Posts Tagged 'motivation'

The United States Open Championship – “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

There will be no defenders moving throughout the course. There is no physical contact allowed between competitors, much less the need for a cut man to monitor lacerations and bleeding throughout the round. Yet this week’s United States Open Championship at Pinehurst No. 2 will certainly feel like a battlefield which tests its competitors from start to finish. Michael Buffer (you know, the “Let’s get ready to rumble” ringside boxing announcer) should be making his trademark announcement on the first tee to set the stage for this emotional competition.

US Open

Although many believe the mental game is all about staying calm and positive, players who expect to exhibit these characteristics for 72-holes (plus an additional 18+ in an playoff situation) under exhilarating U.S. Open Championship conditions are kidding themselves. Cognitive science shows that competitors would be better served to start anticipating scenarios of how to manage and embrace some of golf’s worst-case scenarios, rather than hoping to calmly cruise through this brutal test of golf with their ball settling close to the hole all week. The truth is that motivation will slowly deteriorate as the reality of strenuous competition collides with a calm and positive dream-world. Carol Dweck’s revolutionary work supports this point (–GxDLD&sig=fSZrzW3JiUDBH_vMTEVhyjHm9RY#v=onepage&q=challenge%20mindset&f=false) and is a must-read for athletes, students, coaches, parents and leaders of any kind.

Listen closely to player interviews throughout the week. Do the weekend leaders talk about the calm, simple dream-shots they hit; or is there a more passionate dialogue, filled with the thrills of navigating tight situations on one of golf’s largest stages? Confidence and sustainable motivation come from embracing moments of uncertainty and gutting out the tough stuff. As the rest of us settle comfortably into the couch to watch the action on television, consider the emotion and uncertainty involved in competing effectively in one of golf’s largest and most difficult environments. Take note and start preparing effectively for your next “U.S. Open-like” experience.


Mastering the Zone: Not as Elusive as You Might Think

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

The name Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi does not flow effortlessly off the tongue, yet this brilliant cognitive scientist was the individual who clearly defined the zone (a.k.a. FLOW).  “The Zone” is the spot in which an individual performs to their greatest potential. Tasks feel effortless. Results seem to simply fall into place. Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Sounds pretty cool, huh? The difficulty lies in the fact that once an individual strives to find the zone, it seems to become an even more elusive encounter. Rather than fighting to find this enigmatic state, follow these few pointers and lead yourself to greater focus and energy in your tasks ahead:

1. Immerse yourself in activities which you truly enjoy. Flow states are most readily found when participating in tasks filled with personal interest, joy and satisfaction. Intrinsic motivation lends itself very well to feelings of comfort and euphoria. Do not confuse laziness with the zone. Although many consider sinking effortlessly into the couch as a source of great comfort and satisfaction, the truth is that boredom feels every bit as uncomfortable as anxiety. After reading this article, get up and find an intriguing task which puts your skills to the test.


2. It’s all about challenge. The zone is experienced when challenge meets skill. If the challenge is too low for your current skill level, uncomfortable boredom starts to creep in as the natural result. If the challenge is too high for your current skill level, anxiety starts to taint the experience. The middle spot (shown in blue above) is the zone, where skill and challenge meet to create a highly successful and seemingly effortless sensation.

If boredom starts to set in, it’s time to elevate your expectations…

  • refine the goal/target – mental stimulation
  • pick up the pace – mental/physical stimulation

If anxiety starts to creep in and you truly want to be a high performer, do NOT lower expectations…

  • embrace the challenge – this allows an individual to accept the difficulty of the task and forge ahead with focused effort
  • a solid exhale is key – this encourages the body to relax and find its natural rhythm while slowing down mental processing to meet the task at hand

3. Perspective widens the zone. Expect a bit of discomfort along the way. A little discomfort means you are teetering on the edge of the zone. Within seconds you may find yourself well within it’s comforting grasp. To the contrary, a perfectionist approach will only narrow the zone, making it an even more elusive and frustrating place to find.

4. Take a break. Although the zone may feel like an effortless and euphoric place to experience challenges, there is still a cost associated with this type of performance. Under-recovery is the enemy of solid effort and effective long-term performance. Keep in mind the importance of perspective (see #3) and learn to stretch personal boundaries for boredom as well. Effective recovery allows even the highest performers to chase challenges with renewed energy, intensity and vigor while escaping the limitations of extreme anxiety levels along the way.

Rather than searching for the elusive zone which will only send it fleeting away, seek out thrilling experiences and attempt to embrace the discomfort within them. The road to success is guaranteed to be a bit bumpy, so why not strive to make it more enjoyable and rewarding by seeking out meaningful challenges along the way?

Striving Together Elevates All

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Although the Olympic Games are meant for elite athletes and only come along once every four years, there is much we can learn and utilize from the spirit of the Games both in sport and in our everyday lives to further performance. As the modern Olympics began to take shape in the early 20th century, Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee. He proclaimed the core values of the Games, “the important thing is not winning but taking part. What counts in life is not the victory but the struggle; the essential thing is not to conquer but to fight well”.

In other words, competition is healthy. Great rivals and competitors push each other to their limits. This type of competition allows individuals and teams to discover each others’ true potential. This competitive stage is set when the environment (athletes, coaches, families, tournament officials) frames competition and development appropriately, much the way the Olympic Games have been staged.


Competition run amok can start to look very different. When winning and looking superior becomes the sole motivator, the temptation to cheat, harm and take inappropriate action may become the unfortunate result. A sole focus on the scoreboard minimizes the ability to compete effectively, causing frustration and angst to overtake more helpful emotions of excitement and inspiration on the playing field. Everyone wants to win, the best are the ones who love to compete.


Which message is more actively promoted by you and those around you?

1) Struggle effectively and maximize effort…that’s what will lead us to success. We need great rivals to make us stronger!


2) Just get the win. The opponent is in the way of our success!

What would happen if you choose to be motivated by option #1 for the next 5-10 years? Where will you likely be? Now ask yourself the same for option #2.

Our competitive mindset, values and motivations for performance matter – they direct and shape us. The individuals around us also serve to provide insight to reinforce, guide and support the decisions we make, especially in times of high stress and uncertainty. Whenever possible, choose to surround yourself with strong competitors and a healthy support team. Discuss the role that Olympic environments create with those around you. We will all be better off in the long run. Striving together elevates all.

Seeing Warmer Days in a Powerful Light

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

It’s the middle of winter and many athletes are cooped up inside, waiting to get back on the playing field. What an athlete daydreams about during this down time may dictate upcoming performances. If given the choice the between two crystal clear scenarios, which is the better image to hold in mind in preparation for next season?

1) Victory and Celebration


2) Gritty Effort


So…which do you choose?

A simple google search of “Usain Bolt” provides numerous photos, most of which relate to scenario #1. Based on the images we are bombarded with throughout the day (this is just one example), it’s no wonder attention tends to drift toward the lavish scene of victory. However, those who are looking for a little boost in performance this season should start holding onto image #2 – and here’s why.

It takes lots of #2 (gritty effort) to attain just a few moments of #1 (victory and celebration). Gritty effort overcomes difficult conditions. Gritty effort steps up against tough competitors. Gritty effort occupies the majority of training and competitive endeavors. Victory and celebration, even after a monumental win, lasts for a few hours at most – until the gritty effort must begin again.

Those who focus their thoughts and energy on consistently making a gritty effort maximize their potential on a daily basis. While the snow continues to fall and temperatures plummet, continue building a strong foundation by clarifying images of how you hope to compete on the field next season – overcoming moments of doubt and fear with tenacity, patience and energy. While winter weather may deny a physically gritty effort on the playing field, it does not have to contain the feelings, emotions and images that come along with it. Enjoy the competitive fire all year long!

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.


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!

Green Tootsie Pop Motivation

I have some great reservations about rewarding youth sport athletes with candy, ice cream, stickers, baseball cards, and shiny trophies for all.  Something about bribery of youth sport athletes does not sit well in my gut nor does it settle my psych of performance mind.  Sure it seems harmless enough, but what is the value for enjoyment and performance of play?

Flipping through Daniel Pink’s Drive (2009) got me thinking it was time to put a voice to my uneasy relationship with the token economy of youth sport.  Reinforcing play with extrinsic rewards takes the “play” out of it…. turning it into “work.”  If you consider self-determination closely, one would even realize that providing rewards for batting, fielding, running, and pitching can actually inhibit the growth of inquisitive energy, performance, and fun.  Rewards, although initially pleasing to a kid, actually take the fun out of play.  Extrinsic reward puts someone else in charge of the experience (i.e. coach or parent), robbing the athlete of autonomy.  Extrinsic reward makes athletic tasks seem like mindless goals to accomplish, rather than dynamic challenges with solutions that can take many shapes and forms.  Rewarding a child for playing may be easy, but it really does not lead to long term accomplishment or passion.

This being said, Tootsie pops at the conclusion of a game can be nice.  The green ones in particular are great for motivation.  Watching the Hull Snow Crabs after a fierce hour of tee ball is a sight to see.  They converge on the open bag of Tootsie pops with reckless abandon.  The lollipops are just part of the experience, a relatively benign sign of appreciation and praise.  Their value to the kids is minimal (I often find a half eaten one in my car hours later).  Yet, there are about two green pops available each week.  No player gets the color regularly, but they are the true gems in each bag.  Whoever gets them is random and not guaranteed each week, but the joy that accompanies the luck of finding green in one’s palm is a sight to see.  Green is good, because it is not a reward for efforts and is not always accessible.  It lets play be play and some additional wonder follow.

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