Archive for July, 2010

Geeking Out

While watching “It Might Get Loud” one cannot help but be struck by the absolute ecstasy of Jimmy Page when he listens to Link Wray’s “Rumble,” while standing in a den full of vinyls, CDs, and more.  At whatever advanced age he has reached, he stands there air guitaring to a song that is decades old and grins from ear to ear like a child.  At the same time he talks in depth and with nuance about the subtleties of each cord and manipulation of the electric guitar.  Although he may be one of the greatest rock guitarists ever, this is not a moment of coolness, but rather geekdom.

One of my coaching collaborators at BU’s Athletic Enhancement Center would say that this is a moment of Jimmy Page “geeking out.”  Those striving for excellence and certainly those that managed to achieve it, spend a lot of time “geeking out” about their chosen domain of striving.  Behind the scenes, rock musicians don’t talk about women, beer, and liquor – they talk about all of the ridiculous ways that they can get great music out of whatever is before them.  Great athletes don’t talk about their press or even their points – they talk about the kinesiology of making the great play or how to maximize every training opportunity.  Strength coaches don’t boast about the athletes they have coached – they talk about subtle ways to help an athlete drop a tenth of a second on a sprint time or be able to withstand the punishment of a long season better.  Sport psych coaches don’t play armchair psychologist about sports headlines – they talk about the psych-social needs of athletes and how to best empower them.

Geeking out has little to do with the glory, but everything to do with the greatness.

Having fun with the “cool” aspects of performance and the applause that might follow is human.  The athlete or coach (or musician) that takes time to do the “uncool” stuff of studying hard, challenging one’s self daily, and surrounding himself with peers that push him truly strives and succeeds.  Perhaps more importantly they find pleasure at the deepest levels in their pursuits.  Being inquisitive and humble  when the fans have left, the scoreboard has been turned off, and only the toughest critics (one’s peers) are in the room is a difference maker on so many levels.

Jimmy Page has had a long career and looks to be fully engaged at every moment when music is present.  Take some time to “geek out” over what you love and what you do… for greatness, for longevity, just for the fun of it.

Gorilla Glue: Self-Awareness and Reflection

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. -Confucius

Reflection leads to self-awareness and self-awareness leads to wise and confident action.  It sounds simple enough, but somehow quality reflection gets lost in the hustle and bustle of sport… of life.  This is unfortunate, because reflection is perhaps the most powerful tool for learning and achieving inside and outside of sport.  Without appreciating and embracing quality reflective practice one is left simply spinning his wheels and going nowhere.

This “spinning of wheels and going nowhere” is regularly seen in the application of enticing, mental training tools or tricks.  Technology impresses many.  Assessment of psychological traits has a certain allure.  Quick sound bites feel inspiring.  This being said, all fall short when it is forgotten that at the core these are all simply means for awareness and reflection.  Take a closer look:

Biofeedback and other technological bells and whistles – EEG, skin conductance, golf’s K-vest, and the rest are technologically aided reflection.  The bells beep.  The computer monitors make our physiology look like an X-Box game.  The machine leads the athlete to higher performance… or does it?  If the “machine leads” the athlete, high performance is not likely achieved or maintained.  At its best, biofeedback enhances an athletes reflection on various physiological modalities.  One can monitor their heart rate or breathing without the high tech toys, but they can lead a thoughtful athlete to more precision in reflection and most efficient learning.  When the athlete reflects (hear “athlete leads”), self-awareness about whatever psycho-physiological domain is being feed back is heightened.  Better self-regulation is likely to follow.  Technology without reflection however is to often simply an entertaining way to kill a few hours.

Psychometric assessment – The Myers-Briggs, 16PF, TAIS, and various other assessment devices are objective measures that facilitate self-awareness.  Much of what is garnered by the completion of various likert scales, their analysis, and sharing of pretty bar charts could be gained during a period of time reflecting with a sport psychology professional or through a period of self-study and analysis.  A well designed scale however may speed up these processes if the athlete is aware that full mental engagement must continue past completion of a series of questions.  A battery of valid and reliable tests will give a team mental toughness and help them play better… or do they?  Athletes, teams, and coaches that are excited to learn about their strengths and areas for development and plan to set goals after learning about themselves, may facilitate this process by employing assessment devices.  A set of questions and fancy reports in of themselves however fall flat.

Inspirational quotes – These are wonderful turn of phrases, but without the reader taking a few moments, minutes, hours to reflect upon their wisdom they are nothing more than an entertaining read.  Not that there is anything wrong with an entertaining read, but the athlete in which these soundbites truly resonate is the one that finds success most quickly.  The inspirational saying pained on the locker room wall in team colors will motivate, toughen, and inspire… or will it?  Perhaps this is where the saying, “Talk is cheap,” rings loud.  While it is quick to read and seemingly easy to understand, it is critical that an athlete takes a moment to think about how the saying relates to “my” current reality.  What does this phrase look like in action?  The best quotes were not written to pump someone up, but rather to give a small window into the foundations of achievement and performance.  To succeed with quotes, the athlete must open the window and crawl inside.  Explore (reflect up) the idea to which a glimpse was given and genuine change will follow.

In a day and age of technology and over-scheduling, it is critical to engage the “noblest” form of learning – reflection.  It is truly the Gorilla glue that makes new teachings resonate in the moment and stick for a life-time of high performance.  Take advantage of valid protocols that are available to aid one’s quest towards great play… but never forget that the cultivation of the self-awareness for long term growth does not lie in a computer’s mainframe, a bar graph output, or trite saying, but rather in the personal reflection that accompanies.

Leave It On The Field

A common expression I often hear before a big match or tournament is, “leave it on the field!: It’s understandable that athletes would want to give it their all, to it all out there when the big game or tournament or tryout comes along. When I coached high school soccer, I can remember hearing, “leave it on the field,” from my players before the last game of the season – it used to make me want to cuss.

Leave it on the field… tonight? Where in the $%@& was that sentiment at the start of the season or halfway through league-play?

I’ve since realized that “leaving it on the field” isn’t like flipping a light switch. That effort and intensity doesn’t just turn “on” right when you need it. Instead, it’s an attitude – something that needs to be cultivated throughout one’s season and career.

Apollo Creed was right – “there is no tomorrow!” He’d been helping Rocky train to get another title bout in Rocky III – and the former champ had just informed Apollo that he’d “work hard tomorrow.”  There’s a pervasive mentality in middle-class athletes that there’s always going to be another game, another shot, another chance to prove oneself. This I’ll-Do-It-Tomorrow-Mentality bleeds intensity and ambition dry.

Figure out what “leaving it on the field” looks like. If today was the last time you would play your sport – what would your last game look like? What – specifically – would we see? “I’m going to play hard” doesn’t cut it. Get specific. This gives you a better, clearer picture of just what it means to “leave it on the field”

Don’t wait until the end of the season to “leave it on the field.” Imagine an athlete or a team truly dedicated to “leaving it on the field” from the start of a season. They recognize that tomorrow is promised to no one. Consequently, they appreciate each opportunity to give their best effort and intensity at each practice and competition. That’s an athlete or team, win or lose, that won’t look back and ask, “what if…”

Be Your Own Best Caddie

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

The best caddies in the world repeatedly exhibit two common traits that assist his or her player to perform consistently.   Two major characteristics that come to mind are informative and supportive.  Since many (if not all) rounds are played without the services of a caddie, however, some of the best players have learned to be “their own best caddie” to perform at a high level with or without a loyal assistant on the bag.  So how can the rest of us learn to take this message to the course as well?  Take a step back and think about what your caddie would say and do to maximize your potential and lower your score during the round.

Informative – There is such a thing as having too much information in your head before executing a shot, but there is also such a thing as having too little.  The best caddies seem to find just the right amount of information to get the player comfortable, committed, and ready to execute.  On TOUR, caddies are trained to give the player the physical distance, assist in reading and evaluating the lie, and taking into account the direction and speed of the wind.  These three factors contribute to the caddie and player establishing the total distance necessary for every shot.  Only after these three factors have been considered, and the total number calculated does the player pull the club and identify a target to execute.  Are you giving yourself the right amount of information for each shot?

Supportive – There are not too many long lasting player-caddie relationships that lack support (at least in the direction of caddie toward player).  Any caddie that puts down a player or critiques them critically during a round will certainly not be on the bag for any extended period of time.  The best caddies use phrases like “stay committed”, “we can do this”, or “let’s work to get one back here”.  Does that sound like the language you are using with yourself throughout a round…or does that inner caddie take on a different tone of voice?  It may be helpful to create a few key phrases that you would typically accept from a supportive caddie throughout your four plus hour, potentially rollercoaster round.  Become aware of your own voice and decide if it’s the voice of the hired caddie, or the fired one.

Being informative and supportive are only two examples of characteristics that strong caddies provide for their player.  Take some time to create the characteristics of “your own best caddie” and enjoy the 18-hole march without him or her there in a physical sense.  You may find that your round is a bit more enjoyable with a lower score to match!

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