The Best Sport Psychologist You Can Be

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Be Too Keen, Motivated?

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

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

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

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

Lesson From The Journey So Far

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

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

Tip One: Know Your Sports

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

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

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

Familiarity With Sport Is How We Build Rapport

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

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

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

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

Tip Two: Personality Counts – Big Time

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

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

Tip Three: Never Stops Improving

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

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

Tip Four: Convert Frustration into Fuel

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

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

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

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

Tip Five: Become A Sporting Coach Yourself 

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

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

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

Last But Not Least

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

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

The Off Season is Really the On Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

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

Tim:                                            Well you hear often that our sports people turn to sports psychologists for help and you wonder how prevalent that is. Well let’s find out. I’ve got Gareth Mole from Condor Performance Sports and Performance Psychology on the line. Good date Gareth.

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

Tim:                                            Good, how often do sports people turn to you?

Gareth J. Mole:                        Not as often as you would think. Tim. I suppose the peculiarity of our profession is that most people are completely aware that the mental side plays a massive role. The old cliché that golfers seem to use is that their sport is 90 percent mental. And yet for some reason, it doesn’t transfer in to a massive percentage of athletes and coaches using our services, to the degree where you would think they would. Based on what we specialise in.

Tim:                                            Yeah, interesting you should mention that because golf, I actually asked Greg Norman that question, some years ago. He didn’t say 90 percent, but he said 80. He said “Look we can all play on the tour, we can all shoot rounds of golf under par and then it becomes the mental side of it.” And you see golfers, don’t you, often, and they seem to implode. And that has to be, it can’t just be the ability to play the game. It has to be mental.

Gareth J. Mole:                         Yes, absolutely. A good way of, my response to Greg’s 80 percent would be two things. One, as athletes improve, the mental side becomes more dominant. The fact is that an eight year old playing golf with his buddies, it is predominately technical. The guy who can chip the best is probably going to do the best. It is very technical at that level. But what happens, Tim, and there’s a growing amount of research for this is that as athletes improve, because everybody is good at the technical … let’s be honest, let’s look at tennis as an example.

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

Tim:                                            Yes.

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

Tim:                                            There’s so many examples to use, currently. Novak Djokovic being one of them. Now, in a real bad patch with his form, and he was the dominant player in the game for many many years along with and Roger of course. And he’s only 30 and Roger is significantly older than him and Rafael’s about the same age. Now he’s coming back from an elbow injury, but you’d think he wouldn’t be playing if the injury was still plaguing him physically, so then is it plaguing him mentally?

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

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

Tim:                                            No no.

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

Tim:                                            Good question.

Gareth J. Mole:                       Now, my gut instinct is no. It’s not. With all due respect to somebody who has won five or six grand slams as Boris Becker may have. What mental strategies that have been, I suppose recommended by the scientific research which of course is what we use to make sure that there’s no guesswork involved in our work. Is being used. And therefore, what I think is going to happen over the next five to ten years, Tim, and we’re only just starting to see it, is, I think you’ll start seeing a much greater percentage of coaches consulting with sports psychologist. We’ve started to see a shift in the last couple of years. And the theory behind that is, you don’t want to send an ex-athlete off to university for seven years to get a psychology degree. Because by the time they’ve finished, everyone would have forgotten about them.

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:                    So the ideal combination is where you get the people who really know their stuff in this are, which of course is us. And you put them with a coach and the combination of our knowledge with their experience in sport, should be pretty useful when it comes to them coaching athletes at the highest level.

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:                      It’s a real issue and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. And me and my four colleagues at Condor Performance are a tad controversial, Tim, in that we personally believe that sport psychologist probably shouldn’t be helping rugby league players with clinical depression. Given, that there are, I think 15 or 16,000 clinical psychologist in Australia …

Tim:                                            To deal with that, yeah.

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

Tim:                                            No.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, and they become ostracised. So.

Gareth J. Mole:                    That’s right.

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

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

Tim:                                            No.

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Hours and hours. Yeah.

Gareth J. Mole:                      Yeah. The way we do it very simple, and if there’s any cricketers or golfers listening they can absolutely implement this. During a four hour round of golf, Tim, you only really want to be concentrating for about seven or eight minutes. So the majority of the time, during a four hour round of golf, and this applies to test cricket as well, is not spent playing cricket or golf. Think about it, you hit a tee shot and you then have a …

Tim:                                            Then you walk for …

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

Tim:                                            Hopefully 300 meters. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Got you. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, all of it. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            I’m with you. Yeah. God it’s a fascinating subject and that’s absolutely true in relation to golf, and I know I said it was the last thing, but just one more thing because it does fascinate me. You’ll see Jason Day do that. The pre-shot routine where he does that little flutter with his eyes, and it’s exactly the same thing every time. And then, you’ll often see him laughing and smiling with his caddy or his playing partner. Whereas, Tiger Woods on the other hand, looks like he’s focused and zoned in all of the time. Is he?

Gareth J. Mole:                        Well, yeah, again, another very interesting question and all I can do is, I suppose, comment based on what I’ve seen. My feeling is that Tiger wouldn’t have been able to achieve what he achieved at his peak if he wasn’t using some pretty effective switch on, switch off strategies like I’ve just mentioned. It’s just, we just know from the research, Tim, human beings can not concentrate for four hours at a time. So my feeling is that there was either, a little bit of gamesmanship going on with Tiger, whereby he was able to mentally switch off but have everyone else think he was not switching off. So that of course they would copy him and mentally burn out on the 12th hole. Which is what most people do.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, right.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:                         Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                                            That’s Gareth Mole from Condor Performance.

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: How To Handle Racism In Sport

One of our performance psychologists, David, chats to Rod and Ian (ABC radio) about the tricky issue of how to handle racism in elite sport.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Rod:                                            Adam Good’s issue, I guess, what to have people saying are we overdoing it, and this is what I said at the outset, you know, I wonder if we are. Yet I thought the other side of this program is really to, it’s a review program, it’s a weekend review. So that’s possibly what we’re trying to do here rather than percolate it along a bit further. I don’t know if we’re succeeding in that.

Ian:                                             Well I want to see, well first off I wanted to look at the sort of car crash that was the event, but also to see what the … where now. And perhaps our next guest might be able to throw some logs on that. Rod?

Rod:                                            Yeah. David Barracosa, whose a Performance Psychologist from the Condor Performance Center I think it is, and he’s with his son via phone. David, good morning.

David Barracosa:           Good morning, thank you for having me.

Rod:                                            Now I don’t … thank you. Now I don’t know if you’ve been listening so far to our conversation?

David Barracosa:              Yeah David I’ve Been listening to certain parts of it, yes.

Rod:                                            The parts you like, you mean?

Ian:                                             Now David … I’m curious now, how would Adam Goods be feelings today when he saw the outpouring of support from clubs across Australia and also principally from his own club?

David Barracosa:             I think mainly the feelings that he would have would be around support and I think feeling, I suppose a sense of community? Like what the teams have done, the arm bands, the banners, the indigenous rounds doing decent work put on by rich, and I think it’s overwhelming feelings of support, I think would be his main experience today I think.

Rod:                                            What is it … that obviously would make him feel much better, I should imagine. But was it a conscious effort to try and make him feel better?

David Barracosa:          I think maybe it’s not necessarily just for Adam Good, but I think you hear about the impact it’s having on players beyond him as well. In the game, especially with him doing things like that. I think it was more looking at how do we um unite regarding this issue and how do kind of want to get it hence that sense of community. I don’t necessarily know what was specifically designed, like with certain things obviously the wearing of the number thirty-seven [inaudible 00:02:13]. One minute standing ovation but I think also it’s just looking at how do we intro everyone, feel supported regarding this issue.

Rod:                                            Yeah it’s amazing it’s such a dichotomy really because, I mean even in the AFL general season there is a indigenous round to celebrate the indigenous players and there is quite a few of them-

David Barracosa:          Mark legend rugby league.

Rod:                                            That’s right yeah, of course.

Ian:                                             So how would he feel do you think presumably he comes back next week and he comes out of the tunnel what do you think his mind set would be at that stage.

David Barracosa:           Well I think that’s an important thing and I think one of the big things that listening to all this and of the sport and performance psychology perspective. I think you need the biggest thing for Adam Goodwin would be what he is focused on, what his concentration is on and I think part of the support staff. One of the things they have to really work on is preparing him for football rather than preparing him for crowd reaction. Because crowd reaction and things like that are I suppose in a way um not necessarily things that we can control but one of the things we can is how do we focus ourselves on things like our effort the part of football we want to be playing. And I think you see more walking out of the tunnel with that type of mind set he is in a good position to I think play with like playing the way we have seen him play in the past

Rod:                                            Sorry mate could I, could I just focus in on just one thing as a psychologist yourself a performance psychologist put yourself in John Long mire’s shoes today and as you go into another week and maybe the match next weekend with Goods playing what would you as John Longmire be saying to him.

David Barracosa:             I think, well one of the biggest things I’ve been talking to him about is where his head is at with all of this. And I think only Adam Good would really know what he’s feeling and what he’s experiencing in regards to this so as his coach as one of the arcane member of the support staff I’d be wanting to know where are you at, what are you feeling at the moment, what’s going through your mind regarding-

Rod:                                            So you’d be listening, you’d be listening rather than talking.

David Barracosa:             Yeah I think initially definitely, I think initially with when it comes to issues, I mean it’s not this particular issue, but any kinda player welfare issue. I would wanna know where my player is at with that, what is going on for them and then how do I, how do I support them.

Speaker 4:                              Isn’t a part of the problem now, let’s take it as red that next Saturday he runs out onto the field with in effect everyone in the crowd at least at one level or another really wanting him to succeed. I mean obviously half the crowd won’t want him to succeed In the sense of losing. But they certainly don’t want to see him humiliated, or put down, or anything like that. But then we get to another imponderable, which is his capacity, his performance, what the opposition is like all of those other things. Now I know what’s in your head is vitally important I’m not disputing that but its also a game in which there a whole oust of imponderables. And if not everything is in sink, ya know if the other side doesn’t surrender immediately to the power and charm of the Sidney Swans, what happens then.

David Barracosa:          Well I don’t think failure is how you define that. Like for us one of the big things, and I think its on of the things we work with almost all of our athletes on is a lot of the problem we talk about expectations and weight of the expectations is very much focused on [inaudible 00:05:53] result the amount of disposal, the amount of goals we keep, the amount of scores and swears. One thing that I would like to talk to him about is, let’s try and create expectations regarding how you play the game rather than your output. And I know that the rest of the crowd, and the rest of the media, won’t look at it that way but for these guys that’s gonna be something that I think [inaudible 00:06:15] play the way that he is able to, and try to not count how many times he gets involved or how many goals did he keep, which is everyone else’s. So once again he cannot control that.

Speaker 4:                              David thee, I um agree with that, but there is an incredible propensity on the part of Australians that to think if we lost the cricket badly this week and a Michael Clark didn’t perform well then he is a bad person, then rather he didn’t perform well or something like that. We judge people by results, it’s a very competitive thing out. In that sort of sense the Adam Good story won’t end until we decide at the end of his sporting career whether he was a fabulous hero-

Ian:                                             But he’s not being moved cause he’s a loser. You cannot imagine a more winning individual in that sport.

Rod:                                            And that’s where it’s so contradictory really isn’t. It is.

Ian:                                             That’s the bewildering thing I mean do you bewilder by it David.

David Barracosa:          Yeah I think um, it’s something from my perspective like you kind of watch and you listen to it, and it does kinda leave you scratching your head from time to time. Because you look at the credentials of the man, you look at what he’s done to the AFL community, and the community in a border sense as well. Yeah I think, I think naturally I’m scratching my head kind of wondering-

Ian:                                             Does this dilemma have an effect on the rest of the team, can players be agnostic about what’s happening to their teammates around them or are they affected by it.

Speaker 4:                              Your confidence is affected by whether Don Bradman is playing with you or not.

Rod:                                            That’s David.

David Barracosa:        Yeah I think, I think definitely the other team you do, especially when a leader of your team, is impacted in a way or is affected in the way that he has been. I Think you do I suppose listen to that, and you are aware of that. And I think one of the big things, and I think there are two things that need to be really aware of here and its that, the support staff needs to not only support Adam Good but needs to support the rest of the team. I think it’s important that they also have their time to be able to debrief you saw kind of Louis Getter pay tribute you saw the guys kinda of um, they’re thinking about it and you wanna make sure that thinking about it doesn’t turn into a massive distraction on the field they got away with a good performance yesterday but you don’t want to carry you on and eventually them in any way.

Rod:                                            Alright great to talk to you David, and thanks so much for your time on a Sunday morning we really appreciate it.

David Barracosa:         Well thanks for having me again.

Rod:                                            Yeah thank you. David Barracosa who’s a performance psychologist from Condor Performance.

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: Precocious Sporting Talents

David Barracosa, Senior Performance Psychologist from Condor Performance, speaks to Fiona Wyllie (ABC) about ‘precocious sporting talents’.

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

Fiona:                                        Good afternoon this is Statewide Drive, 24 to 5:00 now and if you are earning the really high wages elite sports people earn, do you have a responsibility to entertain as well? Or if you know you’re about to lose why not get out of the ballpark as soon as you can? Nick Curious says Don Fraze’s comments about him tanking at Wimbledon are racist. Did you hear them on the Today show?

Dawn Frazer:                        I think it’s absolute disgusting. I just am so shocked to think that he went out there to play and he tanked, he did all that tanking. That’s terrible. That’s not a good Australian sports person and I do believe that Tennis Australia have done the right thing by saying that they’re not allowed to play in the David Cup. They’re two of the best players that we’ve had for a long while and sure, you might get upset but now tennis has changed so much. I think they’re getting so much money, Carl, and I just think that they’re a disgrace for Australian sports and women.

Speaker 3:                              Is it a case of these stars have got so much money and so much fame so early Dawn, that things like humility and striving to achieve is something that’s just kind of disappeared from the way they think they should be presented to the public?

Dawn Frazer:                        I agree with you Lisa, I think that’s the whole thing that brought too much money at a very early age. They’re being ill-advised by their management and they should be setting a better example for the younger generation of this country, the great country of ours. If they don’t like it go back to where their fathers or their parents came from. We don’t need them here in this country they’re acting like that. We’ve gotta set a very good example for the younger children that playing all these sports. And I can’t see them wanting to be recognized when they get to my age. People won’t wanna talk to them.

Fiona:                                        Dawn Frazer talking on the Today show and her words certainly making some headlines around our country this afternoon. My number is 1-300 double six double two seven nine or send a text on zero four six seven, nine double two six eight four. Let’s talk about elite athletes and what’s going through their mind when they’re on sanded court or one of the important courts in the sporting world around the world. David Barracosa is at Condor Performance, a performance psychologist. David hello.

David Barracosa:              Hi Fiona, how are you?

Fiona:                                        I’m very well thanks. Now along the way, are manners anything to do with how we train our sports people?

David Barracosa:                I think it’s quite interesting because when you’re looking at athlete development and things like that often the technical side of things, the physical side of things are given a lot of attention. The mental side of things I think tend at times to be underdone for people which were manners would come into it, etiquette, humility, those type of things but also just helping younger athletes learn what’s important to focus on, what’s important to I suppose keep their mind occupied with rather than some of these distractions and variables that you see elicit really strong emotions and the behaviours that you’re talking about on your radio station today.

Fiona:                                        In the end it is a sport. They’re playing a game. Do we take it all far too seriously? Or do they to get the kind of results they do and be it that sort of standard have to take it very very seriously?

David Barracosa:                 I think it is a bit important to take it seriously but I think it’s even, a lot of people are talking about results and scores and what they’re achieving whereas I think for some of these younger athletes I think part of it is about being in the process of actually just playing tennis. It’s about the effort that they need to execute to play this sport well and I think the results come with that but I think sometimes we put the wagon in front of the horse and we get a bit carried away with what are they achieving whereas they are, it is a sport, it is something that is provided entertainment for many moons in the past and I think it’s about how do we help athletes?

David Barracosa:                And sometimes even coaches, how do we help coaches help their athletes to kind of bring it back to those basic elements that allow them to play at such a high level rather than just focusing on what they’re scoring at the end.

Fiona:                                        Because there is a great deal of entertainment in someone trying their best even if they don’t win. We love that don’t we? As sports enthusiasts?

David Barracosa:               Yeah definitely. I think at the end of the day we do kind of get hooked on these sports and we do love watching these entertainers of the game. Some of them very different in their styles. And I think that’s something important to consider. I don’t think everyone’s gonna have the same style in which they approach their sport. People are gonna be much more sort of outgoing and flamboyant about the way they do things, other people are gonna be much more grounded in the way that they do it. But I think it is about especially from what I’ve heard throughout the media today, I think a key element is are we seeing the effort from athletes? Are athletes giving the upmost effort that they can be, no matter what their style is or how their level of play is. Are they fighting to the very end?

David Barracosa:                 And I think that’s I suppose a big consideration from a sport and performance psychology perspective is around are they able to do that.

Fiona:                                        Okay, if one of your clients was throwing rackets around what would you be saying to them about the energy expended on that?

David Barracosa:                  Yeah I think if one of our clients at Condor Performance, if they were to go about doing that, I think we’d first wanna sit down and talk to them about what is going through your mind that’s leading to that? What’s creating such a frustration and emotion? And usually what we find is the thing behind it all, it’s usually things outside of their control. It’s things like umpires, it’s things like the last point, the other opponent hitting a fantastic win. I remember the crowd saying something et cetera. But what we wanna bring their attention back to is them. Because often it’s what they want to do and what they are willing to put into it that helps manage that emotion, but it’s so easy and I think we do it in all walks of life but especially in sports.

David Barracosa:                We get kind of really hooked up on those external factors that I suppose make it hard for us to play consistently and play with that mental consistency that I think’s so important and that’s something that were trying to constantly instil in our athletes is that mental consistency so you don’t see the lapses where people are taking it out on a piece of equipment or their racket because they’re unable to focus on the things that are really important.

Fiona:                                        Or the crowd, or the umpire as you said. And wasting that energy that could be used for getting an ace.

David Barracosa:             Yes. And I think not only wasting the energy but I think you watch the opponent last night, you watch Richard Gaska in the way that he responded, I think you can sometimes instil more confidence in your opponent. So not only are you losing energy you’re kind of taking the focus away from what you’re trying to do. You’re in a way giving energy to the opponent who’s seeing that and wants to take full advantage of that. On the flip side that’s what we’re telling our athletes is how do you keep your consistency going and not get caught up in that and I think that’s a mental skill in of itself as well.

Fiona:                                        So if you were smiling and looking like you’re not gonna get me, that is a method of getting one up against your opponent rather than losing it.

David Barracosa:              Well I think confidence, and I think confidence is something that’s so clearly visible in someone’s body language. The way someone carries themselves, the way someone even some of the self-talk that you hear the athletes doing like the come on’s of [inaudible 00:08:00] in the past and things like that. It does send a very strong message. And we don’t want people to be too focused on their opponent ’cause once again that’s an external variable that is gonna take you away from your game, but as a player if you can carry yourself with confidence and you can maintain that for long periods of time I think it does wonders not only for you and what your mindset is doing at that point in time but just your condition in that match as well. I think it does do a lot for your vibe that you’re sending out as well as I suppose the ebb and flows of the match itself.

Fiona:                                        David if you’ve got a couple of minutes to hear from our callers?

David Barracosa:             Yeah definitely.

Fiona:                                        Oh great. Patrick, hello.

Patrick:                                    Hi Fiona, how you going?

Fiona:                                        I’m well. You’ve got a story from your sporting days.

Patrick:                                    No not from my sporting days but in regard to defenders of Nick saying he was under a lot of stress. A few days ago I played a [inaudible 00:08:54] rugby player and writer told a story about the great cricketing man from the ’50s Case Miller, who’d been a battle of Britain Parlor I should say. And in a particularly tight test match a journalist asked him how much stress he was under. And he said stress, this isn’t stress. When you’ve got a [inaudible 00:09:17] up your rear end at 20,000 feet, that’s stress.

Fiona:                                        Putting it in perspective Patrick, thank you very much.

Patrick:                                    Thank you.

Fiona:                                        Buh bye. John’s in Port McCory, hello.

John:                                          Hello, how you going?

Fiona:                                        I’m well. You think that Dawn Frazer has said some things that she shouldn’t of?

John:                                          I think so. I think you can’t say that somebody should go back to their own country and that we’ve gotta better stand the behavior here or not. We’re all humans, we’re all fallible. I think that was just a bit [inaudible 00:09:52] really.

Fiona:                                        Okay.

John:                                          I think we’re all cut with the same brush and I think Paul only curious, Paul’s a young black. Come on. Give him a bit of a break and a lot of [inaudible 00:10:07] mistakes in life.

Fiona:                                        John thanks for calling. Greg from [inaudible 00:10:12] says most of what Dawn said made sense but she just blew it with a stupid comment about going back to where their parents came from. And Greg goes on to say I bet she’s regretting it now.

John:                                          Yeah I’d agree with that I think, yeah.

Fiona:                                        Thanks John. Someone else saying they think that Curious and Tomack are okay. Jack says the behavior of some of these young male tennis players is appalling, makes me feel ashamed to be Australian. From Dominic, arrogance and impatience are a downfall of many coupled with money and success and you have a recipe for disaster. Limit the payment to youngsters with increments applying, the remainder they get on retirement coupled with behavior training. Well that’s what we’re talking about with you isn’t it David?

David Barracosa:              I’d say that’s spot on.

Fiona:                                        Is the money thing a big part of it do you think?

David Barracosa:             I think the money thing, I think it really does depend on the person. I think there’s so many factors that are needed to be considered when it comes to money. I think that it’s spoken about a lot in the states with young college athletes and stepping to the pros. A lot of these like tennis and golf or a lot of youngsters can kind of make a lot of money very quickly, I think money does put pressure on people and it can change a person but I think if you’re able to have a certain character, if you’re able to have the right support people in place around you, I think you can kind of manage those sort of changes to your lifestyle and changes to I suppose the circumstances you find yourself in.

Fiona:                                        What about the power of ego? Because Judy from Round Mountain says Tomak and Curious will never be champions. Their egos will stop them from achieving what they are capable of.

David Barracosa:                Yeah and I think that’s quite an interesting one because I think it’s where, it’s that kind of line between someone having really strong confidence and self-belief and then that line where it steps into being kind of egotistical and things like that. I think for the athletes you want to see them where they have that I suppose self-awareness and self-acknowledgement, self-confidence but you don’t want it to be that it becomes I just rest on that. You wanna see people constantly applying themselves and I think that’s sometimes where some young athletes, and even some old athletes to tell you the truth, fold down when it comes to the ego. It keeps them from being champions because they don’t put the work in, they don’t put the effort in to I suppose achieve the next level and achieve the next kind of step up in their sport which only hard work and dedication can get you at the end of the day.

Fiona:                                        David good to talk to you, thank you very much for joining us.

David Barracosa:          Terrific thank you for having me.

Fiona:                                        David Barracosa who’s from Condor Performance and is a performance psychologist talking about one of our young tennis stars. It is 11:05, you’re with Fiona Wiley on Statewide Drive.

Speaker 7:                              On the next Conversations …

Speaker 8:                              Garth Calendar was a junior officer with the Australian Army in Iraq. One morning his crew was targeted in a roadside bomb attack and Garth became Australia’s first serious casualty in the war. He recovered, returned to Iraq, and then volunteered for Afghanistan to prevent the kind of bomb attacks that had nearly killed him.

Speaker 7:                              Join Sara Konosky for Conversations, tomorrow morning from 11:00 on ABC New South Wales.

Fiona:                                        Good afternoon, you’re with Statewide Drive and we’ve been talking about tennis players. Pete is in Nambucca Heads, hello Peter.

Speaker 9:                              Yeah, hi Fiona.

Fiona:                                        You wanna talk about tennis officials.

Speaker 9:                              Well just the game itself, the way the game is run. The chap that you just had on speaking.

Fiona:                                        He’s a psychologist.

Speaker 9:                              Yeah yeah the psychologist chap, yeah. He was talking about the fact that youngsters make a lot of money early in their lives out of tennis and golf. But the world of golf runs the game way differently than tennis because if you behaved in any slight manner that these young men are behaving in you would be rubbed out for five to 10 years or life.

Fiona:                                        Would you? I’ve seen them throwing their golf sticks around.

Speaker 9:                              No they don’t. No they don’t because they’re taught from the very beginning that you are not bigger than the game, you are just an individual and you can make a good living here so behave yourself or we will chuck you out.

Fiona:                                        Okay. I’m sure I’ve seen, my dad spends hours watching sport and I’m sure I’ve seen them throwing their golf sticks. I don’t watch a lot so I can’t be sure.

Speaker 9:                              No they never do.

Fiona:                                        Never do?

Speaker 9:                              No it is not allowed at all. You throw a golf club or you abuse an official, you’re out.

Fiona:                                        Okay.

Speaker 9:                              And tennis is gutless.

Fiona:                                        Okay Peter good to hear from you.

Speaker 9:                              See you Fi.

Fiona:                                        Thank you. From Peter Port McCory, McEnroe was a tennis brat ’til his late years. Nick Curious is starting early with bad behavior, he needs a long holiday. Dawn’s comments are correct says Peter. Re the ill-tempered sports people, the various sports codes need to simply not accept bad behavior as we heard from Peter in Nambucca Heads about the golf. And have the person leave the court or the field. This is the same principle as domestic violence. As long as the victim remains the behavior is being accepted and inadvertently condoned. Cease to accept the behavior and you will teach better behavior much quicker. This behavior is unacceptable on a court or field or anywhere in society. No work place would accept it and this is the sports person’s workplace. Liz in Winona, thank you very much for joining in the discussion this afternoon here on ABC News South Wales.

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: Controlled And Uncontrolled Aggression In Sport

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

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

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

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

Tim:                                            G’day, Gareth.

Gareth J. Mole:                  Hey, Tim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:              That’s right.

Tim:                                            Yeah.

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Yeah. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, just back off.

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Yes.

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Yeah. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, I agree.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, I agree.

Tim:                                            Always great to talk to you, mate.

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:             Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                                            That’s Gareth J. Mole

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

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

[RADIO INTERVIEW]: Over Analysis In Elite Sport

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

Radio Interview:


Narrator:                                Live on air and online at Weekend nights with Tim Webster.

Tim Webster:                       Now the psychology of sport and the man we love to talk to about all of this from Condor Performance, Gareth J. Mole, who joins me on the line. G’day mate.

Gareth J. Mole:                      Hi Tim.

Tim Webster:                       Look, very interesting article by one of your colleagues, Chris Pomfret, on post competition reviews. Now the subject this year of course, is Cricket Australia, you know how Cricket is. But in a general sense, post competition reviews would be commonplace, would they not?

Gareth J. Mole:                      They’re very commonplace Tim. And I would probably sum what I would say as they’re far more commonplace than they should be.

Tim Webster:                       Okay. So in other words, do we examine performance too much?

Gareth J. Mole:                      Absolutely. And it’s basically comes down to a bit of a flaw. And that is … I meant the intention of a post competition review is well intended. It’s to say look, we’ve just gone out there and we’ve tried our best or we just performed in the cricket match or in the golf tournament or whatever it is. And we want to improve. We want to find the areas we weren’t very good at and we want to improve. Now the fundamental flaw in the mindset Tim, is that the number of different things that go into a performance, particularly a team performance could run into the tens of thousands if you really break it down to what was that player thinking in that moment and how much time did that player spend practicing his kicking technique for example.

Gareth J. Mole:                       And so the idea of watching a cricket match back, or watching any sporting performance back is a little bit like eating a cake and trying to work out what was wrong with the cake by the actual cake. It’s just an impossible task.

Tim Webster:                       You can’t do it.

Gareth J. Mole:                      And in our experience, often when we just say to people, just focus all your energy into optimal preparation and just let the cookie crumble, it’s amazing how big an impact that often has.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah. Look as far as team sports are concerned, it’s all good in my view. And I know technology plays a very large part in all of this now. If you’ve lost a game, to have the Monday off and go and have a look at the video on Tuesday and the coach says well, have a look at that, that’s where we want wrong, that’s all good. But when I talk about over examining it, have we got into that realm now. And we’ll talk about Pat Howard and Cricket Australia in particular. Are we getting too precise with athletes?

Gareth J. Mole:                      I think so Tim. I think we spoke about it last time from memory, the idea that one of the underpinning factors of successful sporting performances is enjoyment. You know this element that we seem to have when we’re young and it can easily be eroded by the high performance system, where basically everybody in the high performance unit is really only results focused. And therefore you get this knock on effect with leads to examining every single thing. To the point of stupidity to be honest.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah and when you’re winning, you are going to having fun, aren’t you. And I wonder how often coaches actually say to players, hey listen above all else, just got out there and have fun because really Gareth, that’s what sports about.

Gareth J. Mole:                 Yeah. And the mentally astute ones, the ones who actually track the sports science into the psychology of the optimal performance. And there are some out there. Those are the ones that are quite likely to do it, because those are the ones who have seen case studies like Usain Bolt for example, during his obviously amazing athletic career, where he was intentionally injecting fun into what you would expect to be the most pressurised situations. And of course, seeing the results of that.

Gareth J. Mole:                 So I think if we were to have a look at the coaching landscape at the moment, you’ll find the number of coaches who are saying to their athletes, you know what, at the end of the day your primary objective is to enjoy yourself. I think they’re still in the minority. And I think the main reason for that is they incorrectly assume that that kind of advice is actually going to result in a decline in performance, in that people will clown around and sort of be larrikins, when it actual fact, it’s the total opposite. The “Relaxed Competition Mindset” is often the one that is necessary for you to play your best sport.

Tim Webster:                       What about a situation where, and god you hear this often, the team, the athlete are incredibly well prepared. They’re fit, they’re healthy, they’re feeling great. All of the tactics are in place. And it all falls apart and you get flogged. I mean as you say, there could be 10,000 reasons for that, and sitting around analysing forever, how much does that help?

Gareth J. Mole:                 Yeah, it doesn’t help at all. You’ll never be able to successfully unbake the cake. That’s the term that we use in my work. You can’t unbake the cake. Eat the piece of cake and go tell me about the quality of the eggs that went into that cake. It’s just impossible. You are completely correct. One of the things that is very common … and if we look at the basic pillars of sporting performance, there’s really four that underpin everything. So there’s the physical, so strength, fitness, flexibility. There’s the tactical, which is decision making. There’s the technical so literally how you hold a cricket bat. And there’s the mental.

Gareth J. Mole:                  So two of them are brain related and two of them are body related. And often what happens at the highest level is that athletes tend to very similar in three of those areas. They tend to physically, technically and tactically very similar, but it’s quite normal for some of the best athletes still to be mentally only average. And of course your example there is a classic, whereby the coach says you know we did everything in preparation. What they really mean by that Tim, is they did everything technically, physically and maybe tactically. They assumed the mentally side would take care of itself.

Gareth J. Mole:                   And the reason they got flogged is because their opposition took the mental preparation very seriously.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah right. Now Chris’s article is very interesting actually. And it’s worth a read. And it goes on to talk about and we hear these often. Commitment and concentration and confidence get that creativity, communication and then consistency. And the last one, culture. Now that’s where Cricket Australia has been highly criticised in that report. We can’t go through the whole thing. I think you’ve probably read all of it and I’ve read parts of it. The salient bits if you like. And everyone’s taking the fall. The chairman’s gone, the CEO’s gone, Mark Taylor’s resigned. Pat Howard was going to go, the high performance manager, and he’s gone early. And the guy that was involved in broadcasting.

Tim Webster:                       So it’s pretty much the lot. And I said on the air two or three weeks ago, that probably needs to happen because there’s something wrong with that culture. There has to be.

Gareth J. Mole:                  Yes it looks like that is the case. And what we don’t know is how much of those cultural issues where down to those individuals and their personalities, their preferences. And how much was it related to the bigger picture. The Argus review for example, which essentially said, it was a very much performance based review. In fact Pat Howard’s role was conceived via the Argus review. In other words, tied to the review, his particular role didn’t actually exist. So it’s a tricky one. There’s no doubt that his departure sounds like it’s a good thing. That’s what I’ve heard on the ground. But in terms of blaming, I’m not sure if it was him or whether he was simply going by the playbook that was created during the Argus review.

Gareth J. Mole:                     Which of course, if you remember, sort of happened when England successfully retained the Ashes over here.

Tim Webster:                       Yes that’s right. Yeah. Look we all know that you have to have a corporate entity running something like Cricket Australia, it’s very big business due to broadcast rights and player contracts, that sort of thing. But when you’ve got … bowling coaches, fitness coaches, batting coaches, do you need a high performance manager? I’m just wondering how Pat Howard would have dealt with somebody like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson in the ’70’s and tell them that they had to have an app and tell Pat what they were going to eat that night.

Gareth J. Mole:                      Yeah look, it’s a really good question Tim. I, for a long time, had a bit of an issue with the actual term high performance. I sometimes jokingly say where’s the low performance unit?

Tim Webster:                       You don’t want them.

Gareth J. Mole:                  In fact, jokes aside of course, as you’re talking about a conversation we had many months ago about how to invest in sport for … ironically there is an argument to say that that bowling coach who knows so much about how to make the ball reverse swing, maybe he should be spending his time not with the five best bowler’s in Australia, who probably already know more or less how to do that. But with 50,000 young cricketers, all around the country, who have absolutely no idea where to start when it comes to how to hold the ball appropriately to make it swerve in the air.

Gareth J. Mole:                 So the whole concept of high performance I think is one that probably wants to have a little bit of examination. To answer your question directly, does cricket or another sport need a high performance manager? Obviously my vote only counts as one, but I was in a boardroom and we we’re voting on this, I would be voting no, it’s completely unnecessary. What you just just said there, the coach by his or her very definition is kind of the high performance manager anyway.

Tim Webster:                       Of course, that’s right.

Gareth J. Mole:                   The performance manager. In fact, if you think about the English Premier League, the coaches there are not actually referred to as coaches, they call them managers.

Tim Webster:                       That’s right.

Gareth J. Mole:                  You know, so the manager of Manchester United, the manager of Liverpool. So I think if we’re talking about structural preferences to benefit Australian sport, I would certainly recommend that there be a lot more of the high performance decision making taken place through the coach and therefore, completely remove the idea of a high performance manager entirely. Or certainly change the nature of what they do, so that they’re not asking athletes to record the amount of carbohydrates they ate on the flight for example, which is what has happened.

Tim Webster:                       Yes, that’s exactly what’s happened. Look, I don’t how much time … and Pat Howard comes from a rugby background of course. I don’t how how much time he actually spent on the field with the cricketers or if it was done technically via an app. And I don’t want to just stick the boot to Pat Howard, because a lot of people have done that. I think there’s a lot more wrong with Cricket Australia than just him. But as a broad point, it just seems to me that all of these people taking a salary from Cricket Australia, and do we need all of them to get a high performance out of our cricketers?

Gareth J. Mole:                   Yeah I don’t think so. And maybe one of the causes is the fact the Cricket from a profitability perspective is one of the most successful sports in Australia. If you look at it from a business perspective, it’s profit, etc., is incredibly strong. And therefore, one of the knock on effects of that might be they have a lot more money to spend on stuff. And therefore, what they’ve ended up with is many too many chefs, simply because they can afford to pay for too many chefs. In many, many, many situations, because of the organic simplicity of sport, often the best policies are the simplest ones. And sometimes that means reducing stuff, simplifying their roles and just letting the guys got out and do what they love to do and do best.

Tim Webster:                       You know I’m going to come back to Brad Fidler and the success he had with the New South Wales state of origin site. Now there’s plenty of technicality around that. But you know, things like the captain’s run, when all they really do is go for a wander with the football in hand, and try to relax coming up to a big game. So my question to you is, on occasion, do we put too many things into an athlete’s head?

Gareth J. Mole:                 Absolutely. Absolutely, without a doubt, and I can say this with a lot of confidence, because it’s what I do six days a week, discussion with athletes and coaches about things like what are you doing in the 60 minutes or in the day before you go out and you play cricket or you go out and compete. And a big chunk of the work that me and my colleagues do at Condor Performance is about actually just reducing the amount of clutter that is in their mind. And sometimes that is difficult work Tim, because it means actually going against their official coach.

Gareth J. Mole:                   Sometimes we literally are required to say your coach is very well intended, but he or she doesn’t have any formal training in psychology and obviously we do, that’s what we do, and therefore, on this occasion, you’re just going to need to trust me that the best thing for you to do, and this is where Brad Fidler deserves a huge amount of credit, huge amount of credit, is just, on the day of a competition or the day before a competition, just relax. Do the same things you do on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re on holiday. If you like going for a coffee, great do that. If you like walking, going for a walk, do that. If you like listening to music, do that.

Gareth J. Mole:                 A lot of the things … a lot of the advice might be coming from very serious coaches or high performance type of personnel, may be in complete contrast to that.

Tim Webster:                       Yeah. Absolutely. Gareth, it’s always terrific to talk to you mate and thank you very much for you time again.

Gareth J. Mole:                    No worries Tim.

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