IN THIS ISSUE: “It’s not what you don’t know that holds you back. It’s what you do know that you think is true that is ultimately the most crippling.” Ah yes! Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS. All those things that you think are true, but are really only figments of your LITTLE imagination. All those things that if you think are true, will seriously limit your development as a person and a performer. Athletes who go into a performance with preconceived notions about their opponents, the outcome or the situation will set themselves up to fail. Coaches who carry preconceived notions about their players or the breadth of their own knowledge base into their work severely limit their chances for success. Being open minded when you learn and empty minded when you perform are necessary prerequisites for becoming a champion on and off the field. People who think they have all the answers, are not only dangerous to themselves and others, but they are flat out wrong. No one has all the answers because the answers are ALWAYS changing. The world you live in is in a constant state of flux. While new technologies are continually being created in and out of sports, old ones are being updated or improved. Any athlete, coach or individual who closes his mind to the learning process because he thinks he knows it all is actively getting stupid and ultimately hurting himself BIG TIME! In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we will explore the critical importance of having a “beginner’s mind” in your role as athlete, coach or parent, regardless of how far advanced you may think you are. Remember, when you act like you are a legend in your own mind, you are nothing but an egotistical fool.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “You have to break eggs to make an omelet!”
PARENT’S CORNER – “The game according to parents.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Don’t think you’re so smart! You DON’T have all the answers!”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES- “My eyes don’t lie”
“You have to break eggs to make an omelet”
So let’s start with your goals. Just how good do you really want to get in your sport? What’s your dream? What would make you feel really fulfilled as an athlete?
Whatever you come up with for your ultimate destination, I have a strategy that will help you get there. I’ve discussed it before in other issues of the Mental Toughness Newsletter. In this issue I want to focus in on one specific aspect of that strategy which will help you best channel your energies into becoming a champion. The strategy: GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE.
What does this mean? As an athlete you have to develop the discipline to continually move outside your comfort zone. Simply put, you have to get into the habit of challenging yourself in a number of different ways. You have to challenge yourself physically by pushing your body in your conditioning and training. You have to get used to doing all the little, uncomfortable physical extras that are easier left undone. You have to challenge yourself mentally by undertaking things that you don’t believe you can do. By moving towards your limiting beliefs and attempting that which you think you can’t do, you will ultimately overcome them. You have to challenge yourself emotionally by finding opponents who are stronger, faster and more skilled than you. Consistently competing against Intimidating competition will lift the overall level of your game and make you more confident. You have to challenge yourself by zeroing in on your weaknesses and working to strengthen them. You have to learn to take risks and tolerate failure and setbacks.
When you get in the habit of consistently stepping outside your comfort zone or getting comfortable being uncomfortable, your reward will be progress and development. In other words, you will steadily move towards your goals and dreams. When you get stuck in the gravitational pull of staying comfortable, your progress will be limited at best and your achievements will remain in the mediocre range.
One important aspect of this “Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable” strategy that I’d like to focus in on here is maintaining an open or “beginner’s mind” in relation to your technique and skills. Let me explain. Your success as an athlete obviously depends on the level of your skills. However, your skill development is directly affected by your mechanics and technique. Simply put, how good you’ll ultimately get will be directly dependent upon how solid your technique is. There is NO substitute for correct technique. Good technique will take you all the way to your dreams while bad technique will block your way.
What if, right now, as you read this, you have flaws in your technique? What if you have some bad habits that are really holding you back? What have your coaches been telling you about your weaknesses? If you’re not open to changing your mechanics or technique, or working on strengthening your weaknesses, then you will always be handicapped. Remember, ” A CHAIN IS ONLY AS STRONG AS IT’S WEAKEST LINK.” To effectively reach your athletic dreams, you have to be willing to take an honest look at your weaknesses and then commit yourself to strengthening them.
This is far easier said then done. Far too many athletes do not like looking at their weaknesses, never mind working on them. Why? Having to look at and work on things that you’re not good at leaves you feeling inadequate and frustrated. If you’re a serious athlete, then you know it’s hard to not be good at something. Unfortunately, far too many athletes will then avoid what they’re not good at. As you can imagine, avoiding your weaknesses is not exactly a great strategy for changing them into strengths. On the contrary, avoidance will only insure that you’re weaknesses will stay weaknesses.
Here’s what all this means. You have to be open to coaching feedback to become a champion. You have to be “coachable” if you ever want to have a decent chance of turning your dreams into a reality. If you think your way is the best way, then you may be actively, although unknowingly holding yourself back. Don’t think that you know it all. Pride and ego have brought down faster, stronger and more talented athletes than you. There are always better ways for you to do things and there are always good teachers out there willing to help.
Now I’m not suggesting that you abandon your technique that is solid and comfortable. I am suggesting that you take a close and honest look at those areas of your game that may be shaky. It’s in those areas that you have the most potential to make the biggest gains in your athletic career. Let me share with you a personal example.
I have been playing competitive tennis over 40 years. In college I was the number one singles player for four years and the Conference Champion for two. Add to this, 22 years as a teaching professional and it’s fair to say that I know what I’m doing on the tennis court and that my mechanics are pretty solid. However, throughout my competitive years I was always bothered by the fact that my forehand was always a little bit of a liability. Defensively it was a great stroke. Offensively it was very weak. I just couldn’t seem to go on the attack with it and feel comfortable.
Four years ago, in my late 40’s I decided that it was time to do something about this. I was unhappy not being able to be more aggressive on the court, so for the first time in forty years I started taking tennis lessons to change my “little bit” of a weakness into a strength. Understand this: YOU HAVE TO BREAK EGGS TO MAKE AN OMELET. If you’re going to change a weakness you have to first dismantle what currently works for you before you can replace it with something better. You have to “break the eggs” so to speak and ruin what you have now. In the learning process, I lost the ability to hit my old forehand. This pleased my opponents very much. Now, I no longer had the consistency nor accuracy that was a trademark of my game.
Suddenly I was losing to players that I had previously “owned.” Trust me on this one; I was not a happy camper. I am very competitive and hate losing with a passion. However, I was smart enough to realize that when you make these kinds of changes, YOU HAVE TO GET WORSE BEFORE YOU CAN GET BETTER. You have to have the ability to keep the bigger picture in mind. My new forehand was wildly inconsistent, my old forehand was gone and I was stuck in between. It felt awful!!
In these kinds of situations it is critical that you trust your coach and understand exactly where he/she is taking you. If you can do that, then you’ll be able to hang in there through the tough, uncomfortable times. I am now out the other end of this process. I now have the finished product, “the omelet,” and I’m happy to report it’s a “tasty” one. I now have a consistent, aggressive weapon when I play that has made my old opponents very, very unhappy. I am hitting that stroke better than I have ever hit it before, and having more fun playing. So whoever said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
If you’re open minded, if you can tolerate the discomfort of being coachable and being a beginner again, then you will be putting yourself in a position to achieve a far greater success than you have now. Remember that this can only happen if you’re willing to take an honest look at yourself and your weak links.
“The game according to parents”
Hang onto the bottom of your seat. I’m going to get a little “out there” on you. We all operate from the internal world of our own perceptions, what I call your “inner compass.” We utilize our five senses and our extensive personal history to develop these perceptions and “fine tune” this compass. While our senses are designed to tune into and give us a read on the “real” world, our perceptions are always dramatically shaped by our personal history. Because we think our perceptions are real, we tend to believe that they represent an accurate read on what’s actually going on out there. Truth be told, what we think is real is merely our own interpretation of events. This means that sometimes when our “compass” says north and we follow, we’re actually heading south, east or west. Instead of finding ourselves in familiar surroundings, we’re shocked to discover that we’ve gotten ourselves up that famous creek without a paddle. Our interpretation of the world and reality is merely our inner map of the real world and events, not the real world itself. Because we then base much of what we say and do on this internal map, we sometimes get ourselves into interpersonal hot water.
So the truths that we hold are merely our view of events through our own “rose-colored” glasses. We see the coach and his actions through the lens that we call reality. When our child doesn’t get much playing time we don’t look at this through the coach’s model of the world. We cannot be that objective. Instead we view it through our own unique distortions. Therefore it is quite easy to say that the coach is unfair, blind or just plain stupid for not starting or playing our son/daughter more. We even wonder why he can’t see what is so plainly obvious to us. Our child is talented and should be pitching, batting clean-up, the starting point guard or the anchor on the relay team.
It’s through this same lens that we look at our child’s teammates and pass judgment on their ability in relation to our child’s. Are we just a tad bit biased? Of course we are. We can’t help it. It is virtually impossible for us to maintain our objectivity under the circumstances. We see the referees, judges or officials in this very same, more or less distorted way. This is why it always seems that when the calls go against your child or her team, the officials are either blind or terribly incompetent. When the calls go against the opposing team, the refs were brilliantly observant or unbelievably talented.
If what I’m saying is true and we see the world through the lenses of our oftentimes-distorted perceptions, can we ever hope to have a more accurate read on reality? As far as I’m concerned, it’s only possible when we make an attempt as parents and individuals to keep an open mind and to try to meet others at their model of the world. All to often we are like a bull in a china shop, imposing our views and truths on everyone else we come in contact with. However, when you meet someone at their model of the world, you deliberately and temporarily suspend your own truths until you develop a fuller understanding of where the other person is coming from. It’s only then that you have a chance of developing a semi-accurate picture of what’s “real” between you and that other person.
In order to meet someone at her model of the world you have to approach communication in a very different way than is traditionally done. While the other person is speaking you actually have to listen to the sounds that they are producing. That’s right I said LISTEN. Now there’s a unique concept! Simply put, you must discipline yourself to be SILENT inside while they are speaking. This is an almost impossible task for many people who unknowingly approach communication as a competition. While the other person is talking and expressing their feelings, you’re inside your head planning what you’ll say about your own feelings. When this happens, you never really get a clear sense of the other person’s model of the world because you’re NOT paying the least bit attention to what they’re saying.
Having an open mind means that you’re willing to consider other models of the world. You are willing to acknowledge that your view of a particular situation is just that, only your view and not necessarily the absolute truth or an accurate read on reality. To be open minded in this way takes a lot of what psychologists call “ego strength.” In plain English, it means that you’re mentally stable and mature, and feel good enough about yourself so that you’re not threatened by others’ conflicting views of you and the world.
So what I’m saying in perhaps a too convoluted way, is that before you allow your emotions to run away with your logic and good reason, before you follow through on that impulse to confront the coach for not starting your child, before you open your big mouth to lambaste the refs for being both blind and incompetent, before you make that comment to your child’s opponent or teammate, before you challenge that other parent on the team, STOP…..Take a deep breath…and then put yourself in their shoes for just a moment. Try to meet them at their model of the world. Try to listen and understand before you speak. Try to consider for just a brief moment that perhaps your view of this situation may NOT be the absolute truth that you think it is.
This is especially important for you if you’re one of those people that always has to be “right.” You know the scenario: You can’t walk away from an argument until you have “proven” your point and verbally beaten it into the other person. You always have to get the last word in and feel like you’ve lost something significant unless you do.
Also let’s not lose sight about what all this is about. We’re talking about your child’s participation in a game. In case you’ve forgotten, sports are played just for fun. As parents we frequently get so caught up in the drama and emotion of our child’s performance that we miss the obvious. Make sure your child is enjoying herself. Think of her first, NOT you. Keep an open mind and above all else, meet the other person at their model of the world before you open your mouth.
“Don’t think you’re so smart! You DON’T have all the answers!”
Why is it that some coaches are so damn rigid and close-minded? They think that they know THE right way and anything that’s new or potentially contradicts their views must be flat out wrong or just plain stupid. These “professionals,” and I use the word loosely here, are so convinced of their truths, that they readily dismiss any and all other sources of conflicting information. They do things one way, their way and have been following this boring regime for years. These coaches cling to their “facts” like a non-swimmer flung overboard clings to a life preserver, holding on for dear life. Let’s explore why.
The more closed minded you are, the more you think that your way is the ONLY way, the more you quickly dismiss new developments in your field or other ways of looking at things as crap, then the more insecure you must really be. Oh, sure, I can hear you now. “Don’t give me any of that mumbo jumbo crap Doc!” And to defend yourself, you may protest to be a highly successful, super-confident, Studley J. Studley know-it-all, but deep down, you probably don’t really feel that good about yourself. People who tenaciously hold onto their ideas and knowledge base, desperately fighting off the onslaught of new or conflicting information, are simply threatened by anything new or what they don’t know. If they weren’t threatened, then there would be absolutely no need to think that you’re always right!
To be rigid and close-minded as a coach is not exactly the best attribute to have for a number of reasons. First off, you severely limit your chances of success. Coaching ideas and theories are constantly changing. There are always new strategies and techniques that can help you help your athletes be more successful. In addition, there are always new ideas available to you from other disciplines that can dramatically improve your effectiveness as a coach.
A great example of this is the work of my dear friend and colleague, Jerry Lynch. Jerry is a sports psychologist and the co-author with Al Huang of WORKING WITHOUT, WORKING WITHIN: THINKING BODY, DANCING MIND; and TAO MENTORING. His latest book, CREATIVE COACHING is a must if you take your work seriously and want to take your performance to the next level.
Jerry is into Eastern philosophy, The Tao and Zen, to which the average, close-minded Joe Coach would respond, “I don’t need any of that meditation, weird chanting crap!” What the average Joe Coach doesn’t have a clue about is that Jerry’s techniques have brought unbelievable success to the highest level, D-I teams around the country in a number of sports. For example, his close work with the University of Maryland women’s Lacrosse program has helped them win 6 consecutive National Championships. Those in the know, swear by his breakthrough coaching techniques and strategies. But, watch out for this weird meditation, chanting crap!
Second, if you as the coach model a close-minded approach to things, how do you expect your athletes to be open to what you have to say? Athletes continually model what they get from their coaches. If you want your players to be open-minded and coachable, then you had better be also! If you regularly explore new strategies and methods, then your athletes will be more inclined to do so also.
Finally, let’s not forget the ultimate success strategy: GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. The way to reach your personal or professional goals is to regularly practice stepping outside of your comfort zone. When you practice “pushing the envelope” so-to-speak, challenging yourself you grow, develop and improve. When you stay within your comfort zone you end up stagnating. As a coach it is absolutely critical that you keep exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts. Learning new things is not easy and being a beginner all over again makes most people feel uncomfortable. However, it is absolutely critical that you continuously try out new techniques. This keeps you fresh, motivated and your practices interesting.
Understand this: It’s not what you don’t know that will hurt you. What will significantly stunt your growth and limit your effectiveness as a coach is what you do know, that you think is true, but is really false. How will you ever figure out that what you do know might be limiting? You have to open yourself up to new information. You have to expose yourself to new ideas. You have to get use to challenging yourself and being uncomfortable. The minute you stop learning as a professional you start going backwards. It’s like the athlete that decides that he’s so good, he’s doesn’t need to condition or practice as hard. No doubt, this is a totally ridiculous thing for any athlete to do. However, this is what happens to YOU when you kid yourself into believing that you have all the answers.
The best coaches maintain what I call a “beginner’s mind.” That is, they consider themselves to be always learning. They enter situations with that goal in mind. They are open to and curious about new developments in their field, even if these developments seem outlandish or bizarre or even seem to challenge or question what they already do know. Their openness and curiosity pays off. These individuals frequently find themselves on the cutting edge of things. A few years back I met a coach like this, Nort Thornton, the Cal Berkeley men’s swim coach. At the time, Nort was in his late 60’s, had coached several Olympic teams, produced a slew of gold medallists and would have been justified to sit back and say, “I’m here. I’ve arrived. I have ALL the answers!” However, even with all his experience, Nort maintained a professional curiosity that was refreshing. He was constantly looking for a better way. He still considered himself to be a beginner in his openness to new ideas. Let’s contrast Nort with a coach I recently met.
This fellow’s reputation had preceded him. The head coach in the program had already warned me that this individual was a problem “know-it-all. He wasn’t open to feedback and would frequently ignore the head coach’s wishes and go off and do things his way. He actually thought that what he was doing was better. He was so myopic that he had absolutely no clue as to how off the wall and ineffective he actually was. This is one of the problems when you set yourself up as THE expert and shut out other forms of feedback. You never get to check your info and what you’re doing against other people’s feedback. Without feedback, you can never really fine-tune what you’re doing or correct mistakes that you’re making. Without feedback you will continue to work in a vacuum, screwing up in the same dumb ways over and over again, yet deceiving yourself into believing that what you’re doing is fine. Truth be told, when you act like this, you’re being a fool!
This coach sat in on both my parent and athlete talks. As he was leaving the athletes’ program, several swimmers overheard him say to no one in particular, “I didn’t learn anything today!” with a tone that implied that the entire day was a total waste of time. Spoken like a true professional! What’s wrong with this picture?
First off, this assistant was actively sabotaging the head coach’s desire to expose her athletes to mental toughness training with his implicit message that what she thought was important was instead, worthless. When you’re an athlete and you hear another coach bad mouthing the training, what are you supposed to think? Add to this his open, albeit indirect disrespect for the head coach. We can also say that he took a potshot at my profession and me, but forget that! My ego is still intact. I learned long ago that only my mother needs to think that I’m lovable! I’m more concerned about the impact of this coach’s closed-mindedness on the athletes around him. If the man worked in a vacuum, then we could just simply dismiss him as a complete fool. Unfortunately, he doesn’t and his attitude and close-mindedness are troublesome. Coaches like this aren’t just ineffective! They are flat out destructive!
Adopt a “beginner’s mind. No one has all the answers. Don’t ever be afraid to learn. Don’t ever stop learning. Get in the habit of regularly challenging the status quo. Keep looking for a better way. However, I should warn you in advance. If you approach the coaching profession in this way, then you’ll be continually plagued by success. Success, in fact, will stalk you wherever you go.
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES
“My eyes don’t lie”
What’s real? What truths are really true? Understand that what you see is merely your interpretation of the world, not the world itself. And sometimes what you think is real, is merely a figment of your imagination based on having very limited information.
There’s an old Sufi tale about the city of the blind. There was great excitement that rippled through the city one day with the news that a caravan of foreigners was heading towards the city with a number of great elephants in tow.
Now no one in the city of the blind had ever seen an elephant before, nor had they ever had an encounter with one, so curiosity was at an all time high as the day of the visit approached. The city elders formed a committee of 4 men to go out to greet the caravan and bring back news to the people of what this great beast was like.
The four men left the city gates that morning and tentatively approached the massive elephant. As they spread out around the beast, one man bumped into the elephant’s snout. He began to explore it with his hands. Another found the elephants ears. A third was fascinated with the animal’s massive, pillar-like legs and the fourth explored the elephant’s tail. After spending several minutes with the animal, the committee returned to the safety of the city and a massive crowd of curious, excited townspeople.
“Tell us what you saw. Tell us what you saw.” They anxiously demanded. “What is this great elephant-beast like? Describe it to us!”
The first member of the committee began. “Let me tell you what I saw. The elephant is like a massive snake-creature which has great suction coming from one end and I fear could completely engulf a man with one powerful inner snort. It swings back and forth making these interesting snorting noises and every once in a while let’s out a loud trumpeting sound that is near deafening.”
No sooner had he finished than the second member of the committee loudly spoke up and exclaimed, “No, I beg to differ my good man. You are clearly so wrong. An elephant is like a massive curtain that is both leathery and powerful and can easily knock a man off his feet with but one swat of his thin, curtain-like body. In fact, it swings back and forth and did indeed knock me to the ground.”
“No! No! You are both wrong!” chimed in the third. “I do not know what either of you saw but it’s plain to me that you are both pitifully blind as bats. The great elephant is nothing like you describe. It is instead a massive pillar like structure that must weigh a good ton or two. It is so powerful in fact that it can crush a man like a twig!”
Finally the fourth committee member had heard enough. “My good comrades! You are indeed all wrong and it’s plain to me that you have absolutely no clue about this elephant creature. Everyone can see that it is NOT what you say, but instead a rope like creature that is very powerful and that whips back and forth through the air with such force that it is frightening.”
At this point the crowd became both confused and frustrated. “Well, which is it?” they cried. “Who is right about this elephant beast?”
Well we certainly know the right answer to this question. These men were all partially right and all partially wrong. The problem, of course, was that they were all operating on their very limited view of the world. Because of this, they all had incomplete information. When you think you’re absolutely right and the other person is totally off base, perhaps you might think of this Sufi tale. Remember, it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you do know that you think is true, when in fact it is not.
If you are consistently underachieving or struggling with a performance difficulty, call me today. I can help!
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