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IN THIS ISSUE:
“GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT AND GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION” – The Fall and a new season are upon us. Are you really ready? Do you have what it takes to get the VERY most out of your physical abilities this season? Do you know what you need to do in order to elevate your training to the next level? Is this going to be the year that you finally take those crucial steps towards turning that big dream of yours into a reality? How smart and efficient will you be about it? The vast majority of athletes out there enter their new seasons fueled by “external motivations.” Whether it’s a fear of getting cut, a dread about how much of your free time is about to get swallowed up, or a knowing that they have to do some painful, distasteful things in order to get ready, these athletes seem to be motivated by a moving away from something unpleasant rather than a moving towards something pleasurable. For example, “if I don’t do all this conditioning, the coach will be really ticked off at me,” or “I hate having to do these stupid weights, they’re such a waste of time.” It’s this kind of negative motivation that will insure that you get the very least from your training efforts. However, if you go into the season actually wanting to train, looking forward to and driven internally by your own goals and dreams, then you will, by far, get the very most out of your God-given abilities. So what’s your attitude going to be towards this season? How are you going to approach your training? As an athlete, your attitude makes the performance world go round. A positive one will make it turn in the right directions and take you as far as you’d like to go. A negative attitude will spin you out of control, move you away from your goals and leave you wishing you had signed up for underwater basket weaving instead of your Fall sport. In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we will discuss the importance of training with a winning attitude.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “The heart of a champion – What’s in yours?”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “The apple never falls far from the tree”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Have you had your attitude checked recently?”
DR G’S TEACHING TALES – “Don’t change the world, change yourself!”
“The heart of a champion – What’s in yours?”
At the start of this (2003) rain-soaked (at least in the Northeast) US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, the tennis world formally recognized the retirement of Pete Sampras with a brief ceremony the first evening of play. Sampras currently holds the record for most grand slam events ever won and is considered by many to be one of the greatest male tennis players in the history of the sport. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that over a tennis career that has spanned almost 30 years, Pete was always a class act. He was a true champion, a winner who played with style and heart. Interesting enough, over the years, so many fans missed just how much of a class act this guy really was.
During his career Sampras has had a ton of detractors. He was criticized for being “boring,” for bringing nothing to the pro game. All he did was win! He wasn’t controversial. He didn’t swear at the umpires. He just won with class. He didn’t throw temper tantrums. He didn’t lose emotional control and yell and scream. He just won and was a good sport about it! He was just plain, predictably and totally uninterestingly vanilla. And, oh yeah, did I mention that he just won, and won and won. Critics wanted “color” in the game. They wanted controversy. They wanted players to be poor sports who threw the finger at the crowd, demeaned the lines people, called the chair umpire unprintable names, smashed their rackets down in disgust and tanked matches when they decided that they just didn’t feel like playing that day.
Sampras did none of that! He played hurt. He played sick to his stomach. He played wracked with cramps. He played emotionally devastated after losing his long time coach to cancer. He gave it his all, all the time! He refused to quit. He played with unbelievable heart. He never gave in to his emotions until after his matches were over. He carried himself like a winner at all times, especially when he was out there in front of all those cameras. And for this he was criticized? For this he was called boring?
For the last two years Pete’s star has been steadily falling. It was clear that he was nearing the end of his illustrious career. He hadn’t won a tournament in well over a year. Predictably all the “experts” pounced on him and said that he was all washed up, finished, over the hill! Last September, 2002 at the US Open he did what he does best. He shut those critics up just one more time with class and style. He spoke loudly without once opening his mouth. He played his heart out and dominated the tournament getting all the way to the finals and, in the process, beat several top ranked players in the world. And then, to make his statement that much more powerful, he faced his long time archrival, Andre Agassi in the Championships and decisively beat him in 4 sets to win the tournament and yet another Grand Slam title.
Want to become a REAL champion? Then model yourself after Sampras! Learn to play with Sampras’ heart! Learn to control your emotions. Be a good sport. Give it your all, ALL the time, NOT just when you feel like it. Perhaps there is something very wrong with how we as a sports culture measure championship make-up. Maybe we have our priorities completely screwed up that we find boorish, unsportsman-like behavior more interesting than class and heart? Maybe we need loud, cocky, outspoken, immature acting athletes to get us interested and fired up? Maybe we need our role models putting others down and having public temper tantrums like two year olds? Perhaps we are more inspired by cheating and quitting than we are by the Pete Sampras’ of the world.
Not me! I know a real champion when I see one and the tennis world is out a big one with Sampras’ retirement. But even if you never watched Pete play, you can still learn something valuable from him right now. Forget the crap you see on television from the majority of professional and high visibility D-I athletes: The grandstanding, celebrating, fighting and cheating. Don’t model yourself after athletes who openly feel the need to tell you and everyone within a hundred mile radius that they are God’s gift to creation. A true champion may feel that way inside, that they’re the best, but inside they are also mature and well adjusted enough to understand that it’s in poor taste to shove that self-centered garbage down others’ throats.
So like Sampras, ACT LIKE A CHAMPION. Conduct yourself with class and dignity. You may hate losing with a passion. It may be the bitterest of pills for you to swallow. But when you do lose, and you WILL, be a gracious loser on the OUTSIDE. Congratulate your opponent. Concede the defeat while you rededicate yourself to using the loss as a source of motivation for getting better. Don’t make excuses for why you lost. Don’t blame the refs, the crowd, the playing conditions, bad luck or your teammates’ mistakes. Take responsibility for the failure. True champions don’t make excuses. They don’t whine and blame others. Similarly, conduct yourself like a champion when you win. Don’t rub it in your opponent’s face. Don’t gloat. Keep the post game on-field celebration respectful. Be a gracious winner because the very next time you compete, it could be YOU at the losing end.
Like Sampras, COMMIT yourself to your sport. Dedicate yourself to excellence. Don’t just go through the motions. If you’re going to take the time and energy to participate, you might as well go all the way. Commit yourself to becoming the best that YOU can be. Work your butt off. Be willing to sacrifice. Watch what you eat. Take care of yourself physically. Get enough rest. Keep your studies up. Don’t cut corners. Champions don’t become champions by cutting corners or looking for the easy way out. This means that you must be willing to do more than your best. Instead you must be willing to do whatever it takes to become successful. You must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis.
Be COACH-ABLE. Sampras continued to grow as an athlete right through his career because he was always open to feedback. He always had a coach. You’ll never reach your true potential without good teachers. No successful athlete can really go it alone. Don’t be hard-headed here. If you think you have all the answers and don’t need someone else telling you what to do, then you’re flat out wrong and you’re deluding yourself. Don’t limit your development as a champion. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Be open to and look for good coaching. It’s always the fastest and smartest way to get whereever you want to go.
Be HUMBLE. Champions may feel inside that they are the best. However, they aren’t deluded enough to really believe that just because they are good at their sport, that this means that they are a more worthwhile person than their neighbor. Being good at athletics makes you good at athletics period! Contrary to popular belief it does NOT make you larger than life! It doesn’t make you better than others! You may think that you’re a big man on campus because you just won the championship. You may think you’re far more important than that little shlub who plays in the band! Keep in mind though that what you’re great at is NOTHING MORE THAN A GAME! What really makes you larger than life are the things that REALLY matter. How you hit a baseball or shoot three pointers isn’t that important in the game of life. What really matters is how you are as a person. Do you conduct yourself with dignity? Do you respect those that you interact with? Do you make the people around you better? Are you honest and trustworthy? Do you have a generous spirit? Can the people in your life truly count on you? These are the things that REALLY matter!
So if you truly want to go as far as possible as an athlete, if you really want to become a champion, then overall your attitude. Go find yourself a Pete Sampras to model yourself after. Set your ego aside and start acting like a winner. Because, in the end, the only thing that really matters is not whether you won or lost, but HOW you played the game. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror after a win and know that you conducted yourself like a champion, then you didn’t really win! You can’t lie to that guy in the mirror. He/she always knows the truth! PARENTS CORNER
“The apple never falls far from the tree”
So there’s that old cliché again, THE APPLE NEVER FALLS FAR FROM THE TREE. Truth be told, it’s actually a very important principle in parenting and coaching. In fact, if you’d like to shape your child in any particular way, then you had better pay pretty close attention to how this parenting (and coaching) principle operates.
So what does this homespun little piece of psychology mean? Well, on the surface, it’s just another version of “like father, like son.” For good or bad, better or worse, in many ways your kids grow up to be very much like you. While they come into this world with their own, very unique sets of temperament, response-ability and resources, they will still end up more like you than not. Of course, this is an extremely obvious statement for me to make because who else are they going to resemble if not their parents? In addition to the issue of genes, they will be more like you than anyone else because that’s what happens when you live with your primary teachers for some 18 odd years.
The fact that you as a parent are your child’s most important teacher is another profoundly obvious statement. However, as obvious as this may be, far too many parents lose sight of the obvious: You are constantly teaching and influencing your child’s behaviors on a daily basis. EVERY interaction you have with them is yet another opportunity for them to learn. In fact, they ARE learning in every interaction that you have with them and many of these lessons are going on at an unconscious level. It is a fact that as a parent, you CAN’T, NOT TEACH your children. Even if you are an absent, neglectful parent, you are still continually teaching your children lessons about dependability, responsibility, relationships, intimacy and, depending on how they interpret your absence, their own self-worth. Good or bad, the lessons that they learn from you can last a lifetime and then be passed on to the next generation.
Unfortunately, way too many parents lose total control over what they are teaching their kids. Why? Well don’t go off and blame the terrible influence of those friends you disapprove of. And I don’t want to hear about all that nasty music that today’s young folks listen to or the violent movies that they watch that you think is leaving them twisted. YOU lose total control over what your kids learn because YOU stop being AWARE. Primarily you allow yourself to lose awareness of just how powerful an influence you are. You forget that EVERYTHING that you SAY and DO with your children is being soaked up by them like a sponge. EVERYTHING! They don’t miss a trick. They pick up your voice tone, attitude, truthfulness, you name it, and then they go and learn from it!
Forget the words that you use with them because what you say to your children is not nearly as important as how you say it and how you conduct yourself in your interactions with them, your partner and everyone else in your life. Simply put, it’s who you are as a person that does the primary teaching, NOT what you say. It’s the behaviors and emotions that you live and model with them that provide the most powerful teaching. So if you think that you can teach your kids with the “do as I say, NOT as I do” principle, then you’re delusional!
As the youngest of three kids, I regularly watched my father embarrass and humiliate my older brother at the dinner table. I watched him treat my brother as if the poor kid was an idiot. And I learned. Boy did I learn! I learned that if I opened my mouth, the same thing could happen to me. I learned that authority figures will humiliate you the first chance they get. I learned to live in constant fear that this kind of treatment was just around the corner waiting for me in EVERY interaction that I had. And I learned to not trust and be terrified of my father! Did my father have even the slightest clue that this was what he was teaching us? Absolutely NOT! My father was totally unaware and it was his lack of awareness that was so destructive to all of us growing up.
As a consequence of all these early learnings I grew up painfully shy. My father, however, couldn’t understand this. He was always trying to get me to speak up, to be more assertive, to not be so timid. But his verbal attempts to teach me these foreign behaviors fell on deaf ears. I had already learned what happens to you when you’re assertive and speak up! No way was I ever going to put myself in that situation!
When you forget that you’re always teaching your children, and lose awareness of the specific lessons that you’re imparting to them in every interaction, then and only then will you end up getting both them and you into some serious hot water. Example: I talked to a swim coach today who was referring one of his athletes to me. He feared that she was on the verge of burnout and didn’t know what to do for her. She hadn’t taken time off from the sport for several years, swimming almost non-stop year round. She had stopped having fun about 5 years ago, right around the same time that her race times stopped improving. As this coach and I chatted, I was thinking, “stick a fork in her, she’s done! She’s definitely burnt to a crisp.” When I asked for some detail on parental involvement, the real picture quickly emerged.
It turns out that her father had been pushing her to swim ever since she turned 12 and began having some success in the pool. Before then, she was just another average swimmer who loved training and competing, but who wasn’t really that good. When dad got a whiff of how talented his little girl was, he decided that he was going to “help.” He began placing more and more demands on her. If she wanted to take time off and hang out with friends he would discourage it. If she put up a stink about it, he’d make her feel guilty. He kept a close watch on her diet, training and social life. He spent time with her after her meets analyzing her races and making suggestions. He did a lot of things that he thought were helpful. He knew she had talent and he wanted to help her maximize that talent. He wanted her to swim in college.
When the girl weakly protested that he was too over involved, he made her feel guilty for it. He refused to listen to what she was saying and, more important, to what she wasn’t saying. He was totally unaware that she was getting more and more unhappy. He had no clue that swimming was becoming a distasteful chore for her. All he saw was that her times weren’t dropping and chocked that up to her lack of intensity when she trained. So he put more pressure on her to work harder! She lost her motivation. She started just going through the motions. She cried at practice all the time. She wanted to quit, but felt trapped. She desperately wanted to try other high school sports but dad wouldn’t hear of that and made her feel awful just for asking. Didn’t she realize that she would be hurting her swimming career if she did that?
Now, I don’t know how this story will end, but I can certainly make some pretty good educated guesses. If things remain as they are, and dad continues to be totally oblivious to his daughter’s emotional well being because of some crazy need that HE has, then this young woman is heading for some very serious heartache and unhappiness, learning a tremendous amount of destructive lessons along the way. At what point will this poor girl feel that she has to up the ante in order to get her father’s attention? Will she get so desperate that she ends up making a suicidal gesture? She sure sounds pretty depressed to me. At the very least, she will probably quit swimming for good. She has certainly learned to hate the sport over the last five years. And that’s probably the most innocuous lesson she’s internalized. The other things that she’s learning in her current interactions with her dad are lessons no caring, loving parent would ever want a son or daughter learning.
First of all, this young woman is a senior in high school! What has dad been teaching her about trusting yourself, following your heart and listening to your own internal feelings? What’s dad teaching her about being independent and taking care of yourself? Not a whole hell of a lot! Instead this probably well-meaning man is unknowingly teaching his daughter how to be and stay in an abusive relationship! He’s teaching her that it’s not OK to speak up when you’re unhappy and being abused! He’s teaching her to keep her mouth shut, ignore her feelings and passively suffer silently! He’s also providing a lousy male model for her future interpersonal relationships with the opposite sex. Guess what kind of men she’ll unconsciously be attracted to? That’s right, those without an ounce of empathy that use guilt to get what they want!
And another question for you parents out there: Since when should a parent be that over-involved with their 17 year old’s sport? NEVER! That’s not your job! You are NOT the coach or the manager! Your job is to give your soon to be independent young adult full responsibility for his or her sport. It belongs to them, NOT YOU! However, if you insist that you know best and continue to force your opinions and needs on your child, then you’ll be inviting some serious heartache into your home and will end up making your child an excellent candidate for extensive long-term psychotherapy! Sadly, this is exactly where this dad is going with his daughter.
Finally, what is dad teaching his daughter about their relationship? You can trust me? I really care about you and your feelings? Your happiness is what I’m most concerned about? Remember, when you are not aware of what you’re teaching your kids when they’re kids, then YOU will ultimately be the one that suffers later! What kind of relationship do you think this young woman is going to want to have with this kind of a father? Do you think she’s going to want him to play an active role in the life of her children? How close do you think I wanted to be with my dad after growing up in that kind of abusive environment?
If there’s one thing that coaches across every sport and at every level really want, it’s athletes with great attitudes. More than tremendous ability, great strength, solid conditioning, or even an in-depth tactical understanding of the game, an athlete’s attitude can make or break a coach’s experience on the team and his or her ultimate success. This is one of the reasons why the best teams or stronger athletes don’t always come out on top. Attitude is what wins. Athletes who work hard, are willing to learn from you and can take constructive feedback, care about the team more than themselves, are positive, enthusiastic and passionate about the sport, and who are unselfish role players are a joy to coach and make your job so much easier.
On the other hand, selfish, cocky, primma donnas who think they have all the answers, who are unwilling to take constructive feedback from you, who are only concerned with their playing time and their publicity, who are disrespectful to you and their teammates, and who are brimming with negativity which they always tend to “share” with everyone around them can make your life a living hell and get you considering that early retirement on an uninhabited desert island. After a while, talent becomes less and less important when compared with attitude. Great athletes with rotten attitudes DON’T make those around them great and certainly DON’T win championships. You as a coach are making a deal with the devil every time you ignore your instincts about a player and shut out negative feedback about his attitude because he’s so good and you just have to have him on your squad.
So, if attitude is so important to an athlete’s and team’s success, what, if anything does that say about the significance of the coach’s attitude? It seems quite obvious to state here that if a coach has a rotten attitude, everyone around him or her will lose. The fact of the matter is that the coach’s attitude is 100 times more important than any individual athlete’s attitude because the coach is in a primary position of teaching and leadership. If the coach is the builder and the architect of a winning program, then who he is as a person, how he acts and his attitude are his primary tools. However, as you read these words, how often have you had the courage to take an honest look at yourself in the mirror? How often to you question your interactions with your athletes? How much responsibility do you take when things go wrong? When an athlete has a persistent and annoying performance problem, do you look to yourself first for the cause or do you simply get frustrated with and blame that athlete for being a “head case?”
As you well know, modeling is by far your most powerful and effective coaching tool. It’s how you carry yourself on the court, field or track and who you are as a person in your day-to-day interactions with your athletes that does the real teaching here. Sure your knowledge of the game is crucial, but your actions and behaviors always speak so much louder and more forcefully than your words. In the end, what you have to say is totally worthless if your attitude demeans or alienates your players while you’re saying it. What you have to say will always fall on deaf ears if your behaviors consistently contradict your words.
A few years back I was called in to work with a D-I team by the assistant coaches. It was explained to me that the head coach wasn’t really interested in what we were going to be doing because he didn’t believe in any of this “mental crap.” As a result he never came to any of our 5 meetings over the course of the season. I doubt that he had any clue what his closed mindedness was modeling for his players. In private, the assistant coaches complained to me that the head coach was incredibly negative; always putting the players down and just flat out not doing his job. He wasn’t teaching them. He just yelled and swore at them for what they did wrong and offered no constructive or positive feedback. In our team meetings, the players bitterly complained to me about this and the head coach’s failure to listen to and teach them. They had no confidence and felt that the head coach didn’t really believe in them. Furthermore, they felt frustrated by his refusal to accept any kind of feedback from them and felt hopeless to change the situation.
As much as I may walk on water as a sports psychologist, I don’t feel like I even got off the bottom on this one. Truth be told, my efforts, just like the those of the players and the assistant coaches, were doomed from the start because the head coach was negative, closed minded and totally unaware of the impact of his words and actions on those around him. He simply walked around on a daily basis completely out of touch with the reality of his situation! He had absolutely no clue what was really going on for his players and apparently didn’t really care. How else can we explain his attitude and behaviors? As a coach you certainly wouldn’t want this kind of athlete on your squad. How can you expect to be successful, when you conduct yourself in this manner? This is NOT a winning attitude!
As your new season starts, how about a good dose of courage? Courage to be self-aware enough to take an honest look at who you are in relation to your players and assistants. Courage to be open minded. Courage to be open to feedback from those around you, even if you don’t like the feedback. NO ONE can achieve a high level of success without introspection. NO ONE can reach his/her goals without self-awareness. NO ONE can develop a WINNING ATTITUDE without feedback! Remember, FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!
Dr. G's Teaching Tales
“Don’t change the world, change yourself”
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a king who ruled a very prosperous and very large country. Because he had never been to the far borders of his land and he was king of the people, the king decided one day that he would go for a trip to all small hamlets of his country, regardless of how far away they might be. He felt it quite important that he stay in touch with all his people. The trip proved to be quite long and arduous. It lasted many weeks. The poor king spent a fair amount of his journey on foot as he interacted with his people. Naturally by the time he got back to his palace, his feet were blistered, painful and swollen. He bitterly complained to his aides about his physical discomfort because this was truly the first of many times that he would like to go on such a long, but important trip. Unfortunately the roads that he had to follow were very rough and stony, and frequently not even fit for his carriage. Knowing that he had to make the trip sometime again in the not-to-distant future, he sat down with his closest aides in an attempt to figure out how to make the journey, if not more pleasurable, at least more comfortable. No one had any useful ideas. Suddenly the king lit up! A brilliant idea had popped into his mind.
He explained, “we will cover all the roads in my kingdom with leather! Why had I not thought of this before! Then I shall walk more comfortably from town to town, village to village!”
As he and his aides discussed this seemingly brilliant solution they
began to consider the reality of accomplishing this task. First, they would have to secure huge quantities of leather, thousands and thousands of cows would be needed. The cost of this alone was staggering, never mind where they would find such a large quantity of cows. Next, they would need many, many skilled workers to prepare and process the leather for the roads. Finally they would also need skilled laborers to lay the leather out and secure it to the roads. As they began to consider the massive costs this project would incur, the king’s enthusiasm began to fade. Being a thoughtful man, the king realized that this would be a far too costly and nearly impossible project.
It was at this point one of his wiser aides spoke up. “Good king. Why must you spend all that unnecessary amount of money and effort on this project when you can simply cut a few little piece of leather that you can use to cover your feet and keep them more comfortable?"
The king was surprised and delighted at the obvious simplicity of his aides suggestion. “Of course!” he exclaimed, “This is a brilliant solution! Why should I waste all that time, money and energy trying to change the roads when I can simply change the comfort of my feet.” So he ordered one of his craftsmen to make a "shoe" for himself and the problem was efficiently solved.
I don’t know what kind of lesson you take away from this story: perhaps it’s better to look inward to try to resolve your unhappiness than outward. Rather than investing all that emotional energy trying to change all those around you, you’re probably better off looking in the mirror and changing yourself. It’s your attitude that’s the agent of positive change, not the world’s.