Sport Psychology Myths

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

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

Sport Psychology Myths – Where To Start?

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

Myth 1: Sport Psychology Is Like Counselling, Therapy

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

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

Myth 2: The ‘Natural Talent’ Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 4: The ‘Thoughts Can Be Controlled’ Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 9: The ‘Experience Is Everything’ Myth

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

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

Pre Shot Routines

Pre Shot Routines might be the most common of the short routines used before closed sporting skills, but they’re not the only type of short routine.

A Good Pre Shot Routine can be half the battle with improving the mental side of target based sports such as shooting (above) and many others.

Pre Shot Routines Are The Number One Mental Skill for Most Target Sports

One of the intentional exclusions from our self-guided Mental Toughness Training courses is advice on Pre Shot Routines. This is because the first Metuf programs were created for all sport and performance areas in mind. In other words we only included mental skills that would apply to all types of performer. Pre Shot Routines only apply to certain sports and in some sports they are only needed by certain players. More on that later.

Pre Shot Routines are the most common of the short routines, but they are not the only type.

Any closed motor skill that is required frequently during a sporting context could and should have a routine beforehand. A closed motor skill is a skill which is typically ‘performed in a stationary environment, where the performer chooses when to start the skill’.

With this in mind I suggest there are actually 5 types of short routine:

  • Golf, shooting sports, table sports. lawn bowls: Pre Shot Routines
  • All racket sports: Pre Point Routines (or you can have Pre Serve Routines and Pre Receive Routines)
  • AFL, soccer (set shot takers), rugby league, rugby union, American football (kickers): Pre Kick Routine or Pre Throw Routine (shot put, javelin, basketball)
  • Racing sports: Pre Start Routines
  • All other sports (e.g. curling): Pre Attempt Routines

Pre Attempt Routines (PARs)?

In fact, if we are looking for a single term that might include all of the above it would be Pre Attempt Routines (PARs). In discussions with my clients and colleagues the word ‘attempt’ has received a bit of push-back. The thinking is that the word ‘attempt’ doesn’t exude the kind of confidence that many are looking for at these key moments. I get that. But the fact is that all of the above are in fact attempts.

The work that my colleagues and I do at Condor Performance in this area is the most sports specific of anything we do. In fact, it’s so ‘sporty’ that some suggest it’s more technical than psychological. Some say pre shot routines are better left to a coach instead of a performance psychologist. But they would be wrong. I am more than happy to work with (alongside) coaches on this mental skill. But to say my skill set as a sport psychologist is not relevant here is insulting.

Pre Shot Routines / Pre Attempt Routines Before Closed Motor Skills

For all closed motor skills, the athletes will always have at least a few seconds before attempting the action. Left in the lap of the Gods these few seconds (or few minutes) can often become fertile grounds for “overthinking”. This tends to lead to underperforming in high-pressure situations.

With the construction or improvement of any Pre Shot Routine there is one main rule. Only include easily repeatable actions. In other words, the only premeditated aspects of the routines are body movements of some kind. Thoughts and feelings are simply left to occur naturally at the time. You have far too little influence on them in order to ensure you can “do them” when it counts.

Intended actions are far more reliable than thoughts and feelings. In fact, they are so reliable that we can (with a lot of practice) virtually guarantee them. We can never guarantee being able to think a certain way in certain situations. So trying to do so is fraught with danger from a psychological point of view.

Let’s run through some examples.

The Classic ‘Pre Shot Routine’

Your first decision here is ‘is one Pre Shot Routine enough or do I need several?’ For most of sports, one is normally enough. But sports such as golf, which has some very different types of shots, might benefit from various PSRs.

The start of the Pre Shot Routine benefits from ‘a trigger action’. This helps us to switch on at that moment. For golf this can be something to do with your glove or maybe an action related to your club.

After this initial action add around three to five other action steps that naturally leads up to the shot. Any more than five and you really are running the risk of over complicating it.

You can these steps to your sport and preferences of course. For example, in clay target shooting one of these steps wants to be shouting the word ‘pull’. I will resist the temptation to add some example of actual pre shot routines. Why not? Because you might copy them and that defeats the purpose.

Pre Point Routines

Rafa’s Pre Point Routines are amongst the many aspects of his tennis that make him so very hard to beat

Of course, we have all seen Rafa going through his pre-point rituals. To the untrained eye, it might seem more like a set of ticks. In fact, Rafa’s Pre Point Routines are amongst the many aspects of his tennis that make him so very hard to beat. 

Tennis is interesting as only the serve is a closed skill due to the fact that the receiver doesn’t decide when to receive the ball. But I have always found that in my work with tennis players it’s a good idea to have both a Pre Serve Routine and a Pre Receive Routine.

The good old face wipe with a towel is hard to beat as a starting trigger for both server and receiver. The rest of the routine needs to be aligned with what is required in a few seconds time. If you’re about to receive the ball then walking to the right spot and taking the right body position might want to be included. If you’re serving then bouncing the ball, pausing then slowly looking up can be great inclusions.

I often get asked if it’s important to decide exactly how many times to bounce the ball – for example. Also, if the decision of which serve (or where to serve) can be included as surely this is not an act but a thought.

Ball Bouncing

Ball bouncing (waggling the golf club, same same) is a double edged sword. Most players do it “until they feel right” but this assumes you’ll always feel right at some point. I am in favour of picking a range of bounces. For example, 2 or 3 and then sticking to this 100% of the time. Yes, even in practice and when you’re do it as part of your visualisation.

If decision making is taken seriously as part of the practice, then this will become as automatic as the skills being done around them. In other words, choosing where to serve only becomes cognitively demanding if you have excluded tactical preparation as part of your practice. If you must have a decision making step in there, add it before the trigger.

Pre Kick and Throw Routines

Due to the fact that these actions tend to be part of fast flowing sports they are often not considered in the same group of closed skills as the previous examples. This is a huge missed opportunity for the kickers and free throwers of these sports in my opinion.

In the 1-on-1 work we do with kickers and throwers I basically treat them like golfers. But instead of a golf club and ball, they have their leg and foot or arms and hands and some kind of inflated ball.

First up, as with golfers, we agree on the ideal number of routines after going through the pros and cons of one versus several. For example, a rugby union player will need one for set shots and another for kick offs.

After this, we follow the same rules as before. Only use actions to build the Pre Kick/Throw Routine. If you must include a thought, try to keep them as simple as possible.

Is It A Good Idea To Visualise As Part Of My Routine?

I have received a fair bit of criticism for my lack of enthusiasm about including imagery in routines. Some of this comes from the famous Jack Nicklaus quote about visualisation. “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head,” Nicklaus said.

Here is the issue Jack. We can’t guarantee cognitive processes such as imagining the path of a ball. Even with repetition, it will be very vulnerable under pressure or high levels of distraction.

The solution to this conflict is two-fold. First, practice the visualisation part as part of your PKR in practice 100% of the time so it feels automatic (second nature). Second, don’t stress if it’s hard or not possible come game time. It’s not that you are weak, it’s the thoughts are weak. Your action based Pre Attempt Routine will get the job done regardless of what you’re thinking or feeling.

If you’d like the assistance of one of psychologists with your short routines then complete one our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires here. A member of our team will be in touch with you to discuss options.

Choking In Sport

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the main reasons why many athletes can easily perform in training but struggle on competition day.

Choking in sport is basically any decrease in performance due to pressure or psychological factors

What Exactly is Choking in Sport?

Choking is one of those interesting terms which is commonly associated with sport psychology but not so common in the scientific literature. In other words it was first used colloquially to describe ‘falling apart under the pressure of competition’. Since then it seems to have ‘stuck’ as the term used most often to describe mental disintegration.

In this 2013 journal article choking is defined as follows:

In sport, choking under pressure is a negative athletic experience that may have psychologically damaging effects. The media recognises that choking is a dramatic drop in performance, whereas researchers have labeled choking as any decrease in performance under pressure. This discrepancy between the media’s and researchers’ perception of choking leads to ambiguity among terms and confusion among researchers, applied practitioners, and the general public.

As a practising sport psychologist I typically don’t use the words choke or choking at all. I prefer to describe the same challenge in a little more details. For example, underperforming in competition due to pressure. Or maybe due to poor concentration?

Can You Help? I Keep Choking …

There are literally hundreds of reasons why people contact us here at Condor Performance. One of the most common, however, is the athlete/performer who excels in practice situations but struggles to reach anywhere near this level during actual competitions. Most of the time they’ll refer to this as choking. “I keep choking” or “I am a choker”.

It’s worth mentioning that there is always a risk when writing about the psychological aspects anything of oversimplifying matters. This is certainly the case here. Be aware of this when I suggest that although there are potentially hundreds of causes of choking most can be attributed to one or a combination of the below.

  • a practice environment that is mentally far too easy (for that person)
  • a competition mindset that is far too taxing (for that person)
  • the perfect storm – a combination of both of the above

And In This Lies The Solution

Quite simply most of those who are better at executing their skills in practice are better as they are doing so in a false environment. One where more often than not there are little or no consequences involved. Go to any golf driving range in the world and you’ll see dozens of golfers (if we can call them that) smashing balls into the distance without caring about where they end up. Take the same golfers and plonk them onto the first tee with three other golfers watching and see how suddenly smashing this particular ball into the distance makes them tighten up and duck hook it straight out of bounds.

Even those who practice smart and try to replicate the mental demands of competition in their preparation often struggle as they tend to fall short of being able to mimic feelings of extreme pressure. The result is that they then have to try and execute their skills in competition whilst experiencing feeling like extreme nerves or stress that were not there during practice. To add insult to injury, they then fuse with these feelings unaware that feelings and actions can be separated.

There are a number of tried and tested ways around. Although reading this blog should never take the place of working 1-on-1 with a qualified sport psychologist the below might be enough to at least get the ball rolling.

1. Make Your Practice Mentally Harder

By harder we mean mentally harder not physically harder. The easiest way to try and do this is by replicating situations that you don’t like or that you find hard. For example, you might prefer to practice in the morning so you intentionally switch some practice sessions to the afternoon. Or you might enjoy practising with others so you do more and more training alone. To get the sweet-spot is not easy. You’re looking for the practice session(s) to be psychologically demanding but not too demanding. A great analogy for this is weight training. If the weights are too light then not much will happen. If they are too heavy they might cause injury and long term harm. It’s the same with mental demands. Too little means no growth, too much means damage. British sport psychologist Dan Abrahams refers to this as stretch and support. Too much and too little stretch are what we’re trying to avoid here. If you are not confident at being able to create your own sweet-spot mentally harder practice session(s) then please contact us here and so we can lend you a hand.

2. Make Your Competition As Relaxed As Possible

Is it possible for an athlete to be too relaxed whilst competing? Not really (don’t confuse tiredness with being relaxed) so we suggest you do what the great Usain Bolt used to do. He only “worked” on things in training. This freed up his competitions to just exist, enjoy himself and let his training express itself without a worried mind getting in the way. In particular, he didn’t worry about being worried. Easier said than done many might say. I often use the analogy of driving a car (apologies to our younger readers). Manoeuvring a vehicle around safely is a difficult motor skill with huge consequences if you get it wrong. Yet, most of us (who drive) do a great job of trusting our muscle memory. We quickly get to a level of expertise behind the wheel were we don’t actually have to try hard to drive well, we just do. What if you approached sporting contests in the same way? Arrive, ready, relax, trust your training.

3. Use Performance Routines

Action-only pre-performance routines can be a great way to keep you grounded at certain key moments both in practice and during competitions. The reason they work so well is that they’re built using the most influenceable aspect of performance – present actions. This means they should remain both easy to do and consistent regardless of the thoughts and emotions of the current situations. You didn’t really think that Rafa Nadel actually sweated that much did you? Rafa’s use of the towel is a great example of a mentally astute athlete using the action of wiping as a reset between points.

If you’d like to read a lot more about routines then you can read this blog or this one. And as always, please use the space below to let us know your thoughts and/or questions on the topic of Choking in Sport.

Sporting Comebacks – A Mental Perspective

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

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

The Term ‘Comeback’ Is An Interesting One

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

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

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

Tiger Wood’s Comeback Win at The 2019 US Masters

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

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

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

The Decline …By His Standards

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

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

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

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

Sporting Success Is About So More Than Trophies and Medals

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Plane

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

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

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

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

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

Another Epic Comeback in 2019

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

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

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

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

Yet Despite All The Odds …

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

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

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

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

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

Decision Making In Sport

Sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole looks at the often overlooked role that decision making plays in the outcome of sporting contests.

Decision Making in Sport
Decision Making in Sport

One of the core concepts of our Metuf model is that we break “performance preparation” down into five parts. There is some debate about the pros and cons of separating performance like this. After all, they’re all related to one another. For example it takes a certain level of motivation – a mental state – to improve muscle strength – a physical component. Our argument is that if you focus on each part as a separate entity then any “crossover” benefit that rubs off onto another area is a bonus to your improvement. Whereas lumping them all together can result in incorrectly assuming you’re doing more than you are. Decision making in sport is a great example of this. In my experience ‘in the trenches’ as a sport psychologist for the last 15 years decision making is rarely targeted by itself.

Specificity is Special

I often tell the anecdote of the coach who once told me he used to get his players to run up sand dunes in extreme temperatures in order (in his mind) to improve their mental toughness. Risky, risky, risky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some nice mental benefits of doing this (the most obvious to come to mind is an improvement in the confidence of being able to ensure extreme conditions while exhausted) but that’s a very, very small part of good mental performance.

Those familiar with our Metuf model will know that we use an analogy of the competitive athlete being like a 4 engines aeroplane. In this analogy, the actual main body of the plane is like health and wellbeing. Attached to this are the four engines. Each of which is a key aspects of sports performance. The two on the left wing are ‘below the neck’ in Technical Wisdom and Physical Capabilities. To two on the right wing are ‘above the neck’. They are Mental Toughness and Tactical Wisdom.

Tactical Wisdom is Decision Making in Sport Contexts

Recently a number of our 1-on-1 clients have been asking us for more and more input into their Tactical Wisdom. ‘TW’ is very tricky as in theory it’s entirely mental yet the coaching of these “in the moment” decisions is, and always wants to be, the domain of sporting coaches not a sport psychologists. This is one of the many reasons why it makes so much sense for us to work more directly with coaches.

I’m going to use two examples from different sports here to emphasise my point. First, the decision faced by a golfer whether to “lay up” short of a creek located just before the green or “go for it” by attempting to hit the ball directly over the creek onto the green. Second, the decision by a striker in football (soccer) when near the penalty area to “have a shot” or pass the ball to a teammate.

Risk Versus Reward

Both of these scenarios have what we call a “risk and reward” assessment to them. None of the four options mentioned are obviously terrible and therefore the goal is to train your mind to “make the best decision according to the specifics competitive situation”. Most decision making errors take place when the emotion of the moment trumps the competition situation. Here’s a clue about how to not let that happen (and yes, it requires a bit of hard work).

First, you’re much more likely to make an unemotional decision if it’s a scenario that’s been “mapped out” already. The more often it’s been mentally rehearsed beforehand, the better. This is best done by what we call the “If Blank Then Blank” exercise. Let’s go back to our two examples above.

Although there might seem like an overwhelming number of scenarios, if you really think about it there are probably only half a dozen or so. For example:

“If stroke play then lay up”.

“If match play then go for green”.

But maybe that’s too simple so these might be better:

If stroke play and a par 5 then lay up”.

If stroke play and windy then lay up”.

If stroke play and leading then lay up”.

If stroke play and less than 3 shots within the lead then lay up”.

If any another situation then go for the green”.

And for the other example, the footballer:

“If ball is on / near my right foot with no defender near then shoot”.

“If any other scenario then pass”

If Blank Then Blank”

Human brains are remarkable at learning these “If Blank Then Blank” right from when we’re newborns. Think about it; “If hungry then cry”. And it carries on all the way to adulthood. “If red or amber light then slow down and stop”. Certain commentators have and continue to object to the fact that this exercise appears to bring “thinking” into what really want to be instinctive actions.

Our answer to this is simple. There’s no escaping the fact that certain moments in certain sports require a lot of decision making. The “If Blank Then Blank” exercise simply decreases the chances of a brain explosion while under pressure. In our experience, the greatest benefit of this is the reduction of one of performance excellence’s biggest threats – indecision.

I’m not sure if I’m taking the word too literally but indecision means a slowing of a decision due to being “in the decision”. Basically the decision making process (risk versus reward) is taking longer as it’s new.

In fact, indecision is so damaging to performance it would be fair to say that you’re better off making the wrong decision quickly and with confidence rather than the right one slowly and full of self-doubt.

Gareth J. Mole (sport psychologist)

If you’d some help to improve the decision making aspects of what you do please contact us by filling in this form. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.

Performance Momentum for Elite Sport

Chris Pomfret, a performance psychologist based in Queensland (Australia), looks at the fascinating concept of performance momentum.

'Momentum in Sport' is a fascinating concept but with very little research
‘Momentum in Sport’ is a fascinating concept but with very little research

Performance Momentum; The Basics

As with many phenomena in the world of sport psychology, it’s interesting to observe people talk about momentum. If you listen closely, it’s almost as if they chatting about something tangible, something real.

At the time of writing, the Australian Open tennis tournament is in progress. Listening to commentators it would seem beyond question that there is a mysterious yet unmistakable energy. Something that ebbs and flows through each match like a tide. There is an energy that has the potential to sweep a player towards glory, or to leave them stranded. But in truth, things aren’t that straightforward.

As most of our sporting clients will know we often stress the importance of clear and workable definitions for all component of performance. If we can quantify something we can understand it and therefore improve it.

Momentum can be defined as changes to cognition, feelings and behaviour as an athlete moves towards a goal.

Positive and Negative Momentum for Performance

Positive momentum is typically described in physics-related terms such as ‘surging’ towards victory within a single contest. Or ‘riding the wave’ across multiple contests towards an end-of-season championship.

Negative momentum is often described in terms of a ‘tide-turning’ against an athlete. Some sort of resistance is experienced, or of a ‘pendulum swinging’ against them and energy being ‘lost’.

Momentum Is Not The ‘Hot Hand’

Note that momentum is different from the ‘hot hand’ effect often described in basketball. This describes those freak moments when it suddenly seems like a player can’t miss a shot. Their teammates start to desperately feed them the ball before this shooting streak suddenly vanishes. As much as the hot hand effect captures our imagination there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back it up. Making a successful shot does not appear to increase the chances of making the next shot.

The fascinating thing about the concept of momentum is that it is almost universally accepted as fact. Research into the topic shows that people perceive momentum to be real. They act on the basis of this perception and past experiences supporting it. Simply put, athletes genuinely believe in momentum. When they think positive momentum has occurred they see it as a direct cause for their success. However, there is surprisingly little evidence to justify this belief.

But Perception Is Reality

If researchers question the existence of performance momentum and the everyday sportsperson struggles to express in words what momentum even means to them, why then is the concept so popular? One explanation is that for most human beings perception is reality. We want the world to seem as structured and predictable as possible. We find it hard to accept the idea of randomness. It’s hard for us to realise that our thinking is biased in many ways and that these biases impact on how we process information. We look for explanations in events, particularly where underlying meanings might help us in the future. Plus, we are just very poor at calculating probability.

There is a certain appeal to the idea that with a little bit of luck and some hard work, one small action we take can trigger a chain reaction which will sweep us towards glory. On the other hand, perhaps there is also some small comfort in the idea that sometimes we are faced with forces working against us which can’t be controlled and we simply have no choice but to hang in there and do our best and then see what happens.

Performance Momentum; The Downside

The most obvious issue with really believing in the concept of performance momentum is when you feel like you lack some. Mentally, if you feel some past success had a lot to do with any success before that you have a mental weak point. Let me explain more.

Let’s say you are a golfer who has started to believe that birdies and bogeys come in groups. Now let’s imagine you need to par the final three holes to make the cut but you bogey the 16th hole. Instead of moving on and trying to play the best possible golf for the final two holes you might feel that the bogey on 16 has set the tone.

Perhaps there is something to those old clichés about taking things one play at a time or week-to-week?

In Summary

Now please be clear that I am not saying momentum is a myth. In fact, there are various studies that do support the existence of momentum in sport. Not surprisingly, positive momentum has a role to play in performing at one’s best. However, some findings suggest that negative momentum is in many ways ‘stronger’ than positive momentum. It seems to be triggered faster and more easily and is harder to ‘escape’ from. Is this due to the sense of helplessness it can provoke?

In the case of positive momentum, there is a suggestion that athletes may occasionally ‘coast’ or ‘ease up’. This can in turn actually impair their performance. In the case of negative momentum, athletes may choose to use this to force themselves to improve focus and boost motivation.

When the topic of momentum comes up in the one on one work I do with my sporting clients this is how I approach it. I liken it to an emotion or physical sensation – like frustration or hunger. I then encourage them to notice it and move on as per the A.C.T model.

The team here at Condor Performance welcome your suggestions for topics to address in future editions of the Mental Toughness Digest so please keep them coming (info@condorperformance.com).

We love getting comments. If you have any anecdotes related to Performance Momentum please add them to the comments section below. If you’re not that keen on people knowing it’s you just exclude you personal details. Can you recall a time when your best performances seem to all be clumped together? That you could do no wrong. Or the opposite? No matter how hard you tried you couldn’t get any momentum going?

Golf Psychology

We know more about the psychology of golf than ever before. This article addresses some of the basics of Golf Psychology as we know it in 2020.

The Psychology of Golf
The Psychology of Golf

Golf Psychology Combines Both The Mental and Tactical Aspects of Golf

At Condor Performance we have always worked with a lot of golfers. In fact, since we started providing performance psychology services we’ve worked with more golfers than athletes of any other sport.

One of the many bonuses of this is that we have really come to know the weird and wonderful game of golf well. Our collective familiarity with golf is now so good that we might consider using the term ‘golf psychology‘ to describe what we do with golfers.

In the future, it’s likely the concept of sport psychology will be replaced by performance psychology. When this happens, a psychologist with considerable experience within a performance area (like golf) should be allowed to call themselves a ‘golf psychologist‘. I would happily and confidently refer to the entire Condor Performance team as golf psychologists in golfing contexts.

Why Do We Work With Some Many Golfers?

Golfers are amazing at understanding that their sport is very psychological in nature. Every golfer that has ever played the game has found out the hard way that good swing mechanics will only get them so far. Maybe it was because of a lapse in concentration that resulted in a four-putt. Or just the natural frustration of not knowing why the ball sometimes goes where you want it to and sometimes it doesn’t. Most golfers don’t need to be convinced of the fact that their sport is mostly won and lost between the ears.

Interestingly, many golfers think the famous Yogi Berra quote was about golf when in fact it was about baseball. The actual direct quote from 1925 was “Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.” Somehow this evolved into a version uttered by golfers the world over that “golf is 90% mental”. But is it?

Golfing success, like with any individual competitive sport, is made up of about half non-golfing aspects and half very sporty elements.

Golf Psychology and the Metuf Model

Our Metuf model includes the below analogy of the golfer being like a four-engine plane. The main body of the plane is mental health and wellbeing – and would contribute about half towards golfing success.

Golf Psychology
Golf Psychology starts with mental health and wellbeing.

This half needs to be prioritised first. Why? Because it’s more important to be a happier person than an excellent golfer. The other half consists of the four pillars of modern sports science. Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. Tactical is obviously psychological so when I think about golf psychology I am also thinking about on-course decision making.

I recently watched the episode of the Netflix docu-series Loosers featuring Jean van de Velde. During which he reflects on the heartbreak from his famous last hole of the 1999 Open Championship. I was 23 at that time which was the peak of my obsession with all sports but I couldn’t remember most the details. On watching the episode it reminded me that it was a decision making error than actually cost Jean victory that year. On the final hole, with a three-shot buffer, he decided to try and carry the “burn” protecting the green. He didn’t choke, he made one very poor shot selection. The right decision, of course, was to lay up well before the burn.

Golf is 25% Mental To Start With

So golf starts out being 25% mental and then increases from that point due to the fact that it commonly gets ignored – but not by everyone.

A growing ratio of our sporting clients are actually coaches rather than athletes. Many of these coaches are golf coaches or instructors. They come to us when they realise that traditional coaching pathways fall woefully short when it comes to helping them become great mental coaches. We love this approach to golf psychology. The sport psychologist upskilling those in the trenches with the golfers. We literally teach them how to help their golfers master the mental games from the very time that they take up golf in the first place.

Pre Shot Routines Are Essential

A great example of the benefit of this approach is through the use of Pre Shot Routines. PSRs are at the centre of golf psychology because they focused on the 10 to 15 seconds before each short. As my golf clients know after you have established a basic swing I believe that every shot – included those in practice – should follow a PSR. I have seen golf coaches break down into tears when I explain to them that golf shots in practice without a PSR is not actually golf practice at all. Ball bashing, maybe but it certainly doesn’t resemble what will take place out there on the course.

Below is an old video that I dug up to explain how to develop Pre Shot Routines for golf. Note, the video is outdated now so I suggest you watch with curiosity more than trying to copy every single element.

Only 1.5% Of A Round Of Golf Is About The Swing

You need to remember that about the 98.5% of a round of golf – for pros and amateurs alike – does not involve hitting a golf ball. Defined from the start of the backswing to the end of the follow-through. Do the maths if you like:

4 hours = 240 mins to hit, let’s say 80 shots. Each of those shots takes about 2 seconds. 80 multiplied by 2 = 160 seconds or about 3 minutes. So about 3 of the 240 minutes of a round of golf requires “swing mechanics”. Or another way to look at it is 3 hours and 57 minutes of a round of golf has nothing to do with how well you can hit the ball. That’s 98.5% in case you’re still doing the maths.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some my top favourite golf psychology quotes from golfers you might have heard of.

Great Mental Game Golf Quotes

It’s such a psychological and mental game, golf, that the smallest wrong thing at the wrong time can distract you from what you’re trying to achieve.

Lee Westwood

You could have all the tools in the world, but if you really don’t want to be there, or if there’s something that’s off course that’s playing on your mind. The game of golf is so mental, and if you don’t have everything in the right order, it’s very difficult to win golf tournaments.

Jason Day

Rest is huge because if you’re sleep-deprived, that can definitely run into the mental side of the game and can definitely hurt your game if you’re playing tournament golf.

Jason Day

Staying in the present is the key to any golfer’s game. Once you start thinking about a shot you just messed up or what you have to do on the next nine to catch somebody, you’re lost.

Paul Azinger

If you are a golf coach looking to improve the way you coach the mental side then start is by completing our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Coaches here.

If you’re a golfer then fill in our Mental Toughness Questionnaire for Athletes and one of our “golf psychologists” will get back to you.

The Best Sport Psychologist You Can Be

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Be Too Keen, Motivated?

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

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

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

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

Lesson From The Journey So Far

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

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

Tip One: Know Your Sports

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

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

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

Familiarity With Sport Is How We Build Rapport

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

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

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

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

Tip Two: Personality Counts – Big Time

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

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

Tip Three: Never Stops Improving

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

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

Tip Four: Convert Frustration into Fuel

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

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

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

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

Tip Five: Become A Sporting Coach Yourself 

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

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

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

Last But Not Least

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

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

Recorded Radio Interview With Sport Psychologist

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

Radio Interview:

Full Transcription:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Yes.

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            No no.

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

Tim:                                            Good question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            To deal with that, yeah.

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

Tim:                                            No.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, and they become ostracised. So.

Gareth J. Mole:                    That’s right.

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

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

Tim:                                            No.

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Hours and hours. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Then you walk for …

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

Tim:                                            Hopefully 300 meters. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Got you. Yeah.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, all of it. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Tim:                                            Yeah, right.

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

Tim:                                            Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Gareth J. Mole:                         Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                                            That’s Gareth Mole from Condor Performance.