Posts Tagged 'confidence'

Contagious Courage


by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Courage. Those who have it seem to thrive, endure and consistently separate themselves from the rest of the population in powerful and meaningful ways. It allows individuals to adapt, evolve and continue pursuing fresh, meaningful opportunities – all characteristics of our most inspiring leaders, performers and admired role models. Courage may be the most important attribute for success in today’s ever-changing world. So…is it possible to increase courage? Can courage be maintained and nourished to enhance performance and catapult one’s self to achieve feats once deemed unattainable? The answer to both of these questions is – YES.
While courage can be fostered and maintained throughout a lifetime; it’s not a common nor easy path to endure. There is a reason why few are able to sustain it. We are wired to survive; and playing it safe is a fundamental key to survival. For those looking to do more than just survive, those looking to thrive instead, are encouraged to make a mindful choice to pursue the following guidelines. These keys will maximize one’s trajectory moving forward and provide every opportunity to strengthen courage, enhance confidence and nudge an individual toward leading a more powerful and fulfilling life.

1) Courage begets courage. Yes…it takes a miniscule particle of courage to start an unbridled chain reaction. Start small and momentum will slowly build. Take a minimal calculated risk in an otherwise mundane, everyday activity. Gauge how it makes you feel. If a hint of adrenaline and positive emotion came your way, you might be onto something.

2) Own your emotions. An elevated heart rate, increased perspiration and shaking hands are the tell-tale signs of anxiety. They are also signs of excitement. Believe it or not, you decide how to view your physical sensations. Perception of anxiety causes hesitation, over-thinking and undue delay; while interpreting those same physical cues as excitement leads to eagerness, positive energy and enjoyment. How physical feelings are interpreted dictates emotion…and emotion guides the choice to surge ahead, find another path or abort the mission completely. Courage seems to find a way to nudge forward with purpose, especially in the face of challenge and discomfort.

3) Recharge. In terms of energy, we are wired  much the same as a mobile device. Our battery has a limited capacity to perform before it needs a recharge. Courageous acts take their toll and it’s difficult to take on further challenges when feeling depleted and fragile. Dedicate personal time to sleep, stretch, breathe and connect with others. Soak in your favorite sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Find recharge techniques that work for you in order to produce even greater and more purposeful efforts moving forward.

4) Environment matters. Do those around you tend to be supportive or harsh following setbacks? The human experience causes us to cue off of each other’s energy more than we realize or often care to admit. Environment may actually be the most important key to enhancing or diminishing courage. When those around us possess a mindset which is harsh, critical or inflexible our choices toward future action are negatively affected as well. The opportunity to approach risks, especially appropriate ones, becomes less enjoyable as subtle tension bubbles below the surface. These distractions often appear at critical moments when courage and focus on the task at hand are needed most. The wandering thought of the possible critique and retribution to follow a mistake can magnify a slight bobble into a seemingly tumultuous, career-ending blunder. On the other hand, when those around us encourage stretching limits for growth and see personal experiences as learning opportunities (regardless of the result), confidence and courage are consistently fostered. Those same “critical” moments don’t feel as critical anymore, allowing skills and ability to emerge in abundance, leading to more desired and consistent results.

Courage is a highly desirable and potentially contagious attribute. Take the first step, own your emotions, recharge and surround yourself with those who support what you stand for. Courage comes from a willingness to fail from time to time. That willingness is the same thread that leads to consistent, enduring and courageous successes that last a lifetime.


Performance Cycle: The Key to Continuous Improvement

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Athlete development is a long-term process. Although many gadgets, instruments, and training aids are sold as the ultimate “must-have” item, unfortunately there are no shortcuts or magic pills that allow an individual to reach their ultimate potential without time, energy, and introspection. It should be understood that the only way for an athlete to get where they want to be is through preparation, experience, and continuous learning through evaluation. I utilize the following model to ensure each one of my students gets the most from themselves and their training on a daily basis. This model assists athletes in their journey to reach their potential on and off the field by creating a mindset of continuous improvement.

The prepare stage of the performance cycle is the longest in duration for all athletes. These are the days, weeks, or months set aside for training between competitions. This time is used to develop the technical, tactical, physical, and mental skills required to compete at a high level. This stage of the performance cycle typically starts with a high percentage of instruction in order for the athlete to learn new skills and improve technique. As the cycle continues, the athlete engages in quality repetition of movement to create the feel and trust required to compete without excess technical thought as competition nears.

The compete stage is the time to execute and showcase the skills that were developed and improved during the prepare stage. This is not the ideal time to try something new or uncomfortable that has not been practiced. Competition is naturally a time of higher stress, so an athlete’s mind and body will automatically revert to doing what it currently knows best. This will allow the individual to see where their game actually stands. The compete stage is the opportunity for an athlete to measure their current potential and show how well they can manage the physical, tactical, and mental  aspects of performance in a public forum.

The evaluate & active rest stage of the performance cycle is often skimmed over or eliminated altogether because it may not show any immediate results. However, if the athlete does not have an opportunity to assess themself and take time for other off-the-field needs, long-term development suffers. Success in life is a continuous process of evaluating, learning, and developing; which takes a significant amount of time and energy. Without proper evaluation and rest, athletes typically lose perspective on their sport and life as a whole, which results in burnout and shorter, less fulfilling athletic careers. Once the evaluation is complete, it’s time to create the next training plan to increase overall potential by preparing once again.

This model is clearly the opposite of a “must-have” item or magic pill. It is a training plan that exhibits the time, energy, and evaluation required to excel in sport and life. After going through this cycle a few hundred times, elite performance and skill mastery might begin to show itself.

Getting Better Making You Worse?

Working hard to develop one’s self as an athlete is a noble ideal. Just recently, Dwayne Wade said that he took part in rigorous tests at the Gatorade Sport Science Labs in order to find any edge possible. Athletes are encouraged to lead monk-like lives and are lauded for tremendous off-season commitments. Again, all noble efforts, but one must ask when is enough enough? Perhaps more importantly when is self-improvement making you worse?

Tireless efforts and never being satisfied with one’s current level of performance can actually be performance inhibitors. An off season of extra practice and added discipline in the gym can create heavy expectations if an athlete is not careful. Great efforts prior to a contest can too often leave the athlete “hoping” that investments will reap great dividends… rather than “trusting” that the game will unfold as it should and they are ready. Furthermore, the athlete that is truly never satisfied with his performance level has a difficult time settling in and playing the game at hand. In order to truly compete freely one needs to accept herself and what she has to give that day on the playing field (dig through M. Scott Peck’s Golf and the Spirit for a rich explanation of this concept).

Tireless efforts and never being satisfied with one’s current level of performance can actually be performance inhibitors.

Alina Tugend published a nice piece in the New York Times recently, Pursuing Self-Improvement at the Risk of Self-Acceptance. It is worth a read. It provides a nice lens on the negative consequences of a cult-like approach to self-improvement. Happiness and high-performance is not found in perfection, but rather in acceptance.

It is so easy to trip and tumble over one’s self once you try to improve. Overtraining runs rampant… so often that is simply self-improvement run amok. Pressure to perform can be smothering… after dedicated practice, great outcomes seem required rather than something healthy to strive towards.  Confidence too often is fleeting… if constantly under critical scrutiny it is difficult for self-belief to get a true foothold.

Most days an athlete would benefit from putting forth a solid effort and accept himself as a good athlete. This certainly does not suggest that one is not trying to get better, it simply means that he is not obsessing on it. As a mentor, coach, and friend of mine Paul Assaiante says, “Perfect is the enemy of good… and good is good.” I trust him… he’s won a lot of national championships… 13 and counting.

Explosive Mentality

July 4 fireworks truly inspire awe. Perhaps their explosiveness provides a some food for thought in the athletic realm.

Strong and solid athletic technique more often than not begins compact and then explodes. The football lineman begins low and crouched only to explode up and off the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. From the baseline, a tennis player keeps elbows and racket relatively close to the body before allowing racket and arms to explode out and through the ball. The surfer catching a great wave paddles hard, then bounces into a low athletic position, and finally stands tall riding out the remnants of the ocean’s roll. Like a firework, the physical game lies in starting compact and exploding outward.

The mental game is much the same. At its best, it works from the inside out. Too often an implosive mentality is brought to the mental game – outside factors push inwards to determine confidence and focus. Opponents, coaches, scouts, standings, and scores push from the outside into the unsuspecting athlete. Just like in the physical game (and a good fireworks display), best performances occur when mindset explodes from the inside out. The athlete that is grounded in how she competes, what he has practiced, and gets in touch with genuine passion for play drives performances from the inside outward… shaping the competitive landscape rather being subject to it.

Like a great bottlerocket, an explosive mentality has the potential to create dynamic performances.

The Problem With “Confidence”

Confidence is at the back bone of high performance. This being said the labeling and diagnosing of athletes in need of help with confidence seems a bit short-sighted. Being quick to suggest an athlete needs more confidence runs the risk of both missing the heart of the matter and serving up insult.

  • The prep school lacrosse player that dresses with the varsity team, believes he can run with the starting line, but bumbles and stumbles a bit when given some spot starts against tough competition. In need of confidence… or skills to manage performance stress?
  • The equestrian competitor, full of passion and just beginning her competitive career, that struggles with “What if…” statements bouncing through her head on show day. In need of confidence… or short on experience and self-awareness?
  • The wrestler that is inconsistent on the mat despite loads of talent and a decade plus of experience. In need of confidence… or more optimal goal-orientation and focus?

All of the above athletes walked into my office having been “diagnosed” by a coach, parent, or self as having problems with confidence. A bit more precision (and accuracy) helps get at the heart of the matter and improve performance. Furthermore, have you ever seen a high-school, collegiate, or young professional athlete’s reaction when labeled with low-confidence? It’s often one of disbelief and disregard. It’s a bit insulting for striving athlete, one that often identifies him or herself with toughness, to be called low on confidence regardless of the statement’s veracity.

“Confidence” (or sports self-efficacy a term I like better) is a multi-faceted and multi-layered phenomenon. When using it as a label be wary of the limits of the term’s precision. Furthermore, when challenging a player’s confidence (whether with the best intentions or not) think about how confidence claims shape the dialogue with the athlete. Developing the mental game requires an open minded athlete and efficient approach to cognitive-behavioral growth. When considering “confidence,” step back and consider the best way forward.

A common question…

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Throughout the years I have received thousands of questions.  More than any other question, however, the one I receive most often is, “What exactly do you do for a living?”  The answer is simple and complicated at the same time…

I have designed and implement a mental training program to assist student-athletes in reaching their potential on and off the golf course.  Students are equipped with a mindset which is supplemented by skills to assist them to maximize their potential through quality practice, self-management, and a mindset of continuous improvement.

It all starts with student-athletes creating a clear and specific mission they would like to achieve.  This mission provides purpose and the motivation required to continue learning on a daily basis in order to reach personal short and long-term goals.  An individual with a specific purpose will overcome potential obstacles and distractions that may draw attention away from the task at hand.  Once the student-athlete creates his or her own mission, and understands the importance of having a purpose for every action, they will begin to engage in quality practice.  Quality practice can only be achieved when the student knows what he/she is working on and holds him/herself accountable for it.  Hitting balls, chipping, or putting mindlessly (without purpose) does not maximize time and energy; and worse yet, might lead to overuse injuries.  The more engaged the practice, the more learning and improvement occurs during that time.  Quality practice has two major benefits.  First and foremost, it creates increased confidence that will allow the student-athlete to know they have done everything within their power to prepare for competition.  The second benefit of quality practice is that it will also allow for balance and quality time off the course.  If the student-athlete knows he/she has done everything possible to improve during practice time, there will be no regrets during free time away from the golf course either.

Competition is the time for athletes to showcase their skills and prove their merit.  During competition, there are many external distractions and pressures that athletes must learn to manage effectively in order to play to their potential.  How an athlete responds to these distractions and pressures has much to do with the mindset they take into competition.  There are two distinct mindsets that separate competitors.  One of them is an outcome orientation, which is the mindset of an athlete who is more concerned with the end result (scores, rankings, college scholarships, etc.) and how they might appear to other people.  This mindset leads to inconsistent performances from athletes who typically perform below their potential.  An athlete with a process orientation, on the other hand, is more focused on “playing one shot at a time”.  This mindset allows the athlete to focus on him/herself and the appropriate action to take in the present moment to be successful.  An athlete with a process orientation tends to maintain a consistent level of effort, regardless of the situation, and typically sees more consistent outcomes as a result.

Finally, following competition it is imperative for athletes to engage in active rest.  This is the time for the student-athlete to take a step back and give an honest assessment of his/her own tournament performance and training leading up to the event.  An effective evaluation includes strengths that emerged to continue developing; limitations that exist that may be holding the individual back from reaching their potential; and most importantly, an updated plan to create the next mission to move forward and continue improving with renewed purpose and energy.

Hopefully this piece clarifies, rather than complicates the question of what I do and how I work to assist my student-athletes on a daily basis.  Just as I encourage my athletes to evaluate themselves on a regular basis to reach their potential, I attempt to do the same for myself.  This is my philosophy today.  Only time and introspection will tell if this answer will be the same down the road.

The Push and Pull of Statistics

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.


Numbers don’t lie. Numbers can be a tremendous tool to assist athletic development. But be careful, the slope can become a slippery one if an athlete becomes too fully immersed. There is a fine line between using numbers as an accurate measure for self-awareness (identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement); and inadvertently playing “scorekeeper” throughout practice and competitive endeavors. Numbers are helpful markers at the end of a performance, yet often serve as a distraction from competing well in the present. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when using statistics to enhance personal performance.

1. Time Matters:  A junior player and his father have been keeping close track of his driving statistics day-in and day-out. He averages 6 of 14 fairways hit per round. They decide for this junior to lower his scores he must hit more fairways. First thing the next morning, he goes out and works diligently on his ball-striking and driver on the range, making swing changes with his coach. He goes out that afternoon and hits 6 of 14 fairways again. This pattern continues for the next six days, which feels like an eternity for many developing athletes. The player has placed so much attention and effort on hitting more fairways, without seeing results that the junior is quickly losing confidence and gaining frustration. Tension is on the rise as a major tournament is quickly approaching.

After hearing his name announced, the player steps up to the long, tight par-4 opening hole. The player is so intently focused on hitting the fairway that his hands inadvertently squeeze the grip so tight his knuckles turn dead white. Following impact, both father and son watch helplessly as the ball squibs weakly into the right trees, muttering “Here we go again…” as they walk somberly up the first hole.

2. Challenge Matters: 

Day 1: It’s sunny, calm and 75-degrees. The golf course measures 6,800 yards with flagsticks placed securely in the center of huge greens. The player hits 10 greens in regulation. For a tour-caliber golfer that is well below average.

Day 2: It’s a blustery, sub-40 degree day with driving rain on a course measuring 7,300 yards. Flagsticks are tucked deeply in the corners of tiny amoeba-shaped greens. A round with 10 greens in regulation might lead the field in a professional event. So which one is it? Are 10 greens in regulation “good” or “bad” for 18 holes? The answer…it depends!

3. Correlation Matters:

Day 1: 30 putts with 18 greens in regulation (6 one-putts from inside 10-feet and the rest two-putts) – outstanding putting day with a total score of 6-under par 66.

Day 2: 30 putts with 6 greens in regulation (player chips it close every time and converts 6 one-putts from inside 10-feet and the rest two-putts) – poor putting day with a total score of 12-over par 84.

So which one is it? Are 30 putts “good” or “bad” for 18 holes? The answer…it depends!

Are numbers and statistics helpful to developing athletes? The answer…it depends! When calculated and utilized with little perspective in the short-term, statistics may actually reduce motivation and lead to decreased performance. When used thoughtfully in the long-term, these measurements can maximize training time and energy by focusing on key areas of athletic development. Decide what to work on and then get to work. It is human nature to be more critical of our weaknesses than to give credit for our strengths. To reduce this internal bias, great athletes monitor their statistics by entering them frequently and analyzing them infrequently. Good luck on your personal quest with the numbers game and when in doubt #PlayNowScorekeepLater.

Share This Article

Bookmark and Share

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 94 other followers

On Twitter @ahnaylor

On Twitter @MentalCoachMatt