The Winners’ Manifesto
“What we are asking you to do is not easy. If it were, everybody would do it. There will be nothing in your life-time that can compare to the challenge you are about to embrace. Some of you won’t make it. Some of you can’t take it. There will be some of you who will try to hold the others back because you don’t want to pay the price.”
Chances are that you have picked up this particular book because you feel something is amiss. You don’t feel quite right. Perhaps you sense that you are not getting the most out of your talents and abilities.
Perhaps you are around others that seem to be performing at the level that you wish for yourself.
Perhaps you aren’t winning enough games or are finding yourself dissatisfied with your performance in some way. Perhaps your coach or your team is on you about your game. He/She thinks you aren’t playing up to your potential. You might have hit a plateau. You feel that aren’t getting any better even though you have been putting a great deal of time and effort into your sport. Maybe it looks like it comes more easily to others around you. Perhaps you aren’t as excited or interested in the hard work that it takes to keep your performance at the level that you need to excel. Maybe you just don’t enjoy your sport like you used to.
Regardless of your current state of mind, you are looking for something to just kick start your game. This book just might be the thing you need.
Simply stated, this is the book that I wish I had had available to me as a developing athlete. At the same time, I am fortunate that my opponents at the time did not have access to all of what we currently know about sports and performance psychology, mental conditioning, and the behavioral sciences.
The athlete of today is stronger, faster, quicker, and more physically conditioned that at any time in the history of sports. What we know about physical training and conditioning, and nutrition continues to be applied at all levels of athletic competition at greater and greater frequencies. Therefore, more athletes are achieving physical peak performance than ever before.
In order to achieve a competitive edge in the future; however, the athlete of tomorrow will have to gain a mental edge as well to achieve success over equally physically developed and gifted opponents.
Because this is the case, sports/performance psychology and mental conditioning are two of the fastest growing disciplines in the world. The ever-growing financial, mental and emotional pressures placed on athletes are demanding a more prominent role for sports and performance psychologists. Constant stress and expectations are placed on sports stars, coaches and organizations – leading to the current increased interest in sports and performance psychology, as well as mental conditioning.
This book is an advanced introduction to sports and performance psychology, including mental imagery, visualization, and mental conditioning.
A Quick Introduction to Mental Conditioning
What you will learn from this book it that you do not have to be the most physically gifted or most talented athlete on the field or in the arena to be highly successful or competitive. You will learn how to be the most successful you can be by developing the mindset that will allow you to perform at the highest level possible while also continuing to learn, grow and develop your skills at a high rate.
This mindset will also be helpful in achieving maximum enjoyment and satisfaction in your performance. Isn’t that why you started playing your sport in the first place?
Rather than fixate on genetically-predisposed or programmed real, imagined or perceived weaknesses, you will come to understand that your skills and abilities aren’t etched in stone. They change. They are malleable. Your level of success is influenced and, ultimately determined by what you believe about your potential and the mental messages that you provide yourself about your performance, both currently and in the future.
With the right mindset, your current skills are irrelevant. You will improve over time if you put in the time to learn the appropriate skills, strategies, and frameworks necessary for your given sport(s). However, it is your mindset that propels you towards continuous improvement, excellence, and success. Your mindset must be tended to and cultivated. Your mindset is a learnable, teachable set of skills. It is a set of tools for you to use, maybe the best tools you have at your disposal.
In the physical world, weight training is thought to involve bringing your muscles to some level of failure and fatigue in order to build muscle strength. However, weight training also involves learning. Your muscles and your neuroanatomy must learn how to and when to move, the direction of movement, the frequency of movement, as well as the intensity and duration of each movement. Muscles must learn to work in collaboration and in a coordinated fashion in order to perform certain tasks required of each situation. This is often referred to as as muscle memory.
The same holds true of your mindset.
Mental Mastery: Becoming a Student of the Game
“To study the self is to forget the self.” -- Dogen, 13th century Japanese Zen Buddhist.
An important aspect of being an elite athlete requires that you be a student of your particular sport. This book is about that process, but also about the process of becoming a student of the self. This endeavor is much harder, but much more useful. This study of the self allows you to be all you can be. For that, you need to understand the mental aspects of athletics and the world of competition.
Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, Inc., in his book Shoe Dog, described a meeting he had with General Vo Nguyen Giap, at the time 86-year old Vietnamese Army veteran. During that meeting, Knight asked the general about his successes in battle in which his troops were able to defeat the Japanese, the French, the Americans, and the Chinese. He reflected thoughtfully and said, ”I was a professor of the jungle.”
You can strengthen and condition your mind to achieve quality results just as you strengthen and condition your body to grow muscles, to have more power, to maintain more flexibility, and to be more capable overall. Conditioning your mind is teaching your mind to decrease distracting mental chatter, reduce clutter in the brain, and increase focus.
This focus will allow you to experience as much of the game in the zone as you can.
Bill Russell, Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics
The legendary Bill Russell was also one of the first professional basketball players to understand the importance of the mental aspect of the game.
“The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might.”
Traditional mental conditioning involves the use of self-talk, visualization, relaxation and mindfulness exercises. These basic techniques help to handle and eliminate distractions, develop internal emotional control, and improve concentration and focus.
“That was one of my major achievements as a coach. What I learned from playing for Red [Auerbach] was: Almost everything that could happen, he anticipated, and he had a decision for it. With the guys we had, we didn’t have to put in a [last-second] play. But I felt it was my duty to my team to try to anticipate contingencies. When I see a guy with a board and he’s going like this’’ -- and here Russell emulates a coach drawing wildly on a grease board during a timeout at the end of a tight game -- “they’re screwed.’’
Russel talked about the importance of anticipation, timing and planning to achieve peak performance.
“When you do that, everybody’s guessing. The key to making good plays work is the timing. Is this guy going to do this or that? If you have it pre-planned, you have a much better chance at success.’’
In this book, we will look closely at these tools and help you integrate them to strengthen your mental core.
Phases in the Mental Conditioning of Athletes
In order to best understand the process of mental conditioning. There are four phases in the mental conditioning of athletes.
1. The Educational Phase - this phase primarily involves the understanding of the complex nature of behavior change. Change is complex and elaborate, and, thus, understanding change is crucial to enhancing the performance potential of athletes. This phase also involves the understanding of the self-regulatory processes involved in personal performance and the experience of preparation and competition. This phase includes the identification of external events that trigger thought, emotional states, bodily sensations and corresponding behavioral responses.
2. The Mindfulness Phase - this phase involves focusing on the importance of internal experiences and the value of non-judgmental, present-moment awareness. The phases also requires the exploration of individual values and beliefs, action-mapping, and acting in line with individual values.
3. The Acceptance Phase - this involves the deep recognition of the true difference between emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behavior. It requires the athlete’s reflection on internal language (cognitions) and behavior; and, finally the acceptance of emotions and events rather than the attempt to control them.
4. The Integration & Practice Phase - this last phase involves a focus on the development of skills through an emphasis on rehearsal and deliberate practice scenarios in training sessions, competitive settings, and other learning scenarios. This phase of conditions often can be applied and generalized to life situations as well as sports. This phase emphasizes and reinforces the development and reinforced application and acquisition of skills. Learning in this phase requires neural and behavioral “rewiring” for performance improvement and enhancement.
“Everyone lines up for the peak experience, but no one does their push-ups on Monday morning.” -- Jamie Wheal, founder of the Flow Genome Project.
The word “core” in the physical fitness and conditioning world has become a popular buzzword. Like the physical core, there is also a mental core related to your emotional and mental conditioning. Physical core training is about increasing power, strength and stabilization. So, is the training of your mental core.
Many fitness buffs often think only of sit-ups and crunches as the secret to strengthening the core. True fitness experts know that there is much more to the core than an impressive six-pack.
Similarly, many athletes and coaches think that the mental core is simply just about developing mental toughness (the equivalent of a mental core six-pack). The mental core is much more than mental toughness.
The mental core creates a solid, fundamental, and broad base for your overall mental fitness and, thus, your subsequent ability to perform successfully.
So, what does constitute your mental core?
The mental core consists of:
Internal Dialogue/Self-Talk - Simply put, these are messages an athlete gives to him/herself about: him/herself, opponents, teammates, his/her coach, and fans. Self-talk also includes what an athlete says during practices, during performances, in games, during time-outs, or after games.
Confidence - This key skill refers to the belief one has about his/her ability to learn and improve as well as about his/her preparation and performance skills to consistently achieve positive and productive results.
Preparation Skills - Elite athletes need an understanding of the intricate learning process involved in the development of skills necessary for the mastery of successful performances.
Pre- and Post-Performance Recovery Skills - Here, emphasis is placed on a recovery mindset. This mindset provides the opportunity to fully recover mentally from performances and competition, which is just as crucial as physical recovery is to peak performance.
Resilience - Elite athletes need to quickly and fully bounce back from setbacks and failure, to deal with adversity, to learn from mistakes and to effectively put one’s mistakes behind them. . Resilience has been found to be important for injury prevention and injury recovery.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) - This competency is defined as to the ability to: recognize, understand and manage one’s emotions (including performance anxiety and fear of injury), as well as recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others, before, during, and after practices and performances.
Systems Thinking - This is a particular mindset that requires the awareness and understanding of the matrixed complexity, interrelatedness, and connection of multiple environmental, situational, physical, emotional, and mental factors involved in one’s performance.
Mindfulness - This broad set of skills that includes mental imagery and visualization, relaxation and meditation skills, and focusing and centering skills, are useful in practice, preparation, performance, recovery and evaluation activities of athletes and coaches. In particular, mindfulness approaches have been found to improve post-performance recovery, and injury prevention and recovery.
Note that there has been increasing evidence that body language is important in performance. So, be aware of your body language; however, I have seen increasing evidence that body language is more of a indicator of the strength of your mental core than a factor or component of the mental core.
Some of the best mental condititioning techniques have come from non-major sports rather than the traditional major sports such as baseball, basketball, and American football. Some of the best innovations mentioned in this book have come from such sports as soccer/football, cricket, swimming, golf, and tennis.
This book will help you assess these core components of your mental core. Let’s start by identifying your mental core strengths and limitations in each of these areas. Let’s focus on and leverage your strengths while also learning more about how to shore up your limitations. We can learn to use these basic skills to build a foundation for strengthing your mental core. Let’s get down to training!
“When you toughen yourself from inside out, you must know that the results can take months, even years to show. And that is a great responsibility to bear.” -- Virat Kohli, India’s beloved cricketeer.
The common notion is that sports psychology and mental conditioning are about developing athletes’ mental toughness and designing the “perfect” athlete.
Practically speaking, my experience with the most effective techniques in working with athletes involves the development of the proper mindset for success. For an athlete to develop total mental toughness, he/she must be able to deal with adversity effectively.
This ability is less about striving for perfection and more about developing emotional resilience. This coping skill includes the ability to use mistakes, failures and losses as learning opportunities and moments for improvement and growth. This is particularly true of the activities involved in the training and development of young athletes.
The ability to learn from setbacks and recover from failure is a key component of a champions’ mindset. To understand this aspect of mental conditioning, one must understand the key difference between practice and competition. During practice as well as game situations, athletes must be able to bounce back quickly; however, during practice, athletes must be encouraged and be willing to be more vulnerable to mistakes and failures as various drills and rehearsals are attempted. Practice is the time to get out of one’s comfort zone. Practice is the time for learning. Games are the time to perform.
Practice is a time for expectations to be about rehearsal, refinement and adjustments. Game situations and competition should be about execution. Too often, coaches as well as athletes maintain the same expectations for games as they do for practices. This can create much confusion and anxiety in both coaches and athletes.
Coaches must take the time to understand the difference in situations and take into account when they are developing and shaping performance versus when they are in execution mode.
Are you always clear about the distinction between training goals and performance goals?
Prior to Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, made a change in his starting line-up. He replaced Andrew Bogut with Andre Iguodala. That move along with a change in defensive strategy and a change in his substitution rotations, made all the difference in the world.
Although the Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a 7-0 start at the beginning of the game, Kerr did not panic nor throw out his game-plan. Instead, the Warriors called a time-out, quickly bounced back and finished the quarter by outscoring the Cavs, 31-17. Kerr made a crucial decision, but more importantly, he made a commitment to the strategy for Game 4. He did not waver. The strategy paid off in a 103-82 win to tie the series, 2-2.
Working with elite and aspiring athletes, performers and other professionals at all levels for years, I have come to a recent revelation or refinement concerning the art of mental conditioning.
This revelation is about our mindset consisting of five basic modes. Mental conditioning is enhanced when we understand each mode, its proper timing and its function within our personal performance enhancement system.
1. Practice Mode
2. Rehearsal Mode
2. Preparation Mode
3. Performance Mode
4. Evaluation Mode
To cut to the chase, most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are in constant evaluation mode. We are taught, hardwired and socialized to be in evaluation mode. We live in evaluation mode. We measure, we assess, we predict, we criticize, we worry, we comment--24/7. That’s the way we roll.
How’s it going? How’s it coming? How am I doing? Am I getting there? Did I get there? Am I there yet? Are we there yet? Why aren’t we there yet? What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Why are things going wrong? Here I go again. Am I behind? Where should I be? Who’s ahead of me? Am I losing? Am I winning? What do I need to do to catch up? I can’t catch up. I knew I should have worked harder. Is this is a mistake? I’ll never get this right.
Evaluation mode is solidly embedded in our self-talk. By the same token, most self-talk keeps us in evaluation mode. In evaluation mode, our self-talk tends to get very harsh very quickly. Staying in evaluation mode too long or at the wrong time creates anxiety, self-doubt, and, even worse, panic. If you are anxious, most likely, you stayed to long in evaluation mode.
Because of this tendency to over-evaluate, we don’t really learn or value the four other modes. We tend to stay in evaluation mode due to our fear of failure. It promotes hyper-vigilance. Our over-use and over-reliance on evaluation mode keeps us anxious and prevents us from being in other equally important modes. Most importantly, we don’t sequence our modes correctly and in a way that puts us in the best position to succeed.
Here are the five modes:
Experimental Mode: This mode requires experimentation and trial-and-error. In this mode, we try new behaviors and get feedback about possible feasibility, usefulness or utility. This mode provides the opportunity to experiment, to dabble, to invent, to create, to try something new. This is where we allow for and even encourage mistakes. This is where we study our craft. In this mode (and only in this mode), we have the luxury of getting out of our comfort zone. This is where we get information about whether this new behavior is worth rehearsing.
Deliberate Rehearsal Mode: This is the mode that takes our successful experiments from Practice Mode and turns them into muscle memory. This is where we repeat, repeat, repeat. We hone our craft, we improve, we focus on getting things just right. This is where we sharpen our sword. We rehearse until get it right and then rehearse some more until we can’t get it wrong. This is the mode that gives us information that we have the necessary competence to be successful and the confidence to perform. Here we rehearse the skills to execute the necessary sequence of behaviors to reach our goals.
Preparation Mode: This mode is about getting ready to perform, both physically and mentally. This mode focuses our mental conditioning as well as being the time to plan and organize. When here, we structure our time and energy in such a way that we develop our plan of action and commit to its proper execution. Here is where we focus on our mental imagery, our visualization, and get in the right frame of mind and achieve the optimal level of arousal. This mode is a transition mode from practice and rehearsal toward performance mode. It allows us to be in the best position to achieve peak performance.
Performance Mode: Game-time! Simply put, this is where we execute. If in the proper mindset, we follow our plan and allow our muscle memory to take over. Adjustments are minor or minimal in this mode. We have planned well, have committed to our plan, and let the plan work. Most importantly, we are not in evaluation mode. If we allow ourselves to get in evaluation mode during the game, we will become distracted, particularly by our self-talk. If we get into evaluation mode, our self-talk will get involved and that will engage our brain’s cortex. That mental chatter will likely become a distraction. It will disrupt our muscle memory and reduce our game-time speed and efficiency in decision-making. This does not mean that we are unaware of situational variables, but we maintain our overall game-plan. Performance mode basically requires us to suspend our analytic mind and focus strictly on performance.
Evaluation Mode: This mode is most effective as a post-game activity. It re-engages our cortex. It allows for more complex post-game problem-solving. It occurs and should occur following a performance or event. It allows us to objectively and dispassionately assess our performance, our game-plan, our step-wise progress, after the fact. It allows us to gather data about our ability to execute our plan. It allows us to determine what we did well, what we need to continue doing, what we need to improve or develop, and what we need to eliminate. Most importantly, it allows us to get back to Practice Mode, armed with important information about what more we can do to improve.
So, be more mindful of being in the appropriate mode at the appropriate time and make sure you stay out of Evaluation Mode (our current default mode) when you should be in one of the other four modes. Your mental conditioning and your performance will improve significantly as a result. Just ask Steve Kerr!
Many mental conditioning coaches and sports psychologists have begun to emphasize positive self-talk. It is considered an important tool in the attainment of peak performance and a key component in the mindset necessary for peak performance. However, most experts are pretty simplistic in their use of positive self-talk: just say positive things to yourself and don’t say negative things. Unfortunately, most coaches have few specifics about exactly what to say to yourself and when.
In my Peak Performance blogpost on June 12, 2015, I discussed the peak performance mindset.
I also alluded to the importance of self-talk in each of the modes. I now want to introduce the idea that each mode requires a different set of specific self-talk statements. The statements themselves are related what needs to be accomplished in each mode.
In experimental mode, the focus in on experimentation and trying new skills. Here, you are gathering data on what works best and what is most effective. What else can you do? This mode is typically used in individual, solitary, informal workouts or warm-up drills. This is the mode where it is most important to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. This mode is for creativity, experimentation, but is not the point at which you commit to making a change in technique or mechanics. You are being open to the change process, but have not committed to make a specific change. You are trying new things. For some athletes, this is the mode that is most fun. By definition, in this mode your self-talk requires the use of such internal self-statements as:
OK, I am in experimental mode. I am experimenting. I am being creative.
Time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks.
Let’s see what happens when I try to do this.
Let me see if I can do this.
How about if I try this?
What if I adjust this skill just a little?
I am going to alter this for now and see how it feels.
I don’t care how this looks.
I am just trying this on for size.
Mistakes and failures are to be expected right now.
I enjoy the challenge of learning
It is important for me to get out of my comfort zone.
In deliberate rehearsal mode, the focus is learning. It is about the application of successful experimentation. In this mode you are trying to apply new skills and incorporate what you have learned into your skill set. In this mode, as a result of experiments, you have committed yourself to making a specific change or changes in your skill or routine activity. You want to change or improve your technique or mechanics and get comfortable with it. Most importantly, you also want to commit the new or changed skill to muscle memory. The goal is mastery. In rehearsal mode, your self-talk should sound like this:
It’s time to rehearse. It’s time to sharpen my sword.
I like this new technique.
This new technique will improve my overall game.
I am committed to mastering this new skill.
As I practice, this new skill will get comfortable over time.
I will practice this new skill until I master it.
I enjoy implementing a new technique into my arsenal.
I am getting comfortable right now.
It is time to practice until I can’t get it wrong.
Apply, lather, rinse, repeat (In other words).
Ok, now, in preparation mode, the focus is increasingly mental. You are instilling and maintaining confidence, getting mentally ready. You have exited experimental and rehearsal modes and you are transitioning mentally. You are reminding yourself of all the hard work you have done. You get yourself ready to perform at the highest level possible. This mode includes time to mental visualize your success through the process of imagery. You should spend considerable time visualizing the successful execution of what you have rehearsed. In preparation mode (otherwise called pre-performance mode), your self-talk should include such statements as:
It is time to get mentally ready
I have physically prepared to the best of my ability.
I am committed to what I have rehearsed.
It is time to execute what I have practiced/learned.
I am ready.
I can see myself successfully executing my plan.
I have done this over and over again.
I know what to do.
My body is prepared to perform.
My mind is calm and relaxed.
It is time to slow my breathing down with full, deep breaths.
Time to make the donuts.
In performance mode, the focus is on execution. Your opportunity to perform is at hand. In this mode, the mind should be at its most quiet. Muscle memory has taken over and the brain “chatter” is minimal. In performance mode, your self-statements should be very basic. When you make a good play, you should be saying;
Good play. Good job.
I like that.
Just like I practiced it.
Yes, I can do this.
That is why I worked so hard.
Practice sure paid off.
More of the same to follow.
I can do this again and again.
If you make a mistake, you should be saying things like:
OK, back to normal.
OK, so what about evaluation mode? This is the mode that most people stay in the most and have the most difficulty exiting. Most of our self-talk tends to be evaluative in nature.
You may have noticed that in each of the previous modes, there is little to zero criticism or evaluative statements. That is because there should be little time for evaluation in all the other previously listed modes. Evaluation mode comes after a practice session, rehearsal or after a game, performance or event. You needn’t clutter the other modes with evaluation. Evaluation mode is the time to say:
How did I impact the game today?
How did I influence what happened today?
What did I do well?
What do I need to keep doing?
What do I need to do more often?
What do I need to improve?
What can I do to get better?
What do I need to do less often?
What things do I need to stop doing all together?
What did I learn from my performance today?
Did I have fun?
What was enjoyable about my game today?
What is the next thing to master?
Evaluation mode is a good thing, but only at the right time. The evaluative process in any other mode is distracting and only provides unfocused chatter that is not useful nor conducive to peak performance.
You may also notice that evaluation mode is not harsh, is not blaming, is not name-calling. It is not a time to beat yourself up. It is time to look objectively at your game and take a productive learning approach. This is how you get better. This is how your learn and this is how to achieve sustainable performance increases. This is how you succeed. This is how you build confidence.
Self-talk is the internal dialogue that we use in most situations. It can be a tool to keep us “in the zone,” and “at our best.” It is the thing that we say to ourselves in many difficult situations, in particular. In the best of circumstances, it is often how we focus, calm ourselves down, or get ourselves motivated. Often, at its worst, self-talk can have a highly detrimental effect, particularly if it is negative or even too positive in nature. Self-talk can create anxiety, excessive pressure, and can make us forget our game plan, what we had worked hard, practiced and, ultimately, planned to do.
Negative self-talk focuses on failure and takes us right to the possibility of a negative outcome. It also zeroes in on the negative or consequences of failure. It takes away from our game plan and assumes failure. Negative self-talk is not only detremental because of its content, but also, negative self-talk tends to be harsh, even abusive, and can erode confidence.
Positive self-talk focuses on the outcome and consequences as well. It is more optimistic, perhaps, but nevertheless focuses on the consequences instead of the task at hand.
Realistic self-talk is the self-talk that keeps us in the moment. It allows us to focus on the task and the plan that we have practiced and planned to execute. It maintains a step-by-step dialogue within ourselves that keeps us focused and task-oriented, rather than outcome oriented. It reduces anxiety and pressure and maximizes the possibility of a successful outcome.
Perhaps the most important key to effective self-talk is that it should be instructional and directional. Look left, look right, look forward; step forward, right foot, left foot, step back; turn right, turn left; Do this, execute that. That type of self-talk is more likely to keep us focused and in the moment. It prevents us freom the distraction of evaluative self-talk. Evaluative self-talk send us down a completely different path. It sends us down the rabbit hole of predictions, outcomes, failure, and consequences.
Can you identify your internal dialogue in particular situations that require peak performance? What do you say to yourself in situations that require your top performance? How do you focus, calm yourself or motivate yourself when you are in the middle of a difficult situation? Is your internal dialogue able to keep you “in the moment?” Does it facilitate your flow?
Are you focused on the steps that you have planned to execute? Are you reviewing the steps that you have planned? Or, are you focused on the consequences of a poor performance?
What is your self-talk as you begin to practice your steps?
Can you come up with examples of your negative self-talk? Here are some common examples.
1. I am going to fail.
2. I can’t do this.
3. This is too hard.
4. What if I mess up?
Can you come up with examples of your positive self-talk? Here are some examples.
1. This is easy.
2. I will succeed.
3. Piece of cake.
4. I can’t mess up.
Can you come up with examples for your realistic self-talk? Here are some good examples.
1. I have done this before.
2. I will follow the steps.
3. Take a deep breath.
4. I will take my time.
Here are some more examples of realistic self-statements adapted from John Ellsworth.
My performance today will be the best I can give regardless of the weather or conditions of the field.
I choose to see myself performing effortlessly as I glide through my wind-up and delivery with confidence and focus.
I love to compete; I love the energy of being in a field of runners, bikers and swimmers.
I choose to focus on remaining present and in the flow.
By having my pre-at-bat plan and sticking to my plan, there is success without judgment regardless of the outcome.
I choose to take the success from practice into the game with confidence, and trust in my ability to be a winner.
Being in the flow and in the process of my own race means no judgment and no analysis.
My training has prepared me for this day. I am confident that my training success has prepared me for this day.
Let positive self-statements become a positive force in your athletic life, and life in general. Let this positive force enable you to become all that you can be.
Can you think of a situation in the near future that you will encounter in which self-talk will have an impact?
What typical self-talk do you use in these types of situations?
What self-talk would you like to replace it with?
What self-talk will you use instead?
How to Stop a Slump with Self-Talk
I had an old basketball coach who once said, “You guys remind me of vultures, you don’t know how to kill anything and nothing is dying.”
I’ve got a secret weapon for mental toughness.
The lyrics of a very popular song from B.o.B. featuring Trey Songz includes a phrase could be the most valuable mental conditioning tip you can have for dealing with adversity.
“But not for long.”
Every athlete and performer makes mistakes and experiences errors during practice as well as during games and competitive events. Mistakes are part of the game, and there is no such thing as perfection. You can always do better, and you can always improve. Problems occur when errors weaken an athlete’s confidence and mental focus. Successful athletes are able to let go quickly after a mistake.
When you focus on a past mistake, you create noise in the system, you increase mental distraction, your mindset becomes negative, and this can erode and destroy mental toughness. The negative self-talk we tend to get into after a mistake distracts us from the focus and concentration we need to achieve our best performance.
It is quite easy to get into a negative frame of mind, dwell on mistakes, and focus on failure. We all do it to some extent. We can get caught up in negative self-talk. However, we need a way to get back on track. We need a way to re-focus, to re-boot as quickly as possible.
“I’m having a bad day.”
“I’m playing badly.”
“My opponent is making me look bad.”
“That was embarrassing.”
“I’m not ready for this.”
“This isn’t working.”
“But not for long.”
Try to be aware of your negative self-talk. Try replacing your typical negative self-talk with this phrase:
“But, not for long.”
Give it a try. This is a great way to increase your mental toughness and improve your emotional resilience.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m right
Where I belong, I’m right
Where I belong
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door
I’m painting the room in a colorful way
And when my mind is wandering
There I will go
Hey, hey, hey, hey
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m right
Where I belong, I’m right
Where I belong
Silly people run around, they worry me
And never ask me why they don’t get past my door
I’m taking the time for a number of things
That weren’t important yesterday
And I still go
--John Lennon & Paul McCartney, “Fixing a Hole”, from the album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles (1967).
Klay Thompson of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors sought something extra, something more to add to his basketball routine, so he included meditation to get centered before games and better deal with the pressures of NBA games. He typically flips on some classical music or nature sounds to relax his mind.
Like his basketball skills, it takes consistent practice.
“I try to go 30 minutes,” said Thompson, who is sometimes joined for sessions by his bulldog, Rocco. “It’s hard. It’s very hard. An hour would be nice, but you’ve got to work up to that.”
Thompson, who in 2019, went with his team to a fifth straight NBA Finals. They were confronted with the challenge of chasing a possible third straight NBA championship and a fourth in 5 years.
Mental preparation off the court is a major reason Thompson no longer lets things fester or bring him down, such as a tough loss or bad outing. He has said that earlier in his career it was hard to let go after games. Now, he instead shrugs off a poor shooting performance with the simple notion of, “That’s the way the basketball gods can be.”
Following the 2018-2019 regular season, Thompson was left off the All-NBA team? “Oh, I didn’t?,” he replied when told he hadn’t made the cut. Thompson did allow himself a little eye roll in disbelief, before adding: “It is what it is. I can’t control it. Do I think there’s that many guards better than me in the league? No, but that’s the reason why we’re still playing. So, I don’t even want to get into it, honestly.”
The more media shy, under-the-radar half of Golden State’s sensational backcourt, known as the Splash Brothers — Steph Curry is a two-time league MVP — a slumping Thompson credited meditation in part for how far he has come in handling everything as he was wrapping up his eighth NBA season.
Thompson added meditation and mental visualization into his routine in the last couple of years. This is the typically stoic guard who plunged into the Pacific Ocean in Southern California before Game 4 of the first round against the Clippers following a performance that wasn’t up to his “standards.” He went out and scored 32 after that with six 3-pointers, hitting his first seven shots.
“The mind’s so powerful. Just try to train the mind to deal with adversity in situations that are unpleasant but make you better in the long run, that’s what I try to do,” Thompson said when asked how he got involved meditation. “Just a lot of reading on the internet and learning from coach (Steve) Kerr. Just from veteran players. David West taught me a lot about that side of the game, the mental part.”
Teammate Shaun Livingston can picture Thompson in a moment of complete serenity and peace — “100 percent, nothing would surprise me.”
Mindfulness allows athletes to perform to the best of their ability and frees the athlete to place his or her attention and focus on the physical task in hand, rather than grappling with the distraction of interfering thoughts and feelings.
Athletes learn a non-critical, non-evaluative, non-judgmental awareness during their event or performance.
Mindfulness enhances athletic performance by improving concentration and accuracy, and by making it easier to play consistently ‘in the zone’. Sports psychologists the world over are now emphasizing the value of mindfulness.
Dr. Michael Gervais, a high-performance psychologist who has worked closely with the Seattle Seahawks, other NBA players, USA Volleyball and other Olympic athletes, applauds Thompson taking up meditation on his own.
“So often we hold up world-leading athletes on a pedestal for their physical abilities, missing the deeper and extraordinary commitment they make toward pursuing their potential,” Gervais said. “There are only three things we can train as humans: our craft, our bodies, and our mind. World-class athletes don’t leave any of those up to chance — why should the rest of us?”
“Klay is always someone who everybody sort of marvels at his life, the simplicity of his life. He just needs a basketball and his dog, and that’s it. And we all laugh about it,” Kerr said. “But Klay is a lot deeper than people realize, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s meditating and he’s found ways to calm himself before games and keep himself going during the season.”
Thompson takes time the night before a game to think ahead. Sometimes he envisions each shot from a given spot on the floor that could present itself over the course of a game.
“Andre Iguodala [another Warriors teammate] told me that Tiger Woods visualizes every single shot he shoots on 18 holes on the golf course, so if he can do that, that’s incredible,” Thompson said. “That’s so many golf swings. I try to do the same approach to basketball. I just try to visualize, get in my spots, what my opponent is going to do. Yeah, so when you come to the game, you’ve kind of seen it before.”
So, to relax, Thompson might select some Mozart or Beethoven.
“Try to put on classical Pandora or some nature sounds. Can’t listen to rap or hip-hop when I do it because then I just get distracted. Something pleasant in the background, it’s nice,” Thompson explained.
“It’s a challenge. It’s much harder than working out. Especially for me, I’ve got like my mind racing. So it’s a good practice for me.”
Kerr considers Thompson one of the most down-to-earth NBA superstars. “He’s a dream to coach. He’s zero maintenance,” Kerr said. “But he’ll surprise you with his depth. You may not think there’s a whole lot there, but there’s plenty there, he just sort of doesn’t let you in on it very often.”
Thompson knows mental conditioning, medidation, and mindfulness is not a perfect science or solution to get his shooting back on track after a poor performance. The meditation provides a mental focus.
“I still will have bad days once in a while, but that’s just being human,” Thompson said. “It’s something I’ve incorporated in my routine for at least the past season, especially when I was going through that shooting slump. That really helped me. It’s just nice to manifest things. Kind of like speak into existence, just kind of think it into existence.”
Novak Djokovic, perhaps the best professional tennis player in the world since 2011, practices mindfulness meditation for at least 15 minutes every day.
“Yes, I do. I’ll tell you what. I don’t want to tell you what I gain with it, but I’ll tell what I lose with it,” he said. “I lose fear. I lose anxiety. I lose stress. I guess, in the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to your experience as it happens without judgment. A mindfulness meditation typically involves focusing your attention on the breath, or on physical sensations, and bringing your attention back to that focus every time your mind wanders from it.
Novak Djokovic says meditation has helped him overcome fear and stress that comes with playing elite tennis.
The multiple Grand Slam champion, says he often turned to the practice during his long spell out of the game with elbow trouble.
Djokovic has become involved in meticulous off-the-court preparation in recent years. He has a strict, gluten-free diet and is an advocate for well-being.
Meditation has enabled Djokovic to let go of negative emotions such as self-doubt, anger and worry, and that this has made all the difference in his success. Meditation is crucial to his mental approach on court. He sees mindfulness training as just as important as his physical training, and believes that dedicated regular meditation practice leads to consistent play and ultimate success on the court.
Djokovic’s use of mindfulness allows him to take advantage of the latest in sports psychology. He is able to develop a clear mental edge over his rivals. Djokovic joins a growing list of elite athletes, including Michael Jordan and the Seattle Seahawks, who have used meditation to achieve enhanced performance.
That’s another aspect of Djokovic’s mental conditioning that is notable. Djokovic regularly acknowledges outstanding play by his rivals. He’s also very gracious in defeat, offering sincere congratulations even after tough losses.
Mental Preparation Calms Anxieties
“When I step onto the blocks to race, I switch into a different gear. It doesn’t matter what kind of training I have or what’s going on in my life, I’m always going to rise to the occasion.”
Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ coach, says that structured relaxation has been a part of Phelps’ prerace routine since he was 12 years old and is a key to his success. Bowman introduced Phelps to progressive relaxation and includes a recitation of cues.
Every night before Phelps went to sleep, his mother, Debbie, would sit with him in his dimly lit bedroom, read a script, and command him to relax different parts of his body. With considerable practice, Phelps could relax without his mother’s cues. With more practice, he became adept at placing himself in the same meditative state in the ready room before a race.
Once he cleared his mind and loosened his limbs, Phelps would use his imagination and swim each race over and over in his mind. In addition to a perfect race, Phelps pictured himself overcoming every conceivable obstacle to achieve his goal time so that when he stands on the blocks he feels as if nothing can stand in the way of him and his quest.
“I do go through everything from a best-case scenario to the worst-case scenario just so I’m ready for anything that comes my way,” Phelps said. So, for example, when Phelps’ goggles unexpectedly filled with water during the finals of the 200 butterfly at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he did not panic. He counted his strokes so he knew where the walls were and was able to lower his world record and win the gold medal.
The Future of Mindfulness in Sports
Can mindfulness help athletes, teams, and coaches be more creative as well as more productive? Does increased creativity increase productivity and performance? Can we design better workouts, practices, learning environments and other related experiences because we are slowing down to connect in the present moment with ourselves and our teammates without any harsh and unconstructive judgment? Can mindfulness help us imbue our coaching practices and training solutions with greater human connection, meaning and satisfaction?
Mindfulness practice suggests that being fully present creates a richness of creativity and impact that we are just now discovering.
The best athletes and coaches are realizing that the important qualities of attention, innovation, clarity, focus and expression are often disrupted by the speed and pace and demands of daily life as well as the speed and athleticism in sports today. The best of coaches are developing ways for teams and individuals to overcome those obstacles.
The assumption is that each of us has an unlimited amount of curiosity and imagination in us, which can transform our approach to performance and productivity.
Mindfulness is an increasingly popular methodology for offering a way to effectively shift our mindset to maximize mental fitness and creativity,
Many athletes condition themselves to succeed by force and intensity, delving into their workouts and competition in a manner that is fast-paced, demanding, and emotionally taxing. They meet challenges head-on, absorbing anxiety, and then begin to suffer a burnout, a sense of disconnection. It can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and disappointment.
Mindfulness techniques provide strategies to reconnect, and to engage with the self and others in a more productive, efficient way. To focus on practices that enhance our natural creativity and sense of presence, lead us to be able to be free innovate and perform, also finding greater clarity, focus and presence.
Mental conditioning through mindfulness draws its ideas from fields of neuroscience, evidence-based mindfulness practices. However, there is no one right way.
When coaches and teams design the right environment, the proper and optimal learning environment, it sets up their athletes the best chance to engage, participate, compete, and succeed.
Cultivating a growth mindset, each moment is an opportunity to learn and improve.
There’s scientific, philosophical and historical background about the brain and the way we learn best. Mindfulness provides individuals, teams and groups a set of exercises to practice, so there are always new ways to grow.
Our brains, naturally, like to recognize patterns; however it is when the patterns break, and elements of surprise and discovery are part of the landscape, things start to get exciting.
With mindfulness, we can also practice the key leadership skills of presence and authenticity, so necessary in peak performance. To show up as your best self takes self-awareness, compassion, and vulnerability. It requires patience and self-care when we commit to show up as our best selves. Mindfulness positions us to look at ways to shift our mindsets and adopt new viewpoints, connecting to and reaching others and building understanding and meaning through these deeper insights.