Sport Psychologists – Applied and International Since 2005
Category: Sports Science Stuff
From time to time some of our articles will look more it should have been appeared in a peer reviewed journal. Such feature articles will follow the same structure of a scientific paper – but without the politics of getting it published.
“I’m fantastic in training but I fall apart during matches. Can you coach me on how to perform better under pressure?” These are amongst the most common reasons that performers first reach out to us as sport psychologists and performance psychologists. This article provides a few tips on how we help these athletes and non-sporting performers.
Below is the definition of the word performance from the Cambridge dictionary:
It’s important to start an article entitled ‘Performing under Pressure’ by clarifying the key terms. What do we mean by both performing and pressure?
In some circles, performing is virtually regarded as any action. This can range from really obvious actions (playing a sport) to ones that don’t immediately come to mind such as sex or running a business. For others, the word performance is and should be much more limiting. For them, it would only apply to competitive sports and a few other areas such as the performing arts.
At Condor Performance we sit somewhere between these two extremes. For us performing is essentially just the execution of skills, with the majority of these skills being motor skills. So of course this covers all traditional sports. But would also include the performing arts, military activity, most medical and emergency procedures and even competitive games such as chess and eSports despite the fact that there is less human movement involved in these.
Performing should include both the preparation and competitive sides of the equation. This is important because in many sports the word performing gets mostly used as a synonym for competing. For example, in a post-match press conference, a coach may say that she was happy with the performance. Or that the performance wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The issue with using the term performance as a synonym for on-the-day competitive outcomes is that it forgets about the performance element of preparation. As you’ll see from below it is actually what do you do in preparation that ultimately allows us to perform better under pressure.
In my work as a sport psychologist, I often simplify and separate everything into thoughts feelings and actions. Those who are familiar with my particular style will know that I am a big believer in predominantly learning to accept thoughts and feelings whilst still committing to our actions. When breaking down the human experience like this it can be useful to try and consider if pressure is more of an emotion or a thought or a combination.
For most performers, it will be a combination of thoughts and feelings. Consider the typical signs of experiencing extreme pressure. In terms of emotions tensing up, tightening of the muscles and nerves might be common. The thoughts that typically present themselves when pressure is experienced are often predictive and negative. For example, cognitions such as “what if I mess up today” or “I just know I am going to play badly”.
Arguably the most important starting point when it comes to helping performers to be more consistent under pressure is for them to learn unequivocally that pressure is neither good nor bad. All too often athletes and non-sporting performers will regard pressure as negative. They frame it as something that will get in the way of them performing at their best. Interestingly there’s actually a small percentage who believe the exact opposite! This minority hold the view that they need some pressure to produce the goods!
The Pressure Is Real, Just Accept It
The mindset that we are looking to help our clients develop is one whereby pressure is just pressure. It’s neither good nor bad. It can be useful for you to consider the variations in pressure as similar to other variables. Such as the weather or the colour of the opposition’s kit (shirts). These are just natural variations common in sport. It’s unhelpful to think of warmer days as being good and cooler days as being bad for example. The same applies to pressure vs. no pressure.
Once the process of learning to observe thoughts and emotions is underway we can move onto the next stage. That is, learning they needn’t have any impact on your desired actions. In other words, the goal is to learn to execute your skills irrespective of the thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing at the time.
This is easier said than done of course. Often experiences of pressure are much less common in training. This reduces the opportunities whereby we can prove to ourselves that we can kick a rugby ball or smash a backhand down the line even under extreme pressure.
Mentally Harder Practice
Mentally harder practice addresses this issue most of the time. MHP attempts to replicate pressure-related feelings and thoughts in training situations. The logic behind this is sound. Doing MHP in training will make it much easier to ride the pressure wave when it happens organically in competitive situations.
A nice analogy for mentally harder practice is lifting weights. If you want to be able to flip a truck tire over a dozen times (thinking about CrossFit clients now in particular) then you’re gonna need to slowly increase your muscle strength in practice. The same logic applies to performing under pressure using mentally harder practice. You need to be able to slowly increase the mental demands of certain aspects of your training so when they occur in competitive situations that they are not so different from the training challenges you set up.
The weight training analogy is so useful because it quickly allows you to see the risks of overdoing it. So if you make your training psychologically too difficult, it will have the opposite effect and potentially cause some kind of psychological injury. By psychological injuries, we could be referring to genuine mental health impacts such as a trigger for depression or anxiety.
This article by psychologist James Kneller is about “Exercise Psychology”. This topic is related to both the mental health benefits of human movement but also the psychology of getting started.
Before I began working with Condor Performance in 2019 as a performance psychologist (and soon to earn the title of sport psychologist) I was working with a mixture of athletes and the general public. This work leant towards traditional mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, grief and life stressors. In a traditional psychology setting, I am often asked what the best thing to do is to help with these sorts of issues. My answer, after the colloquial “laughter is the best medicine”, is always exercise.
I take clients through what I call the basic five things to be taking control of to give them the best opportunity for optimal mental health.
These five areas are:
Diet – an appropriate and relatively healthy diet provides the nutrients and energy to deal with daily requirements
Water – adequate hydration of our bodies is vital for both physical and mental health. As I tell my clients our brains transmit their signals through electrical currents, these move more effectively through water than air
Appropriate use of drugs – this means taking any medications or supplements required in the way that they were designed and instructed to do along with limiting or avoiding potentially harmful substances such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal substances
Sleep – good sleep is a very close 2nd to my top answer of exercise. In sleep, the body, and particularly the brain is restored, cleaned, and reset to face the next day
Exercise – our bodies are designed to move and when we deny them this, they tend to crumble a little including our brains. Modern-day exercise psychology is all about not letting this happen.
Exercise Psychology Basics
It is well known that exercise has numerous physical benefits. For example, physical activity is known to reduce the risk of illnesses like heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity. It has also been shown to reduce the likelihood or onset of neurological illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Those who have had a stroke recover faster. It also improves or maintains muscle mass and bone strength. Exercise is a key component in maintaining or losing weight which leads to a longer life expectancy and likely higher quality of that longer life.
What is sometimes overlooked is the value of exercise to the brain directly, and to mood and wellbeing associated with this. Studies of the impact of exercise on the brain have found that it improves blood circulation in the brain which helps clarity of thought. It increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily responsible for memory. It also improves the connections within nerve cells in the brain improving function and protecting against disease.
When we exercise the brain releases feel-good chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. Many of us have heard of “runners’ high” which is this process, but the benefits are not only felt by those who run great distances. Just getting a sweat up will help the brain produce and release more of these chemicals.
The Right Amount of Exercise
When recommendations are made for how much exercise we should be getting it is just 30 minutes per day for five days a week. This does not need to be gut-busting. It does not have to come in one block of 30 minutes and can be broken down into two or three sessions of 10-15 minutes each.
I mentioned earlier that enough good quality sleep is my 2nd best action for better mental health, and another benefit of exercise is the strong link between increased exercise and improved quality of sleep. The actions of getting a sweat up through the day help the body feel tired and allow it to more effectively regulate itself to have a sleep period and an active period through the day rather than being confused over which is supposed to be the active one.
One of the most frustrating things that often happens when clients struggle with depression (for example) is that it can rob them of motivation and our belief that they can achieve anything in life. Regular exercise decreases stress hormones which has a beneficial impact on dealing with life stressors and anxiety. When they begin doing some exercise, even one session a week, they begin to develop a sense of achievement and they begin to break the inertia hold of being sedentary.
I hear clients say they are waiting for some motivation to hit them, but motivation needs to be created it does not just arrive. But like a snowball, once they take one step and do one session it makes the next easier to achieve and so on. As they continue, they can see the benefits for themselves. They might start receiving comments from friends or family on their progress and their self-esteem rises. For some it is the thrill of looser clothing or making it all the way around the block without stopping. The goals do not need to be massive, and neither do the results. The sense of empowerment for a client to see that they can take some charge over their life can be truly life-changing.
A Pathway To Social Connections
Exercise can be done in isolation, and with the world currently dealing with pandemics and lockdowns this is both relevant and necessary, but it can also provide a pathway to social connections. This is another important component of strong mental health. Whether walking at the local park and simply seeing others doing the same, or joining a community such as weekly park runs, or getting involved with a team sport. When we exercise with others we can get, and provide, motivation and encouragement from them to simply show up when we are not feeling like it. Teams allow us to work on social skills and leadership skills that are transferable to all aspects of life.
While exercise psychology is not a focus of Condor Performance, and we would expect our clients are already doing much more than the minimum recommendations each week, many of the skills we work on with clients are transferrable. Planning and setting appropriate structured and incremental goals with clients gives the greatest chance of achieving an end goal or dream. Assisting them to find their motivation and focus assists them to break the inertia of stillness. The accountability of someone who is checking in with them regularly and the support through setbacks allows them to know they are not alone.
In writing this we would hope that even if it does not apply to you, it is something that you might be able to use to start a discussion with family or friends that you have seen struggling with their mental health and point them in the direction of a local psychologist to assist with getting them back in better mental, and physical, shape.
The Reflective Work Journal of a Qualified Sport Psychologist
Towards the start of 2020, I started to keep two journals. The first one was (is) a paper and pen version for my personal life. I try to write in it daily as part of a morning mindfulness routine. The other journal is for my work as a sport psychologist. For this one, I just type a few pondering into a Pages document at the end of each working day. As my entries do not contain any clues about who my sporting clients are I decided to start ‘sharing the love’. By this I mean instead of all these musings being hidden away I decided to start “copying and pasting” some of the entries into this page for public consumption and debate. So feel free to use the comments section at the bottom to express your opinions about anything that I write about. Note that the entries are in reverse date order so you’ll need to scroll down for the older entries. Enjoy, engage and share.
Monday 7th June 2021
The last 10 days have passed in double time. Of course, this is completely inaccurate. Time always passes at exactly the same rate but it’s amazing how our perceptions of this sand clock change. Although my new office pod is sitting down at the bottom of my garden there is still a fair amount of work to be done before I can start working from there. Liaising with electricians and plumbers whilst keeping one eye on the weather combined with a normal working week meant that when I blinked it was already Friday evening.
This makes me reflect on whether it’s good or bad for time to feel like it’s passing quickly or slowly. What do you think? My initial instincts regarding this question are that like so many continuums. Both extremes are what we are trying to avoid. In other words, if time feels like it is passing so fast that you never have an opportunity to stop and smell the roses this is obviously not ideal. However the opposite might not be fantastic either. Although this is not something that I ever experienced I suspect it’s possible for each day to last a lifetime. So how do you hit the sweet spot in between these two extremes? It probably boils down to a healthy mixture of spending your waking time on both trying to achieve and intentionally trying not to achieve.
I’m using the arrival of the pod as an opportunity to really re-evaluate my work-life balance. I have a new working schedule where I will work 37 hours a week. 37 hours of high intensity, highly purposeful working time every week without much variation. This in turn will allow me the better part of 60 to 70 weekly hours on highly unintentional and unproductive time with my family and pottering around my garden.
Friday 4th June 2021
The below articles all contain quotes from at least one sport psychologist and the whole article is free (i.e. there is no pay wall). At this stage, we have not had time to verify whether the quoted sport psychologists are in fact qualified or not.
Today was a massive day for me both personally and professionally as my future working space turned up on the back of a truck. Despite me being more apprehensive than I can remember since the birth of my children I decided to stick around just in case. And just as well I did. Gordon the truck driver turned up an hour early and immediately declared he would not be able to enter the property through the relatively narrow gates. Although I had measured the gates beforehand I had forgotten to factor in the turning circle. After some small talk with Gordon, Richard the local builder and his crew turned up to take over. From a pure performance psychology point of view, this was fascinating to watch. Their experience was palpable and although the truck only managed to squeeze through the gates with about a centimetre to spare the boys were cool calm and collected. From that point forward I went to hide inside and let them do their thing. In the space of a few hours, the office pod was lifted off the back of the truck and craned down to the footings near my shed. The end result, pictured below, is truly impressive.
It made me reflect on processes and outcomes again. The outcome in this case is spectacular and amazing. But would anybody who saw the finished product be able to get an idea of the arduous processes that went into making it happen? And it’s the same in sport and performance, isn’t it? Does anybody ever really understand the blood, sweat and tears that go into achievements? And yet it’s these daily processes that essentially separate the best from the rest.
Tuesday 25th May 2021
Back home now but with lots to reflect on. Late last week, when I knew I would have to go to the Gold Coast to inspect the office pod I decided to contact a local architect. The reason for this was twofold. First of all, I have no I have detail when it comes to anything construction related. So me inspecting the pot alone probably wouldn’t justify the cost of the trip bite self. But I also know myself and when I am particularly emotional – which will be inevitable whilst inspecting my future office over the next 10 to 15 years I’m at my list observational.
Luckily for me, local Gold Coast architect Matthew Dean was the ideal choice. There is something to be said about knowing your strengths and weaknesses intimately and not always trying to improve all of your weaknesses. Sometimes, for an hourly rate of $200, it’s easier to outsource the things you can’t do or I’m no good at. Matthew’s expertise and experience transformed the one-hour inspection from a token gesture to a thorough audit. This made me reflect on how often in professional and amateur sport the mental side is being done by well-intended amateurs. And yet for an hourly rate not too dissimilar to Matthew’s a sport psychologist such as myself could be brought in to entirely change the dynamic of the training session.
Monday 24th May 2021
I write this from the Gold Coast having just done a 20 min ocean swim with some pelicans. No seriously. I flew up the GC last night to take a look at my office pod before it gets trucked down to Exeter this week. With a much higher client load, I would struggle this week to give them 100% attention. But, with only half a dozen sessions I can mentally separate The Pod from The People.
It feels as if the arrival of the Pod will mark a significant before and after for Condor Performance. The before the Pod time has really been about getting the business to be stable without it being spectacular. My gut tells me after the Pod we might just go after spectacular. Watch this space.
Thursday 20th May 2021
Latest (free, no paywall) press article featuring a sport psychologist. This time sport psychologist Martina Cubric about the work she is doing in eSports via this recent article. Of course, we have our very own eSports specialist in Dr Michelle Pain.
Monday 17th May 2021
I am being tested myself at the moment. My new office pod, which was due to be trucked down from the Gold Coast and installed this Friday, will be delayed again. Maybe one of the most fascinating professional reflections is how well professionals use the skills they’re supposed to impart to others on themselves. For example, do dentists all have strict dental hygiene for themselves and their families? To all nutritionists adhere to an impeccable eating regime? Do all sport psychologists practice what they preach from a mental skills point of view?
This sport psychologist certainly tries very hard to practice what he preaches. One of the core underlying principles of Metuf (which will be particularly prominent in the latest version we are developing at the moment) is mental separation. By mental separation I mean the ability for human beings to separate into smaller, more manageable parts a complex situation that is normally anything but separate. My delayed office pod is a very good example. I’m very frustrated by those who are developing the pod as they essentially gave me their word that it would be ready to use by the end of this week. But I try very hard not to let the frustration of this “work area” spill into other areas.
Friday 7th May 2021
Today I spent the whole day with Madalyn and Morgan. I have always been interested in the processes teams use to select their personnel. How can they stack the odds in their favour of selecting the right kind of people? Rightly or wrongly, at Condor Performance this process has always been rather intuitive. Madalyn and Morgan were both given an opportunity to join our team after two simple informal interviews.
So you can imagine my relief and satisfaction when both responded very well to a day of intense training on how to deliver sport psychology/performance psychology services.
We flew MS down from Brisbane so the “training day” has the advantage of being in the same room in a nice meeting room in Oran Park Podium (NSW).
One of the hardest things about this kind of supervision is getting the balance right between covering enough stuff to allow them to start working with their own clients but not so much so as to completely overwhelmed them. Feedback from the two provisional psychologists suggests that on this occasion we got that balance right.
Monday 3rd May 2021
Dave and I caught up in Moss Vale today to review April and plan May. We are starting to get close enough now to Dave’s paternity leave in July. What this means is we are starting to have to ask the difficult but necessary question of how do we continue to operate effectively without one of our major “go to” operatives for 4 to 6 weeks. In many ways, this couldn’t come at a better time as it is forcing Condor Performance to grow into a much more resilient business.
It’s no different from the kinds of conversations that would probably want to be taking place in team sports (but probably don’t). Imagine a basketball team with a Michael Jordan figure on the roster. Or imagine a soccer team with a Megan Rapinoe on it. David is like this to the Condor Performance team. If I were the sport psychologist of one of these teams I’d be encouraging the staff to come up with processes on how to minimise the negative impact in the event that one of these legends became available. Although I am not the team sport psychologist at Condor Performance, I can use some of the same ideas as the General Manager. And I can tell you right here, right now we are planning Dave’s time away thoroughly and well ahead of time.
Monday 26th April 2021
I can’t remember the last time I worked an entire weekend. It was probably over a decade ago as that was what was required to get Condor Performance established. But on the weekend I had to work on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. On Saturday afternoon I ran a three-hour workshop for Table Tennis New South Wales. I haven’t run this kind of seminar for quite some time and it was remarkable how years of practice before that allowed me to run this event as if I did it five times this month already. Practice really does make permanent.
On the Sunday afternoon I got a last-minute request to deliver a session to a very high-profile athlete currently experiencing some difficulties right in the middle of a tournament. Working with this calibre of athlete is simply too beneficial for me individually as a sport psychologist as well as for Condor Performance. So my preference not to work on Sundays was thrown out the window and I stepped up.
Thursday 22nd April 2021
I spent most of this morning with our second provisionally registered psychologist, Morgan Spence. We take the selection of new stuff so seriously that it is taken us just under six months to find, agree to terms and get M&M started. The experience of condensing the better part of 15 years of working as a sport psychologist into one morning of onboarding is quite surreal. But one thing is for sure it really clarifies what we have achieved since 2005. We have come so far and yet in many ways it feels like we are only just beginning. Morgan, like Madalyn, will work with her own sporting/performance clients and help out the Moneyball dept.
Starting about now I will search the international press for any mentions of sport psychologist (singular) or sport psychologists (plural) and then paste the link here. First up New Zealand sport psychologist Jason Yuill Proctorin this article published yesterday.
Monday 19th April 2021
Today Dave and I had our last supervision session and meeting for James Kneller’s registrar program. After James submits his paperwork and receives his sport and exercise psychology endorsement we will have a fourth psychologist who can legitimately use the term sport psychologist.
Saturday 17th April 2021
A very exciting day for Condor Performance as the foundations for my new office pod were installed. I will only give a plug to the company creating the eight meter by four meter pod once it’s actually physically in my garden but the local builder and his time Richard Whitehead did a epic job of the footing in a single day.
For those of you who have been reading this sport psychologist journal from the beginning you may recall that I used to work from a service office in Moss Vale. I ended my lease they November partly due to having almost no face-to-face meetings or sessions there and partially because I wanted to save on rent for the new office pod. The idea is very simple. Once completed I will have a two minute commute by foot to the bottom of my property. The pod will essentially be a single spacious office with amenities on legs. It’s designed to be reasonably future proof. In other words once COVID-19 is completely behind us the fact that I am midway between the cities of Canberra and Sydney will allow me to have face-to-face meetings and sessions in a much more professional environment. At the moment I work from a home office inside of my house, opposite my daughters room and all too often I have to ask them to be quiet whilst I’m delivering sessions as a sport psychologist. This is manageable but not ideal in the long term.
Monday 12th April 2021
I took the whole of last week off. Well, almost. One of my clients sent me a WhatsApp desperately asking for a session so I obliged. But apart from that 45 minutes, it was laptop closed for the whole week. It made me reflect on how important it is to schedule downtime. Although one can try hard in the normal working week to find moments of relaxation there is just no substitute for putting the tools down for an extended period of time.
This is especially true for people with my personality. I believe I’ve mentioned previously in this reflective journal that it takes me quite a long time to wind up to work and then quite a long time to wind down again. What this means is that I spend half of my weekends winding down from the previous working week and then gearing up for the next one. In other words, the quality of my downtime during the weekend, despite potentially having no commitments, is often compromised. This is in stark contrast to when I take more than three or four days off. Often it’s the initial 72 hours that are required for me to actually wind down. And then I really start relaxing.
Wednesday 7th April 2021
During a bit of time off, I accidentally watched a few episodes of The Cube. For anyone who has not seen this TV show, the premise is simple. Normal everyday people are put into “a cube” and required to complete a series of tasks. Each pair of contestants receive a set number of lives and each life is used up when an attempt is unsuccessful. The more tasks they complete without burning through their lives the more money they win.
The tasks are all relatively simple in theory. For example, it might be to catch four balls in a row. Or to throw a square into a square tub from behind a wall.
As a sport psychologist, I found it compelling viewing. The most interesting observation is how normal everyday people who have not mentally prepared for these challenges capitulate under the pressure of the cube. You just know that exactly the same tasks if attempted in their backyard with nobody watching and no prize money on the line would be done effortlessly most of the time.
Maybe I should volunteer my services to be the in-house sport psychologist for the contestants of The Cube?
Friday 26th March 2021
Thankfully, I am 90% over my little fever now. Having said that I did spend the entire of this working week below 50% of my best. Yet despite this, I didn’t cancel a single session. As I am only one sport psychologist of a whole team of them now I don’t have dozens of sessions each week but I still have between 3 or 4 most days. Due to my not feeling fantastic this week I basically cancelled all of my other commitments and prioritised the sessions scheduled with my monthly clients. It really was a real-life lesson in feelings not necessarily having to dictate actions. I felt terrible all week. I felt unmotivated to deliver these sessions. However, I still chose to honour these commitments. Now that the working week has finished I’m delighted with this. The more time I spend working as a sport psychologist the more I believe that this fundamental fact is that the very heart of what we now refer to is mental toughness. Thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are separate entities with the latter being the one we really want to concentrate on due to a superior amount of influence compared to the other three.
Sunday 21st March 2021
Out of nowhere, I have picked up a virus. So I have spent the majority of the weekend in bed feeling very sorry for myself. Luckily, Dave is back from a few days of leave tomorrow so between him and Maddy I am not really required on a day to day basis. Speaking of Maddy, she got her provisional registration through on Friday. What does this mean? This means that when we have prepared her adequately she can start working with her own sport and performance clients. As we are only days away from confirming a second provisional psychologist to join us then it’s likely I will try and get them “client-ready together (simultaneously). If all goes according to plan they will both be able to work with their own clients and educate those who enquire about our services by May 2021. This is a good month before we lose Dave to some paternity leave. The fact that there will be two provisional psychologists means that the risk of both “falling over” is very, very low.
Whilst in my sickbed I manage to smash through a book that my kids gave me for Christmas; The Happiest Man On Earth by Eddie Jaku. The book is not that long so even for slow readers such as myself you can easily get through it in a couple of days. I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who have not read it but it’s about an Australian survivor of the Holocaust. It really is a remarkable story and it’s these kinds of books I feel ought to be part of the formal sport psychologist training processes around the world. They would be if I were in charge!
Tuesday 16th March 2021
Interesting. Condor Performance we don’t run a lot of group work. The main reason is that general sport psychology concepts can be very well explained via videos and PDFs. The real “magic” that a sport psychologist does is when the client is undistracted by what others might think about what they reveal. But from time to time we still run the old workshop. And I ran two in three days which reminded me of something.
The first workshop was to a group of a dozen young golfers. It was face to face, or as we now say Same Place. The second was for a similar number but the athletes were cricketers. And this one was via Zoom.
I love technology and what it’s done to help improve psychology services. In fact I was probably one of the very first sport psychologists to start delivering sessions via Skype. Skype was invented in 2003 and I did my first Skype session in 2005.
Having said that there is no doubt that the workshop with the golfers where we were all physically in the same room was superior in every way to the webinar from last night. We are blessed to have a team that is geographically spread out across Australia and New Zealand therefore at least those who want to use us for group work are more likely to have the option. My stance is this. If the same place workshop is possible then try and make that happen first and foremost. Use webcam delivery as a backup. For one on one work, go the other way around.
Friday 12th March 2021
I am very interested in different ways of communicating messages and information. This week I decided to grab a special offer from Doodly Software to allow us to start creating short doodle videos. Some, like the one below, will be for awareness. Others though will likely be used when we start producing the new Metuf content.
Tuesday 10th March 2021
For those of you who follow this ‘sport psychologist working diary blog’ will know I am quite a fan of sports films and documentaries. Invariably the most interesting ones contain a heavy dose of psychological information. And they act as a nice counterbalance to some of the important but less interesting scientific publications that we follow. This week I watched the amazing two-part ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries on Lance Armstrong. Wow, just wow.
One of the reasons it made for such compelling viewing is due to the fact that the interviews take place seven years after everything exploded. In other words, all the interviewees have now had plenty of time to consider their involvement in the famous doping scandal of professional cycling at the beginning of the century. Lance himself is now a middle-aged man – who will turn 50 this year.
As a sport psychologist what I took most from the three hours of footage was a real appreciation for how different athletes can be in terms of what motivates them. Lance mentioned a few times that he would “get his hate on”. By this, I took it to mean that he would intentionally despise some of his opponents in order to make sure that they finished behind him. Traditional sport psychology suggests that we are better off being motivated by positive things. But with all of his doping aside, he clearly was an incredible athlete whose determination to succeed was off the charts. Although his use of performance-enhancing drugs was clearly against the rules the fact that he was motivated by negativity is certainly allowed and I think provides a valuable lesson for sport psychologists who are helping athletes find that extra 1% in endurance events. If it works for them, and it’s allowed (ethical, legal etc) let them do it.
Lance may for some time be regarded as “the poster boy” for the win at all costs mindset. But it would be neglangent not to try and learn vicariously from his facincating story (so far).
Friday 5th March 2021
One of my jobs as the General Manager of Condor Performance is to hire and fire staff. Fortunately over the last years I’ve only had to do the hiring part. In fact I haven’t had to let a sport psychologist or performance psychologist go for quite some time. Until this week. When any of the psychologists who provide services on our behalf reach zero monthly clients we automatically review their position. We look at some very objective data and basically make a decision about whether we think it’s mutually beneficial to continue the professional relationship. On this occasion we decided that it was probably best to thank this psychologist for his or her time, shake hands and say “all the best”.
It’s a real testament to what we have achieved at Condor Performance that this is the first time we’ve had to let a full registered psychologist go since 2015!
Tuesday 2nd March 2021
Yesterday Dave and I spent the whole day with new recruit Madalyn. Spending 6 plus hours explaining the basic of the Condor Performance models is no easy task. It was blatantly obvious during the process is that most of these have to be transferred into a business document with video etc. This is the classic challenge we have at the moment. Trying to find a balance between what is essential at the moment and what will help us in the future. Madalyn is a start. She will spend her first months assisting with admin only. In theory, this will free up Dave to then a) reduce his workload and b) help more with the overall strategy.
Tuesday 23rd February 2021
A massive week of work draws to an end in Wagga Wagga. I feel I got the balance right between getting some major tasks done and spending some time with my mother (now close to 80 years of age). Roughly 10 years ago I did a business course in Sydney. One of the suggestions made by those running it was to create a manual whereby all the details of running the business I contained. The premise is very simple and very logical. Too many of the daily details of running a business are only in the brains of those who started the business. This is fine if that person is around forever but what happens if they’re not. Condor Performance has evolved massively in the last decade and now depends much less on me and never before. However, there are still too many little details which nobody else could do. This week I have re-visited this Master Document, now appallingly out of date, to ensure that if something ever happened to me that Condor Performance, her staff and clients would be as unaffected as possible.
Saturday 20th February 2021
For the first time in a very long time I intervened with one of my clients whilst they were completing. I may write much more on this later on down the track but as a general rule I am not a big believer that a sport psychologist should be too involved before and during competition. The logic is fairly simple. If we are doing our jobs well we will not be required during these times.
The reason why I decided to break this rule was pure coincidence. One of my young golfing clients is playing a tournament in Wagga where I just happen to be at the moment visiting my mother. With the assistance of the golfer’s mother, I was able to drive out to the Wagga Wagga Country Club and watch him/her play the last 4 holes of their first (of two rounds). The great thing about this golf course is that there are plenty of trees allowing for ample opportunity to watch relatively closely without being seen. Of course the area I’m most interested in watching whilst one of my golfers is actually playing a competitive round are their routines. (pre-shot). Upon closer inspection, I noticed this client would take a practice swing after each shot that she/he wasn’t happy with. The issue with this from a psychological point of view is that it makes the pre-shot routine inconsistent. Furthermore, you are telling your playing partners that you are not satisfied and remember your playing partners in stroke play golf are also your competitors. Fortunately, I managed to get an example of this on video which I showed the golfers after the rounds had finished. I asked if they could eliminate it for the second round. He/she did this and went 5 shots better. Now that’s applied sport psychology!
Thursday 18th February 2021
I’m currently in Wagga Wagga spending a few days with my mum. As she is getting on in years it is not unusual when I visit for her to ask me to help her with a few odd jobs. This time round it was to work out a way for her mobile phone to work away from her apartment. I am no expert on smart phones but I certainly know my way around the basic settings. After having played with her settings unsuccessfully it dawned on me that it might just be an issue with her service provider. I asked her how long she’s been with Vodafone and she said from the very beginning. I then asked her why she chose I had a phone over the other service providers and she couldn’t remember. It dawned on me that the only reason that she was still with Vodafone was because “she had always been with them”. Undeserved Loyalty are probably the words that I would use to describe this. It made me reflect on how certain words which we often regard is always been good or not necessarily always good. From a sport / performance psychology point of view loyalty is regarded as always being a positive. But is it? What if the party you’re being loyal to doesn’t deserve your loyalty? A good example of this might be in a team sport. On the one sense we want the players to be united and loyal to the badge on their shirt. But what happens if that team has a poor culture and treats certain members better than others. Is it still a good idea to be loyal to that team?
With the above in mind, my mum decided to switch from Vodafone to Telstra and now her phone works exactly how it supposed to.
Monday 15th February 2021
We have now confirmed the first of the future provisional psychologists they will be joining the Condor Performance team. I will wait until she has officially started in her new role but we are delighted that she is young, she is incredibly enthusiastic and she is based in central Sydney (near Parramatta).
Tomorrow I will head off to mum’s place in Wagga Wagga (NSW) for a full week of what I called Catch Up Work. Catch Up Work refers to all of the collective tasks that are contained within the important but not urgent list. In my role as the founding sport psychologist and General Manager of Condor Performance, there are literally hundreds of these little jobs. So once or twice a year I drive to Wagga and I basically put in a 100-hour working week. For anyone who is reading this who has never done a 100-hour working week, it looks pretty simple. You wake up and do a little bit of exercise then you work the entire day with small breaks for meals and then you go to bed. The following day you repeat. Of course, this is not to be recommended as the normal working routine. I, like most people, work somewhere between 35 and 40 hours a week typically. But this time only allows me to do the important and urgent stuff. The 100 hours of a Catch-Up Work Week allow me to do the rest. And maybe more significantly I get these jobs done without my work leaching into the rest of my obligations (E.g. time with my family) on a continuous basis.
Tuesday 9th February 2021
What a massive weekend for Condor Performance and dare I say sport psychology in Australia. Just over half our team managed to make their way to Sydney for a weekend of discussions. Not bad given Covid etc. David, James, Brian, Krishneel, Harley and myself made it with Mindy, Charlotte, Luke, Chris and Michelle not able to.
We had four 3.5 hour sessions in total. One on ‘general business’, one on ethics and then two on Metuf. Metuf is good but like most things could be better. The way to make it better is by getting the views of psychologists who have between them worked with a huge number of performers. Most of the tweaks we agreed on will show up later this year via new online course available at the sports.Metuf.com site. Until then, well only our monthly clients will get access to these improvements.
Thursday 4th February 2021
This is a really significant time for Condor Performance. First of all this weekend, we have our first get-together for our team of psychologists ever. I’m delighted that six of the 11 will be able to make the two-day meeting in Sydney despite there is still being significant challenges around coronavirus. I’m in the process at the moment of confirming the agenda item but it will be a nice healthy mix of general business and content-heavy professional development.
The next big thing on the Condor Performance agenda at the moment is that we look like we have secured the services of two young provisionally registered psychologists. These two professionals, both women by coincidence, will provide critical administrational and consulting support as three (yes, three) members of our team take some paternity/maternity leave during the middle part of the year. More on them later.
Monday 1st February 2021
I love it when the first day of the month falls on a Monday. It’s a special exciting when it happens on 1 February during a non-leap year as we will get to in a row. March 1st of this year is also on a Monday. Why? I use natural timeframes as key mental tools both in my personal and professional life. Life is chaotic so can be tremendously beneficial to have recurring mental separators. The start and end of the day are very useful ways to not get too caught up by the past not the future. The same can be done for weeks and months. As my clients and colleagues know I often suggest that the seven day week is an ideal organic frame work for considering processes. Whilst months on the other hand are excellent at trying to achieve small performance targets.
Condor Performance stalwart Dave Barracosa and I try to catch up in person at the beginning of each month. During these meetings we essentially spend about an hour looking at the month it’s just been completed. It’s highly driven by statistics and objective measures. We generally leave our opinions outside of the meeting space. In the case of the current meeting, we had an excellent January in terms of statistics. We then spend a little time planning the month ahead. Questions such as where do we want to be 30 days from now? This also only takes about 45 minutes. We don’t spend the rest of the day – roughly 6 hours – on our processes. Most of this discussion time is on existing processes which would potentially be improved regardless of how successful the previous month was. Sometimes we will introduce processes if the previous months have been significantly different compared with what we have been striving for.
Monday 25th January 2021
Although it is not something that we seek out we do occasionally do work which is much more about mental health and performance. This of course is something that we are completely allowed to do as sport psychologists and performance psychologists in Australia we are all registered psychologists with AHPRA. But what I have found recently is just how effective some of the classic sport psychology techniques are on common mental illnesses.
The number of my current clients are poor sleep is so helping them with a pre-sleep routine seems to be really impactful. Another is deeply depressed and is responding well to a much greater focus on her processes compared with her outcomes. This has made me reflect once again about whether the term ‘sport psychology’ is the most useful or not? However, until we agree on another one we might as well agree on the correct way to spell it. Recently I added a Call to Arms to have as many people vote on whether it is sport(s) psychology with or without an S. If you’re yet to cast your vote you can do so here until the end of 2021.
Monday 11th January 2021
Happy New Year everybody. I find the concept of taking a break fascinating. I have essentially taken the better part of five weeks off of work. On paper, this reinvigorates me and allows me to recommence my professional responsibilities with a lot of vim and vigour. But I find the complete opposite. After extended time off I find it particularly difficult to get going again. It’s almost like for me work is similar to physical activity. The longer you leave it between workouts the harder it is to start up again. When I work I get into a rhythm and routine whereby I just seem to be able to get everything done almost without having to think too much. This all comes to a grinding halt when you take five weeks off to go camping around New South Wales with your family. Does anyone else find this?
Monday 14th December 2020
Update from The Road. Although it’s not designed with this in mind my current holiday across New South Wales in a camper trailer is really good mental training. Living where we do the one thing that my family and I have is an unlimited amount of space. Spending five weeks inside what essentially is a small box is quite a mental test. Not much growth comes from staying permanently inside of your comfort zone.
And there are plenty of lessons along the way as well. Yesterday, at a campsite in Adaminaby (Google It) we discovered that we were would not be allowed to use the camp kitchen. One of the main reasons we stay in campgrounds is because the camper trailer is really only for sleeping. By that, I mean having a kitchen and bathroom nearby – especially with young children – feels critical. Having successfully used the camp kitchen once already yesterday we were stopped on the way back by the owner who told us the camp kitchen was only for those staying in cabins. My first reaction was to get aggressive. The unqualified lawyer in me felt like I needed to point out that had we known as we would not have booked into this campsite. However, before opening my mouth my wife beat me to it. She went with the completely opposite approach. “Oh, we completely understand sir. Can we just go up and get our cooking equipment which we left in there yesterday?” she said and asked. Immediately the demeanour of the owner changed from policeman to pal. “Well if you’re quick and you don’t make too much mess then I’m sure you can use it” he whispered.
Once again I feel this is a tremendous lesson for those involved in sport. When you want something do you go in with an aggressive approach that immediately puts the other party on the defensive? Have you ever tried a nice and polite way? If not, maybe it’s a time to give that a go.
Monday 7th December 2020
Something quite remarkable happened recently which I believe is relevant to so many of us nowadays. I’m about to go away on a five-week camper trailer holiday with my family where I’ll only be working on Thursdays. Hence my entries here will mostly stop until January 2021. Anyway, in preparation for this trip, we have for some time been trying to work out how to take out for bikes with us. Due in part to already having a bike rack for the car which goes on the table and partly due to the large space on top of the camper trailer when it’s closed I formed an opinion awhile ago that the only way to transport the bicycles was on top of the camper trailer. Sorry for the last several months I have been looking at ways to secure them to this 3 m x 2 m area. There certainly isn’t a standard way to do it so I’ve been exploring the unorthodox.
With less than a week before departure, I decided to drive to Canberra to one of the countries largest bike stores. On arriving at Pushys immediately asked, “Do you know a way to get four bikes on top of the camper trailer”? The shop attendant said he never heard anybody who had done this before. And then he asked this question “what is on top of the car”? As soon as he asked a question I realised what I had done. Some might call it Vertical Thinking, others might just say it’s jumping to conclusions.
In trying to work out a way to take my car, camper trailer, family and four bikes on holiday I had failed to explore the most obvious option. To put the bikes on top of the car – for which there are many excellent options on the market – and essentially leave the camper trailer empty. I feel there is a really valuable lesson here in anybody preparing for anything. Have you taken time to look at all the different options before you pick one to go with? The biggest barrier to this by far is the lack of time. Or certainly, that is my excuse in this instance. But as the famous Abraham Lincoln quotes read “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Friday 4th December 2020
Email to the team from David today:
Hello all, I hope everyone is enjoying their Fridays and has great plans for the weekend. I wanted to touch base because Condor Performance as an organisation hit an important milestone earlier today. As a collective we have now worked with 1000 Monthly Clients since we began delivering services this way. This is a massive achievement for the whole organisation and shows how far Condor Performance has come to establish itself as a major provider of sport and performance psychology services.
A milestone of this size does not get achieved without a skilled team delivering these services and promoting a positive image of Condor Performance as an organisation. So I want to thank each and every one of you because you all bring so much to the work we do and regardless if you’ve worked with a large or small percentage of these monthly clients your contributions are extremely valued. I am happy to say I work with this collective of amazing psychologists. To further reinforce how significant the team is I wanted to share below a couple of graphs that usually only Gareth and I get to see. The first graph in Green highlights the team batting average which has grown 5.09 this time last year to 5.67 at the beginning of the week. To have this kind of longevity and consistency with your clients during a year defined by a pandemic is amazing and worth a pat on the back for continuing to bring valued services to those individuals you work with. The graph in red highlights the strength in numbers of our team. We are at the point of our highest collective amount of active monthly clients and billable hours. At the beginning of December 2019 we had a total of 89 active monthly clients (110 billable hours) and as of Monday we had 150 active clients (187 billable hours). So again, we thank you all for the work you do with your clients and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve during 2021!
Tuesday 1st December 2020
This morning I drove down to the coast early for a one-day meeting with David. These monthly meetings, which primarily act as a review of the month that has just ended, have become a mainstay of my work at Condor Performance and a key part of our success. One of the main topics for today’s meeting was how we motivate our amazing team of psychologists to give us a greater percentage of their working time. Due mainly to the monthly approach we use to sport psychology consulting delivering services for Condor Performance is a bit harder than most of the psychology jobs. The consequence of this is a lot of psychologists who give us between one and two days a week. This has provided enough opportunities for new clients up until this point but next year and beyond we’re going to need more of the team to increase their availability. The result of this discussion was a comprehensive eight-page document entitled towards 2030.
Tuesday 23rd November 2020
One of my key roles at Condor Performance is to provide official AHPRA supervision. By this, I mean that some members of our team are currently in the process of doing the registrar program towards the sport psychology endorsement. One of them, James Kneller, was lacking a few hours so we decided to put aside the better part of a day to catch up on some one-on-one supervision. Eight hours is a long time to be sitting in a room so I suggested to James that we do a “walk and talk”. So this morning we headed off on a 15 km circuit through Penrose State Forest. At one point due to the recent rains, we came to a section that was flooded so we needed to improvise and build a temporary bridge out of fallen tree branches. I’m sure James thought that it was planned and part of the supervision but it wasn’t. See below the picture to prove it.
Monday 23rd November 2020
Did this quick video interview with Dave from BWA. Thought I’d add it here as both the questions and answers apply beyond hoops:
Thursday 19th November 2020
Recently I wrote a blog post about Perfectionism and have continued to think about it for a few days. In particular in relation to my garden! I am lucky to live on 5 acres of land. Furthermore, I have decided to do all the maintenance myself. So per week I probably spend between 5 and 10 hours on mowing, clipping, weeding, hedging, pruning, digging etc. One reason I do this is that it’s impossible to perfect a garden of this size. I could, for example, spend 50 hours a week just on the weeding and there would still be weeds. I know what you’re thinking, why is a qualified sport psychologist spending so much time gardening? It’s a weekly reminder to focus on the process and let the results/outcomes take care of themselves. The funny thing is that I often get compliments about the state of our garden but I just see the weeds I missed.
Monday 16th November 2020
We have started to see the start of what we call December-itis. Basically, when we get close to the end of the year and suddenly enquiries slow down and existing enquiries start to mention “in the New Year” a lot. Luckily we have had a very strong year and we expect it so we’re prepared. What do they say? Failure to plan is a plan to fail.
Some exciting news. Two of the team are newly pregnant so 2021 will contain some joy and some challenges. Apart from myself, no Condor Performance psychologist has had a child whilst consulting for us. This is where the monthly options can be tricky as the sport psychologist or performance psychologist is basically ‘on call’ for the whole of the month. Luckily human births come with a significant amount of warning time allowing us to offer existing clients the option of transitioning over to another psychologist whilst the new parent is on maternity/paternity leave.
Tuesday 10th November 2020
I am working from the glorious Wagga Wagga (New South Wales) this week. My Mum has an apartment here, so I will put in a massive work week free from the distractions of home from time to time. Maybe considered first world problems but juggling two children under the age of ten, five acres of land that grows as you watch it and the overseeing of all things Condor Performance can be a challenge. A week in Wagga allows me to focus on the latter with the added bonus of popping down to the river for one or two swims a day?
Friday 6th November 2020
This was the week in which the United States voted to remove President Trump after one term. Some of you might not naturally see the link between political elections and competitive sport. But for me as a sport psychologist, it’s obvious. In both industries, it’s all about the win. But it’s also about how you win and how you react when you don’t. What is hard to believe is how President Trump refused to concede defeat. You learn a lot about someone’s character when they don’t finish on top. In fact, I think I will expand on this topic via the next edition of the MTD. Speaking of which all recent editions can be seen via this link.
Thursday 29th October 2020
After every session, all our sport psychologists and performance psychologists send a follow-up email. From time to time I send one I feel would be worth sharing. Below is one such email, with the name of the client removed for obvious reasons:
“This is a brief follow-up from our most recent session. We briefly spoke about the importance of you giving yourself credit for the slight increase in body weight due to following the processes of priority one. Despite the fact that bodyweight is only influenceable it is still a lot more influenceable than many of the statistics that players use to increase confidence. We turned our attention to Priority 2 and spent the majority of the session talking about the Accept and Act concept. This is a very powerful mental skill that is designed to show you that feelings and thoughts are different from actions. In knowing this and practising it on a regular basis you will be able to choose preferred actions irrespective of how you are feeling and thinking. The most obvious action that you can start working on immediately is positive body language (PBL). Please try and test this out in classroom situations and by making a few errors in practice on purpose.
Accept and Act: Accept the thoughts and emotions, choose the best ACTION
See below more on PBL:
Monday 26th October 2020
Such has been the volume of enquiries this year about our sport psychology services we now have a couple of luxuries. First, we can basically ensure that each of our psychologists can work with the number of clients that want to. For some of the team, this is less than ten. For other’s, it’s either full time or on the way to full time. The fact that only a few of the team want more and more clients proves that the consulting we do is hard work and not for everyone. 2021 will be the year of ensuring the existing team want to slowly increase the amount of their working week is with Condor Performance.
On the weekend was both the AFL and NRL grand finals. I watched both. The Melbourne Storm won the latter and it certainly looked like one of the reasons was due to better mental conditioning. Their opponents, the Penrith Panthers, seems overawed by the occasion. So I couldn’t help myself. Just did a search for the word ‘psychologist’ on their official website. Sure enough, nothing.
Monday 12th October 2020
Had to kill a snake on the weekend (it was in my compost). I was very scared before, during and after but accepted these natural emotions and focussed on the action (swinging an axe). You’d be surprised what you can still DO when you’re s***ing yourself.
I decided to stay up and watch the Merseyside Derby on Saturday night. I can’t recall the last time I saw such as a one-sided game in terms of luck. Liverpool appeared to have a whole season’s worth of 50/50 officiating go against them. Their manager – normally one of the most mentally astute coaches – could not contain his frustration after the 2-2 draw. Watch for yourself in the below video of the post-match press conference.
I find it useful to ponder what I would do if I were the club’s sport psychologist in this situation. My instinct would be to remind them that they don’t have much / influence on all of the aspects that went against them. I would remind them that you can and should feel what you feel but that feeling doesn’t mean acting. You can feel furious but still act (like an actor) calm. I feel this would have been more powerful. The world going nuts but the Liverpool players and manager appearing calm.
Tuesday 13th October 2020
Brother Ben pinged me this article overnight. It’s a great article about a great coach but Mr. Klopp is not a registered psychologist.
But it got me thinking about the correct and appropriate use of the term sport psychologist (or performance psychologist or just psychologist). Many people may not be aware that the term is protected. What this means is it is against the law to use it without approval. There are pros and cons to this. The biggest benefit is it allows consumers to know very quickly that their psychologist has had to prove their abilities. This is not the case with unregulated, unprotected titles such as mental skills coach, performance coach etc. The challenge is educating the public about this very notion. We have improved in this regard over the last ten years but there is still huge amounts of “awareness work” to be done.
There are two disadvantages of the protected title ‘sport psychologist’. The first is the stigma of the word psychologist. I have written more about this in the past. The second con is that many of the rules of continued registration are created by psychologists very different from us. By different I mean their work and our work only vaguely overlap. I sometimes liken us to different types of chefs. Yes, a sushi chef and an Italian chef both produce food, but their processes are very different. Getting a sushi chef to create some ravioli from scratch is like asking many traditional psychologists to help athletes and coaches with only their counselling skills at their disposal.
Friday 9th October 2020
Oops, a bit of a break since my last entry. Why? I took a small break around New South Wales with the family. Yet another upside to Covid. We are all being forced to get to know our local areas more. Would I have visited places like Mudgee, Tamworth and Coffs Harbour if it weren’t for The Corona Virus?
My ability to switch off from work is still a work in progress. But I am better than I was. What certainly helps is being in a place different from where you normally work. There really is no substitute to waking up in a place you have never been before.
Back to work now and the main aim of the next few weeks is the latest member of our team settle in. Charlotte is our first non-Australian based sport psychologist having just got back to New Zealand. A former elite water polo player, clinical psychologists and in a time zone better suited to those in the USA – we are super excited to have her on board.
I never intentionally aimed for a team of eleven. But now that we have one I suppose it’s kind of cool given that this is the number of player on each team for some of the world’s most popular sports. Field Hockey, Football (American), Soccer and Cricket all have 11 players each.
Monday 14th September 2020
Dave is away this week so I will be handling all admin and incoming enquiries. Given how much we have grown over the last few years I am slightly nervous about my ability to handle them all. Due to the fact that we make ourselves available via phone for as long as required for those wanting to work with one of our sport psychologists then even 20 to 30 enquiries a week is tricky to manage.
I started watching the new behind the scenes documentary on Spurs last week. From a CPD point of view, it’s gold, pure gold. To be able to see and hear how players interact with each other, coaches and admin staff at that level is priceless. One thing is for sure though, which I suspected anyway, is that the mental side is still not a speciality position at many of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s hard not to imagine how I would go about my work if I were the ‘in-house’ sport psychologist of a Premier League club. For a start, if I were at Tottenham Hotspurs I insist the players stop leaving their stuff lying around the place!
Weds 2nd September 2020
Another month done, another monthly meeting completed. As we try and always do David and I caught up in person yesterday to look back at the month that has just ended and plan for the one that has just started. Here is what the raw numbers look like as of the end of August 2020:
~ We have delivered 4400 months of sport psychology / mental training since moving to the monthly approach to consulting in 2010.
~ Together we have worked with a total of 925 performance clients over the last 10 years. Some of these clients are sporting organisations so although our sport psychologists/performance psychologists might assist a dozen individuals at a certain club or franchise this still only counts as a single client.
~ These 925 clients are 73% from the sporting world with the rest being non-sporting performers. The 675 sporting clients come from a total of 41 sports with golfers and soccer players still being the most common. Almost a quarter (154) of all our sporting clients from the past decade come from these two sports.
Monday 31st August 2020
Plans for my home office starting to come along. This is the bad boy I have in mind. My time working from Moss Vale Working Spaces will likely wrap up this year as the need for face-to-face sessions has gone from low to zero in 2020. The real advantage of working from an office at the bottom of your garden is that I will be able to work in sprints. This is the concept of working with 100% concentration/conviction for about 2 hours and then taking a proper 30 – 45 minute break. I have tried this at Moss Vale and it’s very hard as there is nothing much for me to do during the breaks. At home, I can do some gardening, pop up to the house for a proper meal, play with the kids etc.
Our fantastic admin assistant Emily has had to take a break from work for personal reasons. Initially, I was a touch disappointed. Maybe a little like a team sport athlete who loses a valued teammate due to injury. But then I realised how much stronger and more flexible Condor Performance has become over the last couple of years. In a nutshell, the fact that we have secured the services of such wonderful psychologists has allowed David and me to do less client work. This basically means that between the two of us we can manage the extra admin workload created by Emily’s departure.
Something has been bothering me recently. What is the correct spelling of sport psychologist / psychology? So I did some research. The correct term is actually ‘sport psychologist’ using the non-plural version of the word ‘sport’.
One of the reasons why the term ‘sports psychologist’ (technically incorrect) gets used almost as much as the correct term ‘sport psychologist’ is due to two reasons. First, they sound exactly the same when you say them (try it). Secondly, from a logical point of view if the psychologist works across many sports (as opposed to just one – which most of us do) then it might make more sense to use the plural version of the word sport.
For more on this subject read this very informative blog post by Canadian sport psychologist Kate F. Hays where she correctly points out that the original correct spelling was actually without the s – so sport psychology and a sport psychologist.
Friday 21st August 2020
More quality TV for anyone interested in the mental side of performance, not just if you’re a sport psychologist. The World’s Toughest Race is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Hosted by my doppelgänger Bear Grylls. I binged on all 10 episodes over the last week. It helps to put some of the mental challenges faced by our clients into perspective. These athletes and they really are athletes, are getting tested to their limits. Technically, mentally, physically and tactically to the extreme. The interviews with the teams are packed with mental toughness vernacular. Grit, perseverance, resilience, mental stamina and so much more. I was left wondering how many of the 66 teams might have engaged a sport psychologist or performance psychologist as part of their preparation. My guess, some but not enough.
Tuesday 18th August 2020
Big day, news. The interview that I did with Dan Abrahams a few weeks ago has just been published. Here is Dan’s blurb and below that the actual episode:
I’m excited to release a NEW episode of The Sport Psych Show. This week I speak with sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. Gareth spent his younger days in South Africa and credits this for his love of sport. He then moved to the UK and went on to undertake his psychology undergraduate at the University of Leeds after which he moved to Australia to complete his Masters in sport psychology at the University of Western Sydney. In 2005 Gareth set up Condor Performance, a (now) 10 strong team of Australian sport and performance psychologists. Condor Performance has grown to become the largest independent sport and performance psychology practice in Australia.
We speak about what the future of sport psychology might look like, specifically greater role clarity; stronger regulations in the field; cohesion between coaches and psychologists; the landscape of sport psychology across the world and hopes for the future.
Monday 17th August 2020
I have been thinking a lot recently about how many psychologists might be the ideal number for the Condor Performance team. The fact is, at this rate (of enquires) we could potentially have close to 50 performance and sport psychologists by the end of the decade. But just because we can, does that mean we should?
It reminds me of something from many years ago. Just after I moved to Australia, we took a trip to the Central Coast and arrived after dark on a Friday evening. We had not made dinner plans so as we were driving into The Entrance we spotted what looked like a Steak House. The restaurant was located in a huge otherwise empty lot. We parked and walked in and asked for a table for two. The maître d’ smiled back and told us that they were fully booked. He went on to ask if we wanted to make a booking for not another night but another month!
Before leaving I asked why they didn’t expand. After all, they had plenty of room in the lot in which they were located to triple the seating area. The maître d’, who I suspect was also the owner, replied with a line that I will never forget. He said “because bigger often gets in the way of better my friend”. Some fifteen years later, Condor Performance faces the same dilemma. Never say never but my feeling is that he was correct. I can see how we can maintain (even improve) the quality of our sport psychology services up to a team of about 12, maybe 15. However, beyond this, it would be very hard. The quality of our work might be compromised. And nobody wants that.
Wednesday 5th August 2020
One of the best ways to really learn more about the mental side of sport is through sporting biographies. No, no the ones where they write a book in their twenties just because they are famous. I am talking about in-depth 500+ page books that athletes and coaches write after they have retired. Why is this important? Basically, you will only get the real truth when the writer is not worried about you stealing his or her secrets. I have a growing collection of such books and as my team know I try and lend them out and encourage them to read as many as possible. Some of the best, most insightful reads are those belonging to lesser-known athletes. In due course, I will use this page to not only list them but provide a rating system as well.
But more and more nowadays the information we consume is coming from non-books. Documentaries are getting better and better by the year and last night I stumbled across a cracker. The Fall is the amazing story of the bits you never knew from the 1984 Olympics. More specifically, the women’s 3000 meters where Zola Budd and Mary Decker clashed both literally and figuratively. It’s a great reminder for a sport psychologist or anyone involved in the art and science of human improvement. The importance of seeing the person as well as the athlete. Zola, in particular, was seen as a product. A “thing” that could help others. In 1984 I was 8 years old and living in South Africa. So the name Zola Budd is very familiar to me. But I had no idea about the backstory. All I can recall was that Zola used to run without running shoes! Now that’s mental toughness.
Thursday 30th July 2020
Over the last couple of days, there has been some friction between myself and one of the other psychologists on the team. There are certain company policies that we have at Condor Performance. Most of them are written in a document we call The Players Guide. This guide has evolved over the last ten years as a kind of expectation of behavioural standards. To follow everything to the letter is demanding, but it’s what we expect. At Condor Performance we expect excellence in the work our sport psychologists and performance psychologists are doing. Why? Mainly as they get paid well to help others become excellent.
In the past, I would have handled the non-compliance by our psychologist poorly. By threatening them with their job. This time I accepted it and we developed a plan for this psychologist to still be involved whilst not obsessing about some of the small stuff. This was made possible by the fact that he or she does appear to be doing a great job with their sporting clients. Advice to coaches/leaders: If someone is doing an above-average job of their main work task it makes sense to cut them a little slack in other less important areas.
Tuesday 28th July 2020
At Condor Performance we love a good milestone. We love it when our sporting clients reach certain milestones, especially the ones they were targeting. But we also enjoy and celebrate our own achievements. What could a sport psychologist or performance psychologist possibly celebrate as a consulting milestone? Well here at Condor Performance, plenty as a matter of fact. Most of our milestones are around the number of months that we have delivered as individuals and as a team. And today David reached a milestone that I think may never be surpassed. He started delivering his 2500th month. The below video explains more. Dave, you truly are an inspiration to yourself, your family, your clients and your colleagues. Well done.
Monday 27th July 2020
We spent the weekend with friends. I was reminded about the impact that the Corona Virus has had on jobs and job security. It made me reflect on how well we’ve navigated the pandemic from a business point of view. After all, working with a sport psychologist is not essential. Sure, to some athletes whereby we’re their main coach it might feel like we are, but we’re not. Not in the same way that a nurse is essential, for example. So the fact that we have more monthly clients now than we did in Feburay is a true credit to the Condor Performance business model and those who work for us. Well done team.
Monday 20th July 2020
Today we reached double figures in terms of the number of psychologists we have on our team. For the first time, our potential clients have a choice between ten outstanding psychologists. The latest is especially exciting. Krishneel is fluent in Hindi which opens up endless possibilities in terms of work in India.
We are so proud of the diversity of the Condor Performance team. Our differences are what makes us stronger as a team. It allows our clients many more options compared with if we were all middle-aged white guys. With Krishneel’s run-on debut this week I feel we are only two psychologists short of our Dream Team. It’s a Dream Team that has been building for a decade now. For the final two places, we’ll be looking across the ditch to New Zealand. There are many reasons why we’d like our final two sport psychologists to be Kiwis. But the main one is to do with the fact that in New Zealand any psychologist can call themselves a sport psychologist. I should say that any psychologist who feels capable can use the term sport psychologist legally. Not, of course, the case here in Australia.
Monday 13th July 2020
A bit of a break between this and the last entry due to taking some time off. I will not go into too much detail about how I spent this time due to wanting this journal to be about working reflections. But I will say this. The time off involved a lot of mountain biking.
Back to work now and a massive week of sessions, Luckily, most of my monthly clients kindly agreed to not have any sessions last week. This means a week or two of many more sport psychology consultations than normal. I am very proud of our monthly coaching approach but it does have one limitation. When the psychologists want to take considerable time off.
So even though we might only have two of three sessions during the month we are available to answer their emails, text questions at any time. So if we are totally unavailable for more than a week then technically we’re not providing them what they have paid for. We get around this in a number of ways. First, as there are now ten psychologists consulting then new clients only start working with those who will not be taking leave in the coming few months. Second, we communicate with existing clients well in advance. So they are not expecting sessions or replies to emails/texts during times we are away.
Thursday 2nd July 2020
Just finished an epic two-day meeting with David. David is like no other psychologist/colleague I have even worked with before. In less than ten years he has evolved from a provisionally registered psychologist to the engine room of Condor Performance.
Much of our recent success is down to his effort and excellence. The two-day meeting we just had is basically a review of the last financial year and the plans for the next one. We have managed the challenges of the Corona Virus very well. Now it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. Our mission statement reads:
The long-term objective of Condor Performance is to become and then remain one of the preferred providers of sport psychology, performance psychology and mental toughness services in the world. Both as a consequence and cause of this goal our aim is to create professional ‘nirvana’ for our staff – for them to be very well paid for something they love and are really good at.
Today was my run-on debut on The Sport Psych Show. This is a podcast that I have come to really admire over the last 12 months. Even the episodes that I don’t agree with are valuable. I had the idea to chat with Dan “on air” about what sport psychology might look like in 2050. In fact, this very blog post was a kind of prep for it. And that’s how it turned out. I will not go into too much detail about the conversation as I don’t want to spoil it before you have had a chance to listen. But we did indeed predict what the landscape for a sport psychologist would look like 30 years from now. And we created a new word too. “Hope-o-thesis” is like a hypothesis but with less evidence in which to make the educated guess. When the episode is published I shall add it here as well as a full transcription.
Thursday 25th June 2020
Today Liverpool Football Club won the most prized trophy in English football for the first time in 30 years. I know that as a sport psychologist I am not really supposed to support certain teams. Why not? Well on paper let’s say you support Team X. Then let’s imagine Team Z bring you in as their sport psychologist. Is the fact that you support Team X going to become a conflict of interest? Is it an issue even if you don’t believe it is? With this in mind, I tend to underplay the fact that I support certain sporting teams.
But today I will make an exception. I have supported LFC since I was about 11 or 12 year of age. When I moved to England in 1986 I was asked which team I supported. I didn’t have one so I asked ‘which team is the best? At that time, Liverpool dominated everything. So they become my team. They won the league two more times with me as a new fan in 1988 and 1990. Before this morning, the last time The Reds were crowned English Camps I was 13. I am now 43. The competition was called The Football League First Division. It’s now called The English Premier League. I lived in England, I now live in Australia. Sport was just my passion back in 1990, in 2020 it’s my passion and my vocation. And to add the cherry to the cake. It appears as is Liverpool won the league by putting psychology first. Their manager, although not a qualified sport psychologist, certain carries himself as one.
With my interview tomorrow with Dan Abrahams on my mind I can’t help but ponder if this is a glimpse into the future. The mental aspects of sport and life drive all the other areas.
Monday 22nd June 2020
The Premier League is back! After a 3 month break due to Corona Virus, we get to watch the rest of the season. So this morning I got up at 4 am to watch the Liverpool vs Everton game. A draw, but one more point for the reds. Only 5 more (points) needed now. It’s looking very likely that it might come down to the Manchester City game next week. During the game, the first I have ever seen with no crowd, I reflected on the psychological impact of the crowd. Or in this case, the lack of one.
On paper, the crowd is not something you’d want to be too aware of. Let’s put it this way. If playing in an empty stadium is an issue then maybe your focus is a little too wide during games. In the heat of the sporting battle, most of your attention wants to be narrow and external. Not so narrow that you’re only looking at the ball all the time but narrow enough so you’re not too aware of what’s going on off the pitch.
In other news, I was delighted to hear back from Dan Abrahams over the weekend that I will be joining him on his podcast this Friday. I stumbled across Dan’s The Sport Psych Show during the summer (“Bushfire Summer:). And I have binged on a couple of episodes a week ever since. I think this is a glimpse into how we might learn in the future. There is just no comparison for me between listening to an applied sport psychologist talk about his / her experiences compared with reading a book by a theoretical sport psychologist.
If Dan publishes the conversion I will link it above plus some additional reflections.
Friday 18th June 2020
Sometimes it’s the really simple stuff that makes us enjoy our work. Had this video made from a YouTube clip of a Condor sent to me by a past client. I will now use it as the intro to some of our upcoming social media videos.
Oh, and heard back from Dan Abrahams about a possible date for me to be a guest on his podcast. Yippee!
Wednesday 17th June 2020
Today we completed the paperwork for the first new registar that we are supervising towards the sport psychology endorsement. It was a chance to go through the competencies, some of which I agree with much is just not in line with my values as a sport psychologist. Below I have pasted them and highlighted in green the areas I disagree with (i.e. feel should not be included).
Competencies required for sport and exercise psychology endorsement
Sport and exercise psychologists use their knowledge of psychology to provide services to the community to enhance personal development and wellbeing from participation in sport and exercise.
Consumers of the services of sport and exercise psychologists include:
elite and professional athletes
coaches and sports managers
umpires and referees
personal trainers and exercisers
performance artists including dancers and musicians
community groups, and
individuals and organisations interested in optimal performance.
Specific services of sport andexercise psychologists include:
the assessment of obstacles to optimal performance and design of individual mental skill and concentration strategies
athlete counselling to overcome stress, anxiety and interpersonal conflict
the implementation of team selection and enhancement programs
and specific interventions to manage overtraining, injury rehabilitation and managing work-sport balance, transitions and retirement from elite levels.
In addition to the generic competencies demonstrated by all registered psychologists, sport and exercise psychologists must have the following specialist skills and possess the following specialist capabilities:
Knowledge of the discipline:
a broad understanding of sports administration and the roles of psychologists, including in professional and amateur sports, organisations and committees administering sport, government-supported institutes, commercial sports bodies and clubs, state and local government sports and exercise facilities and initiatives, and the fitness industry
understanding the role of psychological factors in sport and exercise, including mental skill development, concentration and mental preparation, motivation, emotion and cognition science applied to exercise participation and sporting excellence
knowledge of sports medicine and science, including exercise physiology, biomechanics, human kinetics, motor learning and control, nutrition and eating behaviour, and sports injuries
info of evidence-based psychological techniques for assessment including standardised measures, interview methods and video analysis, and
knowledge of evidence-based psychological interventions applied to sport and exercise, including coaching, counselling, and group and team interventions
Ethical, legal and professional matters:
understanding ethical issues in various sport and exercise settings and how to appropriately manage them (for example, issues of working with minors, informed consent, managing confidentiality within teams), and
competence in communicating a sport and exercise psychologist’s ethical obligations to others (for example, coaches, teams, families)
Psychological assessment and measurement:
Competence in the use of survey, interviewing and structured questionnaire methods relevant to the psychology of sport and exercisecompetence in the use of assessments relevant to determining factors sometimes associated with participation in sport and exercise, including:
stress, including anxiety and depression
pain and injury profiles
eating and dietary issues
drug abuse or dependence
interpersonal conflict, and
competence in using multiple methods of evaluating sport and exercise psychology status, including video analysis, psycho-physiology, behavioural assessments, collateral reports, single case designs, group ratings, and measures of mental flow and mental control
individual approaches, including cognitive and behavioural interventions, including mental skills training coaching psychology, including for motivation and goal setting, and counselling, including for stress, interpersonal and lifestyle issues group approaches, including: team building techniques, including facilitating group cohesion, and coaching psychology, including for performance enhancement community approaches, including: education about the psychology of exercise advocacy for health and wellbeing, and social marketing promoting health and wellbeing from exercise and sport
research and evaluation:
Identification of psychological questions that arise from sport and exercise psychology practice and the design of appropriate research strategies communication of research methods and findings to non-psychologists in sports, health and community settings, and the transformation of research and evaluation findings into policy and program development
communication and interpersonal relationships:
Communicating psychological factors relevant to sport and exercise to:
community groups, and
provision of consultancy advice about psychological matters relevant to sport and exercise participation
communicating the obligations of a sport and exercise psychologist in various roles and settings (for example, to umpires, the media and press), and understanding the role of psychologists within the multi-disciplinary administration of sports and exercise, and to be able to demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills, both orally and in writing, within multi- disciplinary teams of coaches, physiotherapists, dieticians, exercise scientists, sports physicians and other health and exercise professionals
Working with people from diverse groups:
the ability to apply knowledge and understanding of how the practice of sport and exercise psychology is influenced by social, historical, professional and cultural contexts. This includes demonstrating the ability to competently and ethically practice with people who differ from the psychologist in ways including, but not limited to: differences in age, race, colour, culture, gender, geography, language, sexual orientation, educational attainment, and socio- economic status and religious-spiritual orientation. This includes sensitivity and knowledge of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Practice across the lifespan:
competence with clients in childhood, adolescence, adulthood and late adulthood, as relevant to the work of a sport and exercise psychologist in the context in which the psychologist is employed.
Monday 15th June 2020
I don’t normally work on the weekends but this past one was an exception. Fellow Australian based sport psychologist Kirsten Peterson organised a free, two-day CPD event. (CPD stands for continued professional development and is a compulsory part of maintaining registration as a psychologist). On Saturday I set up the projector and large screen in my home office and watched interview after interview. Most of the speakers were Australian so although I didn’t know them all personally I had heard about the majority.
At the end of the Sunday, although exhausted, I was pleasantly surprised by what I had listened to. Naturally, I disagreed with a number of the assertions made but I suspect this is both normal and healthy. One of the common points of disagreement was around whether humans can or can’t control their thoughts and emotions. As I explain in the Thoughts section of Metuf Online I am very confident that it’s better to refer to the varying degree of influence. I avoid using the C work all together in my work now.
After the event, I did draft an email to one of the speakers but decided not to send it as it does appear to come down to what your definition of control is. I have always thought of control as being like “ensure” even “guarantee”. So when I say that people can’t control their emotions I am saying we can only influence then, we can’t guarantee them. Furthermore, control and no control are too simple, too black and white. The comeback from some might be that control doesn’t mean guarantee. As can be seen via the various official definitions of the verb to control here it does appear that control can mean influence a lot. So why then does it sound much better in my head to simply use the word influence (none, little, lots, huge amount)?
Maybe control is where influence goes to the dark side. By this I mean maybe it is factually and semantically accurate to say that some people can control their actions for example. But it is in their best intersted to believe this or are they better of believing that they have a huge amount of influence?
I would be glad to hear from a fellow sport psychologist or three on this very topic by using the comments section at the very bottom of this page.
Wednesday 10th June 2020
Two 60 minute supervision sessions with Harley and James today on the same topic. On the weekend there is going to be a free CPD event called “Thriving in Uncertainty: Insights from Elite Performance Psychologist”. The event is free and so due to the CPD requirement of their registrar program, I suggested they both attend despite it taking up the whole weekend. I say despite as I am a huge advocate for the importance of rest so part of me is not thrilled by the fact that they’ll have to sacrifice most of their weekend for this.
Due to the fact that we are now the largest private practice of sport psychologists and performance psychologists in Australia, it feels wrong for us not be to included in these kinds of events. But just like in sports, we do most of our talking on the pitch. Our growth speaks for itself, for the people involved with Condor Performance.
I was tempted to suggest which speakers – half of whom I know – the guys should and should not listen to. In the end, we agreed we’d focus on messages, not the messengers. We’d play the ball, not the man (or woman).
Tuesday 9th June 2020
I made physically exhausted after the long weekend. We had some “sporty” friends come to stay for the whole weekend. So each day we did something active with the kids. One of these was playing a full-length football match on the new pitch that I laid over the summer. I consider myself pretty fit for someone in their mid-40s. But jogging and swimming fitness is totally different from the start-stop requirements of football. I didn’t really notice during the match but this morning I could hardly walk. I desperately need the heated swimming pool in Moss Vale to reopen. The heated water seems to have almost magical benefits on niggles and stiffness. Alas, I suspect that indoor swimming pools will the amongst the last type of facility to reopen after the coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking of the post-Covid-19 era, all our business KPIs are up (better) in May than they were in April. The number of active monthly clients, which peaked in February at just over a hundred and then dropped back to 80 in March today got back to 100 again. We have been accused in the past of over measurement, of been too interested in the stats. But I must say, by measuring the most important aspects of your businesses (processes and outcomes) you remove the guesswork during uncertain times like these. Condor Performance and our collective goals will be largely unaffected by this pandemic. I know this because the numbers tell me so.
Wednesday 3rd June 2020
To say I have a lot of work balls in the air at the moment would be an understatement. Unlike most of the psychologists who work for us, who spend almost all of their time focusing on our sporting clients, I wear many other hats at Condor Performance. It’s only Wednesday and already this week I have had lengthy conversations with accountants, our partners and some potential partners. Both of the latter two had some encouraging signs related to the awareness of Fake Practitioners operating in the sport psychology space. I have always chosen to ignore what some people describe as charlatans. Why? I suppose it boils down to a preference for focusing on the positives of our sport psychologists and performance psychologists instead of being distracted by the “opposition”.
There are some early signs that those who are clearly charging for psychological advice but who have no formal qualification in this area might start getting a tap on the shoulder.
In the evening we continued to watch The Last Dance on Netflix. Documentaries like this one should be compulsory viewing a wannabe sport psychologist. Far too much of my training was theoretical. During the supervision that I currently provide, I am more likely to suggest something like a sports documentary than a textbook. The 10-part documentary series provides an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls‘ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98. The Bulls allowed an NBA Entertainment crew to follow the team around for that entire season, and some of that never-before-seen footage is pure gold.
Tuesday 2nd June 2020
A new month, a whole bunch of new opportunities. I assume I am a little odd when it comes to my relationship with time. By this I mean I use and consider certain timeframes in a way very, very few people do. As my current and past sporting clients will know I have strong views on how best to use (think of) weeks, months and years.
Years are the best timeframe for long term goals. In psychobabble, these are called outcome goals and tend to be the type you might dream about. For example, you might have the aim of winning a certain number of matches in the upcoming season. These types of goals, which more recently I have been calling Preferences, can be useful especially if you’re low on motivation. Weeks are ideal to focus on effort and processes. What can I do this week to improve my sleep? And months are the ideal bridge between the two via some kind of progress checker. For example, you spent 20 hours during May trying to improve your focus. So on 1st June, you do some kind of concentration self-assessment. Handled in the right way, I feel all three of these ought to be essential ingredients in all individuals and teams looking to get the most out of themselves. Often when I am the consulting sport psychologist to pro sporting teams I am mainly making sure everyone is using the above. Then I leave and let them enjoy the fruits (outcomes) of their labour (effort/processes).
Thursday 28th May 2020
One of my favourite things to do during the Aussie winter is go for an ocean swim at the Beverley Whitfield ocean pool in Shellharbour (NSW). Until last week the pool has been closed to the Corona Virus. So I drove down the mountain with extra enthusiasm this morning knowing it was open just in time for winter. The car trip from Moss Vale is just over an hour so ideal to listen to a podcast or two. This morning I enjoyed Dan Abrahams’ conversation with Brendan Cropley via the 90th edition of The Sport Psych show. Wow, too many excellent topics for me to go through here. I was especially pleased to hear them talk about the benefits of a sport psychologist knowing the language of sport. The lads spoke about the pros and cons of having a sound understanding of the sports of your clients. From my point of view it’s 80% pros. It’s better to have it and not need it than want it and not have it.
I got back to Moss Vale at 10 am on the dot and due to my salty morning indulgence felt obliged to work without a break until dark. Normal for most people, but I normally prefer to work in sprints (see entry below). Over the last week, I have been vastly improving the format of the shared Google sheets file I use with all of my clients. I am not sure about how many of the other Condor Performance psychologists use this specific tech but for me it’s essential. The new format has passed the first two tests before I can role it out with all of our sporting clients. Test one is that it feels right to me. Test two is that is ticks many of the boxes suggested by recent research. The final test is to present it to the rest of the team and get their feedback. Only then will it be ready.
Monday 25th May 2020
Another packed Monday. Exactly 12 hours of high concentration, high intensity and highly varied work. Working in sprints really helps. Working in sprints basically involves doing about 2 hours of work and then taking a 30 minutes break between each of these sprints. The premise is simple. Human brains are not designed to focus fully hour after hour after hour. There is a very good reason why very, very few school or university classes are longer than 2 hours.
I also use a rough routine to make sure I have some idea about what I will be doing in each of these blocks. I try and keep my Monday morning blocks free from sessions with my monthly clients. This allows me to go through all their files and reminder myself how best to assist them as individuals. More or less in line with one of my favourite quotes of all time:
If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend eight sharpening my axe.”
I try to spend about 20 minutes at the start of each week “planning” for each of my sporting clients. This might not be possible for some sport psychologists. So, I suppose I am lucky in that due to having the limited number of clients at any one time I can do this.
Also, I spent some of today researching professional bodies (unions) as due to the size of Condor Performance I am noticing a greater need for such a concept. A not-for-profit organisation designed to assist sport psychologists like me with the stuff we can’t do or don’t want to do but that needs to be done nonetheless. Of all the professional bodies the website of The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) looks the most promising so I send them as email – watch this space.
My early evening sessions went well. It’s great to see how much more comfortable clients are at having session via Zoom now. It’s hard not to reflect back to 2008 when we first starting using videoconferencing and it was considered “controversial”. This is one silver lining to the current Corona Virus.
Saturday 23rd May 2020
Sometimes the boundaries between personal and professional get blurred a little. This seems especially true for a sport psychologist. Such was the case this evening when we watched The Dawn Wall documentary. Are you kidding me? For those of you who have not seen it is an unbelievable story of perseverance. Free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.
The movie made me remember a couple of key truths about the work I do as a sport psychologist. First, some people have unbelievable amounts of organic mental toughness. Tommy and Kevin’s motivation and emotional intelligence appeared to be almost natural. A little like the hand-to-eye coordination of some young athletes. Secondly, it’s a reminder that although some athletes and coaches regard their sport as ‘the ultimate mental test’ is rarely is.
With all due respect to my many golfing clients and other golfers who feel like a 2 footer on the 18th to make a playoff is ‘real pressure’, watch The Dawn Wall and let me know if you still believe this. When the margin for error is so low and the consequences are so high (survival, not sliver medals) then it can put a different perspective on things. I am undecided if I will actually suggest to my sporting clients to watch The Dawn Wall or nor. But if I do, I shall be sure to include their feedback here.
Friday 22nd May 2020
I am starting this reflective journal in the middle of a global pandemic. So I thought it might be fitting to kick off with a little advice. Although these suggestions (below) are related to the Corona Virus they could easily be used for other mentally challenging situations. Note these are just instinctive suggestions of a qualified sport psychologist. No attempt has been made to cross-check the tips with the lastest sport psychology scientific literature.
The above is the first very entry of this Sport Psychologist Reflective Journal. Therefore there are no entries older than this one from Friday 22nd May 2020. Just my memories!
Performance psychologists are highly qualified mental coaches who specialise in assisting performers with both their mental health and mental toughness.
For those of you who might have listened to the interview that I did with Dan last year, I am fairly confident that the term performance psychologist will shortly gobble up the term sport psychologist.
In summary, the main reason boils down to the logic of the semantics. I am a sport psychologist and yet at least a third of my consulting is with non-sporting clients. These range from performing artists, politicians all the way through to medical and emergency performers.
Sport is merely one of many kinds of performance. Performance is not a type of sport.
Subcategories of Performance Psychology
To my understanding the umbrella terms performance has no agreed subcategories at this point in time. So below might one way to go about it.
Medical and Emergency
(Am I missing any? Please add any subcategories of performance below and I will consider adding them).
Two Things In Common
My colleagues and I at Condor Performance all have two things in common. First, we are all registered psychologists in the place in which we live and work. Second, we all have a passion to work with and assist a wide range of performers. We literally want to help them perform better through a combination of mental toughness training and assisting them with their mental health and well-being.
Now don’t get me wrong many of these performers are athletes and sports coaches. And most of our psychologists have a love of sport or at least have a very healthy appreciation for many major sports.
But if we were using the professional title that most accurately describes the work we do it would be ‘performance psychologist’. Hence why we’re called Condor Performance and not Condor Sports! Yet despite this, we collectively go by the name performance psychologists and sport psychologists (see our homepage for example).
The first reason is that it’s incredibly hard, at least in Australia, to earn the right to legitimately refer to yourself as a sport psychologist. Within a few months, five of our team will have this right. Therefore despite the fact that it is slightly deceiving in terms of what we actually do those with the right to use it understandably would like to do just that. The other reason boils down to pure marketing. Google searches for the term sport psychologists still outnumber searches for performance psychologists by a factor of three.
In other words, if we were only visible to those actively searching for a performance psychologist we would be a much smaller organisation than we are at the moment.
Let’s Dive Into The Numbers!
The worldwide “peak” for search enquiries for ‘performance psychologist’ was in 2004. In fact, as can be seen by the below graph the 100 searches per day that was taking place around the world in January 2005 has never come close to being beaten. After this outlier month, the number of times that athletes, coaches, students, journalists and bored teenagers typed in the words ‘performance psychologist’ into Google took a sudden nosedive.
What might have caused both the spike and decline? It’s impossible to really know. But I would guess that maybe the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens had something to do with the spike. With such a massive international sporting event all that would have been required was a single story about the impact made by a performance psychologist and “boom”. But as The Games ended and these stories got lost in cyberspace then the normal amount of searches returned.
Interestingly it does appear that an ever so slow recovery is taking place. More encouraging than the sudden increase that took place 15 years ago, this increase is happening steadily.
Slow And Steady Is Better
In the work that my colleagues and I do with athletes and coaches, I am often quick to point out the advantages of slow improvement over sudden gains. Slow improvements always feel more sustainable compared with overnight success. Take, for example, a young golfer trying to lower her handicap. A massive drop in her handicap of 15 to 5 over par in a month might feel like it’s better than the same improvement (in golf, the lower the handicap the better) that takes place over a year but not for me – not for this performance psychologist.
I often use the reality show “The Biggest Loser” as an example when explaining this to my monthly clients. This show, in case you missed it, was above getting overweight contestants to try and lose as much weight as fast as possible with the winner being rewarded with a huge cash prize.
From a psychological point of view, there is a lot wrong with the entire premise of the show but one of the “biggest issues” with “The Biggest Loser” is the speed that the weight loss of all the contestants took place. In many cases, it was commonplace for individuals to drop 20+ kgs in a single week!
Fast Changes Are Often Unsustainable
Changes this fast are unsustainable so they really run the risk of having a negative impact on motivation in the future. For example, without some of the insights about the number of influence people have on various aspects of performance (e.g. body weight – which is a result) from programs such as Metuf then it would be easy for a “Biggest Loser” contestant to become dejected by only losing a kilogram after the show when comparing it with the 5+ kgs they lost a week whilst ‘competing’.
Not too many people know this but shortly after Condor Performance was started in 2005 one of the main service offerings were group workshops for those struggling with their weight run by yours truly. These group interventions took place at the height of “The Biggest Loser” TV shows so even though the attendees were not taking part (thank goodness) I recall there were a lot of questions about “why are they losing weight so fast and I am not”?
The answer I gave to those questions is the same as the one I give to anyone frustrated when their progress is slow and steady.
The Performance Mindset is a free e-book by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance
In early 2019 I wrote the better part of a book without a title. I felt it necessary to get down on paper some of the key mental strategies that we, at Condor Performance, use on a daily basis as a sport and performance psychologists. I’m not sure if I ever intended it to be published or not. So, rather than try and finish it (below is basically the first draft) and take it to publishers I thought I would simply add it here to the blog section of our website. For the time being, I am calling this e-Book The Performance Mindset.
Typo Warning: The majority of the below text was written using voice to text software. Although it has been proofread once it has not been professionally checked and therefore is very likely to contain a litany of typographical errors. These typos will in no way impact on the concepts I’m trying to communicate however they will bother both perfectionists and grammar-police alike.
In the world of competitive sport, the term ‘performance’ is used a lot. In my experience as an Applied Sport Psychologist who has been working at the coalface of elite sport since 2005, it is generally used more in reference to competitions than training.
For example, comments like ‘that was a great performance today’ and ‘I hope I perform well on the weekend’ are much more commonplace than ‘regular mindfulness practice is a key ingredient to the preparation side of performance’ and ‘my training performance has been very consistent for some time now’ for example.
This bias has resulted in some confusion about the true definition of performance. Given the title of this book, is worth addressing this from the very start. Quite simply, performance means ‘an extended period of preparation interspersed by opportunities to execute what has been practised under the pressure of official events’.
Performance Equals …
Performance = Preparation then Competition the Preparation then Competition then Preparation and so on.
So although we could attempt to describe our Preparation and Competition separately it would be difficult and counterproductive to try and label our ‘performance’. Using our definition it would be impossible to know which aspects of performance you were referring to. Furthermore whatever word you decided to use (e.g. good or disappointing) would be far too simple to describe the vast range of variables of either side of performance.
Did you mean that your preparation was great but that you failed to execute under the pressure of the competition? Or was it the other way around? Was the work you did in the lead-up poor but you managed to do well come game day?
With this in mind, the first bit of psychological advice that I am going to give you (first of many) is to mentally separate the preparation side of performance from the competition side.
So, as performance psychologists, we help ‘performers’ improve by addressing both sides of their performance. We help them optimise their preparation directly and depending on what they do this preparation will often go by many other names. Training, rehearsals, practice, rehab, sessions, drills, pre-season, run-throughs, effort, process(es) and workouts are amongst the most used in my experience.
More Than Semantics
We also assist directly with the competition side of performance. Again, this often masquerades as other terms such as matches, rounds, races, trials, bouts, games, tests, events, exams, assessments, heats, contests and fights – for example.
Due to the mostly 1-on-1 nature of what we do, we can easily switch between focusing on the client’s preparation and their competitions making sure never to confuse one with the other. This, despite the fact that they are obviously related to one another. But the cause and effect nature of the relationship is vastly exaggerated by many to their detriment.
In other words, although it would be reasonable to suggest that an extended period of solid preparation can assist with favourable results in a particular sporting contest it would be completely wrong to say (as many do) that the former caused the latter.
What really helps me not to fall into this all-too-common booby trap is to actually avoid using the word performance altogether. Instead, I would advise using Preparation when talking about Preparation and Competition when referring to any and all types of Competition – from heats to rounds.
Regardless of your role within the wonderful world of sport, I would advise you to start doing the same from this point forward.
Mentally Seperate Preparation from Competition
The principal reason (motivation) for separating Preparation from Competition is down to the fact that each benefit from having a different mindset. In fact, so different are these mindsets for the two sides of performance they could almost be regarded as opposites.
We will first delve into the preferred mindset for competitive situations due to the fact that it can be addressed relatively quickly. After this, and for the remainder of this e-book, we’ll focus on helping you create the best possible mindset for preparation – whether it be your own or that of those you coach.
The Ideal Mindset for Competition
The Relaxed Competition Mindset
“I’ve learned over the years that if you start thinking about the race, it stresses you out a little bit. I just try to relax and think about video games, what I’m gonna do after the race, what I’m gonna do just to chill. Stuff like that to relax a little before the race .”
As this e-book is a guide I don’t want to spent too much time on the ‘why’ as I’d rather focus on the ‘what, when and how’. Having said that a bit of context can be beneficial. So there are two ‘why’ questions on the table. Firstly, ‘why’ is the default emotion of most sporting individuals and teams to be anything other than relaxed in the lead up to competitions – either intentionally or by accident? Secondly, why does aiming to be relaxed work so well? What’s the science behind the effectiveness of this counterintuitive mindset?
The answer to the first question could be summed up by something one of my coaching clients (a client who is a high-level rowing coach) repeated back to me during a session via Skype many years ago. She said, “they don’t hand out Olympics medals for great training sessions, do they”? That pretty much sums it up.
Same, Same But Different
Competitive sport is like almost no other human pursuit in terms of how unfairly we judge it. Not only do we easily forgot about the huge amount of effort than went into the preparation for sporting competitions but we tend to zoom in on ‘number of wins’ as being the most meaningful of all performance indicators.
Can you imagine what it would be like to spend thousands of hours preparing for something over four years and the entire world determining your success by your finishing position in an event that lasted a few minutes (or less)? Now imagine that the entire world is watching you during these few minutes despite not even knowing your name before they switched on the television.
Even sports whereby competitive opportunities are more frequent and take hours rather than minutes – for example, professional soccer – tend to default to a ‘pathological obsession over results and outcomes’.
Win At All Cost
‘The Win At All Cost’ attitude is still regarded as a ‘badge of honour’ in many circles. This, despite the fact that most of us saw what that did to Lance Armstrong.
At the time of writing the 2018/19 edition of the English Premier League just came to end with Liverpool Football Club finishing a single point behind the eventual champions Manchester City. Liverpool smashed many of their club records and a number for the competition itself but the fact that their 97 points would have won every single edition of the English Premier League except one is regarded as secondary – even irrelevant – compared to the fact they finished as runners-up.
Can you imagine having the best year of your life by far – professionally – and yet still be considered a failure in some circles due to the fact that you got second place in the annual ‘salesman of the year’ award?
Although I am optimistic that over time the culture of elite sport will improve and the concept of ‘winning is everything’ will slowly be phased out (due in part to books like this) the best short and medium-term approach for those not wanting to get beaten down by the highly results dominated environment they find themselves in is to put all their energy into changing their mindset.
But before that, what about the science behind why prioritising relaxation just before and at certain points during competitions has such a positive impact – sometimes overnight?
The Law of Reverse Effect
The Law of Reverse Effect in non-psychobabble terms means that for most automated motor skills in naturally ‘high stakes situations’ the less we try the easier they become.
Another way to understand The Law of Reverse Effect is to understand and accept that automatic processes – such as kicking a ball, running, catching, throwing, jumping, pulling a trigger – often experience a ‘reverse effect’ whereby “the more you think about them” the worse they end up.
It’s easiest to understand The Law of Reverse Effect via everyday situations. Most people can relate to this if they have been subject to getting a severe case of the giggles. The harder you try not to giggle (maybe due to a warning from the teacher, coach or parent) the harder it is not to giggle. This often results in uncontrollable laugher in situations where it’s obvious that this is not acceptable behaviour. The Law of Reverse Effect would suggest the most effective remedy would be to just relax and cease trying not to giggle so much!
How many learner drivers have failed their driving test(s) not because they couldn’t drive but because they were stressed to the eyeballs before and during their test(s)? What about the fact that the harder you try to fall asleep the harder it becomes!
The reason why The Law of Reverse Effect is particularly relevant to sport and therefore warrants such prominence here is due to the high motor skill nature of sports. The amount of human movement a professional baseballer will do, say compared with a professional politician, can’t be ignored.
As human movements become more natural (mainly due to repetition but genetics plays its part) they move from the very conscious part of the brain (the frontal lobe – above your eyes) to a subconscious area called the Basal Ganglia – which is located more towards the middle of the brain closer to the top of the brain stem. When this starts to happen the movements are becoming automated which is where the term ‘muscle memory’ comes from. Due to the fact that we can learn to do pretty much any complex set of movements on ‘autopilot’, it feels like the muscles involved in that set of movements have actually remembered how to perform the task. In fact, it’s the Basal Ganglia that’s doing all the work.
This is why a chicken will run around for few a minutes after having its head chopped off. The Basal Ganglia of a chicken is found below the neckline and therefore will often remain in place and functioning after decapitation. Running for the chicken has become an automatic process and therefore it’s able to do so even after its head has been removed – albeit only for a few minutes until it dies from loss of blood.
Fine Motor Skills More Impacted By Stress
If the motor skills are fine or complex in nature then they are even more vulnerable to stress. By fine we mean smaller movements such as throwing a dart or spinning a cricket ball with just our fingers. By complex we mean anything that is very different from what we learn to do by just being a human being. For example, running would be regarded as a simple motor skill due to the fact that most of us do this a lot as children. On the other hand, all the technical requirements of golf – such as attempting a bunker shot without allowing the club to touch the sand before the swing – would be seen in most circles as unnatural and therefore complex.
Finally, the gains of the Relaxed Competition Mindset are related to how competent the athlete is. This makes complete sense. For a novice (beginner) rower taking part in his / her first few regattas a certain amount of mental reminding might be helpful. But as the athlete becomes more and more proficient (as displayed in training) and the “autopilot” takes over thinking about the skill is no longer required or desirable.
Despite the fact that possibly the most successful individual athlete of the last 20 years – Usain Bolt – religiously adopted a Relaxed Competition Mindset – there is still very little published evidence related to the effectiveness of this method.
Luckily, not all scientific data is published in peer-reviewed journal articles. My colleagues and I at Condor Performance have been encouraging athletes and sporting coaches to adopt this philosophy for over ten years now and the feedback has ranged from small effect to “game-changer” with the occasional ‘magic bullet’. These are real athletes and coaches paying real money looking for real mental improvements and I am still waiting for the day that one of them says to me “sorry, I was far too relaxed before then competition”.
But not everyone that I mentioned The Relaxed Competition Mindset to ‘got it’ straight away. Athletes and coaches from high decision making sports often pointed out that despite Usain Bolt’s achievements his chosen sport of sprinting is very light in decision making. Is the Relaxed Competition Mindset just as applicable for high decision making sports – such as cricket, tennis and most of the traditional team sports?
The Answer Is Yes
Yes, because guess where decision making ends up after it’s been rehearsed a few hundred times? That’s right – the basal ganglia. This is why a squash player can often make excellent split-second decisions – such as to play a drop shot. As you will find out later in this guide when we put the spotlight on tactics a combination of simplifying our decisions (reducing the number of choices) and rehearsing them will allow decision making to become just as automatic as running is for a headless chicken.
Another hesitation to mimic Usain Bolt’s pre-race preferences often come from the concern that the actions of a Relaxed Competition Mindset might often look – to the untrained eye – like a lack of interest or professionalism or desire to do well. One only needs to look at the antics of Mr Bolt in the moments before some of this biggest races to empathise with this concern. Moments prior to the 100m final of the 2012 Olympic Games he gives one of the officials a fist pump.
Looking relaxed and being relaxed are not one and the same of course. What this means is it’s entirely possible for you to develop a Relaxed Competition Mindset without anyone suspecting you’ve changed a thing. Which brings is nicely to the final part of this chapter – how to create one.
How To Develop An RCM
By far the most effective way to actually have a Relaxed Competition Mindset whilst competing is simply to strive for one. If I were your coach I’d basically be asking you to set that (trying to relax) as the main aim of your completive situations. Furthermore, striving (or aiming) to be relaxed is far more important than actually being relaxed.
Being relaxed is an outcome (result) and therefore not something we can guarantee. However, having the intention of being calm and having that as one of the ‘main aims’ of high-pressure assessment situations is something we have a lot of influence over. This frees us from the awkward situation where we know that being relaxed is important but we just can’t get anywhere close to feeling that way.
I have been lucky enough to be involved with a number of elite athletes who have shown remarkable gains by striving to be relaxed but only every showing small reductions in the actual amount of stress experienced in the lead up to competitions.
The Ideal Mindset for Preparation
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of true preparation we need to understand what this practice time is designed to do. To do this I will introduce you to an analogy that is very dear to my heart. Why? Well, in part because I came up with it and in part because I use it with 100% of my sporting clients.
The analogy is that you are like a four-engined aircraft with five major “components”. Four of these components are the four engines themselves with the other component being ‘the rest of the aeroplane’ or ‘main body and wings’.
The four engines represent what could be described as the traditional desirables of sports science; physical, technical, mental and tactical superiority. The rest of the aeroplane symbolises everything else that could be targeted for either improvement or maintenance in order to either directly or indirectly assist with our dreams and goals.
We could call these five major components Physical Capabilities, Technical Consistency, Mental Toughness, Tactical Wisdom and Personal Thriving.
Not only does this analogy include Personal Thriving as a key part of trying to be ‘optimal’ but it actually suggests that it might be the most important major component of all. In other words, there is not a lot of point in having four tip-top engines attached to an aircraft that is falling apart. It would make complete sense that if this were the case then the main body, wings and tail of the aircraft would get prioritised for improvement first. Although this may seem obvious in the aeronautical industry it certainly isn’t in competitive sport and other performance industries.
Secondly, the professionals who typically look after and maintain fleets of aeroplanes are aeronautical engineers. I believe we could learn a lot about the way in which they go about their work. Actual aeronautical engineers have a mindset (due mainly to their training) that prevention is much better than trying to fix something after it has failed. In other words, they don’t sit around the hanger eating doughnuts waiting for one of the keys parts of their aeroplanes to blow up before trying to improve them.
They are constantly checking all aspects of all of the aeroplanes they’re responsible for. Put this ‘aeronautical engineer mindset’ into the head of a young athlete then instead of waiting for an injury to happen, they start to include stretching in their weekly routines as a regular preventative measure.
Put this ‘aeronautical engineer mindset’ into a Head Coach then she quickly works out that it’s better not to assume that everything is fine, Instead go and measure it in some way. Furthermore, she understands that she is her own aeroplane and every single one of her athletes is their own plane too.
Finally, this analogy allows us to more easily see how “outcomes” (components and subcomponents) and “processes” (methods and tools) work together and why focusing more on the latter than the former is a ‘no brainer’.
Now each of the five major components has a number of subcomponents that we could target for either improvement or maintenance. Of course, we could also choose not to target them.
For example, using Physical Capabilities as a quick example we might choose to target cardiovascular fitness for improvement, flexibility for maintenance and muscle strength might remain un-targeted for the time being.
Then, each of the subcomponents will have a set of “methods” that would be handy for just these purposes. Some of these methods will require some tools, whilst others will not. Some methods will have a definite impact on the associated subcomponent whilst others will only have a probable benefit. Then there are methods that do nothing for the subcomponent and even some that actually cause damage.
For example, if targeting cardiovascular fitness then two of the methods might be skipping and running whereby the skipping need a tool (skipping rope) and running don’t (you don’t need running shoes to run). Both have an obvious and direct impact on cardio fitness.
In other words, your plane has 5 major components, dozens of subcomponents and potentially hundreds of method and tools for ensuring your vessel is in the best possible condition and can fly as far as possible.
Pomfret’s Paradox and Barracosa’s Law
Pomfret’s Paradox refers to the fact that there is an unlimited number of ways to prepare but a finite amount of time to do so. With the analogy of the plane in mind by the time you have come up with all the many methods that can be used across the subcomponents, there will be far too many to squeeze into your week.
In my work as a sport psychologist, I work with many athletes of sports that can’t be done as a source of income. For example, most of the Olympic sports such as rowing and shooting. Many of these athletes have full-time jobs and families. Therefore the amount of preparation time they get during the week can be limited. Yet not once have I ever asked one of these clients to increase their preparation time. In fact, I’m more likely to suggest they decrease their overall training time.
This is due to Barracosa’s Law, sometimes called the Q10 x Q10 Principle.
Barracosa’s Law refers to the fact that the quantity and quality of preparation are separate concepts. It translates into a crucial mental skill as it allows the performer to mentally separate the amount of training from the effectiveness. All too often in high-performance situations, improvements are sought by trying to increase quantity whilst either ignoring or actually decreasing quality.
The first Q is for the quantity of preparation. Quantity is measured in units with the most common in sporting settings being minutes, hours, reps (repetitions), millimetres, grams and attempts. The ideal amount of quantity is somewhere in the middle with too many (much) and too few to be avoided.
Not for the last time, I will use examples away from sport to get my point across. In dental hygiene, for example, brushing one’s teeth once a week would be a Q1 (too infrequent), brushing them 10 times a day would be a Q3 (too often) but brushing them twice a day would be Q10 (also known as the sweet spot). In other words, a low quantity score occurs when either we are overdoing or undergoing it.
The second Q represents the other major element to preparation and that’s quality. Quality is very different from quantity due to the fact that it’s not possible to have something that is too high in quality. So for quality, a high score of 7, 8, 9 or 10 suggests really beneficial actions are taking place whereas below 4 implies what is being done during that time is not that effective.
Knowing the best way to brush your teeth and having access to the best possible toothbrush and toothpaste would be a 10. Inferior brushing techniques and poor quality toothpaste would lower this number even if the brushing was still taking place twice a day.
Another analogy to explain how quality and quantity really work is to think of water. There is not much to celebrate if you access to unlimited water but that water is contaminated. Likewise, although having access to the pristine waters of the New Zealand mountains might be nice it wouldn’t mean much if you only had a couple of litres that you brought down yourself from a hike you did years back.
So the aim of preparation (all kinds) is to try and help all of the areas that we are working towards a score of 100 (10 x 10). To ensure we’re doing the right amounts of the highest possible practice across all the areas that are important to us.
An extension of Barracosa’s Law is to actually do the maths. If you feel this would be of some benefit to you or your athletes. For example, if your current physical regime means that you attend a 90-minute hot yoga class once a month you might decide that in terms of quality this is a 9 / 10 activity. However, as you’d prefer to do it weekly then you give it a 4 / 10 for quantity. As 4 x 9 is 36 then you might like to think of you current physical choices are operating at 36% or 36 out of a possible 100.
It makes a lot more sense (to me at least) that we multiple the Qs instead of adding them together – to create a maximum of 100 instead of 20. The reason being is that although it’s useful to be able to mentally separate the quantity of quality of our preparation the fact is that whilst you’re actually doing that 10 minutes HIT activity the two sides are working together with more of a multiplication effect.
If you are not sure if doing the actual maths is going to help or hinder you then I would suggest giving it a go first and deciding later. They are just numbers after all – they can’t really hurt you.
Time To Get To Work
I will be spending the rest of this e-book going through each of the five major components. In doing so I will try clarify what the subcomponents are and the various method and tools that exist for each. The order I will be going through is as follows:
PC, TC, PT, MT and TW
I want to start with PC (Physical Capabilities) because it’s the most tangible of the components. Therefore it will be the ideal place to set the tone for how we then approach some of the less tangible ones later on.
I am mindful as I write this section that I am not a qualified expert in three of the five components (physical, technical and tactical). So I need to be somewhat careful about how much advice I give compared with Mental Toughness and Personal Thriving which fit completely with my formal credentials and experience as a performance psychologist.
But here is my justification for not entirely skipping over these three components entirely. Everything that humans do is partially psychological in nature.
Although I am not a qualified dentist I would happily take on any qualified dental expert in getting – for example – people to floss more often due to my knowledge of motivation and what is required to form genuine habits. Although I am not a qualified physiotherapist my knowledge and experience around the mental impacts and solutions to injuries (physical setbacks) allows me to confidentially and without apologies contribute to the Physical Preparation of athletes. You get the picture.
Physical Capabilities Being Targeted By Physical Preparation
For each part of the Preparation Plane there will be a number of subcomponents that could be targeted for either improvement or maintenance. For each of these there will be potentially millions of methods that help us do just that. To help us not get overwhelmed by the almost endless number of methods and tools for each of the subcomponents then we can – and will – stick to mostly the methods that we know definitely work.
When applied to the first engine of the Preparation Plane – Physical Capabilities Being Targeted By Physical Activities – it might look something like this:
Physical Activities >> Subcomponents vv
Increasing Heart Rate on purpose via HM
Stretching on purpose
Resisting on purpose
Balancing on purpose
By zooming in only on the “definitely” above we can quite easily start to create some lists of specific method and tools that will more than likely improve or maintain each of the four subcomponents of Physical Capabilities if they are done regularly and on purpose.
Increasing Heart Rate on purpose via HM
Stretching on purpose
Resisting on purpose
Resisting on purpose
You’ll notice that the word ‘on purpose’ appears alongside each of the Physical Preparation subcomponents. This is important. Intentionality (being deliberate or purposive) is one of the easiest ways to boost the effectiveness of the any activity (more sophisticated way to follow).
It is particularly important for the ‘increasing Heart Rate’ subcomponent as there are many occasions where one’s HR will increase that we would not want to count towards as physical preparation – such as when we get nervous or consume too much caffeine.
Have we left out anything?
Well I invite the exercise physiologists reading this book to contact me if they think I have but I am quietly confident that the four subcomponents above cover most if it.
Let’s put it to the test.
What about speed?
The kind that might help you run 100 meters as fast as possible. Correct me if I am wrong but all four physical preparation subcomponents will help you become faster at sprinting. The precise way in which they are combined may well be difference for a middle distance runner, long distance runner or sprinter but that can be addressed via the amount of time you spend on each one. Again, I am no expert here but I am guessing a sprinter will want to spend a lot more time on upper body muscle development that his Marathon running counterpart.
What about injuries?
Surely the kinds of exercises that a physiotherapist might ask us to do are vastly different from these four simple subcomponents? I spend a lot of time with injured athletes and their rehabilitation programs tend to always be made up of lots of stretching, weights, cardio and balancing activities simply adapted to gently improve the physical condition in a way that doesn’t risk further injury.
In other words the subcomponents are identical for injured and uninjured athletes – what might be different are the methods and the tools.
In fact, you could argue that terms such as ‘injury’ are unhelpful as they direct the mind towards the problem rather than the solution. With the exception of unexpected career ending injuries the ideal mindset for injuries athletes is simply to adjust their physical preparation accordingly.
For example, before a ligament injury in the knee (such as an anterior cruciate ligament or ‘ACL’) a squash player might have been doing 2 x 30 minute of “shuttle runs” per week. After the ACL and with some advice from a qualified physiotherapist, she changes this to 2 x 30 minute of “shuttle walks” instead. The quantity has remained the same and the quality is also still very high as it refers more of a ‘best possible’ way of thinking as opposed to a ‘best ever’ one. More about quality and quantity later – what about the rest of the Preparation Plane.
Technical Consistency Being Targeted By Technical Preparation
The technical aspects of sport are all about biomechanics or the science related to preferred body movements, positions and postures. And although this engine is by far the most sports-specific – meaning that the subcomponents will vary the most between sports (and even different positions within the same sport) – there are still some general rules that we can follow.
First and foremost we need to acknowledge that making technical changes will be disruptive to our ability to then automatically repeat the new version of the technique. Bigger and more frequent changes will be particularly destabilising.
This presents us with yet another conundrum. How we safely navigate the highly technical nature of sport where, for example, some codes refer to the guy in charge of everything as the Technical Director?
The answer is that we need to separate the two sides of Technical Preparation into the “adjustment” part and the “consolidation” part. Both count as Technical Preparation but – like stretching and running – they have very different purposes.
Time spent on technical adjustments will generally centre around “working out what the best technique” is. This can be done with a coach or without one. Think about those golf magazines articles full of photos with lines all over them. It would be normal for this time to have a lot of second-guessing, experimenting, tinkering and backflipping.
In tennis, this might be seeing what it feels like for your default backhand to become two-handed rather the one-handed (or vice versa). In ice hockey, this could include varying the distance between your hands on the stick as you attempt a slap shot.
Time spent on technical consolidation is the pure unadulterated repetition of the movements that have now been “locked away” after whatever time on adjustments was required.
The amount of time that you dedicate to each of the two types of technical consistency will depend mostly on your current abilities and how soon your next competition is.
Let me explain …
For novice (beginner) athletes you’d expect a healthy dose of tinkering as they become comfortable with the basic techniques of their new sport. As the athletes improve the number of technical adjustments should decline to the point where it would want to be virtually absent from the weekly training of an elite performer.
The opposite, of course, would apply for technical consolidation whereby you’d expect elite athletes to spend far more time trying to commit their movements to muscle memory compared with a beginner.
I for one believe that far too much time is typically spent on both these sides of technical preparation. Remember, it’s only one of the four engines.
Time spent on technical adjustments should take place as far from competitions as possible. A month before is much better than a week before but not as good as four months before.
If, like most athletes, you have an “off-season” then do all of your technical adjustings in one big go during the early part of your offseason. Then don’t even think about trying to squeeze in any more technical changes before the next offseason – 12 months later.
This hard and fast rule can be relaxed somewhat for novice and younger athletes but the same principles apply to everyone. Change (if you must), consolidate, consolidate, consolidate and then compete. For a younger athlete this might mean the change happens on Monday (after feedback from the coach), this new technique is practised on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after the game on Saturday. In other words no technical changes after Monday.
They can then spend the rest of their time on the only activity that counts as Technical Preparation – which is the repetition of these “locked-in” body positions/movements until they feel as natural as possible.
Before moving on to the next Component it is important to spend a little time addressing the notion of the perfect technique.
Biomechanists look away now. There is no such thing. The perfect technique is a bit like the Loch Ness Monster. It’s a myth. Just because people talk about it and you can buy mugs with a picture of “it” on doesn’t make it real.
Entire sporting careers have been squandered by athletes chasing a perfect technique when little did they know that the way they were doing it’ when they there thirteen was probably fine but just lacked a bunch of repetition.
The world of elite sports is full of examples of high achieving athletes whose techniques are or were regarded as suspect or at least unconventional.
Jim Furyk is a US golfer with 26 tour victories to his name and at the time of writing has won more than USD $70 million in prize money. Yet, he has achieved this with a swing that if you asked a 10-year-old beginner to do it on a Saturday morning golf clinic would likely get the swing coach into a frenzy. His swing has what could be described as a loop when the club is at the top of the backswing. This has been described by David Feherty as “an octopus falling out of a tree” and by Gary McCord as “a one-armed golfer using an axe to kill a snake in a telephone booth.”
How many PGA tour events have you won David and Gary?
Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson are also great examples of athletes who achieved greatness with techniques that were heavily criticised – before they started to win stuff. Bolt sprinted with an “uneven side” and Johnson hardly moved is arms – both counter to what the text books say.
Technical Practice and The Q10 x Q10 Principle
Remember that Barracosa’s Law, above, applies to all forms of preparation. It strongly encourages us to question the quality of all of our practice. What this basically means is that on occasions the best way to ensure the maximum possible quality of our technical practice is to know what type of technical practice is required at this time. Are you changing something just for the sake of it or are you sure this technical change is required? Are you repeating a new movement due to having recently changed it or are you just going through the motions because it feels good?
One thing is for sure though unless you are a beginner athlete you probably need less quantity of technical practice than you are currently undertaking.
Tactical Wisdom being targeted by Tactical Preparation
Ok, so we have done the below the neck stuff – it’s now time to move to the components where the brain is really in charge.
As was the case with technical preparation, the precise nature of your tactical preparation is really going to depend on your particular sport (or sports) as well as your designated role (or roles). But as was the case with both technical and physical previously there are still some universal guidelines that could be outlined that apply to 100% of athletes and coaches.
But before we do that let’s really clarify what we mean by the tactical side of sport. In my experience, it’s very frequently misunderstood and confused with other areas.
Being ‘tactically wise’ means that the athlete consistently makes the best possible decision given the circumstances whilst competing. In order words Tactical Preparation is all about various training exercises aimed at helping athletes make better ‘in competition’ decisions and choices. What this means is that we can exclude other types of decisions from this particular engine of the Preparation Plane. Such as the decision to specialise as a defender or midfielder or the choice about whether to stay for another drink or head home now.
Don’t get me wrong, these are also decisions and of course they all impact on performance they just belong to a different part of the plane.
Introducing Hick’s Law
Hick’s Law – named after British psychologist William Hick – proved that both decision-making speed and accuracy were most related to the number of possible options to choose from. In other words, increase the number of perceived options for a person to choose and watch how the decision making time and number of poor selections increases.
Decreasing the number of items available to choose from in “the buffet” of the brain is one of the most effective ways to improve both decisions making speed (far more important in some sports, say squash, than others such as golf) and decision making accuracy (actually picking the right option).
And it not the actual number of choices that matters it’s the number of perceived choices. In other words, it’s the number of options that the decision-maker is aware of rather than the total that exists. From a psychology of performance point of view, this is a very bid deal.
Of course, once the number of perceived choices across a range of situations has been reduced then decision-making practice drills need to be introduced that genuinely expose the athletes to actually having to make these decisions in a way that would be similar – or harder – than during competition.
In many ways, this is exactly the same scenario that we faced for technical preparation. The process of deciding ahead of time the smaller workable number of choices is much like Technical Adjustment in that this wants to be done infrequently and ideally during the offseason. We could call the tactical equivalent ‘tactical clarification’.
The decision making drills that occur after this and could (should) by part of weekly training at any time of year might be called Tactical Automation – a process that is very similar in it’s intent to Technical Consolidation.
If we interpret Hick’s Law to the extreme then the aim would be to simply reduce the number of decision making options to as few as possible with ‘two’ being the ideal, three being not quite as good but better than four etc.
To make sure you’re following you might like to take a minute to consider why the smallest number of decision making options is two and not one or zero.
Did you get it?
Any action which only has a single option (for example, using a putter when your ball is on the putting green) doesn’t need to be practiced from a decision making point of view.
Whilst we are alive then it’s not possible for an action to have less than one option. In other words zero decision making possibilities is really someone that belongs to the forth dimension.
It may often feel like no decisions are being made – and it’s the job of tactical automation to make you feel that way – but unless you’re one of those chickens that has had its head chopped off – there is a decision making aspect to everything we do.
One of the aims of this guide is to help you manage this unavoidable truth.
If Blank Then Blank Scenarios
First, we need to see if we can predict some of your competitive decision-making scenarios. Then, can we minimise the number of choice options to three of four without running the risk of knowing what is going on around us?
As mentioned before the decision-making requirements can vary a lot not only from sport to sport (sprinting low to gridiron high) but also within each sports depending on your role (quarterback very high, everyone else lower).
I have always found that creating simple If Blank Then Blank Scenarios the best way to go about Tactical Clarification. This is one of the ways of clarifying some of the most intense decision making situations imaginable (for example, those that would exist in the emergency department of a hospital) so let’s assume it’s sufficient for our purposes.
I have resisted the temptation thus far to use certain sports in detail to explain various concepts but this part of the guide would really suffer without some.
If my opponent is at the net and in the middle then go for a lob shot rather than a passing shot …
If the wind is assisting my serve then use more slices serves …
If we lose the ball in our attacking half then one forward drops back to defend …
If we are leading on the scoreboard with 10 minutes to play then midfield just tried to keep hold of the ball …
Once these scenarios have been clarified then of course it’s time to really learn them. I would suggest starting by learning them theoretically. Get your friend to ask you ‘what would you do if lost the ball in your attacking half’ for example? Afterwards, you can then move to a more applied type of tactical practice. By this, I mean to practice “on-field” situations that have been manipulated to force you to have to make the very decisions you have previously clarified. If you get them wrong in practice, keeping trying until you don’t.
Part Seven (Just Added)
Mental Toughness, Health and Wellbeing
Okay, we are now getting to the part that we really know a lot about. There are now two parts of the plane remaining; sporting/performance mental toughness and overall health and wellbeing. Mental Toughness is the fourth and final of the engines. In this way, we would benefit from treating it like the previous three. For these, in case you’d benefit from a quick reminder, the engine itself needs to be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then, each of these mini-outcomes could have a series of processes aimed at their improvement or maintenance.
This suggests that that very first task here is to break down mental toughness for sport / performance into smaller chunks.
My colleagues and I at Condor Performance did this many years ago. We looked at all the dozens of definitions of mental toughness that were available at the time both from and outside of the science. But few attempted to subcategorise the concept. Yet, by looking at the many definitions you can quickly see what these subcomponents are.
And So Metuf Was Born
Metuf is the word created by taking the first letter of what we consider “The Big Five” subcomponents of sporting/performance mental toughness:
M for Motivation
E for Emotions
T for Thoughts
U for Unity
F for Focus
I expected, over the years to have to add one or two new subcomponents but this had never been required. For example, most of the other mental desirables are either synonyms of one of these five are a combination of them. For example, although some might say that attention and concentration are different from focus we’d disagree. Each of these is clearly about the ability (or lack of) to stay on task. Performing under pressure is another classic. Performing under pressure is basically what occurs when you’re good enough at the E and the F parts. When you can manage your emotions and focus regardless of both internal and external distractions then you’ll be able to execute your skills under pressure.
Regardless of whether you agree or not with the Metuf breakdown, the concept of subcategorisation is crucial for the next stage. The stage that very, very few athletes, coaches and performers get to. What are the best processes for improving these five mental constructs? For example, if you asked a group of 10-year-olds to draw up a list of ways of improving mental toughness you’d likely get very few ideas. But ask the same group to come up with ways to help them bond as a group, to improve their group unity and you’ll get dozens of great ideas.
This ebook/blog is not the best place for us to list the hundreds of processes that my colleagues and I use on a daily basis. Although now a little out of date one of the best places to learn about these processes is via the Metuf for Sports website we created just for this purpose. At Metuf for Sports, you’ll be able to watch the introductory videos for free. Then, for the cost comparable to a book you’ll be able to complete the entire course whereby the video formats does justice to these concepts in a way that the written word would struggle.
Finally, Mental Health
Yes, it would remise of me not to finish this ebook with some comments about “the rest of the plane”.
Maybe one of the best places to end is where we began, by emphasising the importance of separating processes from outcomes. Mental health, regardless of how you choose to define it is an outcome. It’s a result and it’s a consequence. In fact, all health measures, both mental and physical, are outcomes.
It is the opinion of this psychologist that we spend far too much time thinking about outcomes in general. And that this is particularly troublesome when it comes to physical and mental health.
The two biggest reasons why an over-emphasis on outcomes is problematic is due to the fact that we don’t have that much influence over them (think genetics) and it distracts us from the processes that we would benefit from making permanent.
The health industry is very keen on diagnoses. They love to come up with labels. They then use these labels to work backwards and attempt interventions or a series of interventions (aka processes). This by self is quite logical as surely somebody with bipolar will benefit from different processes compared with someone without it however once the diagnosis has been “fixed” all too often the processes then get abandoned. Then the problem (diagnoses) often returns and around and around we go.
Extreme Process Mindset
What if we took an Extreme Process Mindset and applied it to mental health and well-being. What would that look like? Well in the first instance we wouldn’t bother with diagnoses and labels. We would ask ourselves the question of what collections of processes would have the greatest impact on mental health with the least side effects.
My colleagues and I Condor Performance recently spent the better part of two days trying to answer this very question. In doing so we came up with some smaller health outcomes that make it considerably easier to suggest processes. Through a combination of both luck and a bit of ingenuity, these smaller health outcomes spell the word NEEEEDS (yes, that’s Needs but with 4 x S).
I thought it might be a fun way to end this e-book by asking those who have followed it over the last few months to guess what the NEEEEDS stands for.
If you have an idea please list your best guess in the comments section below and I will personally email everyone who has a guess the actual list. Please free to copy and paste this to make it easier:
My children are now at the age now where they have started asking ‘proper questions’. For example, ‘Daddy, what do you do for work?’ and ‘who will mow the lawn if you die? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others of course. Both the answers to these questions and the questions themselves come under the topic of ‘sport psychology basics’. Why both? For all questions and all answers are a part of psychology.
There are three fundamental questions that arguably once answered can summarise any profession. Why do you choose to do what you do? Who do you work with? What do you actually do with them?
Sport Psychology Basics ~ Why Do You Choose To Do What You Do?
Firstly I appreciate that many people don’t actually choose to do the work that they do. I’m thinking about the single parent who takes on a second job packing shelves to make ends meet. But certainly I choose to do the work that I do. My experience and training would now allow me to pick from a considerable number of jobs. And it is not uncommon for me to be contacted by recruitment agencies asking if I would be interested in work related to sport psychology.
So what is it about my role at Condor Performance that means that I don’t even take a look at the details of these kinds of offer? One of the biggest reasons is that it feels like one of my children in some ways. I started Condor Performance in 2005 and I’ve seen it grow from a newborn to a young adult. Saying goodbye to Condor Performance and leaving it entirely in the responsibility of others would be like saying goodbye to one of my kids. I know I’m gonna have to do that some day but not yet, not yet.
The Second Reason …
The second reason why I continue to choose my work at Condor Performance over other jobs is that I still love the vast majority of my working time. This is not to be underestimated. After 15 years of doing more or less the same kind of work on a weekly basis it would be understandable if I no longer enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because of how important I know the fun factor to be. I always ensure that the work that I am doing a Condor Performance is highly motivating. Writing this blog post and the vast majority that are published through the Mental Toughness Digest might not be many sport psychologist’s cup of tea. But I love it. Writing really lends it self to my strengths. I have unlimited ideas and passion when it comes to sport psychology. From sports psychology basics to the most complicated aspects of the profession.
Work Life Balance
It also helps me tremendously with the all important work life balance. I can tap away – as I’m doing now – at any time of day or night. This flexibility is key when you have bitten off more than you can chew. Furthermore it acts as practice for one of our most exciting future projects. A number of sport specific mental toughness training guides are in the pipelines most of which will have a written version initially. Through the process of repetition my confidence in my writing ability is now pretty high. After all, practice makes permanent.
Sport Psychology Basics – Who Do You Work With?
When answering this question it might be better for me to answer on behalf of the entire Condor Performance team. For I myself now work with only a very small percentage of our overall clients. Still to this day the majority of our one-on-one clients are athletes. This should come as no surprise when the first word of the profession is the word ‘sport’. Non-sporting performers, sporting coaches and sporting officials make up the rest. By non-sporting performers I’m referring to students, medical personnel, those in the military for example. These non-sporting performers have correctly worked out that the mental skills required by an elite athlete to perform consistently at the top are very much the same as would help them in their profession. What is a little bit disappointing is the ratios of these three groups has not changed much for the last 10 years.
I was convinced that the percentage of sporting coaches we work with would eventually overtake the number of athletes. One of the main reasons for this hypothesis is some of the actual work we do a sporting coaches. I’ve heard comments such as ‘this is the missing piece of the puzzle’ and ‘you’re going to be inundated by requests from sporting coaches when they work out what you guys really do.’
What Could We Be Doing?
I have pondered from time to time what we as a group could be doing to help with this. The peculiar nature of sports coaching is that sometimes the better we do the less likely he or she is to recommend us to other coaches. Why? Why give one of your potential opponents a leg up unnecessarily? If one then really wanted to point the finger about why this is not happening you would need to look at those in charge of the profession.
From time to time, certainly in Australia, due to us having eleven sport and performance psychologists we are confused with a professional body. But we are not. We are just a growing private practice. Our primary intentions are to look after the interests of our staff. If we help the overall reputation of sport psychology at the same time this is great – but it’s not our main focus.
I am a proud member of AAPi. But they represent all psychologists and therefore are not well-placed to communicate some of the nuances of sport psychology to public. Another professional body for psychologists in Australia – which I will not mention as I don’t want to help with their search engine optimisation – is run by clinical psychologists for clinical psychologist but pretends to be otherwise.
Back To Who We Work With
In terms of the athletes that we work with individual sports still dominate over team sports. In other words we are more likely to be contacted by a golfer than a water polo player. The range in ages and professional level is truly vast. We work with 8 year olds through to 80 year olds. We work with top 10 rank players in the world right through to the definitive amateur who just wants to improve how he does at his club’s annual tournament. The ratio of working with male athletes versus female athletes is fairly even. This despite the fact that we have eight male psychologists and only three female psychologists on the team. And we are very proud to have recently started working with our first gender non-binary athlete as well.
Sport Psychology Basics – What Do You Do With Them?
Again I am answering this question on behalf of the team rather than just myself. Despite the fact that our methodology has evolved over the past 15 years there are still some very common core ingredients. I have listed these below in bullet point form and I invite you to consider the benefits if you were guided by a professional in adopting all or some of them. If you think you would be then get in touch and request info about our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.
1. Focus on the process (effort) and let the outcome take care of itself
2. Reduce attention to the factors you have little influence on (such as the past)
3. Avoid only working on your weaknesses. Improve your strengths as well
4. Don’t underestimate the impact that overall mental health can have on performance
5. The number of ways to improve is unlimited, but the time you have to improve is very limited
6. Fake It Til You Feel It
7. Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
Too Many Chefs (Coaches) is an article by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole on the perils of having too many advice givers.
Too Many Chefs In the Sporting Kitchen!
In my work I don’t actively seek any controversy. However as other trailblazers will be aware when you push the envelope regarding the work you do it comes with a certain amount of contention.
Once such area which I have always believed in but have really written about is this one. The topic of too many athletes having too many coaches. I use the word “coach” as the label to describe any official helper or advice giver. So although your grandfather would not count as a coach if chatting to you about some recent performances over a family dinner. He certainly would if he followed you down to the bowling alley twice a month and started giving you tips.
Let me start with the end in mind and work my way backwards. For team sport athletes I feel the ideal number of official coaches should be one. For those participating in individual sports the ideal number long terms is zero!
Let me explain …
The school system has it more or less correct. Teachers are generally aware of the fact that they have a limited amount of time to do their job. So although a maths teacher might be very proud of his or her contribution to someone who goes on to be a world-renowned engineer the maths teacher would not be involved past a certain point. This should be the same for developmental sporting coaches. But unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way very often.
In sport the more successful an athlete becomes the more coaches they tend to attract. Many of these coaches will be well intended but problematic nonetheless. The primary issue with having five or six official advice givers (which is common nowadays) is that much of their suggestions will be contradictory. This puts the athlete into a real predicament because he or she probably wants to trust all of them. But they soon find out this is not possible as different suggestions clash. I could write an entire book on one of the reasons why the advice tends to be so contradictory. But suffice to say it’s because sports coaching is still mainly based on guesswork. If you ask most coaches why they’d doing something the most common answer is this. “That’s what my coach used to do”.
There is also a real issue with role clarity. Which area of the “performance plane” each coach is supposed to be giving advice about is not obvious. In other words you get technical coaches giving psychological and tactical advice. You have physical coaches giving mental health and well-being advice.
What’s The Solution To Too Many Chefs / Coaches?
The answer is very different depending on if you play a team sport or an individual sport. For team sports there is no getting away from the fact that there needs to be a head coach. Ideally the head coach becomes the go-between for the players and all the other experts involved. In other words you may have a technical coach who is observing the players from a technical standpoint (biomechanics). But to ensure that any messaging around biomechanics does not accidentally get in the way of the bigger picture that message needs to come from one person – the head coach.
The same would apply to a sport psychologist working with a sporting team. Having a sport psychologist deliver mental skills training without the head coach being involved is absurd. Sport psychologists sometimes get into a huff when they hear this for fear of breaches in confidentiality. Or they feel the head coach is not been qualified to deliver the mental skills. All these potential issues can be nullified by proper communication and agreements before the start of the contract.
This head coach can still work tremendously hard to make him or herself irrelevant on match day but ultimately the nature of team sports will still require them to be there before, during and after the match.
Coachless Individuals Athletes
This is not the case with individual athletes such as tennis players, golfers, surfers and boxers etc. These sports do not require a coach to be there during competition.
If you don’t have to have something at this important time, why would you want it? Central to sporting mental toughness is a low reliance on factors that we have little or no influence on. Other people, even the most reliable and well intended, are are partially influenceable. What does this mean? It means that athletes who depend on “certain” things or people are risking it from a psychological point of view. Why? Because you can’t guarantee these things or people will be there when you want them to be.
This philosophy, in part, explains why our team or sport psychologists and performance psychologists spend very little time with our clients whilst they are competing. Don’t get me wrong if a client insists on having a session the night before a competition we will certainly oblige. But we are trained to assist our clients improve in such a way that they would not feel like they needed such a session.
Too Many Coaches
From a systems point of you I’m not sure what the answer to that too many coaches dilemma is. What I do know is this. If you are a developmental aged elite athlete (13 – 17) and you have already had close to 10 official coaches then the system has failed you. Unless of course in the unlikely event that all of those coaches are singing from the same song book. And they are unbelievably good at communicating between one another. Until that happens then less is more when it comes to the number of coaches and formal advice giver as you have.
We would like to hear from readers via the comments section below about stories on this topic. Did you have too many coaches? How did it impact you? Can you give examples of when well intended advice was contradictory? To safeguard your identity feel free to add your comment using a false name.
Mental aspects of training, mental aspects of competing, general functioning / mental health and wellbeing can all be measured.
“I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition”
Okay, I’ll admit it. We’re a little jealous of professionals who assist athletes, coaches and teams with the physical side of performance. Tests like the VO2 max for cardiovascular endurance, stretch and reach tests to measure the flexibility simply don’t have objective mental equivalents.
In fact, assessing mental toughness is so tricky that when Condor Performance first started offering sport and performance psychology services back in 2005 we didn’t even attempt it. Instead we simply asked a series of questions at the start of their sport psychology journey.
But if not bothering with something because it was hard was something we did frequently then we’d be in the wrong business . So over the years, we have tried on an ongoing basis to improve how we assess the very areas we help our clients with – mental health and mental toughness.
Measuring Mental Toughness Will Always Be An Estimation
Fact: there is no direct way to measure anything psychological. We can try to assess a number of areas via questions and/or observations but at best the results to these will act as a “guide”. Measuring Mental Toughness will always be an estimation, an approximation.
The exception to this would be a formal intelligence test (such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale). Although it would be easy to fake a poor score on the WAIS (by giving incorrect answers on purpose) it would not be possible to get a high score without actually possessing those abilities. This makes tests such as the WAIS more objective than most other psychometrics which relies 100% on opinions and/or observation. Unfortunately, in the work we do knowing how intelligent someone is just isn’t that useful.
With The Luxury Of Time …
With the luxury of time the reliability of the information collected can be improved. For example, by asking the opinions of those close to the client and/or via direct observation. Observing athletes or performers in real life situations can be invaluable. Imagine how useful it is to watch a tennis player smash her racket during a match compared with just a couple of questions about her emotions. Then image having of video footage of the outburst to use in session.
But just because the answers are opinions it doesn’t render these tools useless by any means. It just means we need to be mindfulness of their relative subjectivity when interpreting the results.
“What exactly are we trying to measure here” is a great question when either choosing, designing or reviewing any psychological assessment. At Condor Performance we have always believed that the main purpose of the questionnaires is as a massive time saver. In other words instead of spending that first 30 minutes with the client finding out what makes them tick we already have some idea. This then allows us to move onto ‘solutions’ much earlier in the process than might otherwise have been possible with the recently completed questionnaire.
The open and closed questions about mental toughness then generate scores for the five areas of mental toughness; Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus are all subcomponents of MT. This provides the sport psychologist or performance psychologist with incredible insight into how to assist this performer. For example, the conversation and suggested solutions for an athlete who has high motivation but poor levels of focus are going to be very different compared with if those two areas were the other way around.
Mental Health is also assessed (screened) due to the inclusion of The Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) at the end of our Mental Toughness Questionnaires. Due to the fact that 99% of our work is done 1-on-1 then we can work on both mental toughness and mental health at the same time without pretending they are the same thing!
I have to admit the name of our four questionnaires have become misleading. Why? Well they they measure more than just mental toughness now (they didn’t at the start – hence a bit like a nickname – it has stuck).
Four Free Mental Toughness Questionnaires
The four questionnaires are listed below. They can be completed by anyone for free looking to gain insight into the areas already mentioned. The questionnaires are all similar but use language relevant to that role (for example, officiating instead of performing). The coaches’ questionnaire is the most different as this also includes a section asking about the coaches’ perceived mental coaching abilities. Let’s not pretend or assume that being mentally tough and mentally well automatically makes you a good mental coach.
Below is a 16 minute video on what has become known as The Aeroplane Analogy. It basically explains how mental toughness and mental health fit into the overall performance picture. And below that a full transcription of the video in case you’d rather read than watch (or do both). Enjoy and as always please share and comment.
Greetings, everybody. I hope you’re well. My name is Gareth Mole. I’m one of the senior sport and performance psychologists that has the great pleasure to work for Condor Performance. We’re an Australian-based group of sport and performance psychologists that have been providing mental toughness training services since 2005. My colleagues and I at Condor Performance are the creators and the custodians of Metuf. Metuf has been designed to solve one of the most common problems in competitive sport, and that is that everybody seems to be aware of the importance of the mental side. Yet, at the same time, there is a tremendous lack of understanding in terms of how to improve it. So Metuf is the answer to that dilemma.
In order for me to explain how mental toughness fits into the bigger picture as part of this very brief introductory video, I’m going to use an analogy that the competitive athlete is a little bit like a four-engined airplane, similar to the one that has just flown onto your screen. So there’s a couple of things to mention before I actually take you through what each part of the airplane represents. So the first thing to mention is that the mindset of those that actually work on airplanes, so for example, aeronautical engineers, is a mindset that we believe would be incredibly valuable if adopted by competitive athletes and coaches.
The mindset that they have is one whereby they do not wait for something to go wrong before they attend to it. They are constantly checking in on the state of all different aspects of their aircraft. The likelihood that something goes wrong is a lot, lot lower because they are constantly doing checks and maintenance. This is a mindset that would be incredibly valuable if you are a competitive athlete or a competitive sporting coach. Unfortunately, the default is for something to only get a significant amount of attention when something goes wrong.
The second reason why this analogy is so helpful is because as you can imagine, there is no point in having four engines that are in fantastic condition if they’re attached to an aircraft that is falling into disrepair. I’m going to come back to that second part of the analogy after I’ve taken you through all the different aspects of the airplane. Okay. So let’s start by giving you some clues. So engine one is PC. Engine two is TC. The main body of the aircraft is MB and WB. The third engine is MT, and the fourth engine is TW. If you like, pause the video and have a little bit of a go at trying to work out what each of these five different aspects of the airplane is referring to.
Okay, so let’s go through the answers. Let’s see how you end. So PC refers to physical capabilities, and one way you could break down the physical aspects of your sport is to think about it in terms of speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance. TC refers to technical consistency, and technical consistency is basically where we would consider all the different skills that are applicable for your sport. Of course, because this Metuf program is designed for all coaches and all athletes of all sports, then I’m simply going to refer to them here as skill A, skill B, skill C, and skill D, for example.
But to give you a bit of a clue as to what these are for you in your particular sport, it’s probably the area that you’ve spent the most amount of time on. So for example, if you’re a golfer, then I suspect that you have spent the most amount of time on areas such as practicing your putting, practicing your short game, practicing your long game. If you are a rugby player, then I suspect you spent the most amount of time practicing your passing, practicing your catching, practicing your kicking, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Okay. Next, we have mental toughness, and all I’m going to do for mental toughness at this stage is give you the first letter of each of the five different aspects of mental toughness. So M, E, T, U, and F. I’ll let you think about that for a little bit. Moving on to TW. TW refers to tactical wisdom, and tactical wisdom is basically all about on-field decision-making. I’m not going to go into any detail in terms of tactical wisdom, except to mention a couple of things.
One is we are referring to the decisions that get made in sporting contests. So we are not referring to life decisions, for example. That is going to be better contained in the MB WB section. Of course, the second thing to acknowledge, as is the case with all of these engines, is that sports, of course, do vary significantly in terms of the amount that is going on. So for example, a tennis player and a squash player, of course, have to make hundreds and hundreds of decisions almost instantly as part of a tennis match or a squash match. Whereas, for example, a 100-meter sprinter does not have nearly the same amount of decisions to make in their competitive environment.
Okay. So those are the four engines, and we won’t be finished until we have worked out what the MB and the WB is referring to. So I’d be interested to know how many of you worked out, but that stands for mental health and wellbeing. That’s right. The main part of the aircraft is mental health and wellbeing, and I’m going to go back to why this analogy, that the competitive athlete is like a four-engined airplane is so useful. So I want to emphasise that there is not a lot of point in having amazing physical capabilities, amazing technical abilities, really good sporting mental toughness, and amazing on-field decision-making if your overall mental health and wellbeing is suffering.
In other words, there’s no point in having four amazing engines attached to an airplane that is falling into disrepair. So you can imagine if there was an airplane where the main fuselage is all rusty and full of holes, and yet attached to that airplane were four engines that were straight out of the factory floor, brand new, ready to go. That aircraft is going to struggle because although the engines are doing their best to basically propel the aircraft towards its destination, the fact that they’re attached to an aircraft that’s falling into disrepair is a potential disaster waiting to happen.
So logic would suggest that in those circumstances, it would be a more logical, more sensible to improve the actual main part of the aircraft first or at least at the same time as looking at the engines. If it is an area of concern to you, then it’s probably worth you prioritising your energy into improving that area either first or alongside areas such as physical, technical, mental, and tactical. What we are trying to avoid is for you to ignore your mental health and wellbeing completely, and just focus on those four sporting engines. If you would like some assistance on mental health and wellbeing, then the best way of going about that is for you to speak to someone, a family member, your family doctor. For example, just say that you are concerned about your mental health and that you would like to do some kind of assessment. That is always the best way to start.
This Metuf program will not directly help you with your mental health and wellbeing as you can appreciate. The program has been created in order to improve sporting mental toughness. So that M, E, T, U, and F that you’ll find out about in a minute. So we are not going to talk specifically about mental health and wellbeing as part of this program, but that’s not to say that we are diminishing its importance. In many ways, we’re doing the exact opposite.
Okay. To finish up this very brief introductory video, what I want to do is set up the rest of the video presentations that are about to follow. So you may recall that we broke down physical capabilities into five different sub-areas. So speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance, for example. So now, we want to do the same for mental toughness, and let’s see how many you managed to work out. So basically, the M stands for motivation. The E stands for emotions. The T stands for thoughts, U for unity, and F for focus.
So when we talk about mental toughness, we’re actually talking about a combination of these five different areas, and it is important to emphasise that it is much more useful to talk about it at the subcategory level. As you can appreciate, it’s quite possible for an athlete to be highly motivated, but to really struggle with their focus, for example. You can have those two things happening at the same time, and so it would be counterproductive for us to describe either ourselves, an athlete, or even a sporting team as mentally tough because in doing so, we lose out on the ability for us to hone in on these five separate aspects of mental toughness.
So the second thing to mention is that if I was to ask you to come up with ideas on how to improve the five aspects of physical capabilities, I’m guessing that you’re going to have a whole bunch of ideas that will come to mind pretty quickly. So for example, for speed, we might do some sprint training. To improve fitness, we might do some endurance training, resistance for strength, stretching for flexibility, and then of course, balancing if we want to improve our balance or our proprioception.
If I was to put you on the spot, however, and ask you to do the same for mental toughness, can you list five different ideas, activities, tasks, processes that are designed to improve motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity, and focus, what would you come up with? What would come to mind? If you’re like most people, not a lot comes to mind. You might basically think about maybe a little bit of goal setting for motivation, and that’s often when you might run out of suggestions. So we are here to address that issue, and we’re going to do it in a very simple way, a very intentionally simple way. That’s through the introduction of mental methods.
So as you can see there, what we are basically going to do in the upcoming video presentations is introduce you to five mental methods. At the moment, we can call them mental methods A, B, C, D, and E. Each one of them designed to address the five different aspects of mental toughness in the same way that sprint training, endurance, resistance, stretching, and balancing address speed, fitness, strength, flexibility, and balance respectively. So I look forward to seeing you at the beginning of the video presentation, which is all about motivation and how to either improve or maintain it. See you then.
Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole outlines the seven most common sport psychology barriers and how to overcome a few of them!
The 7 Biggest Sport Psychology Barriers
One of my roles at Condor Performance is speaking to the many people who make enquiries about our sport psychology services. Since we have been operating and I would have spoken to approximately five thousand parents, coaches, athletes, performers and sporting administrators. In doing so we have learned a lot about the reasons why many athletes / performers still don’t bother to include bonafide sport psychology as part of their plans.
With this is mind below I will outline the seven most common of these barriers and where possible help you to put a step ladder up against a few of them. As always we welcome your comments and questions either publicly (via the comments box below) or privately (via email@example.com).
Sport Psychology Barrier #1: No Idea There is A Mental Side of Sport / Performance
Mental Toughness is not as tangible (visible, obvious) as the other performance areas. Consequently it’s not targeted for improvement because many athletes have no idea their motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus can be developed and strengthened just like other more obvious areas such as skills and fitness.
The only way around this barrier is through some kind of education so that an awareness of the mental side takes places. This will happen automatically if working with a qualified sport psychologist / performance psychologists but there are other ways too. One such way is to invest in your sport science knowledge, which now agrees that sporting mental toughness is a real thing. This doesn’t require you to complete a sport science degree, simply taking online courses such as Metuf can get the job done.
Sport Psychology Barrier #2: Confusing Mental Training with Something Else
Similar to the above but arguably worse. It’s very common for athletes to fall into the trap of thinking that working on the physical, technical and tactical aspects of their sport will naturally result in greater mental toughness. So for example, because it took motivation to get up at 6 am to go for a run in winter, it will automatically result in an improvement of your overall motivation.
Although this might happen, it also might not. Sport psychology, as with all types of psychology, wants to be and should be heavily evidence based. What this means is that the mental skills (or methods) used to improve areas such as motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus have been tried, tested and approved. So getting up at 6am in winter to go for a run might motivate some people some of the time. But really good goal setting (for example) will motivate most people, most of the time. There is a difference.
Even those who are aware of the importance of the mental side, and are motivated to try and improve it, can be left really struggling to find genuine, dependable ways to actual work on it. Most resort to Googling questions like ‘how to improve my concentration’ which results in millions of websites full of contradictory ideas.
Sport Psychology Barrier #3: Hoping For A Magic Bullet
By “magic bullet” we mean those who expect that a single session with a sport psychologist will suddenly make them mentally tough. That all of a sudden their nerves will vanish, they’ll can motivate themselves at will and can focus like a fighter pilot. When this doesn’t happen, they bail well before the sport psychology process starts to bear fruit.
The only way to overcome this barrier is to trust in the process and be patient. There are many ways to help with this. One is to show that improving the mind is a lot like improving the body. No one ever expects to go to the gym and have an 8 pack after one session with the exercise physiologist. Not even a dozen sessions. It works the same with sport psychology. If you wants results fast, fine, listen harder and apply the mental skills but don’t expect miracles.
Sport Psychology Barrier #4: Confusing Mental Toughness with Mental Health
Unfortunately the words ‘psychology’ and ‘psychologist’ still evoke thoughts of mental illness and disorders. Therefore, a large number of athletes incorrectly feel that seeking the assistance of a sport psychologist / performance psychologist is a sign of mental weakness. Not that long ago I wrote an entire blog post on this which you can read in full here.
Sport Psychology Barrier #5: It’s Too Expensive
Even when none of the above barriers apply, often cost gets in the way. The current recommended hourly rate for psychologists is about $250 an hour. This is the most awkward of the sport psychology barriers as it’s relative to your own income / wealth. For some people $250 an hour is chump chain, for others it’s a fortune.
At Condor Performance, instead of reducing our rates and cheapening what we do we add extra value to our 1-on-1 sport psychology services instead. How? Our rates are per month not per session so we allow and encourage email / text communication between sessions. Furthermore the first 30 minute session is not charged for, it’s free. For a more in depth understanding of our monthly approach watch the below video that Dave and I created recently. Here is the link to the FAQs page referenced in the video.
Sport Psychology Barrier #6: There Are No Sport Psychologists Near Me
The Corona Virus of 2020 is / was a terrible thing but there were some benefits. Suddenly, the whole world realised that a sport psychology session via video call was / is just as good as one where the sport psychologist and client are in the same room. We knew this early on and started delivering sport psychology sessions this was as early as 2008. So maybe this barrier is not really a barrier nowadays but we’ll still keep it here anyway.
In fact we’re almost at the point now where we could say that sessions via Zoom, FaceTime video, Skype and other platforms are better than what we call Same Place Sessions. Why? For a start, they are a lot more convenient with no travel time required. Athletes and performers can and do have sessions just before practice, competitions and sometimes – where allowed – during both of these. I would suggest we are less than a decade away from Same Place Sessions with any kind of psychologist being almost unheard of.
Sport Psychology Barrier #7: Now Is Not The Right Time ...
Tricky, tricky, tricky. If your Granny passed away so you had to postpone your start then this sounds like a sensible option rather than a barrier. But most of the time when we hear this is for these kinds of reasons. I am too busy. I’m in my offseason. I have just picked up an injury so need to focus on that. I have too much going on. I’m playing really well, will get in touch when I am in a slump.
Trust me when I conclude with this. All of the above suggest you will be well advised to start some kind if sport psychology process now. If you feel that this process should be working with a sport psychologist / performance psychologist then get in touch and will send you detailed info and costing about how we go about it.
Sport Psychology Barriers? What Sport Psychology Barriers?