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.

Motivation, Sport Psychology and Marshmallows

Motivation is about more than a subcomponent of sport psychology and mental toughness. This article looks at delayed gratification and more.

Child eating two marshmellows
“If you don’t eat this marshmallow, you’ll get two later on”

Too Many Theories

I have long held the view that most areas of psychology are blighted with too many theories. Don’t get me wrong, I know we need research to support our professional decision making. But in my view there are simply too many below par theories, models and papers out there. Google Motivation and sport psychology theories and you’ll see what I mean.

This then blows out the work load of applied sport psychologists such as myself. I try to read as many peer-reviewed journals on sport psychology as possible. Unfortunately have to sort through the mountain to find the gems.

Oh, and there are some real gems.

One of these is the work done around Delayed Gratification via The Stanford Marshmallow Experiments. Starting in the 60s Walter Mischel did a series of studies that gave us with a huge clue about the motivational requirements of successful people.

One Marshmallow Now Or Two Later?

In these studies, children between four and eight years of age were offered a choice. Each child, in turn, could pick between one small reward immediately or two later. One marshmallow now or two later, you decide? If the child decided to have two marshmallows later then it would be on the condition that the single treat was still there when the experimenter returned. This was normally after about 15 minute.

Remarkably in the majority of the testing about half the children gobbled down the one marshmallow almost immediately. The other half would exercise great will power and wait for the experimenter to return. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to “delay their gratification” tended to have better life outcomes. For example, these high will power youngsters went on to get better exam results. They were happier and more likely to have good relationships. They ended up with much better jobs than the lower will power kids.

Below is a 6 minute Ted talk which explains the concept and experiments in more details.

Here is the video link to Joachim de Posada’s TED talk in 2009 that we keep banging on about in the context of delayed gratification as a key mindset for peak performance. Enjoy.

Although I am assume that Professor Mischel had little interest in the specific field of sport psychology I can’t imagine another branch of psychology whereby the concept of delayed gratification is more relevant.

Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is really just “doing something difficult now in the hope that it will be prove worth it later on”.

Of all the hundreds of theories on motivation pertaining to sport psychology this is most useful. Quite simply put, one of the chief explanations about why so few succeed is because they can’t link their short term struggle with their long term aspirations.

Most athletes and coaches try and find shortcuts. They throw in the towel when the rewards for their effort are not immediate and obvious. They gobble down the single marshmallow instead of waiting for two. Very few people actually love getting up at 4am in order to do laps under floodlights. But the champions and champions-in-the-making do it anyway.

In the defence of ‘most athletes’ it’s unlikely that anyone has taken the time to carefully explain to them that improving is all about patience. Doing the hard yards in the preseason so the rewards can come during the season.

What If The Kids Had Been Coached First?

What would have happened had all the Marshmallow experimentees been coached beforehand. Imagine a performance psychologist had been allowed to spend time helping the kids mentally prepare first. How about the impact if a performance psychologist shows pictures of other kids succeeding. Imagine if all the subjects has been taught proper mindfulness techniques thus allowing ‘urges’ to just be noticed.

But of course elite sport, especially at the highest level, requires a little more delayed gratification than 15 minutes. On many occasions the truly meaningful “payoff” for effort might only be 10 or even 20 years down the track. That’s a long time to wait for that second marshmallow! Think about the young athletes who sacrifice time with friends and family whilst they are teenagers only to see the rewards in their twenties and thirties.

Remember, the experiments centred around one marshmallow now or two later. The children were not left with a brussell sprout for 15 minutes. This is a super important point. There was nothing mean about leaving the kids alone in a room with one marshmallow. The only difficultly some of them experienced was the tussle between their own strength of mind and their own temptations.

Applied Sport Psychology

At Condor Performance one of the ways we help those we work with to embrace delayed gratification is by encouraging them to keep track of their progress.

Key Performance Indictors can “bridge the gap” between the daily and weekly grind and possible moments of glory. These monthly checks act a little like licking the marshmallow but not eating it. They help remind us about what we might get later on down the track. They remind us about why we’re doing what we’re doing even if it’s uncomfortable. MCs are, in my opinion, the most powerful motivators available when you can’t actually use marshmallows!


Easier said than done? If you’d like to receive details about our sport psychology services then you can get in touch a number of ways.

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.

Goal Setting – Done Right

Goal Setting is one of the best known of all mental skills – but we have come a very long way since the old days of S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Did you set some goals at the start of 2020 and then have them scuppered by the Corona Virus? Did you think to adjust your goals accordingly? Goal setting is actually the easy bit, it’s the getting that’s tricky.

This article was originally written in 2019 but has recently been updated. It now includes examples pertaining to the Corona Virus and associated challenges.

There are roughly 5000 separate searches for the term ‘goal setting’ every 24 hours around the world. This is the same number of searches for the term ‘sport psychology’. This suggests that athletes, coaches, students, bored teenagers and performers have heard of goal setting, want to do some but don’t really know how.

Before we help you out with this let’s remind ourselves of something important. It’s useful to seperate processes (methods) and their intended outcomes. In other areas of sports science, this is much easier. For example, in physical training one of the intended outcomes is cardio fitness. I assume you could list dozens of activities (processes) that would help improve cardio fitness. Moreover, you would never confuse skipping (for example) with the outcome of cardio fitness.

The Same Applies For Mental Training

The same framework can and should be applied to mental training but rarely is. Goal setting is the method. It’s a process but what are the intended areas we’re trying to influence when we do some goal setting? Furthermore, just like skipping which can be done well or poorly not all goal setting is the same. Most of the goal setting I have seen in the skipping equivalent of doing it once a year and hoping this will have a long last impact on cardio fitness.

Many sport psychologists will tell you that goal setting is all about improving motivation. But I would argue that it’s much broader than that. In fact, if done properly goal setting can become the entire foundation of your personal and sporting/performance endeavours.

Goal setting the Condor Performance way is really Goal getting. Setting long term outcome goals is actually rather easy. It’s the stuff required to get you there were the magic happens – so to speak.

Start With Your Preferences

The scientific literature refers to them as outcome goals, performance goals and process goals. It also suggests that ideally you’ll have all three types as part of your “goal setting” plan. I would agree.

Preferences are a much better label than outcome goals. The hard reality of elite competitive sport is that very few will actually achieve their long term goals. Preferences will soften the blow if you don’t make it without impacting on your motivation. Preferences want to be long term; between one and five years from now. They also want to be about both life and sport (performance). A simple 5 x 2 table of future preferences is ideal.

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going! Do you know where you want to get to a year from now? What about five years from now?

This is nothing revolutionary. The highly overrated S.M.A.R.T Goals might get you to the same place as the above exercise. One of the key aspects missing from many goal setting systems is the concept of influence. It’s essential that the person coming up with their long term preferences knows this. We only have some influence on these futuristic outcomes.

I am updating this blog in the midst of the 2020 Corona Virus and associated challenges. I will use it to prove my point from the above paragraph. Almost every sporting goal set at the start of 2020 will not happen. Is it your fault? Of course not, you only have some influence on these preferences.

When doing goal setting / getting with my clients I normally start with preferences. But not always. If I feel that for the individuals in front of me (on the screen) ending with preferences will be best then I do just that.

Progress – The Key To Effective Goal Setting

Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that you have started with your long term preferences. You have done your 5 x 2 table and have ten sporting and personal achievements clarified on paper. What next? The research calls them performance goals, we call them monthly checks.

Monthly Checks are typically performance aims and indicators that we have more influence on compared with our long terms preferences. Normally, we have a lot of influence on these key performance indicators. And here one of the secrets of many of the world’s best athletes. Due to having more influences on their KPIs compared with LTOGs they value the former more than the latter. Most competitive athletes do the opposite and wonder why they spend so much of their time frustrated.

Examples of monthly checks might be statistics from competitions. For example, maybe you’ll track ‘greens in regulation’ for all rounds of golf for the month of February and compare that with March. Or maybe you focus on training progress instead. Maybe you see if all that skipping is actually doing anything by repeating a heart rate recovery test at the start of each month.

Processes – How Champions Are Really Made

The final piece of the goal setting / getting puzzle is arguably the most important. What processes (activities) are best right now for you? By ‘right now’ I mean today and this week. There are two keys in doing this effectively. First, realise (know) that you have even more influence on your processes that you do on your progress and preferences. I would say ‘a huge amount’. You have a huge amount of influence on how to spend your time. Secondly, focus on what you can do. Good process planning doesn’t even consider what you can’t do not what you used to be able to do.

The current Corona Virus is a great example of this. Most athletes and coaches around the world are spending too much time thinking (talking) about what they can’t do right now. This common but unhealthy mental habit then makes it harder to think about the thousands of ways around challenges like lockdown.

If you’d like some professional help to set and then get some goals then get in touch. You can request a Call Back (form to the right on computers, below on smaller devices). Even better (as it gives us more background on you) is complete one of our questionnaires in which you can ask for info on our 1-on-1 sport psychology services.

The Problem with Privilege

Sport Psychologist Gareth J. Mole argues that athletes from less developed nations might have higher levels of organic mental toughness.

One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free.
One of the greatest aspects of sport is that with a little imagination it can be done for free

This article, The Problem with Privilege, was first written in 2018 and then updated in 2020.

Given the nature of the internet, I have no idea which country you’re from if you’re reading this article. But, given you can afford a device to access the World Wide Web then it’s reasonable to assume you are not currently below the poverty line.

So I suspect you have probably never considered there to be any downside of being privileged. Well from a Mental Toughness point of view, there can be.

The problem with privilege, especially in younger athletes, is there is less “organic” mental conditioning taking place. By organic I mean the natural way a place produces challenges thus forcing locals to “find a way” to overcome them.

Examples

Many of the best long distance runners of the past fifty years have come from Central or Northern Africa. The simple theory is that as young school kids from Kenya and Ethiopia they had to travel long distances to and from school without any form of transport. So they started running there and back from a young age. Obviously there are tremendous physical benefits to this. But what about the psychological gains due to doing something so hard from such a young age? All of a sudden, a 5000 meter Olympic final isn’t that big a deal. Just another 5 km stretch to be completed as fast as possible!

Mentally Harder Practice

At Condor Performance one of the ways in which we try to overcome this is via what we call Mentally Harder Practice (MHP). If done correctly this mental method can be very effective at boosting mental aspects of performance. No studies yet exist comparing MHP with growing up in a harsh environment. But my guess is that it would reduce the organic mental toughness gap between the first and the third world.

Mentally Harder Practice (MHP) is about doing anything that makes practice psychologically more challenging. I empathise mentally harder as it’s easy to incorrectly assume that physically harder means mentally harder. I recall once asking a high profile Rugby League coach what he did to make practice mental harder. He replied “to make the guys run up sand dunes in 35 degree heat”. I later asked his players about these sand dune drills and more than half said they loved them. If you love it, it’s not mentally harder. In other words MHP is basically manipulating your daily training environment to be less comfortable. On purpose, for your own benefit.

Ideas

One easy way to do some MHP is to play with the thermostat in training. In hot places, instead of cooling down the facility either do nothing or heat it up. Or when it’s freezing cold just let it be that way or cool it down even more!

There are three huge benefits to this type of mental training. I will use the above temperature example to explain. First, it varies training. We know the fastest way to demotivate an athlete is by having the same kind of training week after week. Second, if during an actual competition it was to become much hotter or colder than expected – this mental method will lessen the impact. Finally, MHP helps with two of the five aspects of mental toughness; [handling] emotions and [improving] focus. It helps with emotions as it makes training more emotional. This way you can really put your mental skills (like Mindfulness) to the test. Mentally Harder Practice helps to improve focus in the same way. It is much harder to focus when you’re too hot so you will get a genuine mental work out.

Word Of Warning

A double word of warning before you get too excited and ask your coach to start throwing rotten eggs at you. First, make sure that none of your MHP ideas put you in physical danger and/or increase the risk of injury. Using the example of practising in the cold on purpose. It would be essential to properly warm up your body before such a training session. Second, make sure your ideas don’t put you in psychological danger either. By psychological danger, I mean creating an environment that is so hard it actually causes some kind of long term mental scarring to take place. The safest way to do this is by only adding small mental demands to training. Not dissimilar to increasing the overall weight of a dumbbell slowly in certain physical training exercises to reduce the risk of tearing a muscle.

Reduced Consulting Rates For The Less Privileged

Speaking of privilege – did you know that at Condor Performance we charge less to work 1-on-1 with those from less wealthy countries. Yes, that is correct. Despite the fact that all of our sport psychologists and performance psychologists are from Australia are fees are one third less for certain clients. We use The Big Mac Index each year to work out the 15 most prosperous nations in the world. Sporting and non-sporting clients from these countries pay full rate. For all other clients from the rest of the world we offer a 33% discount.

This has allowed us to work with hundreds of athletes from around the world who would not have been able to afford our full rates. But one country has and is really taking advantage of this like no other; India. That’s right, we work 1-on-1 with more Indian performers than almost any other country. Why? For a start there are 1.3 billions of Indian. Think about that for a second. How many table tennis players in India compared with New Zealand? Next, culturally Indian regard psychology as an essential building blocks to success and happiness. Furthermore, there appears to be very, very few qualified sport psychologists in India. So it should come as no surprise that they look beyond India to work with a performance psychology expert.

The Problem with Privilege was written by legendary sport psychologist Gareth J. Mole. Gareth is one of the psychologists who works for Condor Performance. He can be contacted directly via his email which is [email protected].

Positive Psychology in Sport and Performance

Are sporting coaches and competitive athletes amongst the more likely to benefit from the principles of positive psychology?

The Positive Psychology Movement is about building on existing strengths

Recently I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and I came across an email from a previous coach of mine. The message contained some feedback on what he felt I needed to improve on after a recent tournament. I scanned through the email and felt a heaviness settle in my stomach.  The emotions came back from the time I first received the email many years ago. The feedback was all negative but phrased as ‘the areas I needed to improve on’.  Comments like ‘you need to do this more’, and ‘in this situation, you need to be doing this’. No traces of Positive Psychology anywhere.

None of the feedback was given to me during the tournament itself. It was all put in an email and sent when we got back and with no follow-up. What I noticed most was that there was no positive feedback at all. After reading his email, I felt unmotivated and deflated. I’m sure this is not what he intended but it’s what happened. Is this type of feedback going to make for better athletes and competitors?

Performance Psychology meets Positive Psychology

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Happiness and Its Causes conference in Perth. I was curious, engaged, and fascinated by the content and the vibe of the conference. During the even I was introduced to Positive Psychology, the science of flourishing. Dr Martin Seligman, one of the main researchers in this branch of psychology, believes that psychological practise should be as concerned with people’s strengths as their weaknesses. Positive psychology asks ‘what’s good in our lives’ compared to the traditional psychology approach which can focus more on ‘what’s wrong with us and how can we fix it’. 

As a performance psychologist, I have always had a passion for helping people thrive in their work and life. So this theory sat well with me and aligned with my values. I started introducing positive psychology initiatives into my work in organisations. Later as my sporting clients grew I felt that they too would gain a lot from some simple positive psychology principles.

Too Much Deficit-Based Coaching

Sport is also often focused on ‘fixing weaknesses and problems’, called deficit-based coaching. How often do you come off the field at half time and a coach says “this is what we need to change because we’re not doing it right.” Strengths-based coaching, on the other hand, is about identifying, enhancing and exploiting athletes’ and teams’ strengths and focusing on what we do well.

Athletes, coaches and sporting organisations generally have the goal of excellence, both on and off the field. By using positive psychology strategies, performance psychologists are able to support athletes, staff and families develop resilience and coping skills in order to deal with setbacks, focus on strengths to achieve their goals. These mental skills are just as vital to success as being able to hit a hockey ball or shoot a basket.  Talent and technical ability is not enough. Whilst important we all can name truly gifted athletes that never make it. 

What sets most athletes apart is their mental toughness. It’s their character, their grit, their positive mindset and the belief that their ability can be developed through dedication and hard work. So what are the key factors of positive psychology that can be applied to sport?

Strengths Focus

Research has demonstrated that it is easier to promote a strength than it is to improve weaknesses and that our areas of greatest potential are our greatest strengths. This is not to say don’t focus on your weaknesses, but the best results will come when you are also working on your strengths.  Research shows that those who use their strengths are more likely to have higher levels of confidence, vitality and energy, are likely to be more resilient, have higher self-esteem, and to perform better. Coaches and athletes are encouraged to know their strengths and the focus of development should be around their strengths. Many coaches have a negativity bias and need to train their brains to focus on the good things their athletes are doing.

The two key elements of a strength-approach are “delivering a high level of performance and experiencing a sense of energy when you are doing it” (Linley, Willars, et al., 2010). Spotting the energy is crucial to distinguish the real strengths from learned behaviours.  So how do you know what your strengths are?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you love about your sport?
  • What’s your favourite role?
  • Which aspects do you get complimented on?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How can I harness my strengths?

Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology

In 2006, Carol Dweck introduced us to the notion of growth and fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset are more comfortable with failure as they see it as a learning opportunity in comparison to those with a fixed mindset who believe their success is based on innate ability and talent. Athletes with a growth mindset are more likely to see challenges as opportunities rather than barriers and believe that they can improve, learn and get better with practice and effort. 

The good news is, we can choose which mindset we want – we can choose to view our mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities, or we can view them as limiting obstacles. Those choosing a growth mindset are more likely to persist in difficult times than those with fixed mindsets. And athletes know better than anyone, that if you want to achieve success, there are always barriers and obstacles in the way, including poor form, injury and confidence issues.

Positive Emotions

Sport is emotional – for athletes, coaches, and spectators.  Many emotions are felt from elation, excitement and nervousness to fear, sadness, anger and disappointment. Emotions drive behaviour and often dictate how you perform as an athlete in competition. To become a high performing athlete, you need to understand and manage your emotions so they help rather than hinder your performances.

Many people falsely believe that positive psychology only recognises positive aspects of people and their performances, and ignores the negative.  When viewing emotions, both positive and negative are considered, and the impact both these have on an athlete’s performances. Negative emotions like anxiety and anger can trigger our body’s “Fight or Flight” response to threat and these emotions affect our bodies physically. These physical effects can include increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension, stomach aches, weakened focus, and physically drained. Positive emotions, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. Happiness can relieve tension, lower your heart and blood pressure, strengthen your immune system and help to combat stress. Staying calm, focused and positive can help you attend to what you need to minimise distractions, keeping you relaxed, and increasing your confidence. It also has the added benefit of being a pleasant person to be around!

Grit Theory

Recent research has shown that one of the key factors in success is what is termed as ‘Grit’, defined as passion and perseverance in working toward significant long-term goals. Elite athletes across many sports are grittier compared with non-elite athletes. They also commit to their sports for a longer period of time. This concept pioneered by Dr Angela Duckworth (2007), explains why some people achieve success without being gifted with unique intelligence or talent. So, if you are an athlete or coach who feels like you missed the talent boat, then there is hope for you. How many of you can credit your successes to your passion, commitment, resilience and perseverance? The good news is that you can develop your grit to become grittier. 

Ways To Do This Include:

  • Develop your passion – find what you love doing, and it will be easier to stick to it.  Not many people stick to things they are not passionate about.  Ask yourself, what do I like to think about?  Where does my attention wander?  What do I really care about?
  • Practice deliberately – don’t waste your time at training, practice deliberately.  Set stretch goals, practice with full concentration and effort, seek feedback and reflect on what went well and what didn’t to refine for next time.
  • Consider your purpose – why are you doing what you do?  In life and sport, there are bound to be setbacks and challenges along the way.  If you have a purpose for what you are doing, then you are more likely to persevere and stay committed.  When times are tough, always go back to your ‘why’.
  • Adopt a ‘growth’ mindset – athletes with a growth mindset know their abilities develop through hard work and effort rather than natural talent.  Those with growth mindsets are much better at dealing with setbacks as they view them as learning experiences, rather than being directly related to their ability. 

Grit in Practice

Is it not possible to developed Grit overnight; it is an ongoing process. What we do know is that it’s worth developing – the gritty athlete is not only successful, s/he is also more likely to be happier and more satisfied with his/her ability than other athletes.

The adoption and implementation of positive psychology hs a significant impact on sports performances by shifting the focus from negative (what’s wrong with you) to positive (what’s right with you). 

Understanding your strengths and how to use them, adopting a growth mindset, using your emotions strategically and developing grit all contribute to building mental toughness, optimism, motivation and resilience. I know from firsthand experience how focusing on the positive can have a much greater impact on an athlete and bring out the best in us. 

If you’d like more information about working with me on some of these ideas then get in touch by completing our Contact Us Form here and mention my name (“Mindy”) somewhere in the comments sections and I will call you back.

Positive Psychology Is Not Positive Thinking

The below is an old post from 2014 written by one of the interns at the time (sorry, can’t call which one). It was called The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking. Note, the below was not written by Mindy but it feels like this is the best place to add it.

The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

It goes without saying that negative thinking can be unhelpful, particularly from a performance perspective. But have you ever considered that the opposite of negative thinking may also be unhelpful? Or even that trying to change how we think in the first place is where the problems lie?

How often do we hear people say that to overcome difficult situations we just need to think positively? Let’s start with a story about how our thoughts influence the way we feel and act.

Three Soccer Players

Imagine three soccer players each taking a penalty kick in a shoot out. They all miss the goal. The first player thinks: “I’ve let the whole team down. I’ll never get selected again.” She gets upset and feels really sad about missing the goal. The second player thinks: “It’s not fair that we had to go to a penalty shoot out! This is all because the referee disallowed our goal in the 88th minute!” This player kicks the ground on their way back to the team and feels angry about missing the goal. The third player thinks: “Well, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but overall I had a pretty good game today. I’ll have to practice those spot kicks a bit more in training.” She remains calm on her way back to the team, and even though they feel a bit disappointed about missing the goal.

So why did three people who were in the same situation experience such different cognitive reactions? They all missed the goal, but only the third player coped effectively with this stressful situation. As you may have noticed, these three players all had different thoughts going through their minds after they missed the goal. Their thoughts influenced their emotions (i.e. how they felt) and their behaviour (i.e. how they acted). This story highlights two important points for athletes and coaches to understand:

  1. Our thoughts influence how we feel and act; and
  2. We can’t change the outcome of our performance once it’s in the past, but we can certainly control how we react to this outcome.

Thoughts Influence How We Feel and Act

Over time our thoughts become more consistent and habitual. We develop our own unique way of making sense of situations. This is called our thinking style. There are three distinct styles of thinking. Negative and positive thinking sit at either end of a continuum. They are both extremes, like the colours black and white. Both of these extreme thinking styles have the potential to be unhelpful when it comes to coping with stressful situations. Negative thinking can lead to self-doubt, being hyper critical, blaming others and feeling guilty. Likewise, positive thinking (not grounded in reality) can be equally unhelpful and lead to over-confidence and under-preparation in some athletes and coaches.

This leaves us with the third (and most helpful) thinking style. Realistic Thinking is characterised by the shades of grey that fall between the extremes of negative and positive thinking. As the name suggests, realistic thinking is based on real life – and for most people, life consists of ups and downs rather than “all good” or “all bad” situations. Realistic thinking is a balanced way of thinking that acknowledges limitations or setbacks whilst developing and maximising strengths. Here are a few tips to help you develop a more realistic thinking style:

7 Quick Wins

  1. Evaluate the validity of your thoughts. Don’t just treat them as facts. Try to find supporting evidence for thoughts that enhance your confidence and motivation and refuting evidence for thoughts that undermine your confidence and motivation.
  2. Be careful not to over-generalise after a setback. Just because one shot, tackle, or game wasn’t your best, doesn’t mean that every performance in the future will be the same.
  3. Focus on the controllables – What you are thinking and doing in the present moment. You can’t change the past, and the only way you can influence your future is by how you manage the present.
  4. If your mind starts focusing on a worst case scenario, ask yourself “How likely is it that this scenario will actually come true?” and “Will the consequences be as bad as I’m predicting?”
  5. Try not to use extreme words in your thinking, such as “should,” “must,” “always,” and “never.” These words lead to athletes and coaches putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. Think about what is reasonable rather than ideal.
  6. Work with supportive people around you (i.e. coach, family, team mates, psychologist) to develop realistic performance goals. Expectations need to be in line with capabilities and logistics in order for goals to be achievable.
  7. Accept that things sometimes don’t go according to plan and sport can be unpredictable and unfair. Use these stressful experiences as an opportunity to learn and build resilience for the future.

Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD)

Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD) is common and it’s not going away. Performance psychologist David Barracosa looks into this issue.

Post Sporting Career Depression is very common
Post Sporting Career Depression is very common amongst elite athletes

The processes and challenges of adjusting to life after sport for elite athletes is starting to get some limelight. These issues were highlighted in a 2017 episode of 4 Corners called After The Game that is really worth watching. The episode made it clear that vast improvements are needed in this space. Not only during the period after retirement, but also with athletes during their career in order to prepare them for the inevitable. Yes, that’s right all sporting careers will come to an end. But not all athletes will suffer from what we call Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD). Unlike other depressions that can follow events such as birth (Post Natal Depression) PSCD is yet to be officially recognised.

Juggling Life and Sporting Goals

Elite athletes often struggle with the juggling act between their sport and their life. How much time and energy for sporting goals versus the years following “the glory days”. This is a common concern for anyone chasing a significant and challenging goal, not just athletes. Think about the young medical intern who also has small children at home.

As sport and performance psychologists we often assist our client with this very delicate balancing act.

When setting goals it can be a good idea to make them more holistic rather than just focusing on sport. So, instead of “to sign a professional contract with an EPL club” it might be more meaningful to target “life satisfaction” for example. After all it’s likely that these sporting goals are being targeted as a means to be happy.

Sporting Successful Without Happiness is Not A Win

We are in no way ignoring the importance of an individual’s sporting goals. But maybe these achievements are better “KPIs” to be reviewed. To ensure that progress is made and is leading towards life satisfaction or happiness. This is a valuable adjustment because it acknowledges that sport is a key contributor to your overall well being. But it also asks the question of what else contributes to this experience. Examples of other KPIs might be improving health, building stronger relationships. Or even the concept of TOTIWBEA.

The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At

TOTIWBEA stands for The Other Thing I Want to Be Excellent At and it can be anything you want it to be. It can be another sport, an alternate career, pathway of education, relationship, or anything else you can come up with. The reason it’s so important is that it prevents an athlete or coach from being defined solely by their sport. This is dangerous because when the sport is gone, so to is an individual’s identity unless they have other meaningful areas in their life.

To use an old cliche, we simply don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.

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The balance that can be created through a pursuit of TOTIWBEA can be critical to on-field performance. People who have multiple passions and gain meaning from different areas are less likely to be significantly impacted by pressures from one of these areas.

Think about it for a second. If you are a cricketer who only has cricket in your life how will you feel during a ‘form slump’ compared with a more balanced teammate going through the same?

Or you are struck down by injury or are on the cusp of being dropped from the first team? And sport is the sole focus and contributor to your well being? The stress of this is going to have a more significant impact than on an individual who places importance on building relationships or their pursuit of education.

These other areas can provide support and structure for you to manage the stress while still moving in a positive direction in your life. A lot of people do have these other areas but if they aren’t given the recognition or highlighted as important then their benefits can be missed.

Off Field Areas Impacting On Field Performances

Another factor linked to on-field performance is stress. Stress experienced through a lack of balance can impact on an athlete’s quality and quantity of effort. What we tend to notice in individuals is that when their stress becomes significant their training output drops. When this happens they start to increase the quantity that they are putting in to make up the difference. This unfortunately leaves less time for the other areas of their life. This creates further imbalance and makes it more difficult to achieve satisfaction in these other meaningful domains. It’s a classic viscous cycle.

The final suggestion about managing this important area of an athlete’s performance is not for them but actually for coaches, administrators and potentially other psychologists. While our role is to help athletes work towards creating the best opportunities to achieve their sporting goals, we can’t ignore the fact that it is not forever. In a lot of sports, playing professionally at 40 years of age is an anomaly. There a lot of years post-retirement for an athlete to continue to have a meaningful life. We need to have honest conversations and point out the importance of balance because this may be lost for an athlete in their pursuit of excellence. They aren’t easy conversations, but they may prove to be the most important.

If you’d like to email me personally regarding any of the above or any other performance psychology topic then feel free to do so at [email protected] and I will try to reply as quickly as possible. Cheers, David.

Please note that this post was originally published in 2017 but was recently updated and improved. Since then an amazing book called Range by David Epstein has been published which I’d highly recommend.

Sport Psychology Tips

Some Free Sport Psychology Tips to help you perform better by leading performance psychologist David Barracosa of Condor Performance

26 Free Sport Psychology Ideas

An A to Z Guide To SportsPsychology

Although sport psychology can be a complex and quickly evolving field it can still allow for some “quick wins”. With this in mind please enjoy these Sport Psychology Tips and don’t forget to add your comments below!

A is for Attitude

It may be surprising but in our work, as sport and performance psychologists we actually don’t refer to attitude much. Attitude is just one of many type of human cognition. When a coach refers to an athlete as having ‘the right attitude’ he or she is probably suggesting that this athlete’s values and beliefs are in line with their own.

For example, both might regard sporting results as important but not as important as hard work and effort. The most interesting aspect of attitude is it is often assessed via observations (a coach watching an athlete in training). Due to this it is probably body language that is actually being appraised. Attitude, if we take the term literally, is not directly observable as it’s occurring inside the mind.

B is for Body Language

Body language is a fascinating area of performance psychology. Research suggests that it dominates how we communicate compared with the actual words we use. In sporting contexts, this makes even more sense as it is quite normal for there to be little or no verbal communication. With maybe the exception of the captains or leaders of sporting teams, most athletes of most sports don’t say very much during both training and whilst competing.

For this majority, communicating with either teammates or opponents is taking place via the body. By the body, we mean entire body from facial expressions to posture to hand gestures and everything in between. How do you improve body language? I would suggest starting out by filming yourself in a variety of situations and then watch it back with the sound off.

C is for Consistency

Sometimes we refer to consistency as ‘the holy grail’ of competitive sport. As can be read in this extensive blog by our colleague Chris Pomfret improved consistency is really just the consequence of taking the mental side of your sport seriously.

D is for Determination

Determination is very similar to the mental concept as motivation without being a synonym. Motivation, at least as defined by our coaching philosophy Metuf, is more about enthusiasm, enjoyment, desire and dreams. Determination might be a good word to refer to the actions we continue with during times in which the enthusiasm for our sport is not there. One of the most common examples of this is when the scoreboard is not in your favour (no way to win with time remaining). Yet, despite this you decide to preservative anyway. This is a great example of sporting determination.

E is for Enjoyment

The enjoyment we’re referring to in this instance is the kind that most kids tend to have towards their sport before it becomes ‘serious’. The fun of chasing the ball more than getting to it first. The issue is, this enjoyment tends to dissipate once the stakes increase. Far too many sporting coaches become far too intense during competitions due to a lack of sport psychology training during their accreditation. This is one of the many reasons why we have always wanted to work 1-on-1 with sporting coaches.

F is for Focus 

Learning to improve focus is actually one of the easier mental skills. It really boils down to knowing when and how to switch on – and then practising this like any other skill. There are many great examples of how to do this but amongst the most effective are the short performance routines that I wrote about in our last blog article. I say easier in comparison to various other mental skills which although very effective can be somewhat critic in nature.

There is no getting away from the fact that training the mind is always going to be a trickier mountain to climb due to the investable nature of what we’re targeting for improvement. For example, areas such as focus.

G is for Grit 

Grit is a term which has gained a lot of momentum recently due mainly to the works of Angela Duckworth (see YouTube video below). Grit is defined via it’s Wikipedia page as a “…non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie on the path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realisation. Distinct but commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include “perseverance”, “hardiness“, “resilience“, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness“.

Our monthly clients, as well as long-time readers of the Mental Toughness Digest, will rightly feel that many of these words – perseverance, effort, ambition are very familiar to them as they are cornerstone concepts of Metuf.

H is for Hard Work

There is simply no substitute for hard work. 

I is for Influence

Knowing the amount of influence you have on some of the more common aspects of your sport (or performance areas) is mighty useful. A great little exercise you can do is to start a simple three-column table. The heading of the first column is ‘Lots of Influence’, for the second write “Some Influence” and for the final one label it “Little Influence”.

Now start to fill in the table with whatever comes to mind. For example, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about an upcoming competition combined with memories of how you did at the same venue last year. So you might decide to put the Future in the middle column and the Past in the right-hand column – for instance.

J is for Junior Sport

If I were in charge of sport in a particular state or country I would flip funding so that the vast majority of recourses went into the junior or developmental side of sports. In other words, the best coaches, equipment and facilities normally only accessible to the top 0.1% of athletes would be diverted to athletes under the age of 16.

For example, those regarded as the very best coaches – like Wayne Bennett in rugby league – would be invited to coach junior rugby league players instead. I would make sure that whatever position was created for this had the same or greater salary as top-flight professional coaches.

K is for Keeping Going

Maybe the most powerful cue words in sport. Your mind will virtually always quit on you before your body does. Tell it to Keep Going and see what happens.

L is for Learning

There is a reason why some of the very best sporting coaches of all time – for example, Jake White – are formers teachers. They treat the process of performance enhancement as one long learning experience for both themselves and their players. The most appealing aspect of this angle is that poor performances are used as learning opportunities. Errors, for example, are considered as invaluable elements of feedback – data that can be used to inform better choices moving forward. 

M is for Monitoring

If you are not monitoring at least one aspect of your endeavours you’re missing out. At Condor Performance we encourage our sporting and non-sporting clients to record one or more “monthly checks”. As can be read in detail from this recent blog post these monthly checks are like our key performance indicators. As long as you know the right number of monthly checks to monitor (not too many) and the amount of influence you have on each of these results (not as much as you think) there is zero downsides to this kind of self-monitoring and plenty of upsides.


N is for Numbers

Whether you like it or not competitive sport – especially at the elite level – is full of numbers. In fact certain sports, like cricket and baseball are so mathematical in nature that the coaches of these sports would be forgiven for thinking of themselves more like statisticians from time to time. This is one of the reasons why we encourage our monthly clients to monitor their own progress – to allow them to function, even thrive in a results-oriented world. The other reasons have already been mentioned above in the M for monitoring.

O is for Objectivity

Both the M and the N above help with objectively but alone might not be enough. Objectively is roughly the opposite of subjectively with the latter being heavy on opinions with the former much more based on facts. For example, it’s quite normal for athletes and coaches to assess past performances based mostly (or only) on memory or even worse, based on the final result. This is highly subjective and a bit like any human pursuit we’d want to be careful about how much of our analysis is subjective. Objective analysis – for example, the number of missed tackles –  will be more valuable as the numbers don’t lie.

Actually, this is not true – numbers can lie but are less likely to do so than opinions.

P is for Pressure

‘Pressure’ is one of the most fascinating aspects of sports psychology. For a start, it’s 100% internal – it’s a feeling with very real physiological sensations – a little bit like hunger. Because it’s going on inside it’s less tangible and therefore harder to manage. To start with, it’s really important not to consider pressure as being good or bad. Let me use hunger to explain. Hunger, for most of us, is simply a signal for us to go an eat something. Once we do, the hunger goes away. The food that alleviates the hunger that is pressure is practice. That’s right, high-quality practice is like a pile of organic veggies.

Of course, there is also a benefit to learning to deal with hunger/pressure in case there is no food/practice available. By far the best way to do this – in my opinion – is to work with a qualified sport/performance psychologist like one of the members of our team.

Q is for Quantity and Quality

This is how we break down practice or effort. Quantity is ‘how much’ and wants to be in the right amount. Quality is how good and wants to be as high as possible. We often find it useful to multiply these together. For example, if the highest score for each is 10 then combined the highest score is 100.

What number did your last training session get?

R is for Routines

See my recent blog post for a full break down on routines.

S is for Stigma

There are still a huge number of people out there whose beliefs about what sports psychologists or performance psychologists do get in the way of us being able to help them. The stigma comes from the word ‘psychologist’ which too many people still associate with having some kind of mental problem. The general premise of working with a psychologist being a sign of weakness needs to be broken. A band-aid solution to this is to refer to ourselves as a coach or performance coaches or mental skills trainers instead. The issue with this is it doesn’t help to remove the stigma. Also, it seems a pity not to be able to use the title psychologist that took us seven or so years to earn.

T is for Time Management

Being able to manage your own time, your needs and your wants is one of the most underrated of all mental skills. I work with a LOT of young elite athletes (teenagers on track to be the world’s best in their chosen sport) and on the whole, they come to me with either poor or non-existent time management skills. Sometimes, a simple suggestion like buying a $5 diary to start recording upcoming commitments can do wonders in terms of accountability, planning, knowing when to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to invitations and moving their mindset more towards effort and further from results. For more on Time Managment see this separate post.

U is for Unity

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve the team unity of your team then watch the Unity video from the Metuf online program by clicking here.

V is for Values and W is for Why

Our values and beliefs guide our thoughts so if you’d like to update your daily thought processes then it can be a good idea to think about your values. By values, we really mean what you consider to be valuable or important. A nice little exercise to get the ball rolling is to simply list everything you consider to be important in your life and why. For example, you might write ‘8 hours of sleep a night’ and follow that with ‘because it helps me get the most of various training sessions the following day’. The ‘why’ part is very important as this links our endeavours to our internal motivation.

X is for eXcellence

Are you striving for excellence? Do you want to become excellent at what you do? How would you define and measure excellence? Is your training excellence? Do you know how to increase your chances of becoming the best possible athlete or coach you can be? If not get in touch and we’ll lend you a hand.

Y is for Yourself

One of the best ways of helping others is to look after yourself first.

Z is for Zest

Zest is one of the traits that we look for when we are interviewing psychologists looking to join our team of sport and performance psychologists. Do they have a passion for sports and helping athletes and coaches become better versions of themselves? If not, getting up at 5 am to deliver a Skype session to a monthly client from another country might just prove to be too hard.

What Is Mental Toughness?

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are the main topics that are addressed in this article.

What is Mental Toughness? For us, it’s a bit like one of the engines on a four engine plane.

No Agreement At This Time

It is important to state from the very beginning that there is currently very little agreement within the sport psychology community about what is really meant by mental toughness. In fact many researchers and psychologists working in sport and performance don’t even like the term mental toughness. Some don’t like the actual label whilst others don’t believe it should be a seperate concept to mental health. With this in mind the below assertions are just my professional opinions. Not surprisingly they are shared by my colleagues at Condor Performance.

Defining Sporting Mental Toughness

What is mental toughness? What is it not? Is there a best practice way to improve it permanently? These are amongst the main topics that I will address below. Please use the comments sections at the bottom to let me know if you agree or disagree and why. And don’t forgot the why.

Mental Toughness Is Not The Same As Mental Preparation

Is the pursuit of more clarify we need to clear up the most common furphy first. Mental Toughness is the target, the outcome, the ‘thing(s)’ we’re trying to improve. Mental Toughness is not a process. Mental Toughness is the cake. It’s not the beating of the eggs.

A more accurate but less appealing label for mental toughness is actually ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. But in the same way that you’d sell less Advil if you called it only by it’s scientific name (ibuprofen) mental toughness is both punchier and more appealing to the consumer. If you want to see the importance of getting the label right have a look at this.

Furthermore, mental toughness is the umbrella terms for ‘the mental aspects specific to performance’. What this means is that is refers to a complex interplay between a number of very different mental aspects. It works the same way as intelligence. Intelligence is now known to be made up of different types. So saying some is intelligent or not is less than usual. First up, it’s too black and white – where is the cut off? But more importantly it ignores the fact that someone can be high in visual-spatial intelligence and low in verbal-linguistic for example.

So a much more relevant question is what are the subcomponents of mental toughness? What are the common psychological outcomes we’re looking to improve as psychologists working in sport? After we have agreed on that, we can focus on the best methods, processes for improving them.

The Aeroplane Analogy

At Condor Performance we an use an analogy that the competitive athlete is like a four engined plane. This is best explained via this 15 minute video below.

Most human beings do not require super fitness, amazing physical strength nor excellent flexibility in order to function, thrive and be good at what they do. In fact, only relatively small amounts of physical activity may be needed in order for most people to experience the day-to-day benefits of exercise on their wellbeing. 

But if this person happens to be an athlete – and in particular an athlete of a physically demanding sport then these small amounts of psychical activity will not be sufficient. Especially if they want to go as far in their chosen sport as possible. 

If the purpose of the aircraft is simply to go for short 20 minute flights as part of a hobby group for amateur fliers then it still needs to function but the efficiency of the engines is less critical compared with an aeroplane that wants to fly as far as possible (safely).

After 15 years of helping mostly athletes with mostly their performance mental toughness, I believe that it is best broken down into these five key psychological subcomponents:

  • Motivation (towards training and competing)
  • Emotional Agility (before / during training and competitions
  • Thought Shaping through values
  • Unity (Team cohesion)
  • Focus on demand

Be Careful Of Synonyms!

Most of the other labels that you’d expect to be here are either synonyms of one of these words or a type of one of the subcomponents or a combination of the both of these. For example, the words concentration and attention are both synonyms of focus. I know from some of my academic contact that some don’t agree with this. In other others focus and attention are not actually the same. To them I say this. They are close enough, let’s not overcomplicate things just for the same of it.

Confidence, pressure. fear and feeling relaxed are all types of emotions. Flow, one of the most common words in modern-day sport psychology, is really just a blend of high focus whilst executing tasks that are not too easy nor too hard.

How Do We Improve Mental Toughness

As mentioned before trying to improve mental toughness as a whole thing is a waste of time. Much in the same way that trying to improve intelligence is. Once you start asking yourself the question how do I improve motivation or emotional agility then the magic start to happen. First, common sense and/or experience will produce a few ideas.

Try this experiment with kids. As them to brainstorm way to improve mental toughness. See what happens. Now repeat and ask them to come up with was to improve group unity. Bam!

If you type the word ‘motivation’ into Google Scholar you get 4,270,000 results. We know a lot about motivation and how to improve it. If you type ‘mental toughness’ in you get a mere 18,400 results. That’s more than 200 times the amount of knowledge on motivation compared with mental toughness.

If you are not happy with common sense alone then turn your attention to the research. Or better still start working with someone who has gone through all the research on your behalf. At Condor Performance I am blessed to have an amazing team of psychologists who do almost of the consulting. This allows me the time to get my geek on and consume performance psychology like a bear coming out of hibernation.

If you’d like to find our more about how to work with one of our team on your mental toughness then get in touch now.


The Psychology of Sports Injuries

The Psychology of Sports Injuries is a short article exploring the mental aspects of a very common physical challenge faced by athletes – getting injured

The Psychology of Sports Injuries is one of the most common mental challenges
Sporting injuries are understandably regarded as the exclusive domain of physiotherapists yet there is growing evidence that the challenges are just as psychological in nature.

Introduction

The psychology of sports injuries is not exactly the same as the ones that can occur in non-sporting situations. For a start, they are much more likely to occur. High contact sports such as AFL, both rugby codes and American football are fraught with injuries. Secondly, the impact on goals and dreams of injuries for athletes are greater than for non-sporting performers. I am very mindful hat serious injuries can, of course, derail all types of dreams. However a dentist can still go to work with a torn ACL, a soccer player can’t. Hence the title of this article is The Psychology of Sports Injuries and not The Psychology of Injuries.

A large portion of what we write for the Digest is aimed at athletes who are in top physical condition. So what happens when you are get an unexpected injury and suddenly you are struggling both physically and mentally? This can be one of the most mentally challenging experiences athletes and performers face. Having a handful of tools and strategies to help you manage the journey can truly make a significant difference.

The Psychology of Sports Injuries is one of the most common of all mental challenges

I know first hand the mental pain and frustration athletes go through. In 2016 I ruptured my ACL for the second time and did 9-months of rehab. It’s interesting, though, because this frustration and emotion can come from a number of different places.

  • Disappointment and regret that the injury has occurred
  • Wondering what you could have done differently to prevent it
  • Watching your teammates still competing while you’re in a cast or brace
  • The setbacks or bad news you may receive along the journey
  • The fear that when you’re allowed to play you will find a way to injure yourself again.

With all of these thought patterns it’s crucial you have space where you can express these emotions. There’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you do – if fact it normal. After all, one of the major aspects of your life has just hit a major speedbump. As psychologists, our job is to help injured athletes turn that frustration into motivation.

One way we help our sidelined sporting clients do this is to talk about effort more than results.

All the statements I mentioned earlier exist outside of our bubble of responsibility because they are either influenceable or uninfluenceable.

They revolve around things such as the past, other people and the future. When we’re committing to our rehabilitation process we want to be sure our mind is focused on what we can control. This typically is our effort to our intended actions in the present moment.

By being injured we are restricted in our movements and achieving certain results – but we are not dead.

Developing An Optimal Mindset

The rewards and satisfaction from applying yourself to a gym or physiotherapy session can be just as motivating. It’s worth remembering that when you got the injury it was only your body [part] that was actually hurt – not your brain.

This development of confidence is also a key part of the rehabilitation process. It is important both in regaining skills confidence and in the part of my body that had been injured. We want to be able to trust that once we start competing again, our bodies will hold up. We don’t want to become distracted about the possibility of reinjury.

There are many mental strategies we can use that help us develop this confidence. They often revolve around the way we mentally map out the rehabilitation journey.

Baby Steps

A good way of viewing the situation is by seeing it as a process of stepping stones. Some of these stepping stones are going to be about our physical capabilities (strength, fitness and flexibility). Others are going to be very skill-set related.

The combination of these provides the complete picture of what is required for us to be at full capacity again. Each time we jump from one stone to the next this is another achievement and boost in our confidence that we’re heading in the right direction and further strengthens the trust we have in our body. This way of breaking things down doesn’t mean the journey won’t be challenging but allows it to be much more realistic and achievable. It also allows us to problem solve at a much more manageable level when things aren’t going our way.

Once we have successfully completed this rehabilitation journey and are ready to step back onto the field, we may be faced with new mental challenges. We may ask ourselves “Can I still compete at this level?”, “Am I ready?” or even “Have I done enough to be here?”.

You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

In taking the time to break down the journey into smaller parts and continually keeping the focus on the controllables, it allows us not only to develop the physical readiness to step out onto the field but also the mental readiness. Each stage along the way has allowed us to mentally keep track of the work we are doing and the achievements we have made.

Keep our expectations of the match focused on the controllables and not expect ourselves to do what we could the last time we were here but rather thinking about what the work we have done off the field has positioned us to do. In other words, applying our best effort to our intended actions in the present moment. Taking care of this ensures we remain in touch with ourselves throughout the match and play to the level we have prepared for.

Are you an athlete with an injury? If you are and wish to discuss the mental side of your rehabilitation then please get in touch. You can email me directly and confidentially at [email protected]. I would love to help and be a part of your journey back to full fitness.

Note that ‘The Psychology of Sports Injuries’ was first written in 2016 but updated twice in 2019.