Posts Tagged 'sport psychology'

Mindset of the Leader

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

British Open Golf

It was unraveling before his eyes. Or was it? Jordan Spieth put on a tremendous display of discipline, courage and tenacity when it mattered most at Royal Birkdale in Sunday’s final round of The Open Championship.

Spieth started the final round with a three-shot lead on his nearest competitor and a distant six from the rest of the field. It was his tournament to win. It was also his tournament to lose. Sleeping on the lead can be an uncomfortable endeavor. After all, he was no longer the hunter; he was the hunted – at least this is how it can feel at times.

It’s common sense to appreciate that eyes and attention have a tendency to find their way to the nearest competitor, in this case the rear-view mirror. We also know this is no way to surge forward with clarity. We’ll get back to this in a bit…

Fast forward to the 13th hole, where Spieth finds himself taking an unplayable lie while losing his once cushy lead in the process. Yet, this is the moment when he stepped up like many champions before him and many will continue to do after. His attention was immediately brought to the challenge directly in front of him. It was time to bear down, settle in and get after it. No longer on the defensive, he was on the attack once again and his skills emerged. Spieth went 5-under par on the next 4 holes and closed out the tournament in style.

From a mental perspective, it’s no surprise it worked out this way. Spieth is a gritty competitor, thriving on challenge. Like many great performers, he competes his best when being the hunter. So, the question becomes…

With a lead, how do you remain the hunter when there is nothing in front to surge toward?

A lead is not something to protect, unless you want to lose it. A lead is something to build upon. Attack targets and stay assertive. The most important piece is this – it may sound counterintuitive, yet let it sink in for a moment. Be willing to mess up. Yes, mess up. Being OK with messing up leads to taking appropriate risks, remaining assertive, accepting you might lose a bit of ground, and actually gives emotional freedom to continue surging forward with courage, confidence and conviction. Lean on this mindset to stack the odds in your favor of maintaining and possibly building the lead rather than nervously “protecting it” and likely watching it disappear.

Not many have an opportunity to be in this position on a daily basis, yet keep this in the back of your mind…it may come in handy someday, when you least expect it.

 

 

 

 

Contagious Courage

lions

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.

Gold Has a Musty Smell

The spirit of songs from so many legends inhabit the walls of RCA’s Studio B in Nashville. A nondescript building with faded tile floors, walls that could use a fresh coat of paint, and creaky doors is the place of legend. Elvis owned a gold plated Cadillac, but his recording studio of choice had little resemblance to Fort Knox. Dolly Parton rocks the rhinestones, but there is little bling in her Studio B. The Everly Brought some rock and roll to Nashville, but the building where they laid down hits shows little excitement of a a rock and roll lifestyle.

RCA Studio B

Not far from Studio B and Music Row sits the Country Music Hall of Fame. Lots of glitz, a bit of glamour, and many gold records on display. When the lights of the Opry turn on, things sparkle. Rhinestones reflect, artists perform, and the crowd goes wild. Gold records are a lot prettier than the dimly lit cave that is the studio.

Gold Records

The studio and the show are certainly two different worlds. The efforts, excellence, and emotions of the studio are a musician’s sweet spot… where passion and production come together… later to be rewarded on a wall in the hall.

Seems to be a bit like sport. The pomp of big time sport is only the shiny specter of the passion laid out on a dusty baseball diamond, a heat soaked soccer pitch, a poorly maintained tennis court, or a dimly lit rink. It is so easy to notice the gold medals and golden trophies. It is too easy to neglect the effort and excellence laid down in the mustiness.

Performers and athletes blinded by the gold rarely soak in the good stuff provided by a little grime and the stale smells of full engagement in one’s craft.

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.

 

Skill + Time = Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

It’s quite obvious that player development is based on building skill over time. The more an individual works at something, the more skills are developed. As skills are passionately pursued throughout a significant timeframe, expert performance appears.  Yet, it can be difficult to maintain this perspective on a daily basis – especially around tournament time. As competition nears, other ideas seem to bubble to the surface:

How many points is this tournament worth?   Who is in the field?  What’s the winning score going to be?

Although these thoughts are exciting to consider, they also tend to become a distraction to performance. The more distractions that arise against the player development mindset, the less attention an individual has to focus on the task at hand; and distracted is not a mindset which is synonymous with success.

Throughout training:IMG_20141007_085300583

Golfers don’t practice making birdies, they practice making smooth swings.

Golfers don’t practice shooting 4-under par, they practice staying target focused.

Golfers don’t practice getting recruited by a college or turning pro, they practice patience.

If distracting ideas start taking over (make birdie, shoot 4-under, get recruited) especially around tournament time, unreliable results are likely to follow. Discussions based on short-sighted results breed a mindset linked to distracted performance, frustration, lackluster effort and potential  burnout.

Parents, coaches and athletes who reinforce a player development mindset (Skill + Time = Results) seek long-term growth and build healthy competitors as a result. These individuals see competition as an opportunity to exhibit skills (smooth swings, target focus and patience) and test personal limits. When skills continue to remain a top priority throughout training and competition, consistent results unfold. As individuals consistently take part in dialogue filled with themes of player development, birdies happen, scores drop and barriers continue to be broken.

This post was originally created for & can also be found at http://www.juniorgolfparents.com/2014/01/29/junior-golf-development-tips/

Redefining Perfection

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many performers seek perfection. Meticulous details are precisely lined up in anticipation of achieving desired results over and over again. When going well, this approach seems to flow in harmony as efforts are immediately and repeatedly rewarded. As results begin diverging from the crystal clear image of perfect execution, however, frustration and anxiety take a front seat. Execution of the task starts looking and feeling more like a runaway, emotional rollercoaster as the now-strongly contaminated experience unfolds helplessly before one’s eyes.

What most experience or witness through the lens of a prototypical “perfectionist” is one who goes to (and demands) extremes. Perspective is often lost through the keen eye of the result-enthralled perfectionist. Keep in mind that some of the most highly successful individuals carry some perfectionistic tendencies, yet seem to use them to their advantage. Holding oneself to a high standard is an integral component of attaining greatness, reaching new heights and breaking performance barriers; so there is certainly some value in incorporating aspects of a perfectionist approach. The difference lies in the way in which perfection is perceived and applied.

At first glance, it would seem that continuously repeating tasks effortlessly while receiving flawless results would be a euphoric experience. Fortune, glory and fame would consistently linger at one’s fingertips. Life doesn’t seem to get much better than that, right? Yet, a deeper look might uncover something different. If tasks are repeatedly performed to perfection with very little output or effort provided…would those endeavors truly remain enjoyable, worthwhile or interesting? Doesn’t perfection actually become quite boring after a while, with the guarantee that everything will simply fall into place by “just showing up”?

A golfer attempts to make a very short putt

A golfer standing 1-foot from the hole, who repeatedly drains putt after putt has attained perfection for the task. Desired results are achieved over and over again, with little effort or energy expended. After some time passes, however, the boredom of this task becomes just as uncomfortable as the anxiety felt from NOT achieving the desired result repeatedly. Needless to say, it seems there must be another component involved in the pursuit of perfection.

challenging shot

The most cutting-edge and highly motivated performers are those who understand the “perfect” performance is one which stimulates passion, engagement and the thrill of embracing the unknown. Rather than merely (and quite boringly) expecting the perfect result, seek meaningful opportunities to feel the rush of excitement which supplements opportunities to test personal limits and experience what’s possible. By continuously bumping up against the barrier of current skill levels, one starts experiencing the ultimate euphoria which accompanies unlocking human potential. When perfection is measured more by the excitement, stimulation and quality of the experience, rather than just the results which accompany it – passion, engagement and exhilaration take a front seat. This view of perfection will end up taking one much further in life, supplemented by abundant satisfaction from the experience itself, which is often lost on the result-seeking perfectionist. Teetering on the edge of success and failure is truly the perfect scenario to fulfill the human desire for excitement, thrill and bursts of adrenaline. Rather than desiring the boredom of repeatedly completing a task; seek perfection by testing limits, expanding horizons and exploring the boundaries of previously untapped potential.

Not an Idiot Yet

A handful of years I mused about how there may be little hope for me. The quicksand of sports parenting was destined to swallow me up. I feel fortunate to say that 2nd grade is near and I remain safe on terra firma. Yet before school starts, tennis’s big show (a.k.a. the US Open) takes center stage in our home. The bright lights of NYC will get us to the TV each night and will wander over to the courts a bit more often.

junior racket

Unlike my reflections of a few years back, the games that my daughter and I play tennis courts resemble the sport that most would call “tennis.” The racket remains fun loving. The balls are colorful and developmentally appropriate. The game however involves modern looking forehands – huge follow-throughs, double fisted backhands, and a serviceable serve. Mini-tennis is a stable of any court time… still picking up the balls may hold the most attention. There is knowledge that figuring out topspin is, “So you hit it over the net, but not over the fence.” Yes, a sane human being notices that the balls fly this way, that way, and every other way with little rhyme or reason. Sanity however is not a sport parent’s strong suit… Flushing Meadows is just down the road and I bet tickets will be free when she makes the main draw.

I am shaking out my sport parent fantasy by the request of 7 year old tennis player, “Daddy, give me a challenge!” Clearly it is time to stop daydreaming and get back to the task at hand… finding and embracing challenge. Awesome stuff.

To an observer, it is probably still a bit unclear what game we are playing. We are still playing and she is still dragging me back for more. I hope we can all revel in and nurture kids loving the playful challenges of sport.

 

Sports parenting is filled with fun, stress, joy, self-doubt, and love. For further reflections check out The Sport Parent’s Playbook.


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