Tag: motivation

Player Development and Mental Skills: Why Does It Matter?

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

The Why:  

When you think of any sport, there are always fundamentals and strategy that come into play.  There are roles and responsibilities, specific skills, things to focus on, adrenaline spikes, fatigue, ups and downs, and these are just the demands that occur during one performance.  We spend so much of our training and efforts around learning how to do the task, that we forget to consider the demands we face while performing under pressure.  At Premier Sport Psychology, we teach coaches and athletes how to implement processes around training for BOTH the tasks and demands of their sport.  In doing so, you have a structured process for program and player development to reach an optimal level of consistent high performance.

The What:

Mental skills are designed to help athletes organize what they are learning from their coaches and cope with the demands of performing under pressure.  Therefore, mental skills are either organizational or motivational in nature.

  1. Organizational – Organizational mental skills help athletes develop structures around their development.  These skills bring attention to detail how they train for competition in order to keep their efforts in areas that they can control.  Some examples of organizational mental skills include:
    1. Goal-Setting
    2. Focus and Attention
    3. Mental Rehearsal
  2. Motivational – Motivational mental skills help athletes manage the demands and challenges they encounter during performances.  These skills help athletes raise their awareness, problem solve, adjust and maintain motivation after mistakes are made.  Some examples of motivational mental skills include:
    1. Confidence
    2. Mindful Behavior
    3. Self-Talk

The How:  

At Premier Sport Psychology, we find that many athletes are in one of three stages (Defining their process, Refining their process, or Mastering their process).  Use the questions below to identify which stage your child falls under in order to help your child develop a plan.

  1. What are the tasks you are expected to perform within your sport?   (If team sport, break down the positional fundamentals/tasks)
  2. What are the biggest challenges or annoyances you experience that hinder your ability to perform?  (During a game or over the season)
  3. What structures do you have in place to improve these areas?

Summary:

After answering the questions above, which areas need more specific strategies?  Can they be addressed by you?  Or the coach?  Or are the areas a bit more subjective?  Leveraging a sport psychologist or mental skills coach can help you and your child fill in those gaps and identify a clear path to high level performance.

 

Bonus Material:  One of the key components of developing peak performance is develop strong habits with your attention.  Click our link below to visit our Premier Mindset Program site and subscribe to our mailing list to download a free focus exercise to start training today!

Get the Free Focus Exercise here!

 

 

Sticking with it: Motivation to Follow Through on Goals

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

I’m sure that we have all experienced a time when we didn’t want to follow through with a task at hand. Either we got bored, felt like the task was too difficult to complete, became burnt out, or couldn’t see the benefits that would arise upon completion. Whatever the reason may be, we’ve been there. The good news is that there are various approaches that can be taken to fix this problem, one of them being, “keeping your eyes on the prize.”

Everything that we do is done for a reason. For example, baseball players both young and old are required to go to batting practice. It has become part of their pregame routine to take dozens of extra swings in preparation for competition. The purpose, as told by the Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis, is that “batting practice is a time to create and foster good habits. The guys who do it and do it right are the ones who are more successful.” (Caple, 2014) The same thing goes for volleyball players. “A setter will come close to making one third of all the ball contacts by the team.” (USA volleyball) This means that they better be darn good at what they do, or the team won’t be successful. But how do they achieve this skill? The answer is that they make goals for themselves and lean into them. They practice footwork, hand contact, vision, etc. time and time again so that they can deliver the perfect ball to their hitters. They want success for their team, so they keep their eyes on the prize during all of those days of practice and problem solving.

Another tactic that can be used to stay motivated is to take a different approach. Sometimes the way you are doing something won’t feel right or may seem more difficult than it should. In this case, taking a step back and re-analyzing your methodology towards the task may be a good option for you. Being able to identify a couple tweaks and changes that could be made may change your outlook and experience in ways you didn’t know were possible!

Last of all, reward yourself! Nothing worth having ever comes easy, right? So instead of just looking at the big picture (which may appear a little daunting), make small goals for yourself along the way. When you reach one of those milestones, reward yourself. One way you could do this is to treat yourself to a nice breakfast the next morning, or to document your success in writing. Reading and reliving your accomplishments may give you the right drive to continue forward on your journey. It is important to be able to recognize your own progress, which will not only allow you to celebrate the successes, but will also let you know how much further you have to go in reaching your primary goals.

“The discipline you learn and character you build from setting and achieving a goal can be more valuable than the achievement of the goal itself.” -Bo Bennett

 

References:

Caple, J. (2014). Batting Practice: Swings and Misses

USA Volleyball (2013). Thoughts for Setters

 

 

A Personal Perspective

By: Premier Sport Psychology

This week’s blog is a personal story from Taylor Finley, sharing her own experience with a sports camp earlier this month.UTC War Paint

What would you think if someone asked you compete in an intense competition for 20-hours straight? You would probably think that they are crazy!  But over the past month hundreds of collegiate athletes across the country took on this challenge at Athletes in Action’s infamous “Ultimate Training Camp”.  This high intensity, Christian sports camp teaches athletes 5 biblical principles and then puts them to the test in a 20-hour sports marathon known as “The S.P.E.C.I.A.L.”. Athletes refer to this challenge as, “the toughest 20 hours of my life,” “pure exhaustion yet,” and “absolutely life-changing”.  I had the opportunity to attend Ultimate Training Camp this year and can say that it was nothing short of life-changing.  Although the focus of the camp was to incorporate God into your sport, which was certainly central to my experience, I was also amazed to see how elements of sport psychology and the power of the human mind played such an important role in every athlete’s experience.

I want to focus on The S.P.E.C.I.A.L., as it was an incredible platform to see sacrifice, passion, pain, and triumph through sport in its most extreme form.  Many athletes experienced a breaking point, or point at which they don’t believe they can go any further, and their body wanted to break down due to exhaustion.  This is when it was crucial to apply the biblical principles we learned, humble ourselves, and surrender to the Lord.  For me, seeing grown men and the strongest of athletes fall to their knees and break down in tears was extremely powerful and emotional.  In physical exhaustion but more so overwhelming emotion, we learned how to surrender and move forward when we thought our bodies couldn’t carry us anymore.  This is when the mind, and for me the grace of God, allowed us to persevere far past what I ever thought was possible.  Personally, this may not have been the most physically challenging workout I have done in my life, but through this experience I saw the biggest transformation in myself as a person and as an athlete.  I was amazed and how far I could go.  Sprints, push-ups, or anything else thrown my way, I could not only complete but also excel at because of the power of my mind.  Whether that is grit, mental toughness, or the grace of God, one thing is that through sport these athletes were able to experience something that had a dramatic affect on their lives.  

In your weakest moment, you learn the most about yourself.  Sports often expose your weaknesses in the most brutal ways, and The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. certainly forced the athletes to feel exhaustion and weakness.  However, what most athletes found was that they had some source of strength deep inside themselves, to fight through and not simply survive the competition but actually thrive!  This is the beautiful and unique thing about sports.  Athletics has a unique way of breaking an athlete down in order to build them up even stronger, and this is when the greatest lessons are learned as we saw through The S.P.E.C.I.A.L.  Through sports and competition you can experience pain, suffering, failure, disappointment, and exhaustion like no other; whether physically through an injury or emotionally through a loss of a big game.  At the same token however, sports teach us how to overcome adversity and preserve, resulting in incomparable joy, success, and relationships in teammates.  Every athlete can say that playing sports shaped their character in some way or another for the good.  It is often through the trials, such as that breaking point in The S.P.E.C.I.A.L., that qualities such as leadership, determination or grit develop within the individual.

This is when having a growth mindset, a concept that is widely used in sport psychology training, comes into play.  Having a growth mindset involves believing abilities can be developed through effort and dedication, and in times of trial it is important to know that this challenge is all part of a process and a bigger picture.  Finding your purpose and a strong motivation for why you play your sport is essential, and can help you overcome these times of disappointment or when you just don’t think you can push any further.  For the athletes at Ultimate Training Camp, we focused on playing for God as our motivation.  For any athlete, if you find a powerful motivation, whatever that may be for you, and focus deeply on that in every moment, whether practicing alone or playing in front of thousands of fans, you will be amazed at how far you can go and what you can achieve.

Taylor Finley

It’s All In Your Head

By: Premier Sport Psychology

A rhythmic pulse of two-hundred tightly laced shoes flies through the dense woods of the DuPage River Park Forest Preserve. A grassy beaten path lay before us, punctured by the spikes of previous runners. My teammates and I are just finishing up the casual 3 mile loop that will soon be the judge, jury, and prosecutor for which of us are free to compete in regionals and a chance to cling to the dream of carrying on to sectionals, or even greater, state. Our coach, Mr. Iverson, stands with his legs wide apart, arms crossed with a concentrated gaze rested upon us as we jog toward him at the soon to be finish line. He nods for us to continue toward a shaded patch of grass where the two assistant coaches are waiting.

He instructs us to take a seat wherever we like and to make sure there is plenty of room between us. The team curiously does as instructed but a low rumble of conversation vibrates between us. Iverson lets it die down before he continues. He explains that that he wants to do an exercise with imagery and that we need to keep our minds open. This comes from a man who has surpassed all expectations by having his cross country team successfully compete every year at state for the past 30-some years; it’s hard not to trust what he says.

We gladly lie down in the cool grass and close our eyes, as instructed. Iverson begins by drawing our attention to our breathing and position in the grass. As he speaks, I follow his deep calming voice into a trance like state; my breathing slows and my body feels as if it is melting into the ground. His words lead me back to the course we have just finished, except it is now altered. There are eight colored tents: each representing a different competing team. Distant cheers from another race mix together with the heightened buzz of conversation among the athletes. He tells us to take note of the excitement, the energy, the fear, and to let it fuel us, but not distract us. In our minds, he leads us on a confident walk toward our tent and directs us to concentrate on beginning a strong warm-up. I envision myself taking perfect strides: arms at my waist, straightened back and a leg raising high while the other simultaneously rips the dirt beneath me. The image plants pre-race jitters in my heart and it starts to accelerate.

Iverson brings our imagination to the jog toward the starting line. As he speaks, I feel my heart hammering in my chest and a coldness fall over me. My blood is quickly rushing in anticipation and my hands start to tremble. Even with the race still another day away in reality, I feel everything the same way I would as if it were just mere minutes away. There is a moment of anxious silence before he speaks again. We’re told to pause a moment and breathe. Iverson explains that whether we run our best or worst, either way we are still going to be running three miles. He adds that we have nothing to fear because our best is good enough and no one can be disappointed in someone who puts themselves out there for a chance to be great. He tells us to feel our melted bodies on the ground and to remember this feeling as we are on our way to the starting line. He says that there is nothing to fear and to slow our breathing–the race has not yet begun, and until we reach that finish line, we still have the opportunity to improve. We’re instructed to use the strength we’ve built each and every practice and reminded once more that it’s just another 3 mile race.

With a renewed energy we line up at the start line and strongly sprint out 100 meters before returning to our positions. The scene is so familiar, but somehow different. I don’t fear the race. I don’t fear the pain or mental fatigue I am about to endure. Instead, I am invigorated by it. I know what I am capable of as Iverson drives our minds through the course we race, and I feel powerful. When he brings us to the finish line, I see myself put in every last bit of effort to pass every color I can. Mentally crossing the finish line is exhilarating. Again, he takes us to our cool down and stretches where we lay down to finish them. As our bodies soften into the ground, they take shape in reality.

We keep our eyes closed in complete silence, contemplating what we have just experienced. I replay the ideas in my head. Run the race without fear. Slow my breathing. Tap into my potential. Hold nothing back. Be free.

With that final thought, I open my eyes.

Sarah Brinkman

Interview with Megan Kalmoe: Two-Time United States Olympic Rower

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Megan Kalmoe competes at the elite level in rowing and does everything she can in order to prepare for her racing opportunities. Athletes like Megan have to ask themselves questions about how well they are fueling their bodies or if they are working harder than their competitors each and every day. But, once Megan Kalmoe is on the starting line, there are no more questions. During a recent interview, I asked Megan about getting in her zone during races. She said that it’s difficult to articulate because going fast is something that doesn’t require much thinking; it just happens. For her, what happens after the start is simple: she just goes. She trusts in her physiology and in all of the intense training that has allowed her lungs and body to function so efficiently during races. However, the preparation that enables her success amongst the best athletes in the world does not only require tremendous physical training. Megan Kalmoe also uses mental preparation in order to be entirely equipped on the starting line.

Megan uses her brain as a muscle and makes sure that she is mentally strong in order to coordinate her arms and legs during races. This combination contributes to her speed and dominance. Her brain is especially involved in her race preparation in different ways during visualization and imagery. When Megan is racing with one other person, her pair partner, they walk through the race out loud together and discuss their plan of action. They decide on which key words they will use (such as “commit”, or “together”) and they know that these specific cues will allow them to focus on the same thing. With this, they accomplish fluency and power together in order to pass competitors or get even further ahead. They also involve multiple senses while practicing imagery. Being able to actually see the course going by, and walking through the same race several times allows them to be mentally prepared and confident that their plan and focus cues will fuel them to success.

In the recent World Cup Championships, Megan Kalmoe raced in a larger boat – the eight – allowing her to experience a different type of visualization with more of her teammates. Her coxswain talked the eight rowers through the entire length of the race, simulating the intensity and feelings that the boat would experience on the water in France. Megan and her teammates trusted in each other’s ability to take the lead together, and ultimately prevailed during this race. Their race execution and victory over the other countries shows the strength of their physical fitness and psychological mindset. Kalmoe and her teammates raced in the pair event only a few hours before, where she also medaled. Her focus allowed her to be successful in both of these races because she was able to transition between the two events and stay in the present moment. She maintained concentration on the things that she was able to control and stayed motivated and confident; she gave everything she had in both of her races.

I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to Megan about these races and what it takes not only to be an Olympian, but a world-class rower. Megan Kalmoe’s incredible physical strength is admirable, and her confidence, motivation, and drive are techniques that I want to use in my own races at the collegiate level. Sport Psychology has been beneficial to me as an athlete by allowing me to strengthen the mental skills that are involved with techniques such as maintaining focus and visualization. Strengthening these mental skills is useful to Olympians like Megan Kalmoe, and can be used at any sport or performance level to give athletes a mental edge and competitive advantage.

Sara Scarbro, University of Minnesota Rower

Wimbledon Upsets

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

On July 1st, 2014, at arguably the greatest venue in all of tennis, two men stepped onto Centre Court at Wimbledon. One of these men proceeded to hit 37 aces, a total of 70 winners, and won in four sets. The other was Rafael Nadal. In what has already been proclaimed one of the biggest upsets in recent tennis history, 19-year-old wildcard Nick Kyrgios defeated Rafael Nadal in just the quarterfinals of the tournament. The win was no fluke, either–Kyrgios won with authority.

Dominating nearly the whole match, Kyrgios set the tone early, opening the first game with an ace. He would ride his nearly untouchable serve, breaching 122 mph at times, all the way through the match until he fittingly ended the game on another ace that seemed all too familiar to the first. And it was not as though Nadal played poorly or rolled over for Krygios to come storming through. While he had some tough shots that created opportunities for Krygios, the story of the day was Krygios’ talent rather than Nadal’s implosion.

Motivated, he said, primarily by the doubt his mother expressed prior to the match’s start, Kyrgios played the whole match with one purpose: enjoy the game. Smiling throughout nearly the whole competition, and even sprinkling happy dances in after particularly important points, Kyrgios had the positive mindset, self-concept, and confidence necessary to accomplish something pretty special. On July 1st, that just so happened to mean defeating the world’s #1 seed, despite sitting at #144 himself.

Nadal was not the only man to see his Wimbledon hopes come to a halt uncharacteristically early. Defending champion Andy Murray, the #3 seed of the tournament, lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. And while the result for the two tennis greats was the same, seeing the early exit, the circumstances of their losses were quite different.

Simply put: Nadal was outplayed. Kyrgios did what he needed to in order to win. Murray, on the other hand, was guilty of blunder after blunder before succumbing to Dimitrov in straight sets. Finishing the game with a pair of double-faults, Murray appeared to be a shadow of his former self–certainly nothing like the man who had surged past Novak Djokovic in the final the year before. Murray’s body language gave away the true story of the match. Fighting added pains from a back surgery in September of 2013, Murray was down on himself and his abilities from the start. Never once did he seem confident in what he was doing. While he never said outright if something in particular was bothering him–or what it was–he seemed to be waging an inner-war against his own thoughts and confidence, taking himself away from what was happening on the court. This culminated in him collapsing disconsolately into his chair following the match. He rose minutes later only to pay his respects to his hometown fans.

What is there to takeaway then, from these two matches? There seems to be one clear theme: how big a role the mental game can play. We saw it at its best as Kyrgios fought his way to the match of his life, mentally strong and confident through and through. We also saw it at its worst, with Murray collapsing in under the pressure of his own thoughts and ruminations, paving the way for his defeat.

So no matter the stage–Wimbledon or your local tennis courts–keep in mind how significant mental strength is and the impact that it can have on your performance. Practice it each and every day, giving it the same kind of attention you would your physical training. Work to maintain your focus on the task at hand while playing, staying positive each and every step along the way. You never know what might happen. Maybe you will be the next big star breaking onto the scene.

 

References:

Al-Samarrai, R. (2014, July 1). Rafael Nadal sensationally knocked out by Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in Wimbledon 2014 fourth round. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-2676959/Rafael-Nadal-sensationally-knocked-Australian-teenager-Nick-Kyrgios-Wimbledon-fourth-round.html

Andy Murray Loses Wimbledon 2014 Quarter-Final To Grigor Dimitrov. (2014, July 2). The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/02/wimbledon-andy-murray-loses_n_5551383.html

 

World Cup Confidence

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

With one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport – the FIFA World Cup – set to begin just around the corner, there is undoubtedly one question on every soccer fan’s mind: Who will win it all? There are a few obvious favorites, such as the host country Brazil and international powerhouse Spain, but if the history of international competition has taught us all anything it is this: Anything can happen on any given day.

Take, for example, the United States’ victory over favored Colombia in 1994, or their triumph over soccer great England in 1950. In both of these games, the United States entered a significant underdog – their game against England had them at 500:1 odds to win the World Cup while England boasted 3:1 odds – yet when the final whistle sounded our own American team found themselves victorious.

There could be any number of reasons for these outcomes (e.g. influence of weather, particular game strategies that prove particularly useful against certain opponents), but no matter the case the United States’ national team was, needless to say, fortunate. In all reality, they had little reason to be competitive in those games, let alone victorious. That is not to say that they didn’t still earn those wins, but it’s clear that something happened on those days to allow the United States to get that extra edge they needed to propel them to victory.

Looking at this year’s World Cup team, it may be apparent just what this USA team’s X-factor is: Confidence. Coming off a string of three international wins over Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria, the United States is heading off to Brazil on a high horse they have never ridden before, having never swept their World Cup send-off series before.

“This game gives us confidence, but the whole send-off series should give us confidence,” defender Matt Besler said following the 2-1 victory over Nigeria. “It’s been a grind but at the end of the day we’ve accomplished everything we set out to do, and that’s to get three wins. That’s really all that matters.”

Confidence they’re likely going to need, if they’re going to advance past the Group Stage. Playing against two of the top five seeds in the world, Germany (2) and Portugal (4), and against the team that has eliminated them from the last two World Cups, Ghana (37), this year’s U.S. team certainly has their hands full. But while such a task may seem daunting, the United States players and coaches are doing exactly what they should be when faced with this kind of adversity: staying poised, collected, and continuing to play their game.

In this year’s case, that is going to mean sticking with their guns. Playing against some of the best players in the world, such as Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Mesut Ozil of Germany, the United States will be leaning heavily on their stars. This year, with the recent dismissal of long-time star Landon Donovan, that’s going to mean forward Jozy Altidore.

“He’s our horse. It’s no secret,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said of Altidore. “We have to ride him. He has to put us on his back and score some goals for us.”

Though the task seems near impossible, there is still reason to have confidence in the boys wearing the stars and stripes. Between the upsets previously mentioned, Rulon Gardner’s gold medal wrestling performance over Alexander “Siberian Bear” Karelin in the 2000 Summer Olympics, and of course the United States’ men’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics, U.S. national teams have taught the world two very valuable lessons: 1) Never count out the men wearing red, white, and blue, and 2) There is no limit to what you can achieve when you are confident in what you are doing.

So say what you will about this year’s United States men’s soccer team, and make your own choices when filling out your World Cup bracket. Just remember that confidence can take you places no one believes you can reach, and this year’s U.S. team has a lot of it.

 

References:

Associated Press. (2014, June 8). World cup 2014: U.S. heads to Brazil with boosted confidence. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/world-cup-2014-u-s-heads-to-brazil-with-boosted-confidence/

Staff. (2010, June 20). Greatest upsets in World Cup history. Fox Sports. Retrieved    from http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/worldcup/lists/Greatest-upsets-ever-in-World-Cup#photo-title=U.S.+over+England%252C+1950&photo=11232455

 

A Tip for Coaches: How to Bring Your Team up When They’re Down

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

We’ve all been there: a negative state of mind when the game isn’t going well. It’s easy to get to that place, too. It starts with an error, a bad play, or some missed shots. Before you know it, your athletes are walking away from the competition with their heads hung low. If there’s anything that has the ability to spread quickly and to set in and take hold in our minds, it’s negative thinking. However, there is a silver lining. Dr. Justin Anderson, a licensed sport psychologist, has some key advice for coaches:

“The best thing that you can do for your athletes when they’ve hit a rough patch is to simplify the game. Give them one task to focus on; one goal that they can attain. It’s important to bring their minds back to one task that is important now.”

He suggests that instead of focusing on the end result, a win, break it down by giving your athletes a goal: getting positive yardage on the next drive or a defensive stand before the period runs out. When your athletes are in the moment and focusing on what they need to do right then and there, they’re going to perform much differently. When athletes have goals to build on, they can start building some really good momentum. He furthers this with a couple of quotes from Coach John Wooden, who is not only famous for his NCAA wins, but also for his many poignant, inspiring words:

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

In his years of being an athlete and a sport psychologist, Dr. Justin knows how easy it is for an athlete to get overwhelmed. Coaches sometimes focus too much on the negative. It’s obvious that as a coach, your goals for your athletes are to have them compete well and to hopefully win, but it doesn’t always improve your athletes’ performance when they’re being drilled on what they’re doing wrong.

“The players already know that they aren’t supposed to fumble or that they’re supposed to make their shots. As a coach, you need to make a point to tell them what to do instead of what not to do.”

Next time your athletes are down, take a deep breath, and bring them back up. Give them a moment to be in. Know that your athletes have the ability to perform better and that looking toward success instead of pointing out failures is what can bring out the best in them. Small victories can easily boost morale and be a huge game changer. Keep the goal simple, but make sure that it’s something they can build on–getting that positive momentum going can be crucial.