Sport Psychologist

Sport Psychologist

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.

If you are wondering what happened to entries after 23rd June 2021 the simple answer is that David went on Paternity Leave and I have taken over most of his admin. Basically, there are a few processes – such as adding to this Reflective Work Journal of a Qualified Sport Psychologist – that will have to wait until Dave is back around mid-September. See you then! Cheers, Gareth

Wednesday 23rd June 2021

We are breaking records left, right and centre at the moment. This week, we reached a huge one. The combined billable hours of all our active monthly clients passed 200 for the very first time. And how did we do this? We created some processes, we then stuck to them and trusted them. We ignored small variations in results on only reacted to them after we had enough data. Do you do this? Or do you ditch your plans every time there is a slight form slump?

Monday 21st June 2021

I spent the morning with David. Since about 2015 he has looked after most of our admin. Admin at Condor Performance is not very typical. It’s more like the work done by Jonah Hill’s character in the classic sports movie Moneyball. The role is all about the numbers behind everything else we do. David is very, very good with numbers. Due to the incredible growth of our business in the last few years and the fact that I have stopped practising this type of work it was somewhat overwhelming to see what I will need to do for the next 10 weeks (whilst Dave is away on paid paternity leave).

So how did we go about it? Simple, there is a patronisingly simple daily To-Do list. The list, called the Jonah Hill list, breaks down all the tasks into what is required based on the day of the week. Although this is not my first time doing this, it felt like it. It made me reflect on how a patronisingly simple To-Do list can be a great way to go started on a new, daunting project.

Monday 14th June 2021

This week James Kneller got his endorsement through from AHPRA and can therefore start to refer to himself as a sport psychologist. The below 10-minute video explains everything in a lot more detail.

James Kneller – now an official sport psychologist

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.

~ Osaka decision a reminder that all sports – football included – still don’t prioritise mental wellbeing by Cady Siregar

~ Emmet Brennan wins box-off to claim Olympic place

~ Marriage key to Rory McIlroy’s last win, says sports psychologist

Thursday 27th May 2021

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.

“In person sessions with a sport psychologists now available in the Southern Highlands of NSW”

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.

Every wondered what a couple of sport / performance psychologists have for lunch when their wives are not around?

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.

Sport Psychology workshop on 24th April 2021
Sport Psychology workshop on 24th April 2021

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 Proctor in 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 Cube is all about handling pressure
The Cube is all about handling pressure

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.

Eddie Jaku

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.

What Comes To Mind When You Think Of A Sport Psychologist?

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.

I wonder how Lance – pictured above – may have benefited from working with a qualified sport psychologist at the turn of the century.

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.

David and Madalyn – the oldest (excluding me) and newest members of the Condor Performance team

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.

From left to right. Krish, Gareth, James, Brian, Dave and Harley

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 four bikes with us. Due in part to already having a bike rack for the car which goes on the towbar and partly due to the large space on top of the camper trailer when it’s closed I formed an opinion a while ago that the only way to transport the bicycles was on top of the camper trailer. So, 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 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 collection of amazing psychologists.

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.

James making a makeshift bridge during our “walk and talk” supervision session.

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:

I spoke with Dave Naylor from Basketball WA for 10 minutes.

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.

New Zealand Sport Psychologist Charlotte Chalmers
New Zealand Sport Psychologist Charlotte Chalmers

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 are 1o Psychologists strong; not a mind coach in sight

~ 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.

To learn more about working in sprints read this great article here. Even better give it a go and see if you like it

Thursday 27th August 2020

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.

https://youtu.be/o4rq5BZIni8

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.

Zola Budd (left) and Mary Decker (right)

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

How Good Is Mountain Biking?

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.

Blooper from a video we made at the end of this meeting … classic!!

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. 

You can follow our pursuit of this lofty aim here via this Reflective Work Journal of a Qualified Sport Psychologist.

Friday 26th June 2020

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
  • sporting teams
  • 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 and exercise 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. knowledge of sports medicine and science, including exercise physiology, biomechanics, human kinetics, motor learning and control, nutrition and eating behaviour, and sports injuries
  4. info of evidence-based psychological techniques for assessment including standardised measures, interview methods and video analysis, and
  5. knowledge of evidence-based psychological interventions applied to sport and exercise, including coaching, counselling, and group and team interventions

Ethical, legal and professional matters:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  • sexual harassment

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

intervention strategies:

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:

  • athletes
  • coaches
  • administrators
  • community groups, and
  • the public

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

Beverley Whitfield Ocean Pool

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.”

Abraham Lincoln

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

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

Performance Psychologists
Performance Psychologists

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

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

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

Subcategories of Performance Psychology

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

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

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

Two Things In Common

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

Let’s Dive Into The Numbers!

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

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

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

Slow And Steady Is Better

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

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

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

Fast Changes Are Often Unsustainable

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

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

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

Do It Once, Do It Properly And Make It Last

The Performance Mindset

The Performance Mindset is a free e-book by sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole from Condor Performance

Very few people understand what Usain Bolt needed to do to get to the top.

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.

Part One

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 .”

Usain Bolt

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.

Some of the Liverpool players at the end of the 2018/19 season.

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?

Part Two

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!

Motor Skills

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.

The Basal Ganglia is on the right, the limbic system on the left.

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.

Usain Bolt had the ideal Performance Mindset. Hard work in training, relax before competitions. .

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.

Part Three

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’.

Subcomponents

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. 


Part Four

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  vvIncreasing Heart Rate on purpose via HMStretching on purposeResisting on purposeBalancing on purpose
CardioDefinitelyProbablyProbablyMaybe
FlexibilityMaybeDefinitelyMaybeProbably
StrengthProbablyProbablyDefinitelyMaybe
BalanceMaybeProbablyProbablyDefinitely

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.


Subcomponents
MethodsUseful ToolsExamples
CardioIncreasing Heart Rate on purpose via HMskipping roperunning, skipping
FlexibilityStretching on purpose
stretching
StrengthResisting on purposeheavy thingsweight training
BalanceResisting on purposebalance boardbalancing 

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.

Part Five

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.

Part Six

Tactical Wisdom being targeted by Tactical Preparation

How Much Time Do You Spend Practising Your Decision Making?

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.

Tactical Clarification

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.

Tennis Examples

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 …

Soccer Examples

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:

I think the …

N stands for …

E stands for …

E stands for …

E stands for …

E stands for …

D stands for …

S stands for …

~ The End ~

Too Many Chefs (Coaches)

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, Too Many Sporting Coaches ..

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.

Metuf = Mental Toughness

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.

Transcription

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 Psychology Barriers

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole outlines the seven most common sport psychology barriers and how to overcome a few of them!

There are many barriers to fully embracing sport psychology. One of them is what you imagine it to be like? Something like the above? Not even close …

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 info@condorperformance.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?


Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect

Perfection in sport or life can be thought of being like the Loch Ness Monster. It’s doesn’t really exist, but you can have a lot of fun trying to look for this mythical beast.

The Sporting World Is Full Of Clichés

The majority of them are normally harmless. However some are either mentally beneficial or potentially damaging. Recently I wrote a blog containing some of the best quotes from a sport psychology point of you in my opinion. But what about the duds? What about the quotes or clichés that sound good but in actual fact are detrimental to performance? Fortunately there are a lot less of these “stinkers” compared to the good ones. Those that I would be more than happy to see my sporting clients right on post-it notes for inspiration outnumber the ones that should be banned.

It may come as a surprise to some of you that a number of the least useful but very well-known sport psychology quotes come from Vince Lombardi. I do not want to criticise Vince nor take anything away from his amazing achievements as a coach. But some of the quotes that he is most known for are psychological bloopers. Chief among them are these three:

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

I won’t go into too much detail about why the first two above simply send the wrong message to anybody playing competitive sport. Suffice to say that for the first one think Lance Armstrong and the “win at all costs mindset”. For the second one it just sounds like an excuse to me. I know it’s supposed to be cheeky but saying you only lost the game because you ran out of time is no different to saying you only lost the game because the opposition scored more points than you. 

Practice Makes Permanent Not Perfect

But it is this third quote that I really have an issue with. In particular the shortened version which is ‘practice makes perfect’. Fun fact ‘practice makes perfect’ currently gets 976,000,000 hits on Google. Practice Makes Permanent, the correct version, gets half the amount at 515,000,000 results.

For those of you who we have had the privilege of working with since we opened our doors in 2005 you’ll likely be aware of the fact that we do not do too much by way of cognitive restructuring during the mental conditioning process. By this I mean that by and large we let people think what they think. We would much rather help our clients to accept their thoughts and execute their motor skills anyway. Sometimes this philosophy is slightly misunderstood as us not being interested in cognitions at all. This is not true, let me explain.

Certain practitioners who subscribe to the ever increasingly popular Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model may choose to be completely distance from the meaning of words and the potential impact of one inspirational quote versus another.

This Is How We Show Our Clients To Bake Their Cake And Eat It

There are many, many types of thoughts. Let’s conceptualise thoughts in terms of how permanent they might be. A simple way to do this is to divide thoughts into two seperate types. The first group, which we could call VABs (for values, attitudes and beliefs) are rather permanent. They create most of the other type of thoughts, the second type. We could call these Current and Individual Thoughts (or CITs). 

This Is How VABs And CITs Interact

We all have some very well ingrained beliefs. Let’s imagine someone who has an ingrained belief that at work everybody should dress in a smart and presentable way. This would mean that they value people who take pride in their own appearance and choice of clothing. This is likely to have been the case in the past. It’s the case now and very likely to be the case into the future. It’s a permanent belief, one that would be hard to change.

Now imagine that somebody with these values and beliefs starts a new job. On the very first day of work they are provided with a mentor to show them the ropes. This mentor has come to work in attire that would potentially be more suitable for a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The VAB about dressing well at work then combines with a desire to leave a good first impression to create a whole bunch of CITs. For example “I can’t believe she’s come to work dressed like that”. Or “don’t say anything, look beyond the Hoody and smile”.

It Works The Same In The World Of Highly Competitive Sport

For example consider an athlete who values effort above results. And maybe this athlete has a coach who has a ‘win at all cost mindset’. The athletes’ VABs might result in CITs such as “coach is going to be pissed again because we lost despite playing pretty well”. 

How this all plays out from a mental toughness training point of view is quite simple. As sport psychologists and performance psychologist we see the benefits of spending some time on your values, attitudes and beliefs. This can be done in many ways but ‘hoping for the best’ is not one of them. Most people simply develop their values, attitudes and beliefs from their childhood. It’s typically a very organic process. Now this is fantastic if you have been surrounded by psychologically astute people since you were born. But this is rare. For most of us we would need to sit down regularly in order to clarify our VABs. If you have absolutely no idea about how to go about it get in touch by completing your details on our contact form.

One of my beliefs, not just as an applied sport psychologist but as a person too, is that the concept of perfect does not exist. Striving to be perfect at something is alright as long as you know you’ll never get there. I am a very logical person and it is this analytical part of me which has led me to believe that chasing perfection is like trying to find the Loch Ness monster. Just because people talk about it doesn’t make it real. 

This Is The Reason Behind The Belief

Prefect implies that no more improvement can take place. As improvement is never ending then this renders the concept of perfection as a misnomer. Think about it, for each time you get to something that you mislabelled as perfect you can still improve it further! So it wasn’t perfect was it.

It should come as no surprise having read this why I dislike the “practice makes perfect” principle. And no Vince perfect prcatice doesn’t make perfect either.

What practice can do, if you go about it in the right way, is make something permanent. Practice makes permanent correctly suggests that through the process of repetition it will eventually become a habit, an automatic action that requires little or no front of mind awareness. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

Often when I am helping my sporting clients with their values and I manage to convince them to replace practice makes perfect with practice makes permanent they ask me about how long it would take to make something permanent. Quite often the 10,000 hours principal comes up which is another furphy. There are too many variables to that question. It will depend on the complexity of the task and genetic factors. Are you starting as an absolute beginner or are you already reasonably adept at it? 

Having said that I did stumble across this very cool TEDTalk recently which suggests that a massive amount can be achieved in the first 20 hours:

But the goal for competitive sport and anybody wanting to perform consistently at their best should always be the same. You need to put in the effort so that the main motor skills required become automatic. This allows you to go into high-pressure situations with the aim of being present and enjoying yourself. Trust that the practice has made these skills permanent. Accept whatever thoughts and feelings that you happen to be experiencing on the day. And of course if you need a hand with all of this give us a shout. 

Sport Psychology Podcast

Gareth J. Mole

Recently I had the pleasure to join Dan Abrahams on his podcast The Sport Psych Show; the best sport psychology podcast out there by far. The main focus of the ‘elite banter’ was the future of sport psychology. More specifically, we predict what the sport psychology / performance psychology landscape will look like in 2050.

If you’d like to listen to the full episode below is the embedded audio file. If you’d prefer to read then further down the page is the full transcription of this Sport Psychology Podcast. As always we’d love to hear your comments using the comments section at the very bottom. Enjoy and share!

Sport Psychology Podcast – Transcription

Published on Thursday 20th August 2020

Dan Abrahams:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Sport Psych Show. Thanks so much for joining me. Today I’m delighted to be speaking with sport psychologist, Gareth Mole. Gareth, welcome to the Sport Psych Show.

Gareth J. Mole:

Thanks, Dan.

Dan Abrahams:

It’s great to have you here. Why don’t we start by getting you to introduce yourself to the Sport Psych Show audience?

Gareth J. Mole:

Sure, Dan. So my name is Gareth Mole. A little fun fact, I was named off to Gareth Edwards, obviously the legendary Welsh rugby union player. One of the greats, and I suppose sometimes I do reflect if you name a child after one of the greatest athletes, maybe he or she is determined to potentially end up working in the sports industry. So I was born in South Africa, lived in South Africa until I was 10, and I suppose growing up in South Africa really shaped my passion for sport and you could probably guess the kinds of sports which I’m particularly fond of and particularly passionate about, obviously crickets, rugby union.

So my childhood sporting heroes are people like Jonty Rhodes and Joost van der Westhuizen. I think I was living in South Africa when Gary Player passed on the baton to Ernie Els. So I definitely give credit to South Africa for my love of sport. And I suppose, and we may talk about this later, growing up in apartheid there’s a part of me that feels like my sort of sense of wanting things to be fair might be from those days.

When I was 10 moved to the UK, I went to boarding school in the UK at a place called Oundle in Northamptonshire near Peterborough, and I’m worth mentioning that because I have been appropriately accused of being fairly opinionated and I put that down to a lot of debating whilst the at Oundle. At Oundle certainly when I was there, debating was sort of regarded as a sport. And so we did a lot of it and we got fairly good at it, and once you have gotten into the routine of giving your opinions on an almost daily basis, it is quite hard to turn it off.

Then I did my undergraduate psychology at the University of Leeds, which was fantastic. And then after a little bit of backpacking and so on, I moved to Australia in 2003 to complete my master’s in Sports Psychology, which turned into or turned out to be, I should say, the last running of that particular master’s program. So I sort of got fairly lucky in that I applied from the UK, got accepted, moved over here, and then shortly after moving over here found out that they weren’t going to be taking any sports psych master’s students because the program was wrapping up.

And then like a lot of us graduated as a newly qualified sport psychologist. So I was waiting for the phone to start ringing because I’d spent seven years studying and it was tumbleweed. And so I sort of thought to myself, “Hang on, I’ve just relocated to the other side of the world. I’ve spent seven years studying, and there’s a sort of a dearth of jobs. What do I do about it?”

And so I just decided that the only sort of proactive option was to create work for myself. So in 2005 I started Condor Performance. And so we sort of slowly grown in the last 15 years, and without having this as a goal or an intention, someone who’s incredibly processed-focused, I’ve ended up with a team of nine other psychologists. We call them sports psychologists and performance psychologists because as some of your listeners may be aware in Australia, you cannot use the term sports psychology if you don’t have the endorsement in sport and exercise psychology.

So myself and Michelle Pain, who’s a bit of a pioneer in sports psych here in Australia are able to and choose to use the term sport psychologists, and the other eight are all performance psychologists, which here in Australia means they’re all registered psychologists with AHPRA, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Authority. So basically we are a team of sports psychologists and performance psychologists that works predominantly in sport, but also in non-sporting settings such as the performing arts and so on.

And then just to wrap up the intro to give you and the listeners an idea of my sort of day-to-day work. So I suppose I spend the majority of my time on the business and not in the business. So the kind of things I would do on a Thursday morning, be supervising the other psychologists, sales and marketing, which I’ve always been surprised is regarded as a bit of a dirty word for highly qualified people, whereas I see it as absolutely essential risk management, bookkeeping, et cetera. I only work with a small percentage of our overall clients and quite interestingly, a growing percentage of those are sporting coaches, about a third of my personal clients and our sporting coaches.

So I have no interaction with their players. In fact, I think their players wouldn’t even know I existed. I work exclusively with the coach in order to help him or her become a better mental skills coach, a better mental coach, as well as just coaching people and not just players, if that makes sense. And just finally, as a sports psychologist, I would describe myself as very behavioral. And so I know you’ve had guests on who are big fans of act acceptance and commitment therapy. I draw heavily on that.

I suppose a good way to describe my personal philosophy as an applied sports psychologist is really, I try and almost direct everything back to the action side of things, the behavioral side of things. So I like CBT, but I will very much lean towards the B of CBT. If I’m to describe how I’m operating, it would be a tiny little C and a huge B. That’s kind of how I would describe myself. So for example, when helping golfers to develop pre-shot routines, it’s the routines of the golfers that I work with very, very action-based, and I’m almost intentionally trying to minimize the cognitive demands that are included in those pre-shot routines.

Dan Abrahams:

Interesting. Thorough introduction there, Gareth. I love it. Now we’ve spoken off-air about what we can talk about and, well, you threw me a bit of a curve ball, which was this idea of perhaps talking about what psychology might look like in 2050, which I thought was a really, really fun topic to talk about. But I think we can have a broad conversation, because I think there’re several things you’ve said already, which are really interesting and we can bring in the behavioural stuff into that, and you’ve talked about marketing and selling and what we do as a profession, helping people understand. And I think all of that really comes under the header of psychology in 2050.

So it’s going to be an interesting conversation. I mean, if I may ask you, when we were talking off-air you mentioned, let’s talk about what psychology can look like in 2050. What drew you to that? Why that conversation?

Gareth J. Mole:

Two things happened a couple of weeks ago. So one is, I listen to most of your interviews and I’m a bit of a fanboy, in that basically I almost insist that all of my colleagues listen to most of the conversations that you’ve had. And one of the things that I picked up on is that you often ask your guests, if you had a time machine and you went back five or 10 years, and I thought to myself, if Dan’s got this time machine, then I think we might want to do a couple of trips in the other direction. So that was the first thing.

And then what happened, almost as if it was telling me to respond, is that Back to the Future II was on Australian television. In the movie, for anyone who hasn’t watched it, the film is set in I think 1985 and Back to the Future part two is 30 years into the future. And I thought it would be a really fun little conversation for us to have about, not five years from now, not 10 years from now, which in many ways sort of seems so close, but what about 30 years, which I’m guessing is probably around about the time where the two of us will be sort of either about to retire or retired, but hopefully still alive.

So that’s why I picked 2050 for us to sort of, I suppose, in many ways, just hypothesise about some of the directions that the profession might be heading. And I suppose just the final bit, there is a part of me that can’t help but think from a goal setting perspective. If you can crystallise what the future might look like, maybe what we able to do or appealing to the greater sports psych community is maybe we can work together to actually increase the chances that some of them happen.

Dan Abrahams:

Well, let’s get in our DeLorean car, back to the future car, [inaudible 00:11:10] 2050. I’m sure there’s many people who would think of better things to do if they did have a car to go to 2050, but hey, we’re passionate sports psychology, so we can go and seek what sports psychology looks like in 2050. So talk to me, give me a number one prediction, or thought or feeling.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. And I just want to clarify that I’m calling these, they’re not really hypotheses, I’m calling them “hopotheses”. Hopothesis is kind of a bit like a hypothesis, but with slightly less evidence to make the educated guests. And so, the first two, Dan, are linked and I’m super keen to get your thoughts on these. The first one is an official change of name to performance psychology as the overarching name of the discipline in 2050.

And funny enough, just to really sort of emphasise my point, last week I listened to your conversation with Paula Reid, the adventure psychologist, and it was really obvious to me that someone like Paula and her passion would fit very nicely under performance psychology semantically, but that she was articulating very well that it’s not really the same as sports psychology. There was a fantastic conversation between the two of you how in many ways she thought sport was a lot more predictable and so on. So my first prediction is the overarching name of the discipline will be performance psychology and we’ll have the option of calling ourselves performance psychologists.

And part two will be specialisation within performance psychology. So what we’re basically saying is that someone could be a golf psychologist as a subdiscipline of performance psychology, or they could be an adventure psychologist like Paula mentioned, or maybe they aren’t that interested in sport but they love the performing arts. And so maybe they would be a dance psychologist and all these different performance pursuits would fit semantically logically under the broad term performance psychology. And for those who might be listening, you think, “Oh, no.” Because that’s moving away from specialisation, we can then specialise within performance psychology.

Sport Psychology Podcast continued …

Dan Abrahams:

So just to try and draw a picture here. At the top of our sheet of paper we’ve got performance psychologist.

And down from that, I’m picturing sports psychologist, maybe a performing arts psychologist, maybe-

I can’t really use the term … Well, maybe business psychologist, although that has its own sort of credentials.

But underneath sports psychologist would be all the sports that you can think of. And what you’re saying is you’ve got to work in say four or five or six that could actually render you a sports psychologist. Would that be a picture I’ve created that would be accurate to your vision?

Gareth J. Mole:

A very accurate picture, Dan. Yeah. So I suppose there’s a couple of obvious ones missing. I think military, I think would be one, which would be another type of performance psychology. I don’t know the name of it, but we work with a lot of people in the medical profession. People like ambulance drivers and surgeons, often in their training. So we’re basically using the same kind of principles that we would work that we would use to help a golfer or a cricketer perform under pressure. We would use those exact same or very similar, I should say, mental strategies to help someone become better at performing a complicated surgical procedure. So I suppose you could call it medical psychology, maybe something along those lines.

That debate could … Yeah, healthcare psychology. Exactly very sort of poignant at the moment. And all of these would be the layer under performance psychology, where you’ve got practitioners who are both good at the, you call it the below the line, above the line. I suppose I call it the mental health and the mental toughness side of things, or the mental side of the actual performance area and then the mental aspects of the rest of their life.

Dan Abrahams:

I think it’s interesting because I think if we draw it back to today, listening to you speak, it makes me consider the confusion that people have around sports psychology. What is sports psychology? Is it about performance? Is it about welfare or well-being? There’s a big drive around mental health at the moment. And I’ve spoken quite a bit about this on the Sport Psych Show with various people. That conflation between welfare, well-being and mental health. What is it that we do? How do we describe it? What qualifications do we need? What registrations do we need? It almost feels like what you want in 2050 is a much more streamlined picture, some clarity here whereby everything falls under this term of performance psychology.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. And I think that’s spot on. I think a label is a really important aspect of clarity. Picking the right label.

And for me, semantically performance psychology is the best label. I mean, I’m sure it’s the case there in the UK, but here in Australia there’s, I can think of a couple of very prominent, qualified sports psychologists who refer to themselves as sports psychologists who don’t do much work in sport. And in fact, the official title, the full title here in Australia at the moment is sport and exercise psychologist. And having done this work for 15 years, I can tell you, I don’t give any advice to anyone on the exercise side of things. So I think that there has to be a realization that at some point if we want to collectively inform the public about what we do, we might want to start by picking the label that is most closely related to what we all actually do.

Dan Abrahams:

Interesting. Interesting. So performance psychology at the top, underneath that strands, including sports psychology, exercise psychology, military psychology, public sector psychology, private sector psychology such as corporate psychology. Yeah, interesting. And building on that idea, run a sports psychology piece. This idea of working in multiple sports, or specialising in a sport. I mean, is that something that you come across?

Do you think it is a challenge is for a sport psychologist to work across multiple sports? Should sport psychologists specialise? Do you think in 2050 you will see a lot more? Well, I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in golf. I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in soccer. I’m a performance psychologist and I specialise in baseball. Do you think specialism is the future?

Gareth J. Mole:

I think that’s where we will end up, it’s inevitable. I mean, if you look at other professions, things like the medical profession, for example, that’s basically what’s happened. You got people who work in the medical profession now who … You got knee surgeons who only operate on a particular type of knee injury. Like that’s all they do. Whereas, 20 years ago or 30 years ago, all knee surgeons had to be able to do everything.

I do like your question though, Dan, because you’re almost implying, I think that, is that too much? In other words, are our skillsets actually better off if you have to work in rugby and then golf and you have to then sort of be flexible. I think that ultimately what we would probably want to see is the psychologist having the choice. I think that’s what we would probably want to see. It might be that I have a colleague for example who absolutely loves baseball, and as soon as a baseball contacts us, it goes straight to my colleague, David, and that it might be reasonable to say to someone like him, “Look, do you just want to fill your boots with baseball, because you love the sports so much?”

Whereas to someone else, that might lead to monotony, it might lead to boredom. Who are we to say? Individual differences is a common theme that keeps coming up in the show, which I think is such an important reminder. I think it would be about creating a mechanism that would allow the psychologists to choose. Personally I would definitely not choose to specialise in one sport. I would probably pick the ones that I’m most fond of. Sports like squash, cricket, rugby union, golf, football, et cetera. So I would probably naturally end up with about five or six, and therefore it’s likely I would then continue to use the term sports psychologist who works or specialises across those sports.

Dan Abrahams:

It’s an interesting landscape. I think obviously right now, when you qualify as a sports psychologist, you qualify to work in all sports. And I think the vast majority of sports psychs would say, “Well, that’s what I do. I’m a sports psychologist. I work across all sports.” I had a conversation with Professor Brendan Cropley on episode 90 about this. And I think it’s one of those, like every landscape, it has its advantages and disadvantages, its strengths and its weaknesses.

As a former professional golfer, I feel fairly confident walking into a golfing environment and having a great deal of knowledge, that’s going to set the scene, that’s going to help me to build the relationship with the golfer. I’ve been there, I’ve been in his or her shoes. I know what it feels like. So, I feel I’m at an advantage there. At the same time, and not that I’ve actually ever come across a golfer who said this, at the same time I can also fully appreciate that, that golfer has a lot of people around them who know about golf.

He will have one, maybe a couple of coaches, maybe a couple of parting coach, a short game coach, as well as a full swing coach. He or she has got a lot of people around them who know a lot about golf, who can advise on that side of things. And sometimes I think that sports people like to have people around them who don’t necessarily have an expertise of their particular sport and knowledge of their sports, who they can talk with more generally about performance psychology or welfare and well-being.

So I think there’s that interesting landscape there. So, yeah. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that. I think it brings its own advantages and its own limitations when one specialises, but I can, when you were speaking there, I was thinking of multidisciplinary. For example, I was thinking of a psych who comes in and says, “That’s my strength here, is I work across multiple sports.”

Gareth J. Mole:

“And actually because of that, I bring in a range of experiences to the table.” And I think of, okay, your comment here in a second. I think of the sports psychs who may be spend 20, 25 weeks out on the golf tour, and I’m sure there’s some who do it on the tennis tour as well, which is great. But why they’re missing out is they’re missing out on working in other sports and experiencing those other sports can feel what they do in golf or in tennis or in any sport that they spend the most amount of time in.

Yeah. I mean, I think if I was having a vote, the way I would do it is in training in the journey to becoming a qualified performance psychologist. Let’s say it in 2015, that’s a regulated and registered profession. I would insist that the trainees have exposure right across that spectrum that you mentioned earlier. So you have to work with some people in the public sector, for example, because that’s part of your criteria, but that once you have earned the right to call yourself a performance psychologist, then ultimately you can then decide.

And I suppose one little comment, and I forget which episode it was, but there was a great conversation between you and someone about how important it is to know the sport. And I think you kind of both agreed that it’s better to have the knowledge and not need it than need it and not have it. Anyway, if those weren’t the words you used, those were the words which I remembered from listening into that conversation. Better to have the understanding of what a leg before wicket is and not need it than be in an awkward conversation where they’re talking about how leg before wicket is, kind of his or her awkward way of getting out and having to put your hand up and saying, “Sorry, can you guys just tell me what LBW stands for.”

So I don’t think we are necessarily in a situation whereby just because someone knows a huge amount about bobsled that, that means that they’re going to blurt out a whole bunch of sort of technical and tactical advice on bobsled. You would hope that as part of the training. What they’re saying is you are not the technical and the tactical coach, but a knowledge of this sport is going to allow you to build rapport and reduce the chances that people are going to be talking a language that you have no idea what they’re talking about.

Dan Abrahams:

Yeah. And as you’re speaking there, I’m actually thinking of the advantages of knowing quite a lot about a specific sport. For me, I think it can help you set up better questions. I think it can increase your range of ideas around performance psychology. I personally think I can have more ideas in golf psychology than somebody who more solutions than somebody who hasn’t been in a golfing environment before, in my humble opinion. So I can see an advantage in that respect. Is it critical? Absolutely not.

So I think that’s an interesting landscape. I think, related to that, I mean, you mentioned you started to talk about the qualifications that a sports psychologist has, and I do wonder if there can be some professional governing bodies who could hand out certain credit or qualifications related to a specific sport related to psychology.

So in golf, may be the Professional Golfers’ Association could have psychology courses for psychologists within golf so that you can as a psychologist go on these courses and learn the specifics of golf psychology. Maybe the IRFU in England could offer psychology courses related to rugby for psychologists to go on. And maybe coaches might go on them as well. I mean, I know the English FA have done this or did do this for a number of years, five levels, but for psychologists to go on as well to be able to really learn the language and the specific challenges that people face, because golf psychology is different to tennis psychology, is different to football psychology, is different to rugby psychology and so on and so forth. Of course, they have similarities, but there are differences. So I wonder. Getting your comment here, I wonder from a professional perspective, can we have accreditation that enables practitioners to advance their knowledge of specific sports?

Gareth J. Mole:

I think that’s an absolutely crackerjack idea. One of the reasons I love the format that you’ve created here with a Sport Psych Show is that I didn’t think of that when I was sort of brainstorming to myself earlier. That’s not something that popped into my mind, but through the process of dialogue, that idea just popped out and it’s only 2020 we got 30 years where we can potentially make some of these things happen.

And of course, one of the really important things there is you’ve got the football experts or the rugby experts being involved. We’re not excluding them and saying, “Hang on, guys. We don’t need you. We can learn plenty about your sport. And we’re the ones with the fancy psychology credentials.” It’s bringing them into the conversation and then saying, “Look, you guys know a lot about football. We know a lot about human behavior. You teach us a bit, we’ll teach you a bit and then we’ll come up with some kind of clear sort of set of qualifications and we’ll then work together to inform the public.”

So they’re not sort of having to second guess what that person does and what that person does. And just a final comment on of course on knowledge, we need to remember that knowledge forms along … Sorry, falls along a continuum. And so we’re not saying that everybody who wanted to work in golf as a psychologist would need your knowledge of golf. I think it’s going to be very difficult to compete with someone who has played like you have and as coach like you had.

So maybe if your knowledge of golf is a 10 out of 10 and someone who’s never heard of the game or the sport is a zero out of 10, and I’ve met a few of those by the way. Maybe what we’re saying is that in order for you to work in golf as a psychologist you need to approve a seven out of 10 knowledge of golf. We’re not saying that you need to become an equivalent expert of someone who has played the sport at a high level, coached it at a high level. It’s simply saying, if you want to work in golf, we can’t allow you to do that if your knowledge of golf is a three out of 10.

Dan Abrahams:

Your next prediction-

Gareth J. Mole:

Yes.

Dan Abrahams:

… of 2050.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. What were we calling them? Hopotheses, I think.

Dan Abrahams:

Hopotheses, thank you.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yes, we may have just invented a new word, which is totally appropriate I think when you’re thinking about the future. So my next is the slightly controversial one. This is where we start. In 2050, I think there’ll be much more emphasis on formal qualifications. And what I mean by that is, I think that there’ll be a much reduced likelihood that someone will be allowed to work in any performance sector who hasn’t met certain, I suppose formal qualifications. So, I’m predicting it’s, and it’s just a prediction, that there will be a lot less people involved in sport and performance who simply finished high school and then decided they were going to start a business and make up a title. That’s my prediction.

Dan Abrahams:

Why do you think that’s important?

Gareth J. Mole:

Look, I suppose the reason why I wanted to include that, and this is maybe where the bit of the hopothesis is really emphasized, because I run a business which I suppose is, in many ways I’m looking after the best interest of a total of 10 psychologists. I suppose I have a lot of conversations with sporting organizations and individuals as well. And one thing is very clear and that is that, in particular in sport, there is still a huge lack of understanding about what various professional titles actually mean from a kind of a risk point of view.

And so, one of the things that we’re doing on a fairly regular basis is sort of trying to educate and make aware the fact that for example, as a psychologist, we all have a professional indemnity insurance. That’s a very boring sort of fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. And therefore, if you do decide to employ, let’s say a mind coach or mindset coach, then I would like the sporting entity to know that they’re doing that and they can tolerate the risk that comes with that person having no professional insurance for example, and other things besides.

So I think that what will eventually happen is that, we will invite into the conversation people who potentially don’t have any recognized qualifications but who do a very good job of the work. People like Gilbert Enoka is incredibly well-regarded and has done an amazing job in New Zealand rugby, but he’s not a registered psychologist. So bringing people like Gilbert into the conversation and saying, okay, how do we communicate all these different titles to the sporting community out there, I think is a really important step.

And it may involve the difficult decision of certain people who don’t have recognized qualifications who might not be doing a good job. It may involve us saying to them, “So you can no longer work with such and such a team or such and such an individual.” Dan, what’s your thoughts on this, and how’s things panning out in the UK with regards to that? Is that the hopothesis with the longest bow?

Dan Abrahams:

Yeah. I mean, I think I’ll start by saying, I think clarity. Again, I’m going to come back to this word clarity. I just think the sports industry needs greater clarity as to what … Let’s come back to your title of performance psychology. What do performance psychologists, or we could use sports psychologists. What do sports psychologists do? Let’s come back to 2020 and call it sports psychology, and just say, look, what do sports psychologists do? What are your qualifications? Who are you registered with? What do you do? And how are we protected? What are we getting when we get a sports psychologist?

And I think we as an industry need to be better. So if we talk about 2020 to 2050, 30 years, I think we got 30 years to become better, helping the sport industry, gain clarity as to what sports psychology is and what sports psychologists do. I personally don’t have a problem with anybody going away and doing whatever they want in terms of a … They can do a two-week course. They can do a two-day course or a two-year course. Whatever they want to do, they do. But I think what national governing bodies, organisations, clubs, teams require is clarity.

I think there needs to be as much exposure as possible with regard sports psychology and sports psychologists so that these national governing bodies, clubs, teams, organizations know exactly what they get. And if they choose to say, “Okay, we know you’ve got the qualifications, you’ve got the registration, you’ve got the insurances. We know our people are safe. However, we’re going to go with Johnny or Mary over there Who’s got their two week NLP qualification, because you know what? We think they’re brilliant at what they do.” Fine. No problem at all.

But I think we in the next 30 years, if we want to talk about this span of time, we have to be better at every single national governing body, every single organization, every single club globally in every single sport, knowing exactly what they get with us. Now that is complex and complicated because every single country has different rules. In UK, I should say, there’s an interesting dynamic whereby a practitioner psychologist, the term practitioner psychologist is legally protected but the term performance psychologist isn’t.

Again, I could do a two-week course and then call myself a performance psychologist. So there’s an interesting dynamic there. So I think we do have to try to come together. That’s a very bland statement I know, but some people within psychology who are registered psychologists within their country have to come together and find a way to help our global sports organisations understand what they get when they employ us as psychologists. When we do that, I think then there’s very real choice through that very real clarity.

Sport Psychology Podcast continued …

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. Look, I totally agree. There’s probably just a couple of additions there. I think that one is, what I really like about what you said there is we’re ensuring that the consumer is the one that knows what we do. So I think it was in episode two with Chris Shambrook where I think he was alluding to this fact, if memory serves me correctly, but he said something along the lines of, we know a lot about what we do, like you and me because we work within the profession.

But what about build the rugby coach from down the road? Like, does he know? A few months ago I went to stay with some friends in Sydney and they were like, “Oh, one of your sports psychologists guys is all over the news at moment.” And I was like, “Oh, show me the article.” And sure enough, it was not somebody who was a qualified psychologist. It was a mindset coach. And so these friends of mine just naturally assumed that because that person was working in the mental side of sport, that they were a sports psychologist. I think that is an absolute key to it.

We have to start including various different programs, which means that the consumer, the people who are potentially interested in our services, they are the ones that know what it means to be a qualified performance psychologist and what it means to not be a qualified performance psychologist. That’s the real key with regards to that, that third prediction of more emphasis on formal qualifications.

Dan Abrahams:

Well, I think you’ve eloquently put it in that sentence. The consumer needs to know what we do. I think that’s a really eloquent way of putting it. The challenge is it’s on a global scale. The challenge is that we could go down to the lay person, the person who’s just a sports fan and most people don’t have a clue, no idea.

And if they’re going to make an assumption, they’re going to assume it’s predominantly around mental health. I think there are a lot of coaches through no fault of their own who would see it in a similar vein mental health towards welfare and well-being. And then I think there’s the more informed coaches, players, key stakeholders in our organization, sporting organizations who understand that there’s a performance psychology piece to this as well. And actually ironically, I think most sports psychology see themselves as purveyors of performance psychology.

So there really needs to be an education process. We need to become proper profession. And for me, we are a proper profession. I mean, there are papers, research articles out there, commentaries that say, “Well, we’re not a profession because we don’t have a standard practice, strengthened by and large, and I might get vilified for this on social media.” But my understanding of say a sports science or, especially strength and conditioning is that there are standard methodologies of practice that run through those industries.

And therefore, it becomes much easier for them to be recognized professions. But anyway, I think what we need to do is, we need to avoid the rant because I think it is getting better. But I think as we’re talking about 30 years, 2050, I think we need to be less scared of marketing, you coming back to your marketing point at the beginning. We need to be less scared of marketing, of sales. We need to be less scared of helping people understand what it is that we do on those multiple levels, performance psychology, welfare and well-being, and mental health. Let’s move along. Give me another hopothesis.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yes. Number four. Yes. So, number four was a much greater collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists. And I hope everyone’s sitting down for this. The kicker to this is in 30 years time. This collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists will eventuate in the first few head coaches who are qualified performance psychologists. In other words, people who potentially have no experience playing a particular sport will be given the top job.

So obviously in English football we’re talking about the manager here. In most other sports we’re talking about the head coach. And I suppose for me this is … Again, referring back to a lot of the conversations that you’ve had with your guests, a lot of the really interesting conversations were from coaches who were basically saying, “Look, what we do as a coach is psychology.” And I’ve heard you say many, many times, you just can’t remove the psychology from the equation.

Depending on when you put this episode out, obviously, you and I both know that Liverpool have just won their first Premier League title for 30 years. And if you listen to Jürgen Klopp, it would be easy to assume guy had some pretty impressive psychology qualifications. So I think that the fourth hopothesis is going to be much, much more collaboration between coaches and performance psychologists.

So an expansion of what I do at the moment with a third of my clients who are sporting coaches, but that becoming much more common place. And then the eventual end point of that will be, if I’m working with a coach and assisting him or her so much with all aspects of their coaching, because ultimately you cannot remove the psych-social part of human improvement. You just can’t. You may not think it’s there, but it’s there.

Then what will eventually happen is that some people will be then said, “Well, why don’t you just come in and be the head coach.” And if that happens, if that prediction happens, then obviously one thing that we really want to make happen is for those first few qualified psychologists to do the best possible job. I refer back to Annika Sörenstam, who I think in 2003 was invited to play on one of the men’s tour events-

… and under obscene … Yeah. Under obscene. So. Yes. Female golfer invited to play on one of the men’s tour events, but she didn’t do that well. I did a bit of research before she came 96 out of 111. So what we would want to ensure if my prediction is correct, Dan, and that’s in 30 years time, you will see qualified performance psychologists are in the role of head coach or manager. What we’ve got to make sure happens is those first few do an excellent job, both from a results point of view, from an impact point of view, because otherwise it could set us back another 20 years.

If the first few that are given that opportunity don’t do a great job, then as you can imagine, the sports industry might misjudge us unfairly. And so we would have to work very hard to making sure that those first few who were given the opportunity did the best possible job possible. And we see it already. There’s head coaches who come from biomechanics, there’s head coaches who come from strength and conditioning. Isn’t it a bit bizarre that on paper the area which is most aligned with coaching, which is surely is, is human improvement?

Psychology is the one that’s least likely to generate a head coach from my point of view. It’s the most likely, and I think all we’ve got at the moment in 2020 is a situation where, to be honest, and this refers back to some of your comments earlier. I don’t think the sports industry is ready for that. I don’t think that if there was a qualified sport or performance psychologist who was actually the head coach of a Premier League team of a major league baseball team, I think the first thing that do is say, “Don’t use the term sports psychologist or performance psychologist. People are going to get the wrong idea.” And I think that’s very indicative.

Dan Abrahams:

I think it’s interesting. It’s just speaking there. I’m thinking of the question, how much domain specific expertise do you need to have as a coach? So if I was to join José Mourinho’s coaching team, if I was to join Jurgen Klopp’s coaching team, how much domain specific knowledge do I need for that to happen? And I think it’s intriguing. I really do. That kind of thing has happened already in British soccer. So Steve McClaren invited Bill Beswick to be his assistant manager at Middlesborough actually a couple of decades ago.

I know that Bruno Demichelis, an Italian sport psychologist was brought over by Carlo Ancelotti around 2008, 2009, to be his assistant manager at Chelsea after being his assistant manager at AC Milan, or at least being very influential at AC Milan. So that kind of thing has happened, but it’s very, very rare. I’m sure there are other instances in other sports globally, and maybe listeners can tweet in if they know of that happening. But I think it’s very possible, and I would like to see it because I think that, that can be such a crucial role that somebody can play.

I think you can coach because you don’t necessarily need much domain specific knowledge to be a coach, especially if, what normally happen is you’d have a couple of other coaches who have a vast amount of domain specific knowledge, they have a vast amount of knowledge on the strategical, tactical, physical technical side of the specific sport you’re talking about. So I think you could still coach. I certainly think that coach could take on the role of a head of psychosocial methodology within that coaching unit, which I think is sorely lacking.

And again, in my mind when I’m thinking of this, I’m always thinking of say Premier League soccer in England, because I know that the coaching teams there are quite big, but you could say about baseball, the American version of football, NFL, basketball, that there are substantial coaching staff. The size of the coaching staff is quite big. I think it always lacks what I would describe as a head of psychosocial methodology.

So I think that, that person could do that and just, let’s come back to on-pitch involvement. On-pitch involvement. Again, let’s come back to your notion of, this is about working towards 2050. If on the picture, on the court or on the field is where it happens, why or why, or why would you not have the psych there in amongst it doing it? I just don’t get that, unless the psych is a clinical psych and it’s about the mental health piece, and the welfare and well-being is not about performance.

If it’s performance psych, why is the psych not involved in the performance environment? That doesn’t make sense, if you really strip it back and you really think about it. Now, that might involve some communication. It might involve some general fitness levels from the sports psych him or herself, but why not? Why not? Why can’t … Trust me until you can’t trust me. And if I make a mistake, that’s fine. Have a conversation with me, admonished me, if you have to.

Now I’m not going to go and talk. I’m not going to stand on the pitch and direct people tactically, but I can certainly engage in conversation around a psych social piece. These are the things that mediate wins and losses. These are the things that mediate jobs, whether somebody keeps their job who doesn’t. The things that mediate players’ careers. Why oh why, or why am I not invited onto the pitch? Why?

Gareth J. Mole:

Well, I think the biggest reason is just still the stigma that comes with the word psychologist, I think is such a heavy burden. I remember at the very infancy of my career in the year 2005, I just moved to Australia, and I remember there was a huge international conference in Sydney. Pure luck, I just moved to Australia and there was the biggest international [sport psychology] conference, and there was a very well-regarded sports psychologist who just given a keynote and I was a bit cheeky in those days and I sort of went up and tapped him on the shoulder and I said, I won’t mention his name, but I said, “Sir, can you give me one bit of advice for someone who really wants to make it as a sports psychologist.”

And he turned around, he said, “Don’t use the term psychologist.” And I was like, “Oh, you are kidding me. You’re joking. I’m just moved right across the world in order to do a program that basically allows me to use this title and you’re telling me that if I want to make it I should use another term.” So, look, I think it’s inevitable. Just going back to your comment about the two assistant coaches that you mentioned, who were psychologists, all that really needs to happen is that I think we would agree that one of the best ways to become a head coach is for you to first be an assistant coach.

So if people, if qualified psychologists are being given the opportunity to be assistant coaches, then the only thing missing from that anecdote, Dan, was then taking over the head coaching role when the person who brought them in moved aside or when somewhere else. And then the only bit missing from that is for as many people to know that, that person is a qualified psychologist. So it might not necessarily be as extreme as not using the term head coach and using the term performance psychologist, although there’s a part of me thinks that’s a totally appropriate name for someone involved in helping a bunch of human beings improve, given what we know about psych social.

But if that’s too much, then it would be just a case of such and such is our new head coach. Tom Smith is our new head coach who is a qualified performance psychologist with 30 years experience helping people improve. That may be enough to then get a little bit of momentum going. And again, hence why there are hopotheses because there’s a part of me that’s saying this because I desperately want it to happen, but I’m not sure if it will.

Yeah. And just for me and a word about players here, because I think maybe a lot of head coaches would say, “Oh, well, the players won’t have that. Rubbish, rubbish.” I think this is something that coaches get wrong very respectfully. I think players are much more open-minded. Players want to improve. They want to get better. Now, players demand competence, and there’s always going to be some players who are a little bit more closed-minded, and they might always have something to say, and that’s okay, that’s fine. That’s fair enough. Everybody’s individual differences. Again, everybody’s individual, and that’s fine. And you might never please some people within a squad of players, but I think firstly, I think players would be much more open to it than coaches think or believe.

Sport Psychology Podcast continued …

Dan Abrahams:

… I think it comes back to negotiation. I think that you’ll trust me to negotiate with your players. I’d like to sit down with players, to sit down with the captain, the leadership group and say, “This is what I propose happen, because as an example, we know that you have to focus your attention as you’re competing and deal with distractions quickly. We know that you have to compete at a certain intensity level. We know that you have to compete with a positive intent. You have to execute your actions positively.

These are the kinds of things, the game winning and losing mediators that I want to really help you with, that I want to work with you on. This is what I’m proposing. What are your thoughts? Where are your pushbacks here? What would work for you? What wouldn’t work for you? How can we give this a go?” It kind of it comes back to negotiation. We got to be better at the art side of negotiation when it comes to things like that, but give us a chance to do it. Because I think that coaches would see a great deal of benefit if they open their minds and allowed it to happen.

Gareth J. Mole:

Totally agree with that. And I love what you said. Was it trust me until I stuff up? What was the word that you said there?

Dan Abrahams:

Well, trust me until you can’t trust me.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. Trust me until you can’t trust me. I’ve written that down. That’s a keeper.

Dan Abrahams:

Yeah. Trust me-

Gareth J. Mole:

That’s a keeper. Trust me till you can’t trust me. And what you just emphasise there is that, if you remove the label in the stigma with psychologist and you just describe to that group of players what we do, you get complete buy-in, don’t you? Think about it. It’s like I can help you stay motivated when you’re not particularly motivated. We can help you perform under pressure. We can help you concentrate on the things that are most important. If you were just to describe the processes that we do on a daily or a weekly basis, you get complete buy-in. Everyone’s like, “Yep. I want some of that. Thank you very much. Good appointment.”

As soon as you say, “Oh, by the way, he’s a qualified psychologist.” you start getting a little bit of concerns. But I do agree with you wholeheartedly, those pushbacks are probably likely to come much more from administrators, owners, people maybe concerned with the image of the club. I think if you were to say to the players, we think that a qualified psychologist is going to be best placed to be your main coach and these are the reasons, I think you’re right. I think that even in 2020, I think there wouldn’t be any issues there whatsoever.

Dan Abrahams:

Yeah. Yes, yes. I mean, it’s certainly an extreme point of view or extreme approach to say this psych is going to be your main coach. I think maybe at the beginning this psychologist is going to be on the pitch with us.

These are the reasons why, and again, then we fall into that negotiation. But across all of this conversation, I want to emphasize, and I’m sure you would as well that nobody’s saying, “Hey, coaches, you have this opinion and it’s the wrong opinion or this is a terrible opinion.” This opinion or the approaches we’ve got right now are limited because we as psychologists, in my opinion, sports psychologists, haven’t been good enough to get our message across to help you understand what we can do. I think we need to be better at that. I think that we need to be a little bit bolder with our messages at times, and a bit braver and we’re going to get lots of pushbacks and that’s okay.

And that last thing to say, so in 2050, there will be some psychs, sports psychs who won’t … Performance psychs, if we’re going to call them performance psychologists, who won’t want to go on to pitch, who won’t want to go get their [crosstalk 01:00:32] body essentially. That’s okay. But what I would say there is possibly my hope is that actually that’s where coaches will say, “Well, do we want that person? Do we want that psychologist?” Because actually we want to have the performance psych who’s willing to get out there.

Now, we’re going to be at our early 70s then. So maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because hopefully it will be fit 70-year-olds who can still get out there. But as hopefully we won’t be putting ourselves at a disadvantage. But look, I’m conscious of time. And I’d like to get on to … I think this is a great conversation. Let’s get onto our fifth and final.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah. So I suppose, and as a natural conclusion to all of the other four, what I’ve written down here, Dan is much greater unity and collaboration within the profession. And literally, I’ve written down proper international trade union for performance psychology. So, if we’re talking about what … One of the things you mentioned previously about SMC, for example, and having a lot more clarity, one of the things we haven’t done yet is how to look at some of the other professions in sport and said, “What have you done to clarify your position?”

I don’t think we’ve done that yet. I don’t think we’ve looked at some of the success stories. So one of the most obvious things to do would be to form some kind of international trade union for performance psychology. So you start with the correct label, as we mentioned earlier. Let’s try not to confuse people unnecessarily because we pick the wrong term. And then what we do is we look at other international trade unions, other professions that have worked well, even if some of the people are in Australia, some of them are in the UK, some of them are in the USA, and it’s a classic case of the … Some of the parts make up much more than the individuals involved.

And I’ll be honest, and maybe I can sort of segue into just a massive thank you to you and a wrap for putting together the Sport Psych Show. But over here in Australia, there’s a part of me, I’ll be honest. It’s sort of started to lose a little bit of hope in terms of whether or not the profession was actually going in the right direction. Here in Australia, we used to have four master’s programs. We have one.

Now, it would be very easy if you were stuck in Australia only to think that sports psychology is going backwards and hanging by a thread. I think that would be an appropriate way for me to describe it. And it was only really when I stumbled across your podcast and started listening to some of the high quality banter, I call it, that I was reinvigorated for the first time in many, many years, that there are some incredibly smart, passionate, and skillful people who happen to have the same professional title as me.

The only thing is, some of them are in the US. Your conversations with Scott Goldman were just mind-blowing, just like, are you kidding me? Didn’t even knew exist. I had no idea he existed. The one with Chris Shambrook as well, it was just unbelievable. [inaudible 01:04:05], just immediately sort of gave me something that I could start using with my clients and my team. So I think the individual superstars, if we can call on that exists, they just don’t operate as a team. That’s the only thing that is potentially missing.

So my final hopothesis, and maybe this is partially a prediction, and maybe it’s partially a call of expressions of interest, would be international group of performance psychologist who collaborate well together for the advancement of the profession. And all of the previous things that we’ve discussed during the interview would all be very common, regular discussion points for that particular group. Your thoughts on that one?

Dan Abrahams:

Well, at the moment my mind is envisioning a whole bunch of sports psychologists on the picket line with banners and placards saying right for sports psychs. So I’ve got that in my mind. Now, I love it. It’s an interesting landscape, every country has its different landscape. I think it’s different scene in terms of sports psych. it’s fascinating listening to you in terms of what’s happening in Australia. I can’t believe there’s only one master’s program. That just amazes me, because certainly here in the UK, I honestly believe that our sports science and sports psychology is what it is today, which is extraordinarily strong because of Australia, because Australia beat us at everything in the ’80s and through the ’90s.

And then we had to do something and for various reasons the investment went through and the English Institute of Sport emerged and various things, and now we have very, very strong academic departments research, very strong in terms of practitioners. There is, I mean, certainly at English Institute of Sport a lot of psychs who work together. So there is that sense of collaboration there. So I think it does exist, but I think every country has its challenges. I mean, I look over as a Brit to the state and I grew up on a diet of American psychology in many respects. And yeah-

… I have interesting conversations with people over there who are very … There’s a lot of divided opinion as to the landscape over there when it comes to sports psych. There’s a lot of unregulated stuff, and at same time there’s a lot of great stuff that goes on. So I would love to see more global unity. I think that global unity is enormously challenging, but hopefully things like the Sport Psych Show can help. That would be awesome if people feel that it does. So yeah. 2050, the year of collaboration, perhaps. I think hopefully the year of greater clarity, the year of greater, maybe greater cohesion between coaches and psychs. I think those are the three … They just happened to be three Cs, but maybe the three Cs I take out of this hopothesis is clarity, collaboration and cohesion.

Gareth J. Mole:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, although the international collaboration might be regarded as the biggest challenge, and I can see that, let’s just think about what you’ve managed to achieve in the Sport Psych Show. I’m sitting halfway between Sydney and Canberra. You’re in London. Through the wonders of modern technology, it’s like we’re sitting across from one another. So I think the advantage about the international approach is that what we can do is we can go, “Okay, what have you done in your country, Sweden? What have you guys done? And what can we learn from that?”

And I think ultimately, Dan, that will trump the difficulties that exist between borders, and those difficulties are really things that we could potentially just decide and not something that are going to interfere with what we are potentially trying to work on. So from my point of view, my enthusiasm for something international would be much greater than something only based in Australia, because I believe listening to so many of the interviews that you’ve had on the Sport Psych Show that there’s a really nice flavor of different experiences from different countries, and we could really learn a lot from what have you guys done versus us. And so for me, it would have to be international.

Dan Abrahams:

Interesting. Great stuff. And before we round things off, you mentioned that word technology. I mean, we hadn’t really talked about technology, which could be fruitful on another conversation in the future on the Sport Psych Show, but technology I’m sure would play a massive role in sports psychology delivery in 2050. But Gareth, what a rich conversation? I really, really enjoyed that, mate. Thank you so much for coming on.

Brilliant, Gareth. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, mate. I Really enjoyed that. Thank you.

Gareth J. Mole:

And you too, Dan, and keep up the great work.

Dan Abrahams:

Thank you, mate. I really enjoyed that podcast, everyone, and I’d love to hear what you, the listener think. So please do get in touch via Twitter or Facebook or through my website, danabrahams.com to tell me exactly what you think of the Sport Psych Show. And if you do have any suggestions, I’d be delighted to hear them. I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode. Bye for now.

Mental Blocks

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

Mental Blocks are more common than you might think …

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

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

The Def (bars)

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

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

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

What are the other kinds of blocks?

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

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

Finally, We Have Mental Blocks

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

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

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

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

Baby Steps 

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

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

Seperate Actions from Thoughts from Emotions

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

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

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

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

Coaching The Coaches

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

Coaching the coaches

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

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

An Unlimited Appetite for Learning

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

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

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

Five Key Questions

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

HOW ARE YOU PERFORMING OUTSIDE OF THE PLAYING ARENA?

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

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

WHAT DOES MENTAL TOUGHNESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

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

Motivation.

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

Emotions

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

Thoughts

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

Unity

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

Focus

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

DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO DEVELOP YOUR SPORTING IQ?

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

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

IS YOUR BODY GETTING ENOUGH ATTENTION?

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

ARE YOU REFINING AND UPDATING YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS?

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

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