Posts Tagged 'self-regulation'

Are You Willing to Miss?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

You are walking up the 18th fairway, all-square in a highly anticipated match. Your partner is out of the hole, putting the outcome of the contest squarely on your shoulders. Your spectacular approach shot finishes 4-feet from the cup, leaving a bit of a downhill left-to-right slider to navigate for birdie. Your opponents hole out for a par, meaning this putt can secure the win and bragging rights amongst the group. Your heart starts to race and hands begin to quiver as you realize all eyes are on you.

The big question is, “Are you willing to miss it”?

Your first instinct might be to say “No, I’m not willing to miss…I really want to make this putt”.

Ryder Cup - Day Two Foursomes

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Of course you want to make it, however, take a deeper look at the willing to miss part. If your partner were to utter, “Don’t miss this one”, would that make you feel more confident, secure and ready to put your best stroke on the ball? Probably not! Being UNwilling to miss actually adds unnecessary pressure, tension and acts as a distraction to the performance. It’s not that you want to miss, yet a willingness to do so actually normalizes the situation. It makes the performance a bit more relaxing and frees your body and mind to perform the task assertively, to the best of your ability.

Next time you find yourself in a “clutch” situation and you want your best skills to emerge, be a little more willing to miss and enjoy what unfolds as a result.



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!

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.

The Proactive Athlete & Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

There are two very distinct ways to approach and respond to results in competition.  One approach is to be reactive, emotional, and helpless. The other is to be proactive, thoughtful, and open to introspection. Let’s use the example of a junior golfer who breaks 80 on a regular basis in practice. Today this player has posted a horrible score of 92 in a major junior tournament. The player is extremely upset and emotional walking off the course.  This is the natural response of any athlete who trains hard and cares about posting solid scores in competition, especially major competitions. After all, college coaches, peers, family members, and friends are all going to see the score and form an opinion about what happened out there.  This is the reality of competing and putting yourself on the line in tournaments. From this moment forward is what differentiates and defines the two types of athletes (the reactive and the proactive).  The reactive athlete will take one course of action and the proactive athlete will take another.  The choice is yours…

Reactive athlete – The reactive athlete allows results to define him or herself.  “If I play well…I am good, if I play bad…I am bad”.  The reactive athlete does not evaluate the round to identify what was done well and what are opportunities for improvement.  This athlete wants to forget about poor results and treats successful performance as though it should always be expected.  This type of person avoids the reality of the situation and simply hopes that tomorrow’s results will be better.

Proactive athlete – The proactive athlete may also show emotion to both successful and poor performances, but it doesn’t last for extended periods of time.  This person knows that a thorough evaluation must be done in order to draw from the experience to become even better moving forward.  A thorough and effective evaluation cannot be done in the heat of emotion, however, so this type of athlete likely sits down to cool off with a meal and some hydration to recover physically and mentally from the stress of competing.  This also means that any support team in attendance (coaches, family, friends, etc.)  respects that the athlete may need time and space to get out of the competitive mindset. Once the proactive athlete feels like they are back in “neutral” they assess their strengths and limitations from the day both physically and mentally.  Statistical measurements can be used to lead the physical evaluation (fairways/greens hit, number of putts, up and down percentage, etc.).  In order to do a mental evaluation, the proactive athlete grades him or herself on their preparation, effort, and ability to recover from adversity that day.  Once the assessment in complete, he or she takes action to maintain their current strengths and works diligently to improve their current limitations.  They make a simple plan to establish priorities moving forward and act upon those priorities to build effective habits. The proactive athlete is always learning, and therefore improving, from both success and failure.

In short, the reactive athlete has an emotional response to results while the proactive athlete uses results as feedback.  All athletes have both successes and failures throughout a career, throughout a year, and even throughout a single performance.  Over the course of a career, the proactive athlete will effectively deal with this reality and continuously improve as a result.  The reactive athlete will either stay the same or possibly get even worse. The choice is yours!  Do you intend to be a reactive or a proactive athlete this summer?

Harbour Town and Aristotle

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

The PGA TOUR is in my backyard this week at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, SC.  Harbour Town is a unique venue.  The course is not long, the rough is not “rough”, and the greens are not heavily undulated.  The course is extremely tight with trouble lurking on every hole, however.  Magnificent trees form fairways that look like slender, meandering bowling lanes.  Approach shots into the greens require pinpoint accuracy as treacherous bunkers, water hazards (including the breathtaking Calibogue Sound) and seemingly endless outstretched tree limbs protect the smallest greens on the PGA TOUR.  A power game typically does not prevail.  This place is suited for golfers who manage their games and themselves with precision.

Golf is not a game which requires world-class physical conditioning to attain success. It is, however, a game which requires a high level of mental and emotional conditioning to endure the many challenges it brings.  Aristotle put it best in The Nichomachean Ethics by saying, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way – that is not easy”.  From a mental perspective, anger causes attention to narrow which hinders decision-making.  From a physical perspective, anger causes increased tension and a lack of body awareness. None of these qualities lend themselves to quality golf, especially at Harbour Town.

This course will likely bring about its fair share of anger from competitors who unexpectedly catch an outstretched tree limb, find a lingering hazard, or watch a ball deflect off of a railway tie which rests only feet from the one place the ball is intended to finish.  The victor will likely be the individual who manages himself and channels his emotions appropriately from the tree-lined chute on #1 tee to the expansive (yet typically wind-blown) 18th fairway.  On Sunday afternoon the tartan jacket will be placed on the shoulders of the man whose mind and body work in unison, allowing him to execute with precision under the exciting, challenging and uncertain conditions of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Leader of the Pack

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many people maintain the idea that leadership skills in sport are only required for owners, general managers, coaches, parents, or team captains.  However, leadership can (and should) show itself in many different ways and situations, as well as from a number of  different individuals from the top of an organization all the way down to the “rookie” or “towel boy”.  A few common ideals that great leaders tend to portray are…

1)      Great leaders unite people to work toward a common goal.

Does this mean the common goal or mission is determined completely by the leader and enforced by the leader alone? Absolutely not!  However, great leaders are those individuals who maintain the vision and passion to drive individuals toward the mission regardless of the ebbs, flows, and potential disasters of a long season.

2)      Great leaders handle and manage adversity in times of difficulty.

In short, effective leaders are self-aware.  Many people get caught up in the drama and emotions that come with the struggles of life in and out of sport.  On the other hand, great leaders manage their own thoughts, feelings, and actions before making any immediate judgments or decisions that will affect the team poorly in the long run.

3)      Great leaders manage conflict.

No two people are exactly the same.  Differences can create conflict.  An effective leader is someone who has strong negotiation skills to balance individual differences, allow all parties to feel heard, and finally establish a mutually agreeable resolution so all parties can move forward with a common goal in mind (see #1).

4)      Great leaders communicate consistently, frequently, and honestly in both word and action.

We all have different styles of verbal and non-verbal communication. Effective leaders are aware of their personal style and maintain consistency in the messages they send from the beginning of the season to the end.  The frequency of communication should also occur along the same lines.  Being a great leader doesn’t mean the individual should speak so frequently that no other voices or opinions are heard.  To the contrary, effective leaders are confident in their decisions, but sometimes do so by asking for help or guidance from others who may have a better pulse on the situation.  The frequency of communication should be enough to keep all parties informed, while also maintaining the feeling of trust and autonomy from those around him or her.  Honesty may be the most integral part of leadership.  In order to gain the acceptance, trust, and power to motivate any group of individuals, honesty must be at the forefront of any communication given to avoid potential contention or doubt within the group.

5)      Great leaders know when to stretch and when to support those around them.

Individuals thrive when they are challenged enough to extend outside of their individual “comfort zone”, but also know there is consistent support immediately following in case of emergency.  Effective leaders empower individuals by constantly being aware of when and how to stretch others while also having a heightened sense of when to come back to play a supporting role.

Great leadership can be found within all of us. The most effective leaders, however, are the individuals who make it a priority and continually work on improving these five ideals to separate themselves from everyone else who follows.  If you have the will and courage to become a leader within your team, there is no better time than now to start developing your role.

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