Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stan Wawrinka's Mental Toughness Powers Him to the U. S. Open Final (Video)

"Really tough for the body, a big fight physically and mentally. You need to accept to suffer and almost enjoy it, because you have no choice. I saw after the first set he would start to be tired if I pushed him physically. I know I can last for three, four, five hours. Same as against Del Potro. I need to stay with him, not go down, show him you will push him, push him again. Sometimes my brain gets lost on the tennis court. When I stay tough I can beat anybody. I know I can bring my best in a Grand Slam. Maybe because i didn't play so well in last few months." 
--Stan Wawrinka, tennis pro, speaking on ESPN following his win in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on 9/9/2016.
Stan Wawrinka sounds highly motivated as he heads into a showdown in the finals against Novak Djokovic on Sunday in New York. Can he will himself to victory? It seems that his head's on straight right now. Will it be enough for the upset?

How do you call up your mental toughness? Are you willing to suffer mentally and physically to achieve greatness?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

NCAA Mens' Basketball Classic: A Lesson in Leadership and Courage

This is my first blog post in a while.  I had not been inspired to write recently--until this week.  The 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Final was what did it.

I have only one conclusion from watching and analyzing that wonderful game between the champion Villanova Wildcats and the runner-up North Carolina Tar Heels.

Yes, Kris Jenkins of Villanova won the game with a once-in-a lifetime, buzzer-beating, long-distance jumper.  He is the obvious hero.  However, my more important take away from that game is that, at least in basketball, you don't give the ball to your best shooter or scorer when the game is on the line. You give the ball to your leader and let him (or her) put your team in the best position to win.  On Monday night, both experienced and highly respected coaches let their leader lead.  Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams put their leader, Marcus Paige in the driver's seat at the end of the game.   Late in the game, the courageous Paige, a senior, found ways to keep the Tar Heels in the game.

Similarly, Wildcat head coach, Jay Wright, put the ball in the hands of point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono, also a senior.  Arciciacono, who had show much poise and scoring ability throughout the game, ran the final play that led to the winning Jenkins jump shot.  Though he considered shooting, he made the right pass at the right time to get Jenkins the ball in a position to shoot.

Watch the video and you will see.  Leadership and courage by Paige, and then Arcidiacono, led to a classic finish and a timelessly valuable basketball lesson.

Thank you, Tar Heels.  Thank you, Wildcats.  Congratulations to both teams.  Enjoy the video!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Examining Peak Performance: So, What Should My Self-Talk Be?

Many mental conditioning coaches and sports psychologists have begun to emphasize positive self-talk.  It is considered an important tool in the attainment of peak performance and a key component in the mindset necessary for peak performance.  However, most experts are pretty simplistic in their use of positive self-talk:  just say positive things to yourself and don't say negative things. Unfortunately, most coaches have few specifics about exactly what to say to yourself and when.  

In my Peak Performance blogpost on June 12, 2015, I discussed the peak performance mindset. In that post, I mentioned 5 modes:

1. Experimental Mode (previously called practice mode)
2. Deliberate Rehearsal Mode
2. Preparation Mode
3. Performance Mode
4. Evaluation Mode

I also alluded to the importance of self-talk in each of the modes. I now want to introduce the idea that each mode requires a different set of specific self-talk statements.  The statements themselves are related what needs to be accomplished in each mode.

In experimental mode, the focus in on experimentation and trying new skills.  Here, you are gathering data on what works best and what is most effective.  What else can you do?  This mode is typically used in individual, solitary, informal workouts or warm-up drills. This is the mode where it is most important to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.  This mode is for creativity, experimentation, but is not the point at which you commit to making a change in technique or mechanics.  You are being open to the change process, but have not committed to make a specific change.  You are trying new things. For some athletes, this is the mode that is most fun.  By definition, in this mode your self-talk requires the use of such internal self-statements as:

OK, I am in experimental mode.  I am experimenting.  I am being creative.  

Time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks.  

Let's see what happens when I try to do this.

Let me see if I can do this.

How about if I try this?

What if I adjust this skill just a little?

I am going to alter this for now and see how it feels.

I don't care how this looks.

I am just trying this on for size.

Mistakes and failures are to be expected right now. 

I enjoy the challenge of learning.

It is important for me to get out of my comfort zone.  

That's basically it for self-talk in experimental mode.

In deliberate rehearsal mode, the focus is learning.  It is about the application of successful experimentation. In this mode you are trying to apply new skills and incorporate what you have learned into your skill set. In this mode, as a result of experiments, you have committed yourself to making a specific change or changes in your skill or routine activity.  You want to change or improve your technique or mechanics and get comfortable with it.  Most importantly, you also want to commit the new or changed skill to muscle memory. The goal is mastery.  In rehearsal mode, your self-talk should sound like this:

It's time to rehearse.  It's time to sharpen my sword.

I like this new technique.

This new technique will improve my overall game.

I am committed to mastering this new skill.

As I practice, this new skill will get comfortable over time.

I will practice this new skill until I master it.

I enjoy implementing a new technique into my arsenal.

I am getting comfortable right now.

It is time to practice until I can't get it wrong.

Apply, lather, rinse, repeat (In other words).

Ok, now, in preparation mode, the focus is increasingly mental.  You are instilling and maintaining confidence, getting mentally ready. You have exited experimental and rehearsal modes and you are transitioning mentally.  You are reminding yourself of all the hard work you have done.  You get yourself ready to perform at the highest level possible. This mode includes time to mental visualize your success through the process of imagery. You should spend considerable time visualizing the successful execution of what you have rehearsed. In preparation mode (otherwise called pre-performance mode), your self-talk should include such statements as:

It is time to get mentally ready.  

I have physically prepared to the best of my ability.

I am committed to what I have rehearsed.

It is time to execute what I have practiced/learned.

I am ready.

I can see myself successfully executing my plan.

I have done this over and over again.

I know what to do.

My body is prepared to perform.

My mind is calm and relaxed.

It is time to slow my breathing down with full, deep breaths.

Time to make the donuts.

In performance mode, the focus is on execution. Your opportunity to perform is at hand.  In this mode, the mind should be at its most quiet. Muscle memory has taken over and the brain "chatter" is minimal. In performance mode, your self-statements should be very basic.

When you make a good play, you should be saying;

Good play.   Good job.  

I like that.

Just like I practiced it.

Yes, I can do this. 

That is why I worked so hard.  

Practice sure paid off.

More of the same to follow. 

I can do this again and again.
If you make a mistake, you should be saying things like:

OK, back to normal.




Move on.



OK, so what about evaluation mode?  This is the mode that most people stay in the most and have the most difficulty exiting.  Most of our self-talk tends to be evaluative in nature.     

You may have noticed that in each of the previous modes, there is little to zero criticism or evaluative statements. That is because there should be little time for evaluation in all the other previously listed modes.   Evaluation mode comes after a practice session, rehearsal or after a game, performance or event.  You needn't clutter the other modes with evaluation.

Evaluation mode is the time to say:

How did I impact the game today?  How did I influence what happened today?  

What did I do well?

What do I need to keep doing?

What do I need to do more often?

What do I need to improve? What can I do to get better?

What do I need to do less often?

What things do I need to stop doing all together?

What did I learn from my performance today? 

Did I have fun?  What was enjoyable about my game today? 

What is the next thing to master?  

Evaluation mode is a good thing, but only at the right time.  The evaluative process in any other mode is distracting and only provides unfocused chatter that is not useful nor conducive to peak performance.  

You may also notice that evaluation mode is not harsh, is not blaming, is not name-calling.  It is not a time to beat yourself up.  It is time to look objectively at your game and take a productive learning approach.  This is how you get better. This is how your learn and this is how to achieve sustainable performance increases.  This is how you succeed.  This is how you build confidence.    

There is more to come in future posts.  



Monday, September 14, 2015

Tony Romo Has Mastered the Elite Mindset

OK, I admit it.  I'm a huge homer.  I am a big Dallas Cowboy fan, and, perhaps, an even bigger Tony Romo fan.  Despite the many people who criticize Romo, label him a choker and think he only puts up big numbers, Romo has orchestrated more 4th quarter comebacks in the last decade than any other NFL quarterback.  

I particularly like to quote him because what he says often provides so much insight into the mindset of an elite athlete.  Here is what Romo had to say after he fired the winning touchdown with 7 seconds left to play in the opening game of the 2015 NFL season against the New York Giants.  His leadership helped the Cowboys to a 27-26 win.  

“What you have to understand is that you rehearse this and prepare for is in your mind way before the game,” Romo said. “The more times you can do that, it just feels like you’ve already gone through it. You can make it a repetitive thing that is systematic and not random.”

"You've just got to stay calm," Romo explained. "At that moment, at that point in the game, you can't just fall on it and protect the football. There's not much time left, and you've got to have poise in that situation when random things happen. Someone misses a block, ball is on the ground, whatever it is that comes up, you find through the years if you play long enough that the experiences you've had you can just get calm, get back up, trust your guys around you to do their job and then go through the progression."

Though the game was exciting and came down to the last play, Romo understands the importance of maintain the proper level of arousal, mental visualization, and the need to stay calm throughout the game.  He also understands that great plays and exciting comebacks are about preparation and deliberate practice.  

For more on mental conditioning, download the Mindfuel app:   

For more about the Dallas Cowboys franchise, buy the book, Razor Thin:   The Difference Between Winning and Losing.  

Excerpts taken from  

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

But Not For Long

I've got a secret weapon for mental toughness.  

The lyrics of a very popular song from B.o.B. featuring Trey Songz includes a phrase could be the most valuable mental conditioning tip you can have for dealing with adversity.

"But not for long."

Every athlete and performer makes mistakes and experiences errors during practice as well as during games and competitive events. Mistakes are part of the game, and there is no such thing as perfection. You can always do better, and you can always improve. Problems occur when errors weaken an athlete’s confidence and mental focus. Successful athletes are able to let go quickly after a mistake. 

When you focus on a past mistake, you create noise in the system, you increase mental distraction, your mindset becomes negative, and this can erode and destroy mental toughness. The negative self-talk we tend to get into after a mistake distracts us from the focus and concentration we need to achieve our best performance.

It is quite easy to get into a negative frame of mind, dwell on mistakes, and focus on failure.  We all do it to some extent.  We can get caught up in negative self-talk.  However, we need a way to get back on track.  We need a way to re-focus, to re-boot as quickly as possible.   

"I'm having a bad day."  

"I'm playing badly."  

"My opponent is making me look bad."  

"That was embarrassing."  

"I'm not ready for this."  

"This isn't working." 

"But not for long."

Try to be aware of your negative self-talk.  Try replacing your typical negative self-talk with this phrase:

"But, not for long."

Give it a try.  This is a great way to increase your mental toughness and improve your emotional resilience.  Let me know how it goes.   

Friday, June 12, 2015

2015 NBA Finals Case Study: The Secret of Commitment

Last night, prior to Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, made a change in his starting line-up.  He replaced Andrew Bogut with Andre Iguodala. That move along with a change in defensive strategy and a change in his substitution rotations, made all the difference in the world. Although the Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a 7-0 start, Kerr did not panic nor throw out his game-plan.  Instead, the Warriors called a time-out, quickly bounced back and finished the quarter by outscoring the Cavs, 31-17.  Kerr made a crucial decision, but more importantly, he made a commitment to the strategy for Game 4.  He did not waver.  The strategy paid off in a 103-82 win to tie the series, 2-2.  

Working with elite and aspiring athletes, performers and other professionals at all levels for years, I have come to a recent revelation or refinement concerning the art of mental conditioning.  This revelation is about our mindset consisting of five basic modes. Mental conditioning is enhanced when we understand each mode, its proper timing and its function within our personal performance enhancement system.

1.  Practice Mode
2.  Rehearsal Mode
2.  Preparation Mode
3.  Performance Mode
4.  Evaluation Mode

To cut to the chase, most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are in constant evaluation mode. We are hardwired and socialized to be in evaluation mode.  We live in evaluation mode.  We measure, we assess, we predict, we criticize, we worry, we comment--24/7.  That's the way we roll.

How's it going?  How's it coming?  How am I doing?  Am I getting there?  Did I get there?  Am I there yet?   Are we there yet?  Why aren't we there yet?  What's wrong with me?  What am I doing wrong? Why are things going wrong?  Here I go again.  Am I behind?  Where should I be?   Who's ahead of me?  Am I losing?  Am I winning?  What do I need to do to catch up?  I can't catch up.  I knew I should have worked harder.  Is this is a mistake?  I'll never get this right.  

Evaluation mode is embedded in our self-talk.  By the same token, most self-talk keeps us in evaluation mode.  In evaluation mode, our self-talk tends to get very harsh very quickly.  Staying in evaluation mode too long or at the wrong time creates anxiety, self-doubt, and, even worse, panic. If you are anxious, you stayed to long in evaluation mode.

Because of this tendency to over-evaluate, we don't really learn or value the four other modes.  We tend to stay in evaluation mode due to our fear of failure.  Our over-use and over-reliance on evaluation mode keeps us anxious and prevents us from being in other equally important modes. Most importantly, we don't sequence our modes correctly and in a way that puts us in the best position to succeed.  Here are the five modes.

  • Practice Mode:  This mode requires experimentation and trial-and-error. In this mode, we try new behaviors and get feedback about possible feasibility, usefulness or utility.  This mode provides the opportunity to experiment, to dabble, to invent, to create, to try something new. This is where we allow for and even encourage mistakes.  This is where we study our craft.  In this mode (and only in this mode), we have the luxury of getting out of our comfort zone.  This is where we get information about whether this new behavior is worth rehearsing.  
  • Deliberate Rehearsal Mode:  This is the mode that takes our successful experiments from Practice Mode and turns them into muscle memory.  This is where we repeat, repeat, repeat. We hone our craft, we improve, we focus on getting things just right.  This is where we sharpen our sword.   We rehearse until get it right and then rehearse some more until we can't get it wrong. This is the mode that gives us information that we have the necessary competence to be successful and the confidence to perform.  Here we rehearse the skills to execute the necessary sequence of behaviors to reach our goals.    
  • Preparation Mode:  This mode is about getting ready to perform, both physically and mentally.  This mode focuses our mental conditioning as well as being the time to plan and organize.  When here, we structure our time and energy in such a way that we develop our plan of action and commit to its proper execution.  Here is where we focus on our mental imagery, our visualization, and get in the right frame of mind and achieve the optimal level of arousal.   This mode is a transition mode from practice and rehearsal toward performance mode. It allows us to be in the best position to achieve peak performance.  
  • Performance Mode:  Game-time!  Simply put, this is where we execute.  If in the proper mindset, we follow our plan and allow our muscle memory to take over. Adjustments are minor or minimal in this mode. We have planned well, have committed to our plan, and let the plan work. Most importantly, we are not in evaluation mode.  If we allow ourselves to get in evaluation mode during the game, we will become distracted, particularly by our self-talk.  If we get into evaluation mode, our self-talk will get involved and that will engage our brain's cortex.  That mental chatter will likely become a distraction.  It will disrupt our muscle memory and reduce our game-time speed and efficiency in decision-making.  This does not mean that we are unaware of situational variables, but we maintain our overall game-plan.   Performance mode basically requires us to suspend our analytic mind and focus strictly on performance.  
  • Evaluation Mode:  This mode is most effective as a post-game activity.  It re-engages our cortex.  It allows for more complex post-game problem-solving.  It occurs and should occur following a performance or event.  It allows us to objectively and dispassionately assess our performance, our game-plan, our step-wise progress, after the fact.  It allows us to gather data about our ability to execute our plan.  It allows us to determine what we did well, what we need to continue doing, what we need to improve or develop, and what we need to eliminate.  Most importantly, it allows us to get back to Practice Mode, armed with important information about what more we can do to improve.
So, be more mindful of being in the appropriate mode at the appropriate time and make sure you stay out of Evaluation Mode (our current default mode) when you should be in one of the other four modes.  Your mental conditioning and your performance will improve significantly as a result.  Just ask Steve Kerr!