United States refer to it as NFL despite this just being the name of the highest league. For this article I shall simply refer to it as American Football.

American Football is a sport littered with inspirational quotes and messages. Some are from real life whilst others are from television and/or films. One that is applicable to everyone in a competitive situation came from Cincinnati Bengals running back Archie Griffin. He famously once said “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”. When you start to sift through them (a quick Google of “American Football quotes” is a worthwhile exercise), you soon realise a large portion are related to the mental side of the game.

Not Just Brutality And Physical Aggressiveness

American Football is known for its brutality and physical aggressiveness but as soon as I started to work with these athletes, from the professional level to high school footballers, it became clear that without the right mental processes talent and physical aptitude wouldn’t lead to the success these individuals desired. They needed mental skills that promoted acceptance, resilience, patience and a mindset that not only recognised their performance but also how it fits into the bigger picture of the offensive or defensive schemes coaches are drawing up. American Football is nuanced and it’s the mental challenges of the sport that take an individual from being good to great to a ‘hall of fame inductee’.

What Are Some Of These Mental Processes?

Let’s look at some of these mental processes and mindsets that can begin to improve the American Football psychology of players who participate on Fridays (high school football), Saturdays (college football) or Sundays (the NFL). 

One of the first things about American Football that will stand out to anyone participating or observing is the structure of the game. Every play called is meticulously considered in order to create an advantage for the team and each player has a very particular role to play to execute the play successfully. Aside from trick plays, players fill very individualised roles and this is where we begin to see why good mental processes are important for optimal performance. 

As with any team sport one player cannot do everything and this is even truer in American Football. For example, a quarterback can’t snap the ball, drop back and then pass it to themselves. They need the assistance of their teammates to be able to not only have time to throw the ball but also to see a pass completed. To manage the challenge of this, a player needs to have a good practice of acceptance where they can understand their role and focus on completing their given task instead of being distracted by what others on their team are doing.

A large part of The Psychology of American Football is knowing what your role is.

In speaking with an American Football coach, we used the analogy that for each play, we need to imagine the 11 players on the field are on a boat with 11 leaks. If each player deals with their leak then the boat continues to sail. However, as soon as one person starts focusing on the other leaks or even tries to go and stop the leak somewhere else then they expose themselves. A great example of this is on the offensive line where we need to trust our teammates to hit and stick their blocks rather than trying to block all of the oncoming pass rushers and being found out as a result. This is not the same for less pre-rehearsed sports like soccer whereby from time to time you need to help your teammate fix his or her leak.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance (being good at it) comes from the field of psychology in the form of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. At Condor Performance, we look at this by focusing on the level of influence we have in any given moment. We want athletes to channel their energies and efforts into making sure the things that are highly influenceable are what they are taking responsibility for in a sporting context. To put it simply, our own actions are highly influenceable while the actions of others are a much lower level of influenceable. When we accept this, we let go and allow others to do their job while we do ours. We are better focused, can more effectively judge our own performance and are a more complimenting fit within the structure of the team. We can also use this mentality to reset between each play and make sure we know our role and are locked in on accomplishing it while also motivating and encouraging others with theirs where possible.

Another element that stands out is the flow of the game between plays. The stop-start nature of the sport provides the players with a chance to huddle together and reset their intentions on the next play. It also provides the opportunity for each player to reset themselves to ensure that they are fully committed to what comes next – irrespective if previous plays went their way or not. In a sport like American Football it doesn’t matter whether you missed an assignment or ran the wrong route the previous play because it can’t be undone. All we can do is know what is being asked of us this play and look to execute to the best of our abilities with 100% effort. To make this reset work consistently it can be worthwhile to think about different actions that we use to settle, such as taking a deep breath, clapping as we come out of the huddle, redoing the velcro on our gloves, the way we get set in our stance, etc. Having this reset action helps remind us to start again and be committed to what we are trying to execute.

Psychology of American Football For Coaches

If you’re the coach or a leader on the team and you want to be able to take this idea of resetting one step further, then you can look at how the the offensive and defensive teams retake the field following a change of possession. When the unit goes back out onto the field it is an important opportunity to have players focus on landing the metaphorical first punch and creating some momentum on this particular drive. Even if previous possessions resulted in a poor outcome the other team does not have any advantage when this one starts unless we let them by focusing on the past which we cannot change. Just like a boxer coming out for the next round we want to establish ourselves and perform to our plan and create some ascendency that we can build on with each play. This is achieved through communication and the way we look to motivate and create energy in our athletes and teammates. We want to ensure we aren’t placing unnecessary pressure on their shoulders and instead highlighting that the ultimate goal of each possession is exactly the same: to have committed players on the field who know their roles and are giving 100% effort on each play. If you can get 11 players all buying into that philosophy and letting their actions do the talking we know we’ve got them in the right headspace. 

For individual players, one thing we also want to keep in mind is that the football we play wants to ignore any element of what I term the “fantasy football headspace”. What I mean by this is that we don’t want to judge our own performances the way we judge players in fantasy football, i.e. stats are the most important thing and highlight good performance. For every player, regardless of position, I would encourage you to develop ways of defining good performance that don’t have anything to do with the stats or outcome. If you’re a quarterback, how do you know you’ve had a good game without referring to touchdowns/interceptions thrown or yardage in the air? If you’re a wide receiver, how do you know you’ve had a good game without referring to receptions or yards? If you a defensive player. how do you define a good game without referring to interceptions, passes deflected, tackles made or points given up? The answer to this question will help you understand effort and take your performances to an even higher level of consistency because we aren’t reacting to previous plays and instead are locked in on recommitting to the next one. I will say that if you are struggling to answer that particular question, another way of answering it would be understanding what it looks like to compete out there on the field. How you compete has nothing to do with your outcomes and everything to do with the way you try to breakdown your opponents with movement, footwork, decision making, energy and competitiveness.

While each position in a game of American Football is different the mental elements of performance highlighted in this blog provide insight into how we can begin to get the most out of ourselves and our abilities. They are universal for all players and by making some adjustments you will better play your role for the team and leave the game having made a greater influence on how proceedings played out.

If your are an American Football player or coach and would like the assistance from one of our growing team of sport psychologists / performance psychologists then the best place to start is by completing the applicable Mental Toughness Questionnaire at here. Once done, one of our team will then get back to you with your results and, if you have asked for it, detailed information about our sport psychology services.

Sport Psychology for Combat Sports

Sport Psychology for Combat Sports is an article by Madalyn Incognito on the specific mental demands of fighting sports … and how to overcome a few of them!

“It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in the movie Rocky Balboa.
Sport Psychology for Combat Sports. Despite their physicality, they are much more mental than you’d imagine.

Combat or “Fighting” Sports

One-on-one combat has been around for a very long time. They date back to the Ancient Olympic Games. Today we see an amazing array of combat or fighting sports which can be separated into striking-centred styles, more commonly known as stand-up fighting (e.g. Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu) or grappling styles (e.g. Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling), which centre around what happens when a fight ends up on the ground. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the product of striking and grappling styles combined. The best and hardest parts of both some would say.

When we think about how success in fighting sports is measured it really boils down to the athlete’s ability to hit and not get hit. To be really successful competitive fighters are ultimately required to anticipate upcoming attacks. This is most often based on visual cues, such as their opponent’s footwork, body and hand positioning and pace of movement around the ring. This feedback is then used to quickly select the most appropriate defence and counter-attack, which they then need to execute with speed, accuracy and power.

Fighting Sports Can Be Uniquely Challenging

The reason fighting sports are so hard is because humans naturally aren’t very fast responders. The average human reaction time sits anywhere between 200ms – 250ms. Seasoned fighters, especially those at the elite level, take less time than this to land a jab, body kick or initiate a take-down. 

Fighting sports are also challenging in the sense that due to their one-on-one combat nature the risk of physical injury is very real. And it’s arguable that a fighter’s ability to overcome setbacks (e.g. copping a powerful body shot) and deal with adversity (e.g. one half of the crowd cheering for the other guy) is a relatively more significant predictor of success when compared to many other sports. What I’ve come to see through my own experiences, both as a point and full-contact fighter in my younger years are that often it is the athlete who demonstrates a higher level of what we call mental toughness that comes out on top. This psychology often trumps other areas of fight preparation such as physical conditioning, skill execution or strategic wisdom. So, how we can build this mental toughness to ensure that on fight day we’re giving ourselves the best chance for success?

Fighters, Thoughts, Feelings and Actions

One of the most common questions we get as a collective of sport and performance psychologists is “how can I change my thinking to be more positive?”. Or “how do I stop having negative thoughts?”. The simple answer is, you can’t. And even if you could it wouldn’t help you much anyway.

What we now know about how the human mind is designed to work is that when we find ourselves in high-pressure situations or one that we’re emotionally invested in, all signs of rational thinking go out the window. One thing that humans are really good at doing in the lead up to important events is thinking irrationally, illogically and ‘worst case scenario’. I will not bore you with a full anthropological explanation as to why this is the case but ‘in a nutshell, it boils down to the survival benefits of predicting and assuming danger even if there isn’t any.

One common misconception among many of the athletes and performers we work with is that in order for us to have an effective performance we need to reduce, eliminate or change these unhelpful thoughts. The problem here is that trying to change or eliminate unhelpful thoughts doesn’t work, and when we attempt this we often end up going around in circles. If I told you not to think about the colour blue for the next 10 seconds, could you do this? Do we possess the ability to not think of a thought? I can guarantee that anyone who tries to not think about something ends up thinking about it even more. So for a fighter who’s having doubts about their ability to win going into a fight, or can’t seem to shake the idea of how a loss might impact their career and what others might think of them, the real question here is can we still have an effective performance despite having unhelpful thoughts? At Condor Performance, our answer to this is an emphatic and empirical yes.

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT)

The therapeutic framework we like to borrow most from is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Under the ACT approach, we acknowledge that actions can certainly have an impact on how we think and feel, however, thoughts and feelings needn’t have an impact on our actions. In other words, we can train our mind and body to still have an effective performance in the presence of very uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. With some guided practice, both in our everyday lives and subsequently in sport-specific training environments, we can train ourselves to accept any uncomfortable thoughts or emotions we have and still commit to our rehearsed actions.

You Don’t Have To Be Fearless To Be A Fighter 

For anyone who has ever seen a semi-professional or professional fight, you’ll have witnessed what is referred to as the ‘ring walk’. Once a very straightforward and relatively unimportant stage of the fight, it’s now one of the most exciting and significant stages of fight preparation. Today, we see choreographed entrances into the ring, often involving some sort of dance or Martial Art-like movements against a background of lights, smoke and dramatic music, before the fighter eagerly climbs the stairs of the ring, parading around to soak up the energy of the crowd. However, one can argue that what stands out most about the walk-out is the level of confidence that is often displayed by the fighter. Their body language, facial expressions and walking style almost always convey to the audience and their opponent a sense of fearlessness and determination as they enter the ring. What many onlookers don’t realise is that this is basic ACT in practice. And in many cases, it’s their mastery of this mental skill that has helped them rise to the top.

A footballer I once worked with described the ring walk as an “act”, and this really stuck with me – why? Because when a fighter confidently completes the walk-out and enters the ring, only one of two things can be happening:

  1. He or she both looks 100% fearless and is 100% fearless
  2. He or she looks 100% fearless but is not actually 100% fearless

Fake It ’Til You Feel It

Fact – not every fighter who confidently walks into the ring is also feeling 100% confident. So the answer to “how do fighters fearlessly enter the ring” is simply, they don’t. Most of the time, they are actually battling a flood of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, just like athletes across any other sport and in just the same way we do in our everyday lives when faced with a situation we’re uncomfortable with (e.g. public speaking). The fighters that make it to the top don’t necessarily have the ability to change their thoughts and feelings, they’ve really just mastered the ability to walk into the ring and perform well in spite of these. A lot of this simply comes down to body language combined with basics thought acceptance. This is something we at Condor Performance like to call “Fake it ’til you Feel it”. 

Those at the elite level typically acknowledge that the amount of influence they have over their thoughts and feelings is very minimal. Rather than letting uncomfortable thoughts and emotions stop them from performing, they’re able to shift their focus to where their influence is highest, that is, on their actions. So essentially acting in a way that is incongruent with how they may be thinking or feeling.

At Condor Performance, we are very lucky to have Sydney based Brian Langsworth as a member of our growing team of psychologists. Apart from being an outstanding performance psychologist, Brian is also a former actor and therefore brings a huge amount to the team when it comes to the practicalities of acting, body language and the like.

Shifting Our Focus …

Because most of our influence lies within our actions, it’s really important for fighters to evaluate their past performances as well as set expectations for future performance around their ability to execute the actions they practice every day in training and on ‘fight day’. 

Performance can be evaluated in one of two ways. Processes (i.e. actions and effort) or outcomes (i.e. results) and one of the trickiest things about fighting sports is that success is often outcome-based only. There are no prizes for who has the best footwork, who has the fastest or most creative striking combinations or who can perfectly execute a triangle choke. Success in combat sports is results-focused, that is, it’s based on wins and loses, whether that be knockout, decision, submission or Technical Knockout (TKO).

Due to this, fighters often become caught up in the possible outcome of an upcoming fight and whether they’re going to win or lose. The issue with this, mentally, is that there are just so many things that contribute to an outcome of a fight. For example, the opponent, the referee and judges, the spectators and all the other things going on around them to name the most obvious. Shifting our focus to what we know best, our actions and effort in the ring can give a fighter an increased sense of “control” in a very unpredictable and uncertain situation. 

What Constitutes a “Good Fight”

For fighters with values grounded in the results of their performance, reframing the way they evaluate past performances and the way they set expectations for upcoming performances to be more aligned with actions, effort and processes rather than outcomes or results is an important first step in empowering them in the lead up to a fight, during a fight and after a fight.

That’s why one of the first conversations I’m having with fighters is usually around what actions and processes constitute a good performance in their eyes. More specifically, what are the attacking processes (e.g. striking, kicking, hand positioning, footwork, countering) and defensive processes (e.g. head movement, body movement, blocking, catching, evading) that give them the best chance of success if executed consistently across the fight, and what practical strategies can be employed to ensure they’re able to execute these processes under the pressure of an important match. 

Give Yourself A Fighting Chance …

If there’s one message I’d like you to take away from this it’s that success, particularly in fighting sports, is almost always determined by the athlete’s ability to still have an effective performance despite feeling uncomfortably nervous and having doubts about their ability to win. I remember my principal supervisor and Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole once saying “They don’t hand out gold medals for who was feeling the best” and this is especially true for fighters. It’s not about who feels the best on fight day, it’s about who can put together the best performance on the day despite how they’re feeling. 

If you are a combat sports competitor or coach and would like to expand on these ideas then Madalyn is available for private performance psychology coaching either in person in Sydney (NSW, Australia) or via Webcam for those physically located elsewhere. The best way to start the process is by filling in this short enquiry form and mentioning your preference to work with “Madalyn Incognito”.

Swimming Psychology

This blog article, “Swimming Psychology” is a 20 minute read by provisional psychologist Madalyn Incognito on the mental aspects of competitive swimming. Please enjoy and, as always, share responsibly.

Swimming Psychology can be the difference between good and great.

Swimming Psychology 101: Every Millisecond Counts

If there is one sport where every millisecond counts, it’s swimming. Often the difference between qualifying for a final, placing top 3 in an event, or being selected for an international team can come down to just milliseconds. This is especially true at the elite level. Because of this swimming is now at a point where taping into the mental aspects of performance has become widely accepted. Mental Toughness is an essential part of success, as a few milliseconds could mean the difference between achieving one’s dreams or missing out on them completely.

Despite this most competitive swimmers love the fact that their sport is objective in nature. First place is awarded to whoever touches the wall in the fastest time. There are no judges and no point system (such as with gymnastics or figure skating). If you are the fastest on the day, no one can take that away from you. However, this is also the hardest aspect of swimming too. Because success in the sport is so largely determined by results, swimmers often fall into the trap of focusing too much on outcomes. Where they’ll place in a heat or final or how close they are to making that national-open qualifying time are often front of mind. The consequence of this is that they forget about all the smaller processes required to improve and succeed. Swimming psychology being ones of these groups of processes.

Reflections of My Own Swimming Psychology

I myself was a competitive swimmer for many years. I remember being midway through a race once only to give up when I saw that I was falling behind the other swimmers. Looking back on this now, I realise that rather than focusing on the other swimmers and what they were doing, I should’ve been focusing on my race plan and sticking to this just the way I had practised in training in the lead up to the event. It’s challenging not to become caught up in where we’re ranked compared to the swimmers in the other lanes. But we need to have an understanding of what we have control or influence over, so that we can shift our focus from what we have minimal influence over (i.e. the other swimmers) back to what we have maximum influence over (i.e. my race plan). 

Swimming Psychology and “The Performance Funnel”

The sport psychologists and performance psychologists at Condor Performance have always been at the forefront of developing the most effective mental skills for performance enhancement since 2005. This year I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a subcommittee on the development of something that we hope will become mainstream in the coming years. It’s called The Performance Funnel.

The Performance Funnel is a concept that some of us use to assist our clients in understanding how crucial it is to separate processes from preferences (aka goals). When we talk about processes, we’re talking about the intentional actions and efforts we engage in. For example, in swimming, one’s race plan. We use the term preferences rather than goals as this accounts for the fact that engaging in all the correct processes will never guarantee the successes we want, rather it only increases the likelihood of them occurring.

Why Is This So Important For Better Swimming Psychology?

While we are more emotionally invested in our preferences or the outcome of a race, our level of influence over this is only small. We can’t hop out of the pool, run over to our timekeeper and hit stop on the clock so that we record the fastest time. What we can do however is employ the actions and processes we practise every day at training and execute them to the best of our ability. This is why during your mental training with one of the Condor Performance Psychologists only a small amount of time will be spent discussing past or future potential results. Most of the discussion will be focused on formulating ways to improve your execution of swimming-specific processes on race day. And one way that we can enhance our ability to be able to do this is through formulating and practising a race plan.

Sticking To A Race Plan

Whilst results are important indicators of improvement and where our performance is currently at compared to others, having a race plan encourages us to align our focus, set our expectations and base our confidence on the things we do in training every day. A race plan accounts for all the smaller processes that go into the race. For example, executing an efficient start, turn and finish, sticking to a pre-planned breathing pattern, and planning points at which to increase the speed of your kick and stroke rate and when to back off.

With a significant commitment to practice, many of these above actions can become second nature, therefore, minimising on day decision making.

As performance psychologists what we want to try and understand is what allows a swimmer to look back on their performance and confidently say that they gave it 100%? If their answer is predominately outcome-focused, for example, “I didn’t give it 100% because I didn’t win”, this is an issue. So, reframing their idea of a good performance so that it aligns with actions and effort becomes very useful. If their answer is “I know I gave it 100% because I swam the fastest I could”, well that’s great, but what processes allow you to do this? Was it because you executed the start, turn and finish with speed and accuracy? Was it because you stuck to your breathing pattern? Did an increase in your stroke rate at the correct times have something to do with it? 

What Do Process Driven Race Plans Look like?

For swimmers who do not already have a race plan, creating an action-based checklist is a great way to empower them both in preparation for a race and on race day. A race plan for 100m freestyle might look something like this:

  1. 8 x strong dolphins kicks off the start
  2. Transition into fast flutter kick as you edge towards the surface allowing for smooth transition from underwater work to first stroke 
  3. 4-6 breathing pattern on the first lap
  4. Speed up kick + increase stroke rate 10m out from the turn
  5. Head down 5m out from the turn 
  6. Turn with speed, 5 x dolphin kicks off the turn 
  7. Transition into fast flutter kick as you edge towards the surface allowing for smooth transition from underwater work to first stroke 
  8. Increase speed of kick at the beginning of the second lap, maintaining 4-6 breathing pattern
  9. Increase stroke rate to maximum at the 75m mark 
  10. Last breath at 15m out from the wall and head down for the finish
  11. Finish on a full stroke

Having the swimmer evaluate their performance in terms of what aspects of their race plan they did and did not adhere to provides them with an opportunity for genuine improvement. They either acknowledge that although they may not have achieved the outcome they’d hoped for they understand there’s nothing more they could have done. Or they recognise which aspects of the race plan they didn’t stick to, how this impacted their performance and make arrangements to correct this for next time. Having them focus on these processes before and during the race essentially gets their head out of the way. It allows their body to do what it knows how to do and encourages them to take ownership of their performance and come up with ways to improve it.

Using Visualisation to Practice your Race Plan

Many people outside of swimming don’t realise the level of strategic planning that goes into a race, particularly among the shorter distances (e.g. 50m, 100m, 200m) as the room for error is very minimal. The same way a dancer would rehearse their choreography, or a diver would practice their competition dives, swimmers practice their race plan at training to increase the likelihood that on race day they can stick to it. However, what separates swimmers from many other types of athletic performers is that they don’t always have access to the setting where their performance takes place – the pool. One way around this is through the mental rehearsal of their race plan, aka visualisation.

There’s a whole range of reasons why an athlete might engage in visualisation. The most common is for the practice effects it has on performance. Visualisation can take place from the 1st or 3rd person and is a mental process whereby the athlete uses imagery to rehearse the aspects of their performance “in their mind’s eye”. For a swimmer, this type of rehearsal would mirror their race plan and include when to take breaths, increase their stroke rate, change their stroke style and other processes which go into a race.

Did You Watch The Movie Cool Runnings?

Those of you who have seen the 1990’s movie classic Cool Runnings will know what visualisation looks like when you think about the scene in the bathtub. (If you haven’t seen it go and watch it and look out for the scene in the bathtub).

However, a swimmer who only visualises the ideal parts of their performance is setting themselves up for a hard time on race day. There are more physiological variables at play for the longer races. These include muscular fatigue and lactic acid build-up. It’s really important to incorporate these physiological barriers into a visualisation routine so that we know how to respond to them if they occur on race day. Visualising possible barriers to performance, when they’re likely to occur and how you will respond to them will increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to overcome these barriers to performance on race day, as they will have been part of your rehearsed race plan.

In Swimming, You Always Race How You Train

What makes race plan rehearsal so important, whether it’s in the pool or through visualisation, is that with fatigue our attention, concentration and focus deteriorates. When this happens our chances of sticking to our race plan also deteriorate as doing this requires mental effort, leaving us with only physical strength and stamina to rely on to get us to the finish line. But who would want to limit themselves to utilising only the physical aspects of performance when we have the opportunity to use this in conjunction with mental toughness?

In swimming, you will race how you train. If you practice your race plan during and away from training, it becomes muscle memory just like any other skill. Over time, the processes become more automated and require less mental resources to execute, and in the last 25m, this will make all the difference. 

If you are a competitive swimmer or swim coach and would like to expand on these ideas and improve your Swimming Psychology then Madalyn is available for private coaching either in person in Sydney (NSW, Australia) or via Webcam for those physically located elsewhere. The best way to start the process is by filling in this short enquiry form and mentioning your preference to work with “Madalyn Incognito” due to her background in swimming.

A Different Perspective on The Naomi Withdrawal

Naomi Osaka recently withdrew from the 2021 French Open for mental health reasons.

What Is The Naomi Withdrawal?

On the off chance that you have been trekking in the Himalayas without Wi-Fi for the past four weeks let me quickly bring you up to speed on what I mean by The Naomi Withdrawal. Naomi Osaka, currently ranked as the second-best female tennis player in the world, decided to pull out of the French Open. Why? The reason was that she originally wanted to take part in the tournament but didn’t want to do the post-match press conferences. The reason she gave is that these press conferences have a negative impact on her mental health. As these media opportunities are compulsory she was told she’d be fined if she boycotted them. So she withdrew from the tournament completely. Here is her actual statement from Instagram account:

Taken from https://www.instagram.com/naomiosaka/

Before getting into the nitty-gritty it’s probably worth mentioning that I cannot remember the last time in which a single story produced so many opinions. Maybe it’s because my LinkedIn feed is full of comments from people who are interested in mental health and/or the mental aspects of sport but it’s been almost wall-to-wall opinions about The Naomi Withdrawal since it took place in late May. Almost all of them have had the same basic message. Well done Naomi for doing what’s best for your mental health. I agree with this part entirely. You should never put your working obligations ahead of your health and wellbeing, however … (I will come back to this ‘however’ later).

I am also professionally thankful for the boost in awareness around mental health in elite sport that both the decision and subsequent commentaries have produced. 

However … 

I can not speak for all sport psychologists, not even the ones who work for Condor Performance but I am trained to see difficult situations as either practice opportunities or ways to improve training (or both).

Let me explain by using a completely different type of mental challenge common in sport. Making big mistakes at crucial moments. This could be a dropped catch in cricket or baseball or missing an open goal in the final moments of a close soccer match. If this happens to an athlete repeatedly then this data can be used as part of a feedback loop.

First of all, it’s a great chance to practice how to respond to such an occurrence. Most people know the best way to respond. Put it behind you, chin up and go again! This is all very well but in my experience only really happens properly after it’s been practised at least a few times. The other ideal frame of mind is to use the errors to either add something new to the practice program or improve some current part of training. In the case of the dropped catches, this can be as simple as doing more catching practice and/or increasing the mental demands of current training.

Mental Health Is Not Fixed

The common theme here is that “the problem” (if we can use that word) is not permanent. It can be solved.

Ms Osaka has been very brave in voicing how she struggles with the media and limelight in general. But I for one would be much more interested in what she is doing about it now. If it’s nothing, implying that there is nothing she can do to become better at this part of professional tennis, she is giving the wrong message about mental health. That it’s fixed and the best way to protect yourself is to avoid mentally challenging situations.

Another part of this commentary I am frustrated about is how the term ‘mental health’ is used almost as if it’s a specific diagnosis. Can we be more specific speak Naomi? You mention depression but which of seven major types are you referring to? When an athlete has to withdraw from an event due to a physical health issue we get specific. ‘John has pulled out due to a torn, left hamstring.‘ What aren’t we doing the same for mental health? Are the huge waves of anxiety mentioned above clinical or what most people experience when in public speaking situations? There are up to 11 different types of anxiety disorder, would it not be more useful to be talking about one of these instead?

Are Press Conferences Really Part Of The Job?

This story actually boils down to if press conferences are genuinely a compulsory part of the job or not. If you believe they are then you might suggest that Naomi has a couple of simple choices moving forward. She can either find a job that doesn’t require speaking to the media (99.99% of jobs don’t) or she’ll need to learn how not to let negative comments impact her mental health. Even if she wanted to keep playing tennis as her job she’d still have these two options. Either only enter tournaments that have no press conferences (there are plenty of these, but the prize money is far less) or she’ll need to learn how not to let negative comments impact her mental health [as much as they do now].

It might be easier to think about this choice away from sports. Imagine a policewoman, for example, who hated witnessing gun violence to the point where it impacted her mental health. She has the same choice, no? Leave or learn. She has to pick between either finding a way to make a living where there is no chance of any guns being involved (99.99% of jobs would meet this criterion) or she’ll have to learn ways in which this “unavoidable part of the job” doesn’t impact her [as much].

Leave or Learn

Those who know me as either a colleague at Condor Performance or as one of my former or current clients will know I have a strong preference for learning rather than leaving.

Due to Naomi’s status (and bank balance), she’d have unlimited options if she wanted to learn how not to let critical comments impact her mental health. To start with, as part of training, she’d benefit from learning some basic thought diffusion techniques. These skills, one of the foundations of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, literally allow people to learn how to be more comfortable with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings so that commit instead to their actions. These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can originate from many sources. For example, being bombarded with difficult questions within an hour of having just played a high-intensity tennis match. Thought diffusion techniques, just like a serve or backhand volley, only really work when they are included as part of the Daily Training Environment (DTE).

Another way to learn in this particular situation would be to arrange for some (lots) of practice press conferences. Imagine the delight of some retired journalists in setting up some mock pressers as part of Naomi’s training regime. You combine these two strategies and it’s just a matter of time for press conferences to just feel like a normal part of the job. In fact, she might even start looking forward to them!

Summary

In summary, good job Naomi on bravely withdrawing from the French Open. But please don’t imply that mental health is fixed and that there is nothing we can do to improve it other than by avoiding the situations that make us feel like ‘a dog that is being kicked whilst it’s down’. 

Sport Psychology Myths

Some of the most common myths about sport psychology and mental toughness are debunked by leading Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole

Sport Psychology Myths potentially outnumber the facts due in part to a lack of consensus and unity from the custodians of the profession until this point.

Sport Psychology Myths – Where To Start?

I am sure all professionals feel like this to some degree. That their working world is full of myths and half-truths. But due to the nature of the work we do and how relatively new our profession is I believe sport psychology is surely up there when it comes to a number of misconceptions. Below are some of our favourites – in no particular order. I use the word favourite due to both a combination of how often we come across them and the potential benefits of debunking them.

Myth 1: Sport Psychology Is Like Counselling, Therapy

This is a classic half-truth in that it is literally half correct. Some elements of the work we do have similarities to the work of counsellors, therapists or clinical psychologists. For example, the confidential nature of the relationship and we can help with mental health issues. But the other half of the process is much more likely to resemble a coach. For this part of the process, we’re more likely to be talking about goals and how to achieve them.

Obviously, some performance psychologists will tend to be more like a therapist whilst others will lean more towards the coaching approach. This is one of the biggest advantages enjoyed by our clients. With such a strong and varied team of psychologists, we can literally allow our clients to tell us what they’re looking for. And with very few exceptions, we can ensure their psychologists has these preferences. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 2: The ‘Natural Talent’ Myth

This is a humdinger of a myth. The notion that we are born to be potentially excellent at something regardless of the amount of effort we put in. In my view, people confuse what they regard as “natural talent” for biological and genetic variation.

The classic example is when young athletes hit puberty and some of them suddenly become taller and heavier than their peers. Although there is no doubt these growth spurts play a role in influencing the outcomes of sporting contests, they should not (yet often are) be regarded as natural talent as there is nothing talented about your genetic makeup.

In fact, I try to get my sporting clients to stop using the word “talent” altogether. Quite simply there are performance variables that are either controllable, influenceable or uninfluenceable. What you inherited from your parents falls into the last of these three categories. Simply put you cannot influence your genetics, and therefore they should occupy as little of your attention as possible. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 3: The ‘Best Time to Start is’ Myth

Mondays, or the 1st of the month or the old favourite January! Don’t get me wrong, in much of the work we do we use time as reminders. For example, using Sunday night as a cue to plan the next seven day. However, these time point myths are often used as an excuse to delay effort.

We know this first hand by the number of enquiries we get for our Sport Psychology services based on the time of year. We still get about the same number of enquiries in December compared with any other month. However, unlike other months most people who decide to start working with one of our sport and performance psychologists delay it until January.

This is despite the fact that we continue to be available to our current and future clients right through the Christmas and New Year period. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

The best time to do/start something that is going to benefit you is now, today – no exceptions.

Myth 4: The ‘Thoughts Can Be Controlled’ Myth

As current and past Condor Performance clients will know we’re often encouraging our clients to consider the amount of control or influence they have on different aspects of their performance. Just over 10 years ago, when clients of ours added ‘thoughts’ to the controllable column we didn’t challenge it. But recent research suggests that although we can influence our thoughts we can never control (guarantee) them. This is not to suggest that traditional thought improvement strategies (such as reframing) are a waste of time. It suggests that thoughts (as opposed to actions) should not be relied on as an essential ingredient of your performance plans.

A classic example of this is the work we do around Pre Performance Routines in start-stop sports. In the old days, we constructed short routines with both actions (put on my glove) with thoughts (“focus on just this shot”). But in recent times we have removed the thought component so our clients’ routines are now all actions based. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 5: The ‘You Have To Feel A Certain Way To Perform Well’ Myth

Same as the above basically. In fact, as humans, we have even less influence over our emotions than our thoughts. Consider extreme emotions like grief. Sure, there are a number of things that you might be able to do to lessen experiences of grief if you lost a loved one. But these kinds of interventions are only going to make a small difference. Those that imply you can control your emotions (an unfortunate number) or suggesting that you can actually make the grief go away entirely through your own volition. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 6: That ‘sport psychologists’ are similar to ‘mental skills coaches’

Possibly in terms of ability, this might occasionally be true. However, in terms of formal training and regulation, they couldn’t be further apart. Sport Psychologists and Performance Psychologist (in Australia at least) are all registered psychologists. So what? This link does a better job than I ever could at explaining the benefits of choosing to work with a highly qualified and regulated professional. And this article from The Age highlights a possible ‘worst-case scenario’ of allowing unqualified individuals to “work on” the emotions of athletes. If the link doesn’t work it’s because the article has been removed but the basic details should now be permanently available via Wikipedia here. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 7: That a ‘sport psychologist’ only work with athletes

Not true. We have been operating for long enough now and have tracked enough data to be able to answer this categorically. Yes, the majority of our monthly clients are still athletes (70%). But the rest are a multitude of different kinds of performers. From politicians to dancers to students to emergency workers. One of the most significant group of non-athletes we work with a sporting coach. A lot more detail about this kind of work can be provided in this separate blog post and this one. It is my hope and belief that as time passes, a greater percentage of our work will be with coaches. Helping mentally astute coaches become even better they working with someone genuinely qualified in this area. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 8: The ‘Face To Face Session Are More Effective’ Myth

At Condor Performance we have been delivering sessions via video conference technology well before the Corona Virus hit us. Furthermore, we measure client satisfaction and can say with empirical confidence that there is no difference between “face-to-face” and “telehealth” sessions. In fact, according to our numbers, the clients who have all sessions via video conference do slightly better in terms of mental health and mental toughness outcomes. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

Myth 9: The ‘Experience Is Everything’ Myth

This sport psychology myth is the easiest to believe or understand. But it’s still wrong. The issue with the concept of experience is that it assumes the superior number of hours was done in the right way. It also assumed that the performer has the ability to learn from mistakes. As both of these assumptions are rare (in my experience) then in actual fact experience is overrated at best and quote often detrimental. Do you disagree? Argue your case below in the comments sections.

If you’d like to bust some more sport psychology myths have a listen to the answers to our FAQs here. Do you know of any other common sport psychology myths that are not covered above? If you do please add them to the comments sections below and we’ll then add them when we update this blog. If you disagree with any of these sport psychology myths please present your argument in the comments below.

Performance Psychologists

Performance psychologists are highly qualified mental coaches who specialise in assisting performers with both their mental health and mental toughness.

Performance Psychologists
Performance Psychologists

For those of you who might have listened to the interview that I did with Dan last year, I am fairly confident that the term performance psychologist will shortly gobble up the term sport psychologist. 

In summary, the main reason boils down to the logic of the semantics. I am a sport psychologist and yet at least a third of my consulting is with non-sporting clients. These range from performing artists, politicians all the way through to medical and emergency performers. 

Sport is merely one of many kinds of performance. Performance is not a type of sport. 

Subcategories of Performance Psychology

To my understanding the umbrella terms performance has no agreed subcategories at this point in time. So below might one way to go about it.

  • Team Sports
  • Individual Sports
  • Music Performing
  • Acting
  • Circus Performing
  • Medical and Emergency
  • Military

(Am I missing any? Please add any subcategories of performance below and I will consider adding them).

Two Things In Common

My colleagues and I at Condor Performance all have two things in common. First, we are all registered psychologists in the place in which we live and work. Second, we all have a passion to work with and assist a wide range of performers. We literally want to help them perform better through a combination of mental toughness training and assisting them with their mental health and well-being.

Now don’t get me wrong many of these performers are athletes and sports coaches. And most of our psychologists have a love of sport or at least have a very healthy appreciation for many major sports. 

But if we were using the professional title that most accurately describes the work we do it would be ‘performance psychologist’. Hence why we’re called Condor Performance and not Condor Sports! Yet despite this, we collectively go by the name performance psychologists and sport psychologists (see our homepage for example).

Why?

The first reason is that it’s incredibly hard, at least in Australia, to earn the right to legitimately refer to yourself as a sport psychologist. Within a few months, five of our team will have this right. Therefore despite the fact that it is slightly deceiving in terms of what we actually do those with the right to use it understandably would like to do just that. The other reason boils down to pure marketing. Google searches for the term sport psychologists still outnumber searches for performance psychologists by a factor of three.

In other words, if we were only visible to those actively searching for a performance psychologist we would be a much smaller organisation than we are at the moment. 

Let’s Dive Into The Numbers!

The worldwide “peak” for search enquiries for ‘performance psychologist’ was in 2004. In fact, as can be seen by the below graph the 100 searches per day that was taking place around the world in January 2005 has never come close to being beaten. After this outlier month, the number of times that athletes, coaches, students, journalists and bored teenagers typed in the words ‘performance psychologist’ into Google took a sudden nosedive.

What might have caused both the spike and decline? It’s impossible to really know. But I would guess that maybe the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens had something to do with the spike. With such a massive international sporting event all that would have been required was a single story about the impact made by a performance psychologist and “boom”. But as The Games ended and these stories got lost in cyberspace then the normal amount of searches returned.

Interestingly it does appear that an ever so slow recovery is taking place. More encouraging than the sudden increase that took place 15 years ago, this increase is happening steadily.

Slow And Steady Is Better

In the work that my colleagues and I do with athletes and coaches, I am often quick to point out the advantages of slow improvement over sudden gains. Slow improvements always feel more sustainable compared with overnight success. Take, for example, a young golfer trying to lower her handicap. A massive drop in her handicap of 15 to 5 over par in a month might feel like it’s better than the same improvement (in golf, the lower the handicap the better) that takes place over a year but not for me – not for this performance psychologist.

I often use the reality show “The Biggest Loser” as an example when explaining this to my monthly clients. This show, in case you missed it, was above getting overweight contestants to try and lose as much weight as fast as possible with the winner being rewarded with a huge cash prize.

From a psychological point of view, there is a lot wrong with the entire premise of the show but one of the “biggest issues” with “The Biggest Loser” is the speed that the weight loss of all the contestants took place. In many cases, it was commonplace for individuals to drop 20+ kgs in a single week!

Fast Changes Are Often Unsustainable

Changes this fast are unsustainable so they really run the risk of having a negative impact on motivation in the future. For example, without some of the insights about the number of influence people have on various aspects of performance (e.g. body weight – which is a result) from programs such as Metuf then it would be easy for a “Biggest Loser” contestant to become dejected by only losing a kilogram after the show when comparing it with the 5+ kgs they lost a week whilst ‘competing’.

Not too many people know this but shortly after Condor Performance was started in 2005 one of the main service offerings were group workshops for those struggling with their weight run by yours truly. These group interventions took place at the height of “The Biggest Loser” TV shows so even though the attendees were not taking part (thank goodness) I recall there were a lot of questions about “why are they losing weight so fast and I am not”?

The answer I gave to those questions is the same as the one I give to anyone frustrated when their progress is slow and steady.

Do It Once, Do It Properly And Make It Last

Process Goals and Two Weeks of Fishing

This article by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole is about the beauty of having an unwavering commitment to the process (effort) regardless of the outcome (results).

Father and Son fishing – Family Time Together. Happy father and son fishing in river holding fishing rods

What Are Process Goals?

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

At a recent social event, I was part of a conversation that contained one of the best examples of Mental Toughness I can remember in a long time. And I will use this anecdote as a way of explaining what might be the most important ingredient of performance success ever discovered.

The father of a five-year-old boy told of his son’s sudden interest in fishing. So the father decided it would be a great idea to take the young lad fishing. This, despite neither of them knowing anything about the sport. After buying some basic equipment and getting some tips from the guy in the tackle shop the plan was to head out the very next day to see what they could catch.

So the father and the son woke before dawn and headed out all excited. All-day they fished, improving their casting technique and enjoying each other’s company as the hours ticked by. But no fish were caught that first day. So they decided to try again the following day. But once again they didn’t pull a single fish from the water.

This Continued For 14 Days Straight

Each day they’d wake before the sun came up and tried their best to catch fish. And at the end of every single one of these 14 days they came home empty-handed. Well empty-handed from a number of fish point of you.

When the father finished telling the story the obvious question had to be asked.

How did you maintain your enthusiasm/motivation day after day despite catching no fish?

The father thought about this for a while. After some careful reflection, he replied. His son seemed to be almost entirely motivated by the actual process of fishing. In other words, sitting on a riverbank holding a fishing rod with his old man. He quite literally was not doing it to take home a whole of dead fish. Any potential outcomes to this magical process would be considered is a bonus or just an occurrence. This young five-year-old boy, without anyone teaching him, had what we would call an Extreme Process Mindset.

A Lesson for Performers

There is an incredible lesson to be learnt here for those involved in sport and performance. Although “results” are important if you’re not enjoying the actual process then ultimately you’re not going to get very fast. The reason for this is rather simple. Results are only somewhat influenceable. Imagine the number of factors beyond your influence in trying to get a fish to bite a tiny hook. It is even possible that the fishing location chosen by the youngster and his father contained no fish at all.

Results are only somewhat influenceable. Imagine the number of factors beyond your influence in trying to get a small white ball into a four and quarter-inch hole in the ground. If you are unable to get some level of pleasure from the process in attempting to get the little white ball into the hole then you are in trouble. If this sounds like you get in touch as helping athletes with these kinds of mental challenges is exactly what we do.

Examples of Process Goals

There is a subtle difference between a process and a process goal. A reasonable explanation of a process is just an action or a task. Brushing your teeth is a process. Doing some visualisation is a process. Preparing your meals ahead of time is a process. Taking an ice bath is a process. But none of these examples qualifies as process goals. Having an intention of brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes in the way the dentist showed you. Now that, my friends, is a process goal.

Process goals are slightly different. They essentially take these actions and tasks and asked the question how are you going to commit to them?


Repetition is the essence of success. Stop expecting miracles from activities you only do once or twice

Imagine a soccer goalkeeper. She has identified a desire to improve her ball distribution. She knows what processes are required. Practice hitting targets through both throwing and kicking the ball. A commitment to one weekly 60-minute ball distribution session is scheduled into the goalkeeper’s calendar. This is the process goal. The goal or aim is to spend 60 minutes trying to improve this particular motor skill. If this session is forgotten or done poorly then the goal is unsuccessful. If the goalkeeper manages 60 minutes of very high-quality practice in this area then this process goal is achieved.

Even if her actual ball distribution does not improve the process goal is still achieved!

Be Careful of Outcomes

Let’s be honest, a highly motivated goalkeeper who spends an hour a week specifically trying to improve ball distribution is very likely to actually improve their ball distribution. But as we learned from the young fishermen this cannot be the main reason behind the exercise.

If this goalkeeper was one of my clients I would try to make sure that the actual process itself was rewarding. Rewards can come in many shapes and sizes. Maybe she just loves the idea that she is working on something important. It might be that she is particularly fond of the person who is feeding the balls back to her. Or maybe she is just one of those people who would much rather be outside on a sunny day than sitting in front of a screen.

If your performance landscape is dominated by an obsession with outcomes then have a go at putting processes and process goal first. Put the horse before the cart so to speak. As the great Bill Walsh said, “let the score take care of itself”.

Sport Psychology or Sports Psychology?

Correct Spelling – You Decide, Vote Now and Share

Sport Psychology or Sports Psychology – You Decide

Q1: What do YOU believe should be the correct spelling if we all had to agree on JUST one and then stick with that moving forward?
Q2: Which of the below best describes your role? I am a ...
92 votes

Share by copying and pasting this link:

condorperformance.com/sport-psychology-or-sports-psychology

Sport Psychology or Sports Psychology
Sport Psychology or Sports Psychology