Tag: Mental Training

Selective Attention in Irish Dance

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

Just over 3,000 Irish dancers from all regions of the world flocked to New Orleans early this month for the North American Irish Dance Championships, the biggest Irish dance event of the summer. As dancers and spectators walked into one of the many ballrooms, they were immediately blinded by the sparkling dresses and the curly wigs of those competing. In the front of the room, competitors danced on the raised stage with seven snappily dressed judges watching, pens positioned to write their comments.

There are thousands of distractions for the dancers on stage. The audience talking, the other dancers practicing backstage, the sparkles shining off of the bright stage lights, and the thoughts circling inside their heads are some of the many distractions dancers face. One of the most potentially harmful distractions in all of Irish dance, though, is the competitor dancing alongside you on stage. The question posed is how can you focus on your own dancing when your competitor is on the stage at the same time as you, dancing to the same music, but doing a different dance? It seems almost impossible to ignore the thought of accidentally colliding with him or her. Not only do you have to perform your own dance to the best of your ability, you have to dodge the other competitor while doing so. How can you pay attention to your competitor while still maintaining focus on the task in front of you? It ultimately comes down to this question: what are the right things to focus on and how do you focus on those things alone?  We call this selective attention, and it is a critical skill to optimizing your performance in any skill or setting.

There are many uncontrollable parts of dancing, but luckily, your focus is one thing that you can control. Thousands of pieces of information are processed by your brain each and every day, and every second you can actively choose to focus on one specific thing and attempt to tune out all other background information. With all of the competing stimuli around you, thoughts that are not relevant to your performance are inevitably going to run through your head. For example, an Irish dancer on stage may think about what that other dancer on stage is doing. How you respond to that thought is crucial. Acknowledge that thought, whether good or bad, and then let it go. Because focus is a limited resource for the human brain, realizing what thoughts are necessary for performance and what thoughts are not is imperative to focus.

One way to improve your focus is to plan ahead and recognize, before you begin a performance, what will distract you and what will help you during the performance. In the context of an Irish dance performance, a dancer may note that worrying about running into her competitor will distract her during the performance.  Planning ahead and knowing that this distraction may occur will help the dancer to acknowledge the thought and then let it go, making room in her window of focus for constructive thoughts which will help performance. Constructive thoughts for an Irish dancer may include aspects of dancing that the dancer can control, such as foot placement and navigating around the competitor.

Lastly, it is important to remember that improving focus requires persistence. Even with training, your focus may occasionally drift, especially when your mind is tired. Training your mind to refocus when you start to concentrate on thoughts irrelevant to your performance is key. Refocus yourself by concentrating on behaviors that you can control and that will be helpful and relevant to your performance.

Focus is not just important for Irish dancers, though. Every sport has hundreds of distractions calling to the athlete from all sides. Every task you perform has the possibility of being impacted by the many distractions around you. Zoning in on what is important, recognizing what is not, and being able to refocus your attention helps to organize the thousands of bits of information that the world is throwing at you into productive and useful thoughts that can move you forward.

 

References:

“Mindset Training Program: Focus.”  Premier Sport Psychology.

Goleman, D. (2014). Focus: the hidden driver of excellence. New Delhi: Bloomsbury Publishing      India.

 

Positive Self-Talk and Flow

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

Close your eyes for a second and think of a time when you were at your best in a competition or performance. Put yourself back into that mindset and recall the feelings you experienced. Remember your thoughts from that moment. Did you know exactly what you wanted to achieve? Did you feel that you were equipped with the skills to achieve it? Did time seem to slow down? Did you feel completely in control? Were you concentrated solely on the task in front of you? Did you seem to stop judging yourself?  Were you enjoying yourself completely?

If you said yes to most or all of these questions, you may have experienced a psychological state called flow. Flow is an elusive psychological phenomenon that can occur during peak performance of any kind, from playing an instrument, to dancing, working, or exercising. During a flow experience, you have a deep sense of enjoyment and time seems to pass more slowly. Flow is that sort of optimal experience when you feel entirely in tune with your body and as if you are able to accomplish anything (Csikszenthmihalyi, 1990).

The idea of flow developed out of the positive psychology field and with it the idea that thinking positively can influence how you achieve or approach a flow state.  Because flow is a psychological state, developing the mental skill of positive self-talk can help lead you to a psychological state approaching or achieving flow.   In a recent study, elite golfers were interviewed about their flow experiences. They each acknowledged that nothing negative was on their mind and that they felt very confident when experiencing a flow state. They reported thinking to themselves that they could handle any challenge that presented itself and that they were doing great (Swann, Keegan, Crust, & Piggott, 2015). These phrases are examples of positive self-talk.

Positive self-talk is about mentally motivating and encouraging yourself as opposed to letting that critical voice inside your head get the best of you. We all have it, that little nagging voice inside our heads telling us that we will never succeed. By using positive self-talk, we turn those negative thoughts around and prevent them from making us feel badly about ourselves.

Positive self-talk is a powerful mental skill that not only can change your attitude, but also your performance. Let’s say, for example, a soccer player misses an easy shot on goal. The ball goes flying over the net, nowhere near where she planned for it to go. She has two potential paths she can take here: 1) She can think, Wow, that was such a dumb move! I can’t believe I missed it. I must be such a horrible player; or 2) She can think, Wow, that didn’t go as planned, but I’ve been doing great the rest of the game. That just shows I have some room for improvement in practice. It is clear that the second path would be more productive in both the short and long term. In the short term, the second path allows her to focus on the positive aspects of her game, which can help keep her confidence and energy levels high. In the longer term, the second path allows her to identify specific areas she can improve upon at a later time, which will aid her performance in the long run.

In this example, using positive self-talk is uplifting and productive and is related to a flow state. Positive self-talk supports you by providing you with confidence to perform at your best, whereas negative self-talk can serve to eat away at that confidence. Remember, flow can occur when you think positively and you feel that nothing is standing in your way. Using positive self-talk can help enhance your confidence and get you feeling closer to the elusive experience of flow, even though achieving flow during every performance is unrealistic. As Maya Angelou said, “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Stay Productive. Stay Confident. Stay Positive.

 

References:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Swann, C., Keegan, R. J., Crust, L., & Piggott, D. (2015). Psychological States Underlying Excellent Performance in Professional Golfers: “Letting it Happen” vs. “Making it Happen.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 23. doi:10.1016.j.psychsport.2015.10.008.

 

 

 

Rivalry: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

We’ve all heard our coach say, “We are going up against our biggest rivals tonight. Let’s go out there and beat them!” Our rivals may be our greatest enemy, but they are also our best motivators. Why else would we fight so hard to beat them? If we didn’t have any rivals, there would be no one to play against. Rivalries can actually boost our performance in sport, business, and everyday life because everyone has that drive to be the best. Multiple studies have shown that rivalry increases both effort and performance. “An analysis of competitive runners showed that they shaved more than four seconds per kilometer off their times when a rival was in the same race,” (Hutson, 2014).

Rivalry has also shown to increase motivation, group cohesion, and patriotism. Sounds pretty good, right? There can be a downside to rivalries when they get taken too far. If too much focus is placed on beating our rivals, we can develop something called “tunnel vision”. “When success is measured solely by how one stacks up against a single competitor, it can lead to a preoccupation that turns on the blinders to other competitive threats,” (Entis, 2015). By focusing on only beating our rivals, are we holding ourselves to the highest standard of greatness? If we pay too much attention to the outcome of beating a rival, we may forget about the process of how to get there. This can be discouraging and lead to feelings of hostility, resentment, and envy. Rivalries are important for competition, but if taken too far they can be detrimental. Next time you are going up against your rival, be thankful for them. That may sound silly, but they are the ones who push you to become better. Also, remember to keep your eyes open and be observant. Even if you are focused on your rivals, there may be another team/individual sneaking up in your blind spot. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the competition. A good rivalry can be fun and hopefully creates a positive atmosphere for your sport. Valentino Rossie once said, “The great fights with your strongest rivals are always the biggest motivation. When you win easily it’s not the same taste.” Keep this in mind the next time you step on the field, court, course, ski hill, rink, or track with your biggest rival!

 

 

Meet our Newest Mental Skills Coach, Simon Almaer

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Premier Sport Psychology is excited to have Simon Almaer as our newest mental skills coach. Simon will be working with individuals and teams, helping them to achieve their full potential. Below is a quick interview with Simon so you can get to know your potential mental skills coach!

All right, Simon, let’s start with a bit about your background.

Simon: Well, I was born in London, England. Sports were a big part of my life growing up, and my primary sport of choice was cricket. That was, from age 6 to 21, other than my studies, that was my passion. My dad was a high level coach, and so I represented my county (similar to a U.S. state) on regional teams as a youth player, and then when I got to university, I had the opportunity to play first class cricket (akin to the professional level). I went to Oxford to study Chemistry and received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees before moving to the states in 1991—largely to marry my wife who is from Minnesota.

What has your career looked like since moving to Minnesota?

Simon: I worked in Corporate America for 20+ years for companies like Pillsbury and Cargill and had a wide range of roles during that time. After starting as a scientist I moved into marketing and general management roles working on brands like Häagen Dazs and Pillsbury. During that time I got my MBA from the University of Minnesota. I had a lot of fun experiences working around the globe with various companies.

What made you leave Corporate America for sport psychology?

Simon: I played cricket for my first few years in the states, but after hanging up my cricket bat I focused my sports passion on coaching soccer. I’ve coached youth soccer in the Twin Cities for 15 years and still do. I have a number of different coaching licenses and degrees, and so as I came up on 20 or so years in Corporate America I started to think about how to better fuel my passion for working with young people and athletes to help them reach their full potential. I wanted to pursue a different area of study in a different professional area and so I pursued a sport psychology degree through Mankato State. I am also working on my certification by the professional association AASP (Association for Applied Sport Psychology).

What work are you doing with Premier?

Simon: My emphasis at Premier is working both with individuals and teams on performance enhancement. I’m a mental skills coach—whether its athletes, performers, or people in the business world, my emphasis is helping them get better at what they love doing. I love working with coaches and administrators—people who are charged with developing their athletes. The people who work with the athletes day in and day out deserve time and attention so they can develop their skills and, from being a coach, I believe that can often have a bigger impact on the system of youth sports. I want to be a positive influence in the youth sport climate—I think I have something to share and I have a real passion for it.

Thanks for taking the time to do to this get-to-know-you. To wrap it up, can you give us one fun fact about yourself?

Simon: During my first few years in Corporate America I still played cricket. The highlight was playing on the U.S. National Team against Canada in the 150th year anniversary of that match.

To learn more about Simon, check out his bio or call our office at 952.835.8513.

Six Traits of Mentally Tough Athletes — Including the U.S. Soccer Team

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed – Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure – Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables – In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude – Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief – We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language – When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

He Shoots, He Scores! Setting Goals, Not Just Scoring Them

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Athletes today fight a very uphill battle when it comes to expectations from themselves and others. While most athletes begin playing sports because of pure enjoyment, expectations often grow alongside young athletes. For athletes at any age to improve physically and mentally in their sport, goal setting is a practiced skill that can too often be underused.

In order to develop helpful goals for athletes it is important to understand that there is two primary drives for people in just about any situation. The first being internal drive, and the second being external drive. Internal drive is that feeling of wanting to accomplish something for yourself or perfecting a skill you have worked on for some time. It is the feeling of accomplishment an athlete gets when they know they worked hard and did their best. External drive comes from outside motivators. This is when at athlete feels successful because they outperform their opponent or score the most goals. External drive is not necessarily a bad thing; it just should not be the only motivator for an athlete. The best way to develop helpful goals is to account for an athletes personal motivators and set goals that account for both their internal and external drives.

When goal setting it is equally as important to set mental goals as it is to set physical goals. If a basketball player can shoot 20 for 20 free throws at the gym, but believes he will miss as soon as he is in a game setting, what happens? More often that not, that great free-throw shooter will miss. At Premier Sport Psychology we are strong believers that the mind is like a muscle, and it only works at full capacity when it is trained properly. There are many different sport psychology techniques that can increase your mental training such as mental imagery, visualization, focus exercises, and mindfulness training. By educating yourself more on these topics you are taking the first step into reaching your goals.

Now, speaking of goals, how do we set them? When setting goals it is important to set SMART goals. Meaning that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relative, and time-bound. It is also important that when setting goals, you track your physical and mental training. Athletes can set up a weekly and monthly schedule to hold themselves accountable and celebrate milestones along the way to their major outcome goal. For example, a runner may want to shorten their mile time by one minute before their season begins. It is important to figure out the proper training, both physically and mentally, that will need to take place in the allotted time to reach that goal. It is not enough to simply want to be better, faster, or stronger; you must actually follow through on the process.

In review, here is a basic overview:

1) Identify personal motivators. Figure out what your internal and externals drives are and how you can target them to reach your goals. Success and achievement are different for everyone; make sure you understand what success means to you.

2) Learn and implement proper mental techniques to help you work towards your goals. If you would like more information on this, consider looking into the Premier Mental Training System on our website or contacting one of our sport psychologists.

3) Develop SMART goals and stick to them!

4) Set up a weekly and monthly calendar to keep you on track. Seeing your goals on paper will be helpful for you to process where you began, where you are going and the steps it will take to get there.

5) Seek input. Remember that being an athlete is often a very dynamic role. There are often coaches, parents and/or peers that are alongside you at some point during your athletic career. It is important to share your goals and get constructive feedback and support from others to help get you to where you want to be!

6) Accept non-linear progress. Setting goals and working towards them is not a linear process. You will have ups and downs, and it is not realistic to reach perfection all (or any) of the time! Be patient and proud of yourself with any progress you make, even if it is slow and gradual.

Bethany Brausen

Maximizing Athletic Ability – Interview with Dr. Justin Anderson and NFL Veteran Isaac Byrd

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Ever wonder what it takes to make the most of your athletic ability? Want to hear it first-hand from an NFL vet and a licensed sport psychologist? Look no further – the entire conversation between Isaac Byrd and our very own Dr. Justin Anderson is available via podcast here.

To download the podcast from iTunes and see some more of Isaac Byrd’s work, check out his iTunes account here.

Reflect, Be Present, and Embrace Hope

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Janus: the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. The double-faced God looks in opposite directions; toward the past and also toward the future. The month of January has been named in remnant of this Roman God, representing the doorway into a new year. As 2015 approaches, we can take time to use Janus as a guide to look both at the past year and what the New Year has in store for us.

The beginning of the New Year is a time for fresh starts, new creations and a chance to begin again. The importance of looking forward to what lies ahead in the upcoming year and what may rise within you, your sport, your relationships and your hopes is something to spend time cultivating. Take time to set daily, weekly and monthly goals for the year that help move you in the direction of what it is ultimately important to you. To help fuel you, remember to let your values guide your goals. Here are three keys questions to ask yourself when developing your goals:

  • What is my passion for doing this activity?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • What am I willing to commit to (emotionally/physically) in order to achieve my goals?

Janus has two-faces; he sees both directions, looking not only toward the future but also at past events. January is also a time to reflect back on the previous year and see the progression of how the past has influenced and shaped who you are today as an athlete. Here are several reflection questions to spend time answering:

  • What accomplishments and areas have I excelled at within the past year?
  • Are there specific elements within my sport that I would like to grow or improve?
  • Which of those areas are within my control and can I let go of those that were not within my control?

Most importantly, we must not forget to take a second to simply just be in the moment we are in, savoring our current surroundings and situations. Become aware of yourself, your successes, mistakes, hopes, what scares you, your dreams… Take five minutes to create a safe space for where you are in this time without judgment and allow yourself to just be. Within that moment, can you discover one morsel of gratitude for yourself, someone else or something within your life?

Let Janus be the light to shine on the beginning of your January 2015 with reflection of your 2014, time to be present with yourself and your gratitude, as well as hope for what is to come for a prosperous upcoming year!

Happy New Year from Premier Sport Psychology!

Being A Hero in the Game

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Hero: A person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities; a person who is greatly admired.

There is one minute left on the clock; the championship game for state is tied 1-1. You’ve got the ball and are dribbling down field on a breakaway for a chance to win the game. As you reach the goal, you strike the ball, aiming it directly at the upper right part of the net. If you make this goal, your team will be victorious and you’ll be given credit for making the game winning goal: a heroic action that you crave, that you have trained and worked hard for, that will be oh so sweet…

We all would love that moment of making the winning shot, putt, lap, or stuck landing for our team or ourselves and can view it as heroic behavior. This is something we train for and that is important. However, what really fuels and energizes our heroism and lasting impressions on others are the small, everyday steps and movements that often get overlooked.

Here are three vital components to help increase your ability to be a hero:

Strengths-Based Approach

Focusing on the positives of a situation is essential for moving forward toward your goals. It’s easy to get caught ruminating on your past mistakes and failures, but getting stuck in that loop can quickly become a barrier, preventing you from achieving peak performance. Acknowledging and learning from past mistakes and re-shifting your focus onto what strengths and areas you have done well with will be beneficial.

Gratitude

Within each of our own athletic careers, we are on a path to achieving a set of goals–all of which would not be doable without a set of core people. Those people can be parents, coaches, teachers, teammates, friends, sport psychologists, and/or other athletes. Research has shown that displaying gratitude to those around you increases appreciation and overall enjoyment in activities. It’s also contagious! If you are outwardly thankful to your coach, your teammates will see and hear that and others may mimic that behavior (great leadership!)

Process Goals

It is essential to become engaged in the process of the game and the smaller goals within the game rather than solely becoming consumed by the outcome (score). When we take time to set goals and concentrate on them (such as “point toes on every leap” or “arms up when playing defense”) we are able to see more progress and success within our athletic careers.

Your athletic journey will be met with many trials and tests which will allow you many opportunities to shine as a hero, role model, and leader. We encourage you to challenge yourself to see how you can expand your definition of what hero means to you and how you can be a hero, role model, and leader every day.

How can you be a hero, role model, and leader on your team, within your family, or community? Take one action step each day moving toward those goals.

Play Ball! …Or Hoops, A Round of Golf or Anything for that Matter!

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Trent Klatt played in the NHL for 14 years before becoming the head amateur scout for the New York Islanders. With years of experience, he is offering one bold bit of advice: to become a better hockey player, get off the ice. Klatt sat down with USA Hockey to discuss his advice that most may disagree with initially. Growing up, Klatt played three different sports: football, hockey, and baseball. Rather than draining all of your energy into one sport, play a variety of them and focus on developing as an athlete. During the recruiting process, Klatt is looking for just that: an athlete. There is something to be said about a hockey player who also excels in other sports. While they are developing different muscles and reflexes, they are also developing skills that transfer over to other sports (such as hand-eye coordination).

Klatt worries that the public, and parents especially, have become so consumed by the idea that their children needs to participate in every possible league and camp in order to reach the professional level. Rather than having that mindset, it is important to give the athletes freedom to do what they want–whether it is another sport or even time off. If the athlete is not looking forward to playing, it can lead to burn out. Never taking time off can also lead to injury–even at the professional level. The best way to develop a hockey player is to allow them the time and space to develop first and foremost as an athlete. When children are allowed the leeway to choose when to pick up the hockey stick, the baseball bat, football or anything else, they will do so with much more eagerness and effort. Without those two attributes, a child may not reach their full potential–on the rink, or anywhere else for that matter! So, instead of having aspiring hockey players partake in every training camp available, encourage them to take a break from the rink instead. Ironically enough, it may be exactly what they need to become the professional player they aspire to be.

Bethany Brausen