Posts Tagged 'mental toughness'

Discipline…What Does it Mean to You?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Discipline is a strong word which elicits emotional feelings within us. What comes to mind when you hear the word discipline? The likely image is a helpless person cowering away as another barks commands in an effort to place their will upon them. How about the term plate discipline – what comes to mind now? The pitcher nibbles around the plate with tempting options, yet the batter patiently waits for a pitch in the zone which can be driven back with authority for a hit. In success and adherence to achieving goals, this is likely a better image to maintain.

In daily life there are many tempting “pitches” which come our way. Many of these temptations are distractions which will lead us even farther from achieving our goals. The smell of hot, freshly salted french fries floating through the air is just one example which can quickly lead a dieter off track. Yet, if that individual can elicit some discipline for a few brief seconds, the temptation begins to disappear. By overcoming the distraction, adherence to a new and healthier lifestyle grows that much stronger by following through with the appropriate action. By re-programming the word discipline to stand for “making and acting upon appropriate decisions in times of temptation”, achieving long-term goals may be more readily attained.

As the holiday season approaches and temptations abound, the opportunity arises to build some momentum for showing discipline. This mindset will come in even more handy as those difficult resolutions arise in early January.



When You’re Hit in the Face… Smile

During UFC 156, Ian McCall grinned from ear to ear after he was punched in the face.


McCall has mastered the ‘I’m happy to be getting punched in the face’ look. How do the judges score that, by the way?

— Ben Fowlkes (@benfowlkesMMA) February 3, 2013


I am not a great proponent of getting hit in the face, but McCall may be on to something.  When facing athletic challenges – some whine, some wilt… champions smile and continue to compete.

A Full Life is a Balanced Life

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many coaches, athletes, parents, and administrators are “over-achievers.” In many circles, including those of us who write on this blog, over-achieving is often seen as an admirable trait. When there is little left in the tank, the greatest of competitors seem to be the ones who pour every last drop of effort into their training and competitive endeavors. As with everything in life, however, there seems to be a cost associated with this succeed-at-all-cost mindset.

Of course it takes tremendous dedication, passion, and enthusiasm to reach levels which others may not be able to achieve. High achievers will forever be linked to adjectives which relate to these ideals. High achievers also maintain a level of balance which over-achievers do not.

The question is often asked, “Are you a glass ‘half-full’ or a glass ‘half-empty’ kind of person”? Now equate that same question to an over-achiever. An over-achiever has a glass that is overflowing…and then…they continue to try to fit in even more. A high achiever on the other hand, understands the importance of finding a delicate balance in filling the glass and using resources wisely to not allow for a consistent waste of time, energy and precious personal resources. The over-achiever, meanwhile, looks to wrecklessly fill the glass without taking notice of their potentially harmful behavior.

This holiday season is a great time to assess that fine line between being an over-achiever and a high achiever. Take some time to evaluate daily habits to ensure your life is both full and balanced on and off the field. Happy holidays and all the best to our followers in 2013 and beyond!

Unfortunate Mental Toughness

This past week, I had an opportunity to share some sport psychology ideas with a camp of strong, young girl hockey players. I began the discussion as I often do with adolescent athletes, “What does your head have to do with playing hockey?” The answers began as usual – “It helps me make decisions,” “My head is at work when I get mad, ” “It helps me see the ice,”…. and then out of the mouth of a 13 year old athlete, “My head helps me not get distracted by what parents are saying and doing during games.”

Wow! I was not surprised in the content of this answer, I was surprised by it for three other reasons: 1. That it was stated out loud in the midst of 40 other athletes, 2. that is was so well articulated by an adolescent athlete, and 3. that parents were seen as such a significant distraction that the development mental toughness skills were needed to block them out. Perhaps “surprise” is not the right word for the emotion felt when hearing a young athlete say this, but rather “sadness” is more accurate. There are plenty of challenges for a young athlete – opponents, skills to learn, desire to win, the social stuff of adolescence… Is it really necessary for adults to create another?

I empathize with parents. I am one. I hope someone will cut me a little slack when I prove to be a bit over-protective of my daughter. This being said, if I distract her from play… I do know I am robbing her of something special.

I hope kids keep speaking up. I also hope adults can manage to support, protect athletes from injury, and stay out of the way. Mental toughness for amateur athletes is for optimizing learning during and managing the stresses of practices and competition, not for blocking out the activity in the stands.

A Novel Concept

Over the past few weeks, I heard a novel concept over and over again.  A top NHL draft pick reflected… a Ivy league lacrosse player mused… an ACC tennis player said… a world class rower thought… “enjoying playing could be a good idea for me.”  All are extraordinary athletes, but suspect their may be greater potential waiting to be tapped.

Obviously my tongue is firmly in check when I suggest that this is a novel concept.  Nonetheless, one that seems a bit too far from the immediate reality of elite athletes.  Seems like things are a bit askew… fun replaced by fear… imagination smothered by intensity… enthusiasm hidden by ego… delight overshadowed by discipline.  “Fun” has become a dirty word and lost its ability to resonate with competitive coaches and athletes.

You can decide if it is sad or encouraging that young men and women competing in sport have to stumble back to fun in their collegiate and young professional years.  I do know however that it is immensely valuable that this reconnection with “play” is made.  I am optimistic that there’s a Stanley Cup, National Championship, Ivy League title, head race victory, or some other form of great athletic accomplishment in the future of the above athletes.  Enthusiasm and “fun” will be essential on the competitive journey, without them dearths of potential will remain untapped and the greatest achievements left undiscovered.

“Play” isn’t just for child’s sports… it’s for high performance.

Coach Like a Marine

The United States armed forces do a tremendous job teaching men and women a variety of performance and life skills. I had the opportunity to sit down with university Marine ROTC commanders and cadets to discuss the development of high performance programming. The meeting struck me with a tremendous lesson in leadership for sports coaches.

You may have seen many tough as nails, drill sargents glamorized in the movies… have all kinds of wild images about hell week at Quantico dancing in your head… but do you have a good sense of coaching done Marine-style? I sat at a conference table with two commanders and three cadets. There was definitely a rank and order to the room, but strength and leadership emanated from all corners. The commanders had some ideas, checked to see if their ideas meet the cadet realities, asked the cadets for their ideas, made decisions together, and made it clear that the cadets will lead battalion actions and performance.

Marines are tough and are built to battle. They are not abusive in their coaching style, but rather collaborative and empowering. There’s nothing soft about a leader that recruits strength and leadership from within the team… one can argue it’s the coaching style that creates the bravest competitors to walk the planet.

The Big Break

I’ve sat court-side for much tennis racket abuse. Rackets smashed, stepped on, bitten, and thrown clear from the courts (in my mis-spent tennis youth I may have even participated once or twice). On the golf course I have witnessed a three-wood broken in two and then thrown into a nearby lake. In the squash box I’ve done my best to avoid flying graphite as a racket met its untimely demise upon the wall again and again and again (@thinksport may have been involved..). On the ice I’ve been moderately amused by the poor wisdom of slashing and high sticking the goal’s crossbar. I have worked with a ball player who’s bat had an affinity for meeting water jugs on a regular basis.

Baghdatis put on a formidable display of racket abuse to the amusement of Chris Fowler and onlooking Australian Open fans. I can hardly believe I’m commenting on such nonsense, but ESPN’s Aussie Open notes titled Players Rationalize Racket Rampages have me opening my big blog-mouth.  Sure it is somewhat cathartic, but is smashing a tennis racket really a bright idea for a player (bank account implications aside)?  I guess I have a few quick thoughts for consideration on the matter:

1. Does breaking a tennis racket improve you game? For every ten times you smash a tennis racket, how many times does it improve your play? If your answer is north of 50% of the time, perhaps it’s a bright idea. Honest reflection likely leaves you with odds of improved play not being one’s you would take to a casino.

2. Does misshaping your racket help your focus? When you step in to return the next serve is your focus filled with the yellow ball that is about to be fired at you or is it filled with thoughts like, “Wow, I’m a real $@#*&!%.”?

3. Along these same lines, do you feel good about yourself after a few good cracks of graphite? Are you sacrificing short term release for later shame (cue Slapshot: “All bad. You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame, you know.”)

Djokovic: “I’m not doing it as often, which is good for my coach, good news. But when I have a smash of the racket, smack of the racket, I usually feel relieved afterwards. I feel that the pressure is out. But a bit embarrassed, as well. So I try to hold my composure.”

4. It’s not easy to show racket wrecking restraint. Yet, each time you show restraint, it will be easier to maintain composure and focus during play in the future. A bit more restraint… see 1-3… yields better feelings, better focus, higher performance.

Jo-Willie’s dad has it right, “”My father told me all the time, if you broke the racket, I broke you. So I go easy with the racket.” Breaking a racket breaks you. The ESPN article had a lousy title. Read the player’s quotes closely there is little to suggest it is a bright idea. Athletic anger mismanagement is a momentary feel good release, good for the fans, good for ridiculing friends… lousy for good play and high performance. Take #4 as a challenge… energy and focus towards playing the game is a bright idea.

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