mental coach

Great Balance

The NBA, NHL, and PGA Tour all had pressure filled weekends. Athletes work countless hours to put themselves in a position to perform under that pressure. Sacrifices like missing Mother’s Day, birthdays, and weddings are often made this time of year. Greatness is a word engrained in every athlete’s vocabulary. The one’s who achieve it are applauded and revered. However, what often gets lost in greatness is the power of balance. Balance gives perspective, creates freedom in choices, and allows for the right decision at the right time. It may not be as glamorous as greatness, but it may be harder to achieve, and create more long-term value.

So while continued directed attention to greatness is important, sometimes a little balance goes a long way.

Mountain Climbing

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to hear Allison Levine speak.  Levine has climbed the highest peak on every continent, served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole. As Levine spoke I found that her approach and mentality was very similar to the messages I talk about with clients.  With that in mind, below are some of the notes that I took from her speech.

Levine spoke about how it’s easier for someone to say no, then to answer questions.  She spoke about the importance of asking questions to gain information and to push people for specific information.  This is an important message for athletes seeking information regarding role clarity, playing time, and team motivation.

Levine talked about Junko Taibei, the first Woman to climb Mt. Everest, and how she said, “Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top—it is willpower that is the most important.  The willpower you cannot buy with money or be given by others—it rises from your heart.”

In addition to willpower Levine spoke about the importance of fear by saying, “fear is ok, but complacency will kill you.”  Levine talked about fear in regard to the hazardous mountain weather by saying, “storms are temporary and they don’t last forever.”

As Levine continued to talk about her experience it was clear that she valued preparation, moment-to-moment thinking, and the importance of relishing the journey over the end result.  Levine’s ability to conquer some of the largest mountains in the world is a reminder that in order to conquer the most difficult challenges, we need to make sure our mind is in as good of shape as our body.

Thriving vs. Surviving

Survive and advance has become the motto of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.  However, I believe the teams that thrive, not survive, are the one’s that advance.  Surviving suggests doing just enough to get by, while thriving suggests owning an opportunity and being better off because of the circumstances.

The term survivor is used to describe many who have made it through adversity: cancer survivors, Holocaust survivors, and sexual abuse survivors to name a few.  While surviving is certainly the first step in overcoming adversity, perhaps thriving should be the focus.  Allow me to explain.

He is considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time.  In 1993 he had a streak with at least one goal in 12 consecutive games and was on pace to lead the league in points, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.  He missed two months of play and his team struggled.  However, on his final day of radiation he returned and scored a goal and an assist.  Even while missing two months of play he ended up winning the scoring title by 12 points.  Following his return, the team went on to win 17 straight games.  He went on to play for a total of eight more years, while coming in and out of retirement.  Today he is co-owner/chairman of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been one of the best organizations in sports during his ownership.  Mario Lemieux is not just surviving.  He is thriving.

In 1944, because he was Jewish, he was placed in a work camp in Auschwitz where he became inmate “A-7713”, which was tattooed on his left arm.   He was separated from his mother and his youngest sister, who were killed in gas chambers, while his father was beaten to death at a work camp.   After living in France he moved to the United States where he has written over 40 books (57 total in his life).  In 1986 he received the Nobel Peach Prize.  He has received the Congressional Gold Medal, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, and serves as a Professor at Boston University.  He received an honorary knighthood in London.  Elie Wiesel is not just surviving.  He is thriving.

Starting at the age of nine she was molested by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend.  The abuse eventually led her to run away at the age of 13.  From there she went on to earn a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.  Since then she became the host of her own TV show and became one of the premier interviewers in the world.  She is an actress, producer, businesswomen, writer, philanthropist and publisher.  She currently has her own TV network, magazine, and radio channel.  Lastly, she is a billionaire and one of the most powerful women in the world.  Oprah Winfrey is not just surviving.  She is thriving.

These examples are not meant to minimize the tragedies that each experienced.  All of them had to battle to get to this point in their lives.  Yet their ability to thrive in the face of yesterday’s adversity allows each of them to be great today.   The old saying, “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger”, certainly rings true for all of them.  So, when your time comes and adversity hits, as it does for all who live, how will you react?  Will you be satisfied with surviving and advancing or will you challenge yourself to thrive?  Surviving isn’t always a choice, but thriving is.

Timeout Strategy

One of my favorite hand motions in basketball is the signal for a “20 second timeout”.  Coaches lift their arms, bend their elbows, and touch shoulders with their fingers to signal a stoppage in play.   It’s a technique that I often use with clients, family, and friends to pause discussions. While the 20 second timeout signal is universally known in the basketball world, the communication that occurs after the motion varies from coach to coach.  I have been fortunate to be part of many different teams, in many different sports, and often observe the strategies used in that brief, but important interaction.  Below is what I have found to be most effective.  If you aren’t a coach think about when you have to deliver information to people in a quick and concise manner.

Attention Getter:  Whether it’s clapping, demanding eye contact, or simply asking a question, it’s imperative that attention is gathered quickly.  Make sure to have an attention getter that gets your team focused.

Encourager:  Once you have their attention offer an encourager.  An encourager will keep their attention and let them know what they are doing well.  It will open their minds and foster opportunities for more feedback.

Information:  The meat of your timeout should occur after the attention getter and encourager.  This is a time to give feedback, negative or positive, which should be the most important point you are looking to provide.

Encourager:  After the information has been processed an encourager is recommended to send the team on their way.  It’s a great opportunity to build cohesion leaving a huddle and remind the players that you believe in them.

Hope you can find a way to use the attention getter, encourager, information, encourager method whenever you have a timeout today.

Competition vs. Participation

It seems like we are at a crossroads in youth sport.  Perhaps mirroring the politics of today, the opinions of how sport should be played appear to be as polarizing as ever. One camp believes we are in the midst of the “wussification of America”.  They believe that today’s children are given too much and participation trophies are creating generations of American’s who don’t know how to win.  They believe that success, failure, and learning from those experiences bring out the best in our children.  The “wussification” camp has it’s own site and has even claimed that teaching activities like yoga is breeding a generation of non-competitors.  Comedian Adam Carrola went off on the “Participation Trophy Generation” and talked about how it’s impacting our economy.  Even the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr., talked about his concern with where youth sports are heading.  There’s statistics that show that the millennial generation, who the Wall Street Journal labeled “trophy kids”, are as entitled as ever.  Let’s call this camp “old school”, where they believe we are softening up on our future leaders and creating a less competitive culture.

The other camp believes that sports have become too serious.  Rick Reilly, a popular ESPN columnist, wrote about Pee Wee Coaches imploring 8 year old football players to have a “killer instinct”.  Last month, The Bloomington South High School girls’ basketball team made headlines by beating  Arlington High School 107-2.  Athlete’s are being offered scholarships before they get to high school.  Parents are being jailed for fighting at games.  Sports have become big business, and many parents have become more interested in athletic scholarship, or making it to the Pro’s, then emphasizing academics and using sport experience as an opportunity to learn.  Let’s call this camp “new school”, where they believe our society has placed too much emphasis on winning and not enough on participation and having fun.

So, who is right?  Well, both believe our children may not be learning as much as they should.  And I am not sure either is wrong.  I don’t believe in “old school”, I don’t believe in “new school”, I believe in “right school”, and figuring out what mix of the past and the future is best for the present.

Clearly, this is a topic that will continue to garner attention and changes will be made.  Whether, the emphasis for change needs to be solely on increased competition or participation, perhaps, like our politics, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.