Sports Psychology, Peak Performance and Overcoming Fears & Blocks

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“I didn’t want to fall back. But I realized it was more important to make it to the end under my own power than to run flat out in the lead or in second and then run out of fuel with a lap to go.” 23 year-old racing rookie Danica Patrick on her historic 4th place finish at the Indy 500 May, 2005

Danica Patrick is a mold breaker. She’s a pioneer. She is someone who doesn’t believe in gender limitations or what women can or can not do. Everyone knows that women aren’t supposed to professionally race cars over 225 miles per hour and they certainly aren’t supposed to be good at it. No other woman had ever led the Indy 500 or even threatened to win it up until her historic run this past year. Patrick is just one other symbolic reminder to all of us that limits of all kinds, whether gender, racial or athletic are there to be challenged and broken. There is no impossible if in your heart you believe that you’re capable of achieving something. The sports world needs more pioneers like Patrick to continue to prove all the “experts” and know-it-all among us wrong. If you have a dream and the inclination to follow it, GO FOT IT and let all the nay-sayers be damned!

- SEEK OUT TOUGHER COMPETITION - 

Want to dramatically improve your game? Want to raise your training to the next level? The secret to both is very simple. Go find better athletes than yourself to practice with and compete against. While it's always fun and comforting to be the best, fastest or strongest, it won't help you improve as quickly in the long run. What will propel your training forward and improve your motivation is to continually challenge yourself by going up against tougher and tougher competition. Your competition will always push you harder than you can do yourself. Your competition will always challenge you more than you can yourself. If you continually pit yourself against creampuffs, soon you will develop a cream filled center. That is you will fall apart under pressure. Instead, go out and hunt down stronger training partners. You may not like losing and being outperformed in the beginning, but you will like what this kind of bigger challenge will do for your overall development as an athlete.

“I play because I have fun, if I don’t have fun on the court, there is something wrong. I am just a 19 year old boy that likes to do what he likes, nothing else.”

Rafael Nadal, French Open Champion Daily Express 6/20/05

DR G’S COMMENTS: Nadal has broken into the top 10 in the world as a tennis player partially because he has the right attitude about his sport. Even at the very highest level of the game, Nadal understands that the secret to competitive success comes from having fun before and during your competitions. FUN is the biggest, least understood secret to your success as an athlete. It’s a personal ticket to reaching your full athletic potential. When you go into a competition with having fun as your primary goal, then you’ll end up performing loose and relaxed. It’s this loose, relaxed state that is so crucial to peak performance. FUN is the biggest antidote to crunch-time competitive pressure. It will keep you cool and calm in the clutch. There’s no question that FUN will bring you to the “promised-land” in your sport. If you get into loving what you’re doing, enjoying the challenge and struggle, the ups and downs, then you’ll most often come out on top. Without FUN you become vulnerable to the “seriousness” disease where you’ll be easily distracted by the importance of the outcome. (“This is a really big game. I have to play well. I can’t let my team down. We really need to win so we can advance to the playoffs. Blah…Blah…Blah!” When you get serious you’ll get tight, and when you get tight, you can just kiss your game good-bye. So get with the program. Get your priorities straight. If you want to play well, have fun FIRST!

“Success in life is a matter not so much of talent as of concentration and perseverance.” 
C.W. Wendte, American clergyman/author

DR. G’S COMMENTS: It’s a simple concept and a powerful one. All success stems from one thing: PERSEVERANCE. Do you have the staying power? Can you maintain your persistence? The one thing that will get you further in life than anything else is not your brains, brawn or even talent. It’s your stick-to-it-iveness. By refusing to quit or give up, by simply continuing to just hang in there and keep working away you will ultimately be rewarded by success. When I trained in the martial arts my sensei made this very clear early on. He said to truly master karate the only thing you need do is to train regularly, week in, week out, month after month, year after year. And as I continued to do that I watched many of the advanced students who had started ahead of me, eventually drop out. Me? I’m just a plugger. I kept at it and that’s eventually what led me to that black belt. Make “perseverance” your middle name. Regardless of how many times you get tripped up and knocked down, get back up. Regardless of how many setbacks and failures you have, pick yourself back up and keep going. By keeping on, keeping on NO MATTER WHAT you will eventually bump into success.

Woods says he does not look back at what might have been. "If I did that, playing golf would drive me crazy."

By John Nestor
SportsTicker Golf Editor

DON'T THINK, JUST PLAY 
To perform to your best you have to put yourself on automatic, trust your skills and training, and let your performance happen. Thinking too much, before and during your performances will only tend to gum up the works. Keep your focus away from your thoughts and on the game and exactly what you are doing. Thinking too much will distract you from the task at hand and slow you down in every way. Thinking about what you should do, have to do, better do, or what will happen if you don't is a big NO NO performance-wise! Keep your head in the performance. When you notice that little voice in your head chattering away, tell it, "Thanks for sharing!" and immediately bring your focus back to what you're doing. Don't think, just react! Don't think just feel! Don't think, just trust yourself!

“I thought the race could be won in the last kilometers in the park. Every hill I ran in training I ran to gain an extra step in the park.”

Kenyan runner Paul Tergat after outsprinting defending champion South African Hendrick Ramaala to win the New York Marathon by less than a second, the closest margin of victory in the race’s history.

DR. G’s COMMENTS: Tergat’s victory demonstrates the power and effectiveness of “perfect practice.” It’s not how much time you put into your training that counts. It’s always WHAT you put into that time. It’s HOW you train that ultimately makes the difference between your success and failure, between you reaching your goals or falling short. When you commit yourself to train mentally, physically and emotionally the quality of your practices goes way up. That is, when you can directly connect what you are doing today in practice with that ultimate performance that you’re training for in the future, then and only then will you get the very most out of your session. Don’t just practice. Don’t just go through the motions. Understand WHY you’re doing what you’re doing today and how it will help you when the chips are on the line. “Perfect practice” is that which prepares you for the mental, physical and emotional challenges that you are sure to face during the competition. “Perfect practice” closely simulates the conditions that you must master in order to emerge victorious. Be smart about your training. Always train with this question in the back of your mind. “How is what I’m doing today and right now going to help me when I’m in that big competition?”

This week’s quote is from Juan Dixon, guard for the Washington Wizards basketball team. He just completed a very solid performance in which Washington tied the series with the Chicago Bulls two games apiece in the NBA playoffs. Dixon broke a slump and contributed a career high 35 points. What most people don’t know is the dedication, determination, and sheer will he exhibited when he mentioned to reporters that he took more than 1000 jump shots before and after Sunday’s game in hopes of breaking out of his shooting woes

Dixon said “I struggled last game; I knew I would bounce back. I told coach I was going to get my act together and I wanted to come through for the team.” He further stated, “We needed someone to step up and I was able to hit some big shots. It felt great.”

Source: NY Times May 3rd, 2005, article by Dave Curtis

Dr. G’s comments:
What Dixon is sharing with you is the secret to success on and off the court, in and out of the sports arena: PURE, UNADULTERATED HARD WORK. Everyone is quick to look at a great athlete and mistake his/her skills, talent and ability for the main reason why that athlete is successful, and why you could never be like them. The fact of the matter is that hard work can overcome obstacles, make up for handicaps and deficits, and help you do the impossible. Hard work is the best kept secret to success. Why? Because it’s so obvious to figure out and so difficult to do. Ask any athlete whether he’d like to be successful and he’ll quickly respond with a “You Bet!” Ask that same athlete if he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to make the big sacrifices, put in the ultra long hours, suffer mentally, physically and emotionally through the hardships and up & downs of training, and most will then not be so quick to answer. Hard work is something that’s available to every athlete. However, only a select few will be willing to do what Juan Dixon did. How about you? How badly do you want to become a champion? How hard are you willing to work? Are you willing to pay your physical dues? Remember, the road to SUCCESS always passes through the “town” of HARD WORK. There are no shortcuts around it! There are no other ways of getting there!

“Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors.” Dr. Wayne Dyer”

Does your child play a sport? Is she playing because she wants to or because of you and her desire to make you happy? Are you a supportive and appropriately involved parent or are you over the top, over-involved when it comes to her game? One of the very hardest jobs parents have to do is to allow their child to gradually grow up as his/her own person with separate interests, likes and dislikes, emotions, and needs. As parents we want our children to make the “right” choices and follow the “right” path but who are we to say that our “right” is more right than theirs? We think that we know what’s best, but this is only because we look at the world through the distortions of our own eyes. Perhaps we had a tough and disappointing childhood. Maybe we were the one always picked last for the team. With two left feet we were always mediocre at best. Now with our athletically inclined son or daughter, we finally have a chance to even the score and vicariously make up for all that early pain through their performance excellence. If only they would make better use of all their talent and ability. If only they practiced longer and harder. If only you had had half of their talent! As Dyer put it, children are not coloring books that we get to fill in with our favorite colors. They are completely separate, continually growing-towards-independence human beings who need our unconditional love and support without the extra added burden of guilt because they may not be doing everything exactly the way that we may want them to. Listen very carefully to your children. Before you speak or act, carefully put yourself in their shoes. Respect their feelings and choices. Encourage and celebrate their growing independence. This will empower them.

“Everyone thought I was crazy for changing my swing two years ago. They thought I was nuts, especially because I was winning so much. But you can never really get there. It’s a process and no matter how good you are, you can always get better.”

Tiger Woods after winning his second British Open and 10 th career Major.

DR. G’S COMMENTS: 
Herein lies one of the primary reasons that Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers to ever play this game, he is never satisfied with success and is always looking for ways to get better. Do you have the courage to pursue excellence in this way? Would you be willing to endure the frustration and disappointment that goes along with this process? Woods knew that despite all his success, something wasn’t quite right. He took apart and then reconstructed his swing. As a consequence, he suddenly became beatable. He no longer dominated the way he had before the swing change. The critics popped out of the woodwork to tell us that Tiger was all washed up, that he just wasn’t as good anymore. That it wasn’t really very smart of him to go and change his game. Woods, however, kept working away to integrate and fine-tune the swing changes. The recent results speak for themselves: This year he won the Masters in a playoff, finished just two shots behind at the US Open and won easily at last month’s British Open. When asked after his win what he had to say to all his detractors, to the people who doubted his decision to remake his swing, he smiled and quietly said, “Why I have absolutely nothing to say to them.” Remember, no matter how good you are now, you can always get better. Don’t play it safe by clinging to what is working right now. Look for ways to improve. Go be a TIGER!

"WANT TO BECOME A CHAMPION? THEN BUILD YOUR SUCCESSES ON A SOLID FOUNDATION OF FAILURES!" DR. G

The only way to get to your dreams, the only way to go from beinner to expert is by FAILING ENOUGH! Far too many athletes are afraid of making mistakes and losing because they think this then defines them! When you lose, choke or fail it is nothing more than valuable feedback for you to help you ultimately get to where you want to go. Your setbacks and disappointments have the seeds of success within them. They let you know what you did wrong and what you need to change for next time. Don't get angry with yourself when you fall short! Don't use your failures as evidence that you're inadequate! Learn from your failures and then leave them where they belong: IN THE PAST!!! Remember, failure is feedback and FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Anonymous, The Edge by Howard Ferguson

Everybody mistakenly believes that the one thing that really separates the best from all the rest is pure talent and natural ability. However, what really distinguishes those that can from those who can’t is even simpler. It’s Stick-to-itiveness! Those that ultimately make the team do so because they persist. They refuse to quit. They refuse to give in. They keep at it no matter what. Yes, ability and talent are very important to success. However, without persistence, your ability and talent mean absolutely nothing. Without persistence, you become nothing more than someone who has “permanent potential.” If you’re willing to pay your physical dues and put in the time, if you refuse to give in no matter what, if you master the ability to keep on keeping on, then sooner or later you will run head-first into success. NOTHING IN THE WORLD CAN TAKE THE PLACE OF PERSISTENCE!

“No building is better than its structural foundation, and no man (woman) is better than his (her) mental foundation. When I prepared my original Success Pyramid years ago, I put industriousness and enthusiasm as the two cornerstones with LOYALTY right in the middle of the pyramid – Loyalty to yourself and to all those dependent upon you.”

The Legendary NCAA Basketball Coach and ”Wizard of Westwood,” John Wooden. From The Edge – by Howard Ferguson

DR. G’s COMMENTS: Loyalty is not a word that we see displayed very much in professional sports. Apparently our high visibility role models seem to only understand the part about loyalty to “you.” They don’t get the “loyalty to all those dependent upon you” piece. Unfortunately this “me- first culture” seems to have trickled down from pro athletes to much of sports in general at almost every level that it’s played. Young athletes are more concerned with their playing time and stats than what’s best for their teammates and the team in general. Their parents (quite naturally) only have eyes for their son or daughter, often ignoring the team’ s mission and disagreeing with their child’s role as assigned by the coach. Parents will even covertly or directly encourage their child’s disloyalty to teammates. Coaches, for their part tend to get too caught up in winning and, as a consequence, will say and do disloyal things to their young charges. Coach Wooden wasn’t successful for all those years, with all those athletes because he was incredibly lucky. He was successful because he genuinely understood what the important ingredients were that went into winning. He was a Hall of Fame Coach because he knew how very important loyalty was as a behavior that you modeled and one that you demanded from your players. Today’s sports world could stand to re-learn a very old fashioned lesson. Winners are loyal and loyalty makes a winner.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK - Week #2 May 9, 2005

In the third round of the Masters Series Italian Open, Andy Roddick was playing Spain’s Fernando Verdasco. Roddick was up 7-6, 5-4 with three match points against Verdasco’s serve. Verdasco hit a second serve that the umpire called out, Roddick in a display of good sportsmanship over-ruled it and they replayed the point. Verdasco went on the win the next few points and the match.

Roddick said “It was in, I don’t think what I did was extraordinary. The referee would have called it in. I just saved him a trip (down his chair). Luck just wasn’t on my side today.”

Verdasco replied “I have to thank him, he’s a great sportsman. He probably thought it wouldn’t change the match. But that gave me a chance to win. That’s tennis.”

Source: www.masters-series.com web-site

Dr.G’s comments: 
Last year tennis pro Jennifer Capriatti was in Roddick’s situation when a ball that was clearly an inch inside the line was called out by the linesman and not overruled by the chair umpire. Capriatti was awarded the point, went on to win the match, and was nonplussed when she was asked about it by a sports caster after the match. She said “that’s the game…some calls go your way, some don’t and it all evens out in the end.” Whether this is true or not, what she did was dishonest. She knew the ball was in and she took the point anyway! Unfortunately Capriatti’s stance is far more typical for athletes in sports than Andy Roddick’s. The fact that he over-ruled the linesman’s call himself at a crucial point in the match and refused to take a point that wasn’t his not only shows integrity and honesty, but it also demonstrates something about Roddick’s character. The man is a class act! Furthermore, Roddick understands something about competition that far too many athletes don’t: Winning isn’t the only thing. Winning isn’t everything, it’s HOW you win that really counts! Roddick understands that the outcome of a match should never be so important to you that it compromises your values, ethics and morality. If you have to knowingly or passively cheat to win, then you are lying to yourself about your “victory.” Your “win” is hollow and empty and doesn’t mean much, even if you get to take that first place trophy home with you. Do you have the strength of character and integrity to compete like Roddick? Do you have the ability to do what’s right even if you’re getting pressure from teammates or coaches to do the opposite? Do the right thing! Keep your game in perspective. Remember, it’s just a game!

-TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR TRAINING -

Want to be a winner? Want to maximize your chances of reaching your athletic dreams? Then start to practice the 10 most powerful words in the English language: "IF IT IS TO BE IT IS UP TO ME." This means that to be successful you must understand that ultimately, everything rests on your shoulders. In short, it is up to YOU to determine how far you go in your sport. You have to take responsibility for your training. Blaming coaches, teammates, the refs or lack of training opportunities is NOT practicing these 10 words. Winners don't look for excuses. Winners don't shoulder others with blame. Winners take responsibility for themselves and their actions. They understand that they alone have ultimate control over what they get out of practice and how far they go in their sport. What can YOU do today to get better? What can YOU take responsibility for that will help get you one step closer to your dreams. Don't wait for others to do things for you. Don't wait for others to screw up so you can cast blame on them. Don't look for others to blame for your failures. Instead look in the mirror. Be a winner. Remember, if it is to be, it's up to YOU!

“The only real stupidity is that of a closed mind.”

Dr. G

I recently returned from doing a day long program for a basketball team in the Midwest. That next Monday the coach was sent an anonymous letter stating that because he had hired a sports psychology consultant to come in and work with the team, he should be removed from the program. Here Yee, Here Yee! The Neanderthal among us has spoken! As an athlete and a person, the only thing that can terribly cripple you in your life is having this kind of closed-minded stupidity. A closed mind will hold you back as an athlete. It will prevent you from trying new techniques and training regimes. It will dramatically limit your accomplishments. It will make you act far less intelligent than you are. What you don’t understand is NOT wrong! What you don’t understand is NOT bad. What you don’t understand is simply what you DON’T UNDERSTAND! Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t just sit there and mindlessly flap your lips passing judgment about what you don’t understand. Do something about it! Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your mind. Try new things. Push your envelope. Get some courage in your life. Step outside of your tiny comfort zone. The worst that will happen when you do is you’ll be smarter and more successful.

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.” Benjamin Franklin

One question that I’ve been frequently asked is, “Is it good to play angry?” Will anger motivate you to play better? Every once in a while something will happen before or during a competition that will get you hopping mad and then you’ll go out and play the game of your life. The natural conclusion to draw from this situation would be that it was the anger that got you to play well. Don’t get too excited and believe that you’ve finally found the secret to peak performance. Now all you have to do is get yourself mad before all your games and you’ll play well. In fact, 99 out of 100 times, playing angry will only get you into some serious hot water performance-wise. When you’re angry, your physiological arousal level goes way up. This will lead to distracted concentration, tighter muscles and shallow, faster breathing. The end result of these will be a poor performance. Instead you want to keep your cool, on and off the field. Anger makes us wicked stupid! We end up saying and doing really dumb things when we get ticked off. We get into trouble with our coaches, the refs, teammates and the fans. Instead you want to learn to keep your cool. You want to stay relaxed when you compete. This is the secret to peak performance. Even if you have a good reason for getting angry before or during a competition, don’t waste your energy and focus on this emotion. In the end, it will sink you.

“There are too many false things in the world, and I don’t want to be a part of them. If you say what you think, you’re called cocky or conceited. But if you have an objective in life, you shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and say it. In the second grade, they asked us what we wanted to be. I said I wanted to be a ball player and they laughed. In the eighth grade, they asked the same question, and I said a ball player and they laughed a little more. By the eleventh grade, no one was laughing.”

Johnny Bench, Hall of Fame Catcher. From The Edge – by Howard Ferguson

DR. G’S COMMENTS: If you have a dream in your heart, a secret desire that you wish to achieve, then listen to yourself and go after it! No one can tell you what you can or can’t do. No one really knows what’s in your heart. No one really knows what you’re capable of. Do not listen to the experts! Do not listen to the critics. What the “experts” and critics know are simply their own limitations, not yours! Don’t ever let anyone rain on your parade. If you believe that you can achieve something, trust yourself and follow your belief. The world is full of individuals like Johnny Bench who have gone out and done exactly that. They have done the impossible, and in the process of pursing and reaching their dreams, have silenced the critics. Have the courage to pursue that goal, regardless of how far away or what obstacles lie in your path. Surround yourself with people who support that dream and stay away from those who put you down. Any old idiot can criticize others. Criticism takes no strength of character. Only a true champion can risk it all and go for it!

“Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.”

The Buddha

DR. G’s COMMENTS: Think of your goals in your sport. Think of how important it is for you to win that championship. Think about how badly you want to make the starting line-up or get that college scholarship. Use your goals to motivate you to train and then, when it counts the most and the heat of competition is turned up high, LET THEM GO. Success in athletics and life is a paradox. You will play that great game, win the title, score all those points, pitch the perfect game ONLY when you LET GO of the desire to do so while you are engaged in the performance. One of the biggest mistakes made by coaches and athletes is being too wedded to your outcome goals as you go into and during that all important performance. When it counts the most, you must LET GO of outcome and trust yourself. You must trust your training, trust your hard work, trust your muscle memory and relax, letting the game, match or race come to you. This is the only way that you can be successful and this is the only way that you’ll ultimately be happy. Holding on to the importance of this performance and dwelling on all that’s at stake and how badly you need to win will only k ill your joy, rob you of your courage and steal your heart in the process. When you LET GO of winning, it will come and find you. When you LET GO of going 3 for 4, your reward will be to go 4 for 4. When you LET GO of impressing the coach, only then will he notice you. To reach your goals, you must first let go of them when you perform.

“Whenever you compete, trying harder is truly the game of diminishing returns and a losing one at that” Dr. G

DR. G’s COMMENTS: Want to be successful as an athlete? Great! All you have to do is bust your butt on a daily basis. Get in the habit of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone whenever you train. Get used to working harder than everyone else around you. If you truly want to become a champion, then you need to understand that there is absolutely no substitute for consistent, hard work. NONE! However, once you’ve done the work and it’s now time to compete, you must temporarily put that “trying harder” mentality to bed. You must NEVER take “trying harder” into the competitive arena with you. Trying harder is a practice approach that involves pushing yourself physically and mentally. When it’s time to compete, this kind of headset will tighten your muscles, throw off your timing and ruin your performance. You must be loose and relaxed to perform your best under the hot lights of competition. The headset that you must bring into the competitive arena is a “trust and let it happen” headset. You must trust that you’ve done all the hard work. You must trust your coaching and muscle memory, and then just relax and let the performance happen. Thinking that you must “try harder” just because this is a very big, very important game will only get you pressing and “muscling” your performance. Pressing in this way will sabotage your game and rob you of your skills. Remember, when it counts the most you want to relax and let it happen, NOT “try harder.”

“After a loss like this we just have to go back and work harder. We got outplayed and that’s all there is to it. You have to let it go, move on and just work harder.” Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts quarterback after having their NFL’s best 13 game unbeaten streak end with a loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, December 18th

Manning’s comments after this loss underscore why this guy is such a winner. Going 16 and 0 had been a big goal for the Colt’s team and had generated a lot of hype in the sports media. Before the game people were talking about the “best team ever” and the Colts were being compared to the 72 Dolphins who had gone undefeated in the process of winning the Super Bowl. However, in this game Manning and his team were simply outplayed by the Chargers. So what do you do after a loss? Learn from it and leave it behind. Use the loss to get smarter and as an impetus to work harder. No serious athlete likes to lose. Losing is often times frustrating, demoralizing and a self-confidence blow. However, your job when you lose is to figure out what you did wrong and what you need to do differently next time so that you can go out and work twice as hard to implement the learning. If you’re smart, you’ll never view losing as the end of the world. Losing and failing is a necessary foundation for your future success. When you fail, deal with it by using that disappointment as an opportunity to take your game to the next level.

“The medals don’t mean anything and the glory doesn’t last. It’s all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing.” Jackie Joyner Kersee, 2-time Olympic Gold medalist in track & field

One of the most important ingredients of peak athletic performance at all levels is the one that most often gets lost in today’s intense pressure cooker that is competitive sports: FUN. How many times do you hear your coaches or teammates say to you, “Hey, let’s just go out today and have some fun. That’s our only goal”? My best guess is not very often. The fact of the matter is that you should only be playing your sport because it makes you happy. You should practice and suffer through the hard work and pain of intense training because you absolutely love it. Sports are games and games are supposed to be fun. The outcome of any sporting event should never be so larger-than-life that you’re freaking out and dreading it before or during the performance. The more that you can keep this perspective, that having fun should always be your major goal when you compete, then the more consistently that you’ll perform at your highest level. This is one of the great ironies about peak performance. If you’re having first, then you’ll always play your best. Getting too serious about a game’s outcome is the fastest way to kill your enjoyment of that particular performance. If you’re not having fun, if you are overly worried going into the match, game or race or you’re miserable throughout it, then you will most always perform way below your potential. Without fun there is no satisfaction. Without fun there will be no feeling of accomplishment. Without fun there is really no point in being an athlete. Just remember, FUN is the town that you must always drive through in order to get to your final destination, CHAMPION!

“Is it going to make me feel any better to make an extra million? That million might be more important to the team.” New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady when asked by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King why he had resigned for considerably less money than the market might have borne. Brady did it so that the Patriot’s would have more maneuvering room under the salary cap to acquire better players.

Dr. G’s comments: Tom Brady is the ultimate team player and the total antithesis of currently team- less, “me-man” Terrell Owens. Winner of three Super Bowl championships, Brady is the ultimate champion who not only makes those around him better, but knows that football like so many sports is all about “team.” He genuinely understands that his success is directly dependent upon his teammates and that without them, he is nothing. It is truly rare and refreshing in today’s egocentric, narcissistic world of professional sports and grandstanding athletes to find such a humble, level-headed and team-oriented guy like Brady. If you want to model yourself on any professional athlete, choose Brady because he is one class act with whom you can’t go wrong. When he was approached by a major credit card company to star in their commercial, he insisted on having his offensive lineman be his co-stars in this nationally televised advertisement. This humorous commercial has brought more positive exposure and notoriety to his teammates, some of whom even stole the show from Tom. He welcomed and was delighted by this. When he was recently chosen Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, Brady’s response was both predictable and unique. “I didn’t win this award being Tom Brady the person. I won it because of the way that we play football.” Again, Brady is modest, level headed and generous and is the penultimate team player.

“In the last year I have gained a lot of experience because I have been playing against top players and realized what things to work on to get better. Top players basically tell you what your weaknesses are on the court.”

Maria Sharapova, #2 seed going into 2005 Wimbledon Championships

The Times, Richard Eaton, 6/18/05

DR. G’S COMMENTS: How would you like to win all the time? How would you like to always beat every opponent you face? I’ve got the answer and it’s a surefire thing. Only compete against opponents who are much weaker than you and you’ll most always win! Of course, what fun would that be? Then again, if that’s all you did, not only would you not get better as an athlete, you’d actually get much worse. The only way to take your game to the next level is to discipline yourself to compete against better and better opponents. As tennis playing phenomenon, Sharapova states, when you play against more skilled opponents, you put yourself in a position to learn and develop as an athlete. Competing against and losing to better players or teams highlights your weaknesses. And, believe it or not, this is a really GOOD thing! When an opponent exposes your weaknesses he/she is actually doing you a huge favor. This opponent is presenting you with a valuable opportunity to get better. You know the old cliché, “a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link.” Well, by deliberately focusing and working on your weaknesses you will become that much better as an athlete. Remember, the tougher the opponents you compete against, the more opportunity you have to take your sport to that next level.

 "COMPARISON IS A LOSING GAME!  

Athletes who continually compare themselves almost always end up feeling badly about themselves. Comparison is aN endlessly losing game that you don't want to playbecause you're always going to find athletes who are faster, stronger, more talented or better than you....And if you don't, your imagination will trick you into believing that they are! Instead, get in the habit of focusing on yourself and what YOU can do, not on your teammate's or opponent's supposed strengths and abilities. If you want to build your self-confidence then you have to concentrate on your game, your strengths, your training, etc. You won't be able to truly appreciate your accomplishments if you constantly compare what you've done with what others have. Appreciate your strengths. Work on your weaknesses. Stay inside yourself. The only value focusing on someone else has is to provide you with an objective model to follow for working on your technique or improving your training. Don't evaluate your self-worth and achievements by comparing yours with theirs.

"When I look back at the world championships, I know there’s a lot of room for improvement, I'm always up for a challenge. The Olympics, they don't define me, I've had some good and some bad. But it's all about the Olympic experience".

Michelle Kwan, talking about preparing for and competing in the upcoming 2006 Olympics. NY Times, 5/27

Dr.G’s comments:

Michelle reflects the attitude and perspective of a true winner in her comments. She understands some things that are absolutely critical for every serious athlete to grasp. First, you are NOT your performances. Successes and failures over the course of your career do not and should NEVER define who you are as a person. Winning a championship or a gold medal does not make you a better person than if you lost or came in fourth. Unfortunately, coaches, the sports media and most everyone around you may define you in this way. Do NOT accept other people’s narrow definition of yourself. If you buy into their very limited and constricted way of looking at your, then you will be setting yourself up for a lot of heartache. See yourself as your performance and you will find yourself always competing with your ego on the line, with a lot to lose. When your self-worth and identity are at stake whenever you compete, then you will tie yourself into knots and always perform way below your potential. Much of the overwhelming pre-performance stress and nervousness that brings athletes to their knees is generated by this “I am my performance and if I lose I am a lesser person” head-set.

Second, Michelle’s perspective on the Olympics reflects the only healthy way for you to view your athletic experience. Do you dance to get from one side of the floor to the other? Do you sing, to get from the beginning to the end of a song as fast as possible? Well, if you compete just to win, then your answer to these two absurd questions is a resounding “yes!” The meaningful time that you spend on the court, course or field is rarely captured by a won-loss outcome. What makes winning a county or conference championship so great is actually NOT the winning itself, it’s the total experience that you shared with your teammates, coaches and even opponents over the course of your season. It’s the relationships that you create on the team, the fun that you had and the special moments that you shared together with these individuals that give your sport its’ true meaning. Looking at your sport and competition as simply a win-lose phenomenon is shallow and reflects a near-sightedness that completely misses the boat. If all you worry about is your win-loss record, then your sports experience will be pretty empty. Instead, keep the bigger picture in mind. Enjoy the experience, every aspect of it. Let yourself get into the dance. Lose yourself in the process of your singing and stop worrying about how fast you’re going or whether you’re better than the other guy dancing or singing next to you.

-BE A GOOD COACH TO YOURSELF - 

Want to play with confidence? Want to stay motivated through those tough times? If you do, then you have to get into the habit of being a good coach to yourself. What do I mean? How do think a good coach would treat you when you mess up? Would they yell at you, put you down, or embarrass you in front of your teammates? Would they tell you that you were a loser and had no talent? No way!!! Instead they'd be supportive, remain positive and encourage you. They'd build your confidence up by telling you to learn from your mistakes and then leave them behind you. They'd reassure you that you were a good player and that they believed in you. Unfortunately, far too many athletes trash themselves whenever they mess up. They are incredibly bad coaches to themselves and can't seem to understand why they end up feeling such low confidence and playing poorly. You'd never coach a teammate or best friend the way you sometimes do to yourself. Start right now being a supportive and positive coach to yourself and you'll find both your self-confidence and motivation growing.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”

Author unknown

DR. G’s COMMENTS: Appreciate the life that you have. Celebrate the skills and talent that are a part of you. Be grateful for your God-given gifts, your physical body, personality, intellect, and aptitudes. Far too many of us get caught up in playing the dead end games of “the grass is always greener” and “if only I could be like Mike.” The fact of the matter is that while we are very busy distracting ourselves with all that we think we’re unhappy with, with all that we think we lack, we are blindly missing how very rich we already are. Yes, the grass may be somewhat greener in someone else’s front lawn. However, there are far more yards out there that don’t have any grass at all. Our society typically sets us up to always look outside of ourselves for our happiness. The sad fact of life is that as long as you look outward for the light to light up your life, you’ll remain in the dark. You may have physical handicaps and shortcomings as an athlete/person. You may suffer great hardships and disappointments in your life and through your sports career. Understand that these are there to make you a stronger person. These are there to hone your mental toughness and kindle your determination. Appreciate what you do have. Don’t waste energy on what you think you’re lacking. There are always those much worse off than yourself.

HALLOWEEN

“I was so small, I wasn’t even going to go back out for my junior year. But my mom and dad sat me down and said, ‘we didn’t raise a quitter – you’re going back out.’ I made the team and everything happened from there.”

Mark Buerle, Chicago White Sox pitcher on getting cut from the team his first two years in high school.

Here’s a treat for you at Halloween. Right NOW, you never really know what and how much you can accomplish. You have the ability to do things that you never imagined. You can be at the lowest point in your athletic career as you read this, flooded by self-doubts and surrounded by failure. However, if you hang in there, if you stick it out, if you refuse to quit, then like Mark Buerle you could someday find yourself living that dream. Your persistence and refusal to give up in the face of failure and defeat are perhaps two of the most critical ingredients in your ultimate success. Winners become winners because they refuse to quit. They refuse to stop trying. Like Rudy in his real life movie, they refuse to accept “no” for an answer. They say that so much in life is just about “showing up.” Well, so much in sports success is just about “keeping on.” So pick yourself off the floor, get back up on your feet and keep trying. Do not give in. Do not quit. Do NOT give up on yourself even if others have given up on you. No matter how badly you may feel right now, keep plugging away.

“All skills are perfected through the process of failure. Embrace loss as a necessary part of improvement.”

Sports Psychologist, speaker and author, Jerry Lynch from Creative Coaching

The biggest secret to success is failure. You can never go from beginner to expert without failing. Failure is a very necessary part of improvement because each time you fall on your face, you learn something that’s like gold! You learn what you did wrong, and therefore, by extension, what you need to do differently next time. Don’t ever be afraid of losing! Don’t ever be afraid of making mistakes! Failing and messing up are things that we all do in the process of growing and getting better. Failure is nothing more than delayed success. That’s right! DELAYED SUCCESS! WHY? Because, failure is feedback and tells you exactly what you need to change to be successful. So don’t waste emotional energy beating yourself up whenever you fail. The only thing that will do for you is undermine your self-confidence and give you a big headache. Instead, look for what you need to change for next time. No one can get to improvement without loss. Failure is feedback and FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” 
Will Rogers, Actor & humorist

DR. G’S COMMENTS: There’s a very simple two letter strategy that will take you to your dreams, a very common and easy-to-obtain formula for success. T.A. = DREAMS/SUCCESS. T.A. = Take action. Being successful is all about doing what is necessary to make that success happen. Without taking action you will never get out of the starting gate. Without taking action you will never fail enough and gather the valuable feedback that will progressively get you closer and closer to your dreams. Anyone can dream. What’s a lot harder to do is to follow that dream with hard work and then more hard work. The “easy” way to become successful in life is to understand the hard work that is necessary. You can learn tons of things in school and know absolutely nothing unless you take action and use what you know. You can be a great athlete and go nowhere with your sport unless you take action and work with your talents and skills. Everyone has tremendous potential. Everyone has the ability to do great things. But your potential will always remain “permanent” unless you get off your butt and TAKE ACTION.

- STAY IN THE NOW -

If you want to play your very best under pressure you must train yourself to keep your focus of concentration in the "NOW" of the performance. Mental "time traveling" always gets athletes into hot water, causing choking and performance slumps. Discipline yourself to leave the past in the past. Also, stay out of the future during the performance. Don't let yourself get ahead of yourself. Take your performances one game at a time, one play at a time, one shot at a time. The "now" is where you have access to all your skills and great training. If you want to win and have a great performance you can only do that in the "NOW." Whenever you find yourself mentally leaving the "now" quickly and gently bring yourself back.

“If you trust your nerve as well as your skill, you’re capable of a lot more than you can imagine.” Debi Thomas, Olympic figure skater

DR. G’S COMMENTS: The interesting thing about you as an athlete and an individual is that you never really know what your limits are performance-wise. Simply put, you can always do better than you think, you can always do better than your best. When you are able to both relax and trust yourself under pressure, it is then and only then that you begin to catch a glimpse of exactly what you’re capable of. Peak performance can only happen from this state of personal trust. When the chips are on the line you must trust your ability, trust your training, trust your instincts, reflexes and nerve, and let the good performance effortlessly flow out of you. If you relax and trust yourself, then you will never wilt under the hot lights and high heat of competitive pressure. Where do you develop this sense of trust? Simple! You earn it from the physical dues that you pay every day in your training. Trust comes from hard work, plain and simple. Without consistent hard work on your part it’s virtually impossible for you to trust your skills or your nerve when the chips are all on the line.

"I realize that there are many variables outside my control in my quest, but focusing on the big goal down the road really motivates me. To help me stay focused, I set micro-goals such as races or training achievements that bring me one step closer to being at my best for major goals"

Lance Armstrong, Tour de France winner 5 years in a row, from Sports Leaders and Success

Dr. G’s comments: Want to become a champion like Lance Armstrong? If you really do, then there are two things that you need to know in relation to goal setting. First, you have to do it as a regular part of your training! Think about this. How can you possibly hit a target without first being able to see it? How can you possibly get anywhere worthwhile in your life or sport without first knowing exactly where you want to go? In other words, you have to have a big dream. You have to have something that you’d like to do or accomplish that really captures your imagination and stretches your limits. You have to set a big goal for yourself that both excites you a lot and even scares you a little. Why is having a big goal critically important to your success? That big goal will motivate you. It will give a direction to your efforts. It will help channel your training in a constructive way. Your big goal helps push you outside of your comfort zone and gives you a reason to work hard and sacrifice, both of which are necessary for your ultimate success. When the going gets rough, your back is against the wall and discouragement and failure are knocking loudly at your door, that big goal of yours will give you a reason to keep on keeping on. But DON’T stop there!

The second and very important thing that you must do is to take that big dream of yours and chunk it down into smaller and smaller pieces. In other words, you have to set intermediate, short-term and even daily goals that will all contribute to your achieving that big, scary, long-term goal. The better that you’re able to do this, the more success you’ll have in reaching your dream. By chunking your big goal down into pieces, you give yourself something more manageable and immediate to work on in the present. Your short term goals should always answer the question, “How is what I’m doing today going to help me get to my big goal?” When you practice with this question in mind, your training will always be at a high caliber.

I will always take on a new challenge. I believe in jumping off the ship every now and then. If you don't, you won't really learn how to swim"

Alec Broers, distinguished engineer, former IBM executive, and ex Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, England. Financial Times, Alison Maitland 6/23/05

DR G’S COMMENTS: Broers is offering you some sage advice. If you want to keep yourself vibrant, alive and growing as an athlete and an individual, then you must get in the habit of taking risks, of leaving your comfort zone. When we just stay with things that we’re good at, things that we know and are comfortable with, we inadvertently rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow, develop and master new things. By integrating challenges into your life on a regular basis you will stay motivated and excited. That’s what learning new things will do for you. It will help you stretch your limits and expand your horizons. When you do this your interest and enjoyment will remain high. When we just confront the same old, same old all the time, we get bored and disinterested. We lose our enjoyment of the activity and thus become subject to burnout. As an athlete you want to continually challenge yourself. Learn new techniques and strategies. Find out what the best athletes are doing. How are they training? Don’t be content with the status quo, even if it seems to be working for you right now. Continue to look for ways to better yourself, to improve, to strengthen weaknesses and increase your strengths. Challenge and change is your friend, NOT the enemy. Don’t worry about the initial discomfort that greets you when you leave your comfort zone. It’s supposed to be there. Embrace the challenge.

“That just shows you their type of class and integrity. They claim to be first class and the best organization. It’s an embarrassment and it shows the lack of class that they really have…..The Eagles would be undefeated right now with Green Bay’s quarterback. We’d probably be in a much better position with him on the team (instead of present Eagles quarterback Donavon McNabb).”

Terrell Owens (TO) after the Eagles organization failed to provide a stadium acknowledgement after his 100th career touchdown reception in their victory over San Diego on October 23, 2005.

DR. G’s COMMENTS: How do you spell “team?” T.O.-ME of course! As of this writing TO has been permanently suspended from the Eagles because of his attitude, “high maintenance” personality and inability to comprehend that football is actually a team game. The point of this episode is clear. TO is one of the best receivers in the game and a potential Hall of Famer. However, his behavior gives one the impression that he doesn’t have a clue about what it means to be part of a real team. Just because you may be God’s gift to creation in your sport does not give you the right to think that you can say or do anything on your squad and everyone will put up with it because you’re so good. Your athletic ability and talent is totally wasted if you are not a team player. There is no room for selfishness, a big ego and blatant disrespect for your mates on a winning team. If you are more concerned with “ME,” your stats, playing time and involvement in all the key plays, then you are going to systematically alienate your teammates, coaches and fans. Pretty soon your outrageous behavior, selfishness and rotten attitude will speak far louder than even your biggest accomplishments in the sport. The mark of a truly great athlete is that he/she makes all those around him/her better. He brings his teammates up. He doesn’t knock them down. A great athlete is not distracted by whether his/her greatness is being regularly celebrated by those around him/her. He is secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need this outward show of hero worship. Selfishness is tacky in sports. Be a class act. Be a team player. Respect your teammates and coaches.

- WORK ON YOUR MISTAKES IN PRACTICE - 

Too many athletes dwell on mistakes immediately after they make them. In competition, your job is to refocus your concentration on the task at hand and to leave your mistakes and errors behind you. Focusing on mistakes and giving yourself a hard time for them will only cause you to mess up even more. Think about and work on your mistakes after the competition, in practice, not during the game. "Make" a mental mistake folder where you can put all your mess-ups during the game and reassure yourself that you will take the "mistake folder" out and work on those errors later, when it's the right time. Quickly letting go of mistakes and refocusing are the two mental toughness skills that champions do best.

“The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” 
Newton Baker, American public official.

The exciting thing about the world that we live in is that it’s in constant flux and always changing. What we know as truth today may very well be proved fiction by the time the sun comes up tomorrow. Because of this, the “right” or “best” way of doing things is always changing. What this demands of you if you’d really like to keep pace in your sport, field or life is that you must try to maintain an open or beginner’s mind. You must understand that there are always better ways of doing things, new technologies, new training methods and new angles being discovered every day. Rigidly clinging to the same old, same old will only make you stale and ultimately can seriously hold you back. People who think that they have all the answers, who think that their way of doing things is the only right way, who look askance at others who might share new or conflicting ideas are ultimately limiting themselves. Having a closed mind is the best way to be left behind in sports and in life. Be a student of the game and a student of life. Continuously open yourself to new ideas. Explore others beliefs. Be curious about the way things work and the “best” way of doing things. Don’t ever stop learning.

"The NBA is all about winning, but at this level (college basketball) winning doesn't make you happy. You can win, and play lousy, and in my program, feel lousy. To me it's about: How good can we be."

Gino Auriemma, Head Women's Basketball coach of the UConn Huskies after winning his 6th NCAA Championship and completing his 3rd undefeated season.

Dr. G's COMMENTS: What Auriemma is talking about here sets him apart from almost every other coach he competes against. He doesn't define excellence in the narrow terms of winning. Like all great coaches, he is not happy with wins that come from sub-par execution. He is always looking for ways that his teams can get better, even after blowing teams out by 25 and 30 points. Because he consistently focuses his athletes on the process of their performance, rather the outcome, the UConn players never seem to get caught up in the performance problems of choking the big games so common to those coaches who coach the importance of outcome. Winning is not his direct goal, perfect execution is. This frees his athletes up to concentrate on playing the game rather than on winning the game. Huge and important difference, especially because ultimately you can't control the outcome, but you can learn to control the process of the game!   

"My three keys to success: One, work hard. Two, be your own person. And three, have a passion for what you're doing." Julie Inkster, Hall of Fame golfer

Inkster ’s keys to success are common to all great athletes. First, there is absolutely no substitute for hard work. Cutting corners won’t ever get you to where you want to go. You have to be willing to consistently step outside your comfort zone whenever you train. You have to be willing to do the sweaty, uncomfortable, inconvenient and often times painful extra things in order to become a champion. Cutting corners and cheating in your training will insure that you always fall short of you goals. Honestly busting your butt on a daily basis and doing everything possible will insure that you’ll get closer to your goals. Second, be true to yourself. Follow your values and ethics. Don’t compromise who you are for what you think others may want for you. Stick to your beliefs. Do what you think is right. Don’t listen to the “experts” if these experts want you to abandon all that you believe in. Don’t listen to “your friends” if these individuals demand that you act in a way that compromises your values or quest for excellence. Third, love what you’re doing. You have to have fun to be successful. You have to be in love. You have to be in love with your sport, in love with the challenge, in love with the journey, in love with all the hard work and sacrifice. You have to have a passion for your sport and the pursuit of excellence. Passion will always fuel your efforts and lead you to greatness.

- PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT -

Too many athletes consistently perform much better in practice than they do in competition. One of the obvious reasons for this is that there is far more pressure in competition than there is in practice. However, the real reason for this performance discrepancy is because a lot of athletes mistakenly believe that practice makes perfect. The truth of the matter is that perfect practice makes perfect. What's perfect practice? It's when you introduce competitive elements into your training sessions. When you make some part of most of your training sessions resemble the physical, mental and emotional challenges that you'd normally face in competition you're involved in perfect practice. By simulating competitive or stressful situations in practice you will more readily prepare yourself for the stress of competition. So practice competitive drills in lousy weather conditions! 
Scrimmage with refs who deliberately make bad calls. Play practice matches or games at the end of training when you're exhausted. Practice having to use your non-dominant hand when you dribble or shoot. Scrimmage one or two men down for the entire time. If you practice perfectly by consistently integrating the stressful elements of competition into your daily training you'll dramatically improve your ability to handle pressure at crunch time.

"It's about respect. It's really easy for these guys to start thinking the world revolves around them. I never could have tolerated it if Rafael had become a good player and a bad example of a human being. I was at a symposium recently and a trainer said to me, 'Look, if you ask a young player's father which he'd rather get at the end of this process - a courteous person or the French Open Champion - you know what the father is going to say.' And I said: 'No, that's all wrong. Because if that player is brought up courteous, brought up as a respectful person, he's got a better chance to reach the championship of the French Open - because it's going to be easier for him to accomplish the hard work."

Toni Nadal, uncle and coach of Rafeal Nadal,  World #1 ranked tennis player        

 

DR. G's COMMENTS: Here we have a window into one of the primary reasons why Rafa Nadal is such a great champion. He has brilliant coaching that emphasizes the importance of what really matters: The process and behaviors of becoming a champion rather than the superficial trappings of the titles. It's a rare champion who practices this lost art of actually conducting himself as one. Far too many professional athletes act like entitled, spoiled-rotten, selfish children. They disrespect their opponents, officials, sports media, fans and the game itself just because they have talent. Their attitude, however, cancels out any talent they might possess. When things go badly for them, they have temper tantrums, flinging their equipment, swearing and generally behaving badly a la infamous tennis super-brat, John McEnroe, a great tennis player and miserable example of a human being.

”I like the challenge of getting players to rise to certain levels, but that's the easy part. The biggest challenge is to get them to believe in what we're doing. They have to understand that it's O.K. to have good days and bad days.” Temple women’s basketball coach and former WNBA player, Dawn Staley

DR. G’s COMMENTS: I think we’re all under the illusion in this country that somehow whenever we perform in our sport we can and should always be at our best. In this line of thinking, when we’re not, there must be something terribly wrong that we’re doing. In fact, sometimes this is very true. There are times when our bad performances are a direct result of the technical, strategic or mental mistakes that we make. There are times when we have no energy, don’t feel well or just can’t get the job done for whatever reason. In addition, there are also those few performances when we do things right, feel good and for whatever reason our performance is just plain flat. We don’t play well. Our timing is slightly off. We’re not as fast, strong or “on” as usual and our play reflects that. Let me state the obvious. No one is ever at their best all of the time. NO ONE! Sure, you want to strive for perfection. You want to pursue excellence. You hate it with a passion when things don’t go well. However, hard as you may try, you will always have those performances when you’re pretty far from perfect! Get used to it! It’s normal. Competing in your sport is like riding a roller coaster. There are always going to be both ups and downs. That’s just the nature of sport. Some days you may be brilliant and soar with the eagles. The next day you may be terrible and gobble with the turkeys. These bad performances don’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with you or your game. They don’t mean that you have a serious problem that needs immediate addressing. Your bad days, like your great ones are just part of your sport. The key for you is to try to remember that these bad performances won’t ever be a problem for you unless you make them a problem. That is, if you give yourself a hard time when you fail or lose, if you emotionally beat yourself up after a poor performance, if you get frustrated and angry with yourself and hang onto these bad outings like a dog with a bone then these reactions will create the real problem. You don’t have to like it when things go badly. What you do have to do is keep your off-days in perspective because throughout your career you will occasionally have them. Stay positive, be relaxed about them, try to learn something from them and then just let them go.

“If you don’t stretch your limits, you’ll set your limits.”

Rob Gilbert, Motivational speaker, author of Gilbert on Greatness, Professor at Montclair State University

Dr, G’s comments:

As an athlete and person you are always limited most by what you believe you can and cannot do. Your beliefs fuel your efforts, desires and motivation. When you think that you CAN’T do something, when you set artificial limits on yourself, then your behaviors will organize around this limiting belief. You will be less likely to try new things and take risks. Your efforts will be less intense and effective. After repeated failures and frustrations, your staying power and persistence will be weak. In short, you will set yourself up to prove yourself right. You won’t be able to do it! When you believe that you CAN accomplish something, when you allow yourself to expand the realm of possibility, when you entertain new horizons for yourself even though they might stretch you and be scary, then your behaviors will organize around this expansive belief. You will be far more willing to try new things and take risks. Your efforts to pursue that new goal will be strong and powerful. When you’re repeatedly knocked backwards on your butt by failure and disappointment, you will be undeterred and get up more quickly and keep on keeping on. In the end, because you believed that you could do it, you did! Your positive belief set you up to prove yourself right.

Far too many athletes lock their potential up in artificial “can’ts.” “I can’t do that!” “That’s impossible for me.” “I’ll never be able to achieve that.” “I’m just not that good.” Etc. When you limit yourself in this way, you end up putting imaginary boundaries on what’s possible for yourself. While these boundaries may be just imaginary and “all in your head,” they are still just as powerful in holding you back as if they were real physical boundaries. Don’t allow yourself to play these kinds of tricks on yourself. You have no idea what’s possible. You have no clue what you can actually accomplish once you put your mind to it. Suspend your disbelief. Stretch your limits. Step outside of your comfort zone. Dream big! Remember, success always comes in cans, not can’ts!

- WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES -

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The only way that you can really get better as an athlete is by identifying and working on your weaknesses. Most athletes dont like doing things that they're not good at. As a result they spent far too much training time strengthening their strengths and avoiding the things that they do poorly. If you avoid your weaknesses, not only will they not go away, but eventually your opponents will find and take advantage of them. Two years ago, as one of the top money winners in golf, Tiger Woods decided to change his stroke. He felt that his timing was slightly off and at times this hurt his game. Most athletes in his position wouldn't have had the guts to do that. Tiger knew better. You can't be afraid of your weaknesses. You have to embrace them. Since he made these changes, he has been virtually unbeatable, recently winning Golf's grand slam. 

Definition: “Shodan” - First degree black belt. Shodan means beginner or beginning.

DR. G’S COMMENTS: In Okinawan karate the student who passes his/her test for Shodan or first degree black belt is considered to be ready to finally begin his training. It doesn’t matter that the process leading to Shodan may have been five or more hard years of training. In traditional Okinawan karate, once you get your black belt you are NOT Mr. Studley J Studley, you are NOT “The MAN!” You are NOT God’s gift to creation. You are considered to be nothing more than a beginner and finally in a position to really take advantage of your training. What does th is Okinawan philosophy have to teach you about excellence in your sport? The attitude that you’re always a beginner no matter how good you are, that you always have things to learn will take you very far in your sport. It will help you become a champion. It will help you reach your potential. Because you can always do better than your best, there will always be newer and better things to learn and try that will help you get there. The over-confident athlete who thinks he has arrived, who thinks he has gotten as good as he needs to be, the athlete who stops working on his game is seriously deluding himself. If you think you’ve got it all, if you think you have all the answers, if you think that you no longer have anything more to learn, then step aside and watch carefully. Very soon you will begin to see a lot of “beginners” passing you by!

- STAY IN THE NOW - 
If you want to play your very best under pressure you must train yourself to keep your focus of concentration in the “NOW” of the performance. Mental “time traveling” always gets athletes into hot water, causing choking and performance slumps. Discipline yourself to leave the past in the past. Also, stay out of the future during the performance. Don’t let yourself get ahead of yourself. Take your performances one game at a time, one play at a time, one shot at a time. The “now” is where you have access to all your skills and great training. If you want to win and have a great performance you can only do that in the “NOW.” Whenever you find yourself mentally leaving the “now” quickly and gently bring yourself back.

- KEEP YOUR FOCUS AWAY FROM UNCONTROLLABLES -

There's one mental trap that far too many athletes stumble into. This trap will rob you of your confidence, make your knees shake from nervousness and completely sabotage your performance. It's this one concentration trap that is single handedly responsible for athletes choking and getting caught up in slumps. What's the trap? The uncontrollables! When you go into a game, match or race and focus on anything that is directly out of your control either before or during the performance, you'll get yourself uptight, kill your confidence and ruin your performance. Your job as an athlete is to know what the uncontrollables are and to consistently keep your focus of concentration away from them. What are the uncontrollables? Your opponent and EVERYTHING about him or her; The playing conditions like weather, wind, temperature, etc; The field conditions; The officiating; The crowd; How big the competition is; How you feel that day; Other people's expectations or how they see you or will think 
about you; Anything in the past including mistakes, the last time you played this opponent, your previous training, etc.; Your coach and what he/she says to you and how much playing time you get; Your parents and how they react or what they say; The future and the outcome of the contest. Know your uncontrollables and try to keep your focus away from them for peak performance. Should you find yourself suddenly dwelling on one of these factors quickly return your focus to the task at hand. teammates up, not knock them down.

"Games have been called the lab for the development of moral attributes, but they will not, of themselves, accomplish this purpose. They must be properly conducted by competent individuals"

James Naismith - The father of modern basketball

DR. G's COMMENTS: If only Mr. Naismith could see what kind of "competent" individuals have been put in charge of developing these "moral attributes" in today's youth. Overly competitive coaches and parents, selfishly feeding their own egos, have almost completely hijacked the game of basketball (not to mention a whole host of other sports). Instead of moral development, winning has been touted as the main goal for these games. We have allowed ourselves to sway too far from our roots and the original purpose of sports. We need to help our children have positive, life enriching experiences in sports rather than emotionally damaging ones. When the adults who run youth sports are better trained and supervised, when they get their priorities straight, then and only then can we get back to Mr. Naismith's principles.  

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life-and that is why I succeed." 

Michael Jordan, winner of six NBA Championships.

- Far too many athletes are afraid to make mistakes and fail. They mistakenly believe that the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to them is to lose or mess up. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!!!! To go as far as you possibly can in your sport you have to be willing to take risks. You have to be willing to put it all on the line. You have to be willing to go for it. Do you know what this means? If you truly put it all on the line, there will be many, many times when you come up short, when you fall flat on your face. This is a natural part of sports and life. When you go out on a limb, that sucker will sometimes break on you and you will go tumbling down on your butt! However, understand the secret that Michael Jordan and other great athletes have known for years: Without failure, you can NEVER be a success. Failure is important to you taking your game to the next level because failure provides you with valuable feedback on what you did wrong and therefore what you need to do differently next time. Without that feedback, you can never really improve. Without that feedback you can’t become great! Failure is NOT an indication that you are less of an athlete. Failure should NEVER be used as evidence that you’re inadequate. Failure should never be a stick that you beat yourself up with. Instead, failure is simply feedback and FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS! Remember, if you’re worried about or afraid to fail, then you won’t take risks. Without taking risks, you’ll never have an opportunity to stand out. Failure should always make you CURIOUS, rather than FURIOUS. Do NOT get upset with yourself when you lose or fail. Getting angry with yourself will not help you get better in any way. It will only de-motivate you and make you feel terrible.

“I would want America to know our kids need us. Spend as much time with your kids as you can. Enjoy them. Be with them. Hug your children; You never know when it will be the last time.”

Indianapolis Colt’s Head Coach, Tony Dungy, shortly after his eldest son, 18 year old James died of an apparent suicide.

DR. G’S COMMENTS: There so much in life that we take for granted and the younger we are, the more we’re guilty of this. It’s a sad fact of life that so many of us can’t truly appreciate the gifts that we have until we have lost them. In today’s high pressured world sports we as parents tend to lose sight of the fact that it is our son or daughter who is playing the game, and that it is just a game! There are far more important things in life than winning or losing in sports, scoring 15 points, pitching a shutout or throwing three touchdown passes. It’s our children’s health and happiness that is really important. It’s our relationships with our sons and daughters that really count, not whether they made that game costing error. Life is terribly fleeting. Our children grow up faster than is imaginable. Their heroics or embarrassments on the court or field will quickly fade. In the end, the only thing that really counts is your relationship with them. So make it count today! Be an adult and keep the games in perspective. Be a loving parent and provide your child with the unconditional support that they so desperately need. Don’t ever tie up their lovability and sense of self-worth with how well they perform in the athletic arena. Love them unconditionally today, because today is all you have right now.

“I do not look back at what might have been. If I did that, playing golf would drive me crazy.” Tiger Woods, PGA golfer

DR. G’S COMMENTS: The past can have one of two purposes in your life as an athlete. You can use it constructively to get smarter, strengthen your weaknesses and thus build up your confidence or you can use it self-destructively as a stick to beat yourself down with. The choice is completely yours. Far too many athletes do the latter. They look back at their losses, failures and heartbreaking “could’ve and should’ve beens” and punish themselves for falling short. They take a nasty trip down memory lane and agonize about how close they came, obsessively replaying every torturous mistake and bad break. “If only I’d done this.” “Why couldn’t that call have gone the other way?” “If only the ball had dropped in.” “How could I have missed that shot?” The only thing that you’ll get from this kind of self-flagellation is a very bad headache. By nature, sports are filled with exhilarating highs and crushing lows. Your job is to be able to roll with the punches so-to-speak, to not let the lows completely knock you out. The past has only one constructive purpose in your life. It provides you with an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and thus move closer to your goals. Your job is to feel the disappointment, learn from it, and then let it go. It’s a waste of psychic energy, self-confidence and your valuable passion for the sport to hang out in the past thinking about how things could have been. Your job is to deal with the way things are and then move

 

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears.” Rudyard Kipling

FEAR = False Education that Appears Real. Fear is like an invisible fence that limits your movements and stunts your growth. It tricks you into believing that you CAN’T do something and that if you were to try, terrible consequences would follow. Fear keeps you locked up both emotionally and physically. Understand however that fear is really nothing more than just a terrible liar. That fence that surrounds and limits you is NOT electrified. It’s merely made of smoke and mirrors. The only shock that you will receive when you push beyond the limits of your fears is the surprising discovery that all this time the only thing holding you back was YOU! If you listen to the lies that come from your fears, you will go nowhere. Instead you want to get yourself into the habit of continually moving towards and challenging your fears. If you have a scary “I can’t,” go out of your way to go after it anyway, over and over again. When you do the thing that you’re afraid of the most again and again, your fear will shrink and then disappear.

“I have never used steroids. EVER! I don’t know how to say it more clearly than that, Never!”

Baltimore Oriole’s superstar Rafeal Palmiero testifying under oath in front of Congress last March

Dr. G's Comments: Here we go again boys and girls, it’s Bill Clinton’s presidency revisited! So what’s wrong with this picture? Palmiero is said to be a class act and now he’s caught cheating. Mark Maguire, another class act and tremendous role model “loudly” admitted he had used steroids during his career by his deafening silence in the face of Congress’s direct questioning. Does this make him a cheater? Surely Barry Bonds has been using from all the accusations that have been swirling around him and he’s not even considered to be a class act. What about Sammy Sosa or any of all the other current day baseball heroes? Are they all really cheaters too? Is the problem really specific individuals or is it the game of baseball itself and its’ administrators and owners? What has Major League Baseball been really selling all these years in order to generate all that excitement from all those home runs? Didn’t admitted steroid user Jose Canseco claim that Maguire and Sosa’s record home run chase in the late 90’s saved baseball, and that both were definitely using the juice?

Here’s the problem the way I see it. I don’t think a lot of these ball players would have knowingly “cheated” if Major League Baseball had a solid policy on performance enhancing drugs that made it clear that ingesting them was cheating. The fact of the matter is that no such policy really existed. On top of that, there was tremendous pressure placed on these athletes to get as big and as good as quickly as possible. The result: Everyone seemed to turn and look the other way while who knows how many of baseball’s finest got even bigger and stronger from ingesting this nasty performance enhancing stuff.

Understand that any way that you slice it, taking steroids is not only cheating, it’s far worse! It’s WICKED STUPID!!!! Steroids will literally shorten your life. That’s right, boys and girls, getting big and buffed in that way will take precious years from your life span. But let’s not stop there. Steroids will seriously mess with your mind. How many young kids have already committed suicide because of the extreme depressive effects of “juice?” And let’s not forget that regularly taking steroids will make you impotent. Is all of that really worth the risk? However, back to Palmiero:

really don’t blame the ball players for using steroids until it’s been made clear that using them is indeed cheating. Thankfully perhaps that’s happening now with all this brouhaha. What I do blame them for is LYING. Palmiero got up under oath, looked everyone straight in the eyes and lied! And then when he was caught lying he tried to make a case for not “intentionally” taking steroids. Why he looked downright presidential up there! A small problem exists because the steroid that he tested positive for can only be ingested deliberately. It is not a food additive. Let’s cut to the chase! Major League Baseball has got to stop pussyfooting around. Let’s call a spade a spade. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and flies like a duck, then it’s not an elephant. Steroids is cheating NOW and lying about past or present use is LYING!

-LIFT THE LEVEL OF YOUR TEAMMATES' PLAY -

One of the things that is always said about really good athletes is that they make everyone around them better. When he played, Michael Jordan was a prime example of this. Jordan had a way to lift the level of his teammates' play. He inspired them to be better. He motivated them. Be a really great athlete. Take some responsibility for raising the training level of your fellow athletes. Build their confidence up. Motivate them with your work level, dedication and commitment. In karate training this was one of the responsibilities we had as black belts. The better you are, the more responsibility you have to lift the training level of all those around you. This means that you must set aside your ego. In my book, being better, older or stronger does not mean anything more than you now have a job to try to take everyone on your squad up there with you. Not many athletes feel or act this way. Most act entitled and conceited. These athletes are the first to put you in your place and let you know who's the best. Don't get caught up in this tacky game. Be a class athlete. Be a true champion. Go out of your way to lift your teammates up, not knock them down.

- BE A TEAM PLAYER -

Far too many athletes out there are selfish. Far too many "team" players don't give a hoot about their team and instead are far more concerned about their playing time, their statistics, their records and what the newspaper will say about them. Unfortunately if you play on a team, then this is a loser's attitude. If you are more concerned about yourself than you are the team, then everyone will end up losing. The truly great athletes are team players. They understand that no one can win unless everyone wins. They understand that there is little room for a big "me" on a winning team. teams can't be successful without total effort from ALL members and a willingness to sacrifice the "me" for the "we." Self-centered athletes are like a cancer on any team. Eventually they will bring even the most physically talented team to its knees, performance-wise. Be a positive force on your squad. Look for what you can do to make the team better. Put aside your ego. Be a good model of the ideal team player. Commit yourself to the team's mission. Good coaches love team players. All coaches need good team players. Make that one of your strengths. Be a contributor to a strong team.

“There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can.”
Henry Ford

DR. G’S COMMENTS: What do you expect from yourself? What do you think is possible? What “unbreakable” limits are you placing on yourself as an excuse for not going for it? Henry Ford is absolutely right. You can always do more than you think. You can always do better than your best. Limits and handicaps are placed in your life for you to overcome them. They are not put there as a reason to whine. Our world is a never ending testimony how in every impossible resides a “possible.” Question your limiting beliefs. Challenge them through personal action. Train yourself on a daily basis to get in the habit of trying to do the impossible. Go directly after your “I can’ts.” Do not give in to them. Do not let your “I can’ts” define who you are and what you can do. Your “I can’ts” and “I’ll never’s” are terrible liars and you don’t want to listen to them! As an athlete and a person you are always limited by what you believe is possible. Temporarily suspend your limiting beliefs and go after it anyways. And if you fall on your face, get your butt back up and try it again, and again and again if necessary. You can always do more than you think you can. ALWAYS!

- CONTROL YOUR EYES AND EARS FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE UNDER PRESSURE -

Concentration is the key to athletic excellence and your secret to performing your best at crunch time. To be sure that you focus on the right things at the right times get in the habit of controlling your eyes and ears both before and during performance. Controlling your eyes means that you only want to look at those things that keep you calm, loose and confident. If focusing on another opponent or the size of the crowd gets you uptight, control your eyes by concentrating instead on your stretching, looking at a piece of equipment, looking at the ground, etc. Pick out ahead of time focal points where you can lock your concentration so you won't get distracted by other visual things. If you watch professional tennis players in between points you can see them controlling their eyes by looking at and fiddling with their strings. Controlling your ears means that you only want to listen to those things that keep you calm, confident and ready to do your best. This is why you see so many athletes listening to music or tapes in between or before their events. Listening to music, for example, will distract you from more stressful conversations going on around you or from negative self-talk going on inside of you. Many athletes like to talk with friends right before they perform because their conversations, which frequently have absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming competition, help distract them from engaging in worry or negative self-talk. 

- YOUR OPPONENT IS NOT THE ENEMY - 

Too many athletes mistakenly view the competition as the "enemy." As a consequence, they somehow get it in their head that they have to hate this person or team. Your opponent is NOT the enemy. He/she is your partner. The better they are, the more opportunity you will have to play to your potential. Think about it. How inspired do you get when you have to face a much weaker opponent? You DON'T! In fact, it's really tough to play well against inferior competition. Getting caught up in angry feelings about an opponent will most often distract you from the correct focus, tighten you up too much and get you performing badly. Don't waste your energy getting angry with an opponent so you can get "up" for the game. 99 out of 100 times this strategy will backfire and mentally take you out of the contest.

-TRY SOFTER, NOT HARDER-

One of the biggest mental traps that athletes fall into is the “trying too hard” trap. Fueled by frustration or making the contest too important, trying too hard is a losing game. As a matter of fact, it’s the game of diminishing returns: The harder you try, the worse you’ll do! This is because trying too hard tightens your muscles up and absolutely kills your mechanics. Trying too hard gets you forcing things and peak performance always comes from being relaxed and “letting it happen.” Be alert inside to when you start pressing and trying to make something “big” happen. When you become aware of yourself trying too hard, quickly shift your focus of concentration away from the outcome or its importance to the task at hand. Remember you want to relax and try “softer,” not harder.

-"PLAYING" THE GAME FROM THE BENCH -

Too many athletes spend their time on the bench angry, frustrated, distracted and bummed out that they're not getting enough playing time (PT). They focus on the coach, how unfair the situation is and why they should be playing in front of their teammates. Being a role player and sitting the bench is the hardest position to play on any team. You work just as hard as your teammates who start, yet you get none of the glory. If you're a "pine time player" listen up! Sitting on the sidelines stewing and hoping a teammate will come up lame will not help you or your squad. Instead you have to learn to play that position to the very best of your ability. How? Keep your head in the game. Focus on the action as if you're playing. Specifically focus on executing from your position as if you were out there in the action. Get totally into the game so that if you were given the nod, you could go in immediately and be ready to play. Remember you have absolutely no control over your PT and whom the coach puts in. You do, however, have total control over your attitude and how you respond to your position as a role player. Maintain a positive winning attitude no matter what!

“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, money takes wings. Those who cheer you today may curse you tomorrow. The only thing that endures is character.”

DR. G’s COMMENTS: I can’t tell you who said this yet because the quote is too good to spoil by acknowledging the author. He did great things in his athletic career and his words, uttered years after he achieves his gridiron fame are right on and eerily prophetic. The success that you achieve on the field is always fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow. Sometimes in an instant you can go from hero to goat. Just ask Bill Buckner or Chuck Knoblauch. The sports media and viewing public are fickle, fair weather fans. They love you when you’re doing well and vilify you when you’re not. If you listen to even a quarter of what is said about you and your abilities by others you will be badly misled. The only enduring thing, the only thing of value is who you are as a person and how you conduct yourself on a day to day basis in your life. Your time in sports will always be limited. You will not be an athlete forever. You will, however, be a person of character for the remainder of your days. The important question that remains of course is what kind of character? When you look at all that this particular person achieved, his amazing athletic feats as an NFL halfback, his career in acting and as a sports broadcaster, then you will know just how true his long ago uttered words are: “The only thing that endures is character.” So what character do you conjure up when you hear the name…O. J. SIMPSON?

“The secret to success is doing the best that you can do. Forget about whether you might win or lose. By working hard and practicing the skills that you need to perform, the results will take care of themselves. Being successful is about doing your best.”

Barbara Ann Cochran – Gold medal Olympic skier

DR G’S COMMENTS:

In today’s highly competitive world, far too many athletes get distracted by what their competition is doing. They become too preoccupied with beating a certain opponent instead of just concentrating on themselves. To these athletes, winning means being number one, coming in first and nothing else. Losing or being the runner-up is viewed as a failure. However, if you measure your level of excellence by comparing yourself with an opponent, then you are seriously limiting yourself. Cochran is absolutely right! The secret to success is doing the best that YOU can do. Excellence is about YOUR BEST and no one else’s, regardless of the outcome. Focusing on what your opponent is doing will only serve to knock you off center, disrupt your concentration and get you too uptight to perform to your potential. Instead, you want to stay within yourself. Forget about what your competition is doing. Do everything in YOUR power to achieve YOUR goals. Focus on YOUR training. Work on YOUR weaknesses. Practice YOUR skills and technique. And when you compete, trust yourself, know that you’ve done everything in your power to prepare, and just let the result take care of itself. Remember, winning is about what YOU do, not what your opponent does. If you do everything possible in your training, if you leave no stone unturned, if you give it your all and truly go for it, then forget winning and losing, you are a true winner!

"My mom called me up and said you almost had that one, moms are the greatest, you can't do wrong by your Mom. She blames it on everybody else but me".

Joel Dreessen, NY Jets Third String Tight End after missing yet another catch

DR. G’S COMMENTS: Your mom can teach you a whole lot about how to be a good “inner coach” to yourself. Most healthy moms are unbelievably forgiving when their sons or daughters mess up. These moms don’t punish their kids for their mistakes or criticize them. Instead, they forgive and forget. A good mother is terminally optimistic about her child and loves him/her unconditionally. A good mother does not have her ego overly tied up in the child’s performance. She doesn’t see her child’s failures as a personal insult. She doesn’t drive her child mercilessly nor berate him/her for falling short of goals. A good mom does not make the mistake of linking her child’s self-worth with his/her performance. In many ways, this healthy attitude of unconditional love, kindness and forgiveness should be adopted by all athletes as a way to treat themselves (or others for that matter) whenever failures, mistakes and setbacks come knocking on their door. I’m not talking about shirking responsibility here or blaming everyone else whenever things go wrong. What I am talking about is understanding the fact that to fail is human and that what we most need from ourselves and others when we fall short is understanding and compassion. Being a punitive mom or being a punitive “inner coach” will never help you get to your goals. Instead, it will leave you feeling worse about yourself.

“I love it. I love the challenge of it, working with kids every day, setting goals for myself and the program. I feel it was what I was meant to do. You remember your own experiences, and you want to do it for someone else.” University of Hartford women’s basketball coach and former UConn hoops star, Jennifer Rizzotti on her coaching duties.

DR. G’S COMMENTS: If you ever remember seeing Jen Rizzotti leading the UConn Huskies to their first national championship in 1995, then you’d clearly remember the intensity and passion with which this fiery point guard played. Whether you’re coaching, playing a sport, singing, acting or on stage in any other performance arena, the one thing that you desperately need to be successful and that will ultimately take you to your dreams is PASSION. You have to be absolutely passionate about what you’re doing. What is passion? It’s part obsession. You have to be a bit obsessed with and consumed by your sport and the pursuit of excellence within it. Passion involves intensity and total dedication which you have to display in your approach to training and competing. Passion is all about excitement and enthusiasm. In other words you need to be totally in love with your sport and everything about it. Passion is about having a zeal for what you’re doing. If you want to truly make it in whatever you attempt, then be sure to stir in a healthy amount of passion into what you’re doing on a daily basis.

“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” Benjamin Franklin

DR. G’S COMMENTS: One of the more attractive qualities that is lacking in a lot of today’s great athletes is modesty or humility. Far too many athletes are a legend in their own minds. They not only think that they are the greatest, but they treat everyone that they come into contact with as if this narcissistic belief were true, as if they are the second reincarnation of King Tut. Unfortunately being self-centered and egotistical as an athlete and as an individual makes you a very ugly, unappealing human being. None of us are larger than life. None of us are that good that that we are somehow better than our fellow man/woman. As the great psychologist, Harry Stack Sullivan once wrote, “We are all more simply human than otherwise.” The truly great athletes, the one with real class are genuinely modest. Deep down they may believe that as an athlete they’re the greatest. However, in their day to day interactions with others they demonstrate a respect for others and a humility that is refreshing. Remember, just because you can throw a football better than everyone else, hit a baseball further or run the 100 Meter dash faster doesn’t make you larger than life. Be a person of true character. Embrace humility and respect for others.

"if you ever want to be a decent player, you have to be able to use both feet without stopping to think about it."

Soccer Superstar, Pele

Dr.G’s comments:

Probably one of the biggest mental mistakes that athletes make right before and during their performances is to over-think. Whether you’re thinking about the game’s strategies, the mechanics of proper technique, criticizing your current level of play, or simply worrying about your opponent or the game’s outcome, thinking will distract you from the proper focus and send your nervousness right through the roof. Peak performance, as Pele states, is all about NON-THINKING. You will always perform your best when you’re on automatic and your conscious mind is in a quiet and observing state. In this quiet state your muscle memory and previous training is allowed to run the show rather than your conscious thought. This automatic or unconscious mind-set is exactly what’s needed if you’d like to be at your best when it counts the most. Far too many athletes get into reminding themselves of everything that they need to do right before the big game. Then when the game starts, they continue instructing themselves and critiquing their own performance. This will NEVER help you play to your potential. On the contrary! This will send your game straight to the outhouse! Remember, over-thinking is hazardous to your athletic health!

However, in order for you to be able to play without thinking, you have to be able to trust your muscle memory. In order to do this, to “be able to use both feet without stopping to think” as Pele says, you have to first pay your “physical dues.” Simply put, before your unconscious mind and muscle memory can effectively take over from your conscious mind you have to practice, practice and then practice some more. The secret here is very simple. You can’t learn to “play out of your mind” without first putting in all the necessary hard work in your body. Far too many athletes cut corners in their physical training and are reluctant to put in the extra, uncomfortable training that’s the foundation for being able to play without thinking. Unless you’re willing to work hard and continually push yourself outside of your comfort zone in practice, then you can’t realistically expect that you’ll play mindlessly in competition. Work your butt off and you’ll learn how to trust yourself enough to “use both feet without thinking.”

“Coaching my own kid is driving both him and me crazy” High school baseball coach

DR. G’S COMMENTS:

Coaching your own kid, while deceivingly very difficult to do is very commonly done. Many parents get into coaching their kids because they end up spending so much time at the sport between driving the child to practice and games and then waiting around endlessly. Similarly many children first get involved with a sport because their parents are involved as the coach when they are younger. Having said that I can tell you that pulling off being a parent and a coach at the same time is most often a very difficult, if not near impossible (depending on the kid), juggling act. It is confusing for both parent and child. Children need their parents to be parents. They need their mom or dad to be in the role of safe, support person, of “child’s best fan.” They need unconditional love and acceptance. Being the coach often times presents a major role conflict because a coach needs to not only be impartial and fair, but also needs to put himself in the role of pushing a child outside of his/her comfort zone. In addition, coaches regularly need to offer criticism and negative feedback. A normal preadolescent and adolescent athlete is trying to do what is natural in his family, which is to begin to emotionally and physically experiment with separating from his mother and father. In adolescence, this is a critical development task. The child with the parent as coach finds himself in a dilemma with his dad- coach. It becomes very difficult for him to see and deal with dad as “coach” and not dad. Most kids respond to this dilemma by coming across as sullen, oppositional, tough to coach, etc. However, this would not be a fair assessment because even the most coachable kid will have problems talking instructions from a parent. The situation is further complicated on the parent-coach’s part. The parent-coach, not wanting to be seen as anything but impartial as he coaches his own child will oftentimes come down too hard on him/her. He may have too many expectations for, and tend to be more critical of his child than the other players on the team. His child will then experience this one-sided treatment as grossly unfair, further straining an already difficult relationship. The bottom line is that our kids need us as parents to “love em”, not “shove em” and a coaches job is very much a “shove em” kind of thing.

The best advice I would have for any parent who ends up having to coach their own child is to sit down before all the practices or games start and talk openly about the situation. Talk about all the pitfalls and the confusion with roles. Let your child know that it will be difficult and that you will need to work together to make it work. Ask you child what he or she would need to make the relationship work better. Part of this “better working” involves trying to keep the parent and coach role as separate and clean as possible. This means that you say to your child, “when I am on the field or court with you I have my “coach hat” on and when we’re done with the practice or game I know have my “parent hat” on. What this may mean for you as a parent is that outside of practice you can’t be pushing your child to practice extra, talk about her technique, or criticize the things that she may have done wrong in practice or the game. If your child wants to bring the sport up fine, but as the parent-coach, you must not do this.

"I had a a lot of confidence coming into the tournament, when I'm confident, I tend to hit the ball better and I'm more comfortable going for my shots". Allison Tierney, freshman, Govener Livingston HS, NJ. After winning the #2 singles Union County Tennis Championships.

How important is self-confidence for you as an athlete? Answer: How important is it for you to have air to breathe? Self-confidence makes the world go round performance-wise. When you have it you are able to take your physical abilities and consistently play to your potential. The self-confident athlete consistently overachieves. When you’re confident you’re able to relax under pressure and focus on what’s important. You relish the challenge presented by a worthy opponent. You look forward to your competitions. You are able to trust yourself and play loose and aggressively. However, when you don’t have it, when you’re plagued with low self-confidence and doubts, your performance does not at all resemble your God-given talent or ability. Those who play with low self-confidence consistently underachieve. When you lack confidence you tend to get too nervous under pressure and focus on all the wrong things. You are easily intimidated by a strong opponent and you often dread those big competitions. Carry around low self-confidence and your best friend becomes self-doubt. When you perform you are too cautious and tentative to play anywhere near your potential. Want to perform like a champion? Start today to work on developing your self-confidence. Work hard. Focus on the positive. Learn from your failures and let them go. Surround yourself with positive people who support you. Learn to be a “good coach” to yourself.

"I have a big-picture outlook, I am willing to fall, and I understand it's ok to fall, but I am going to get back up, I may take a step back, but in the end, I am going to take a giant leap forward". Tiger Woods

DR. G’S COMMENTS - Once again we hear about one of the main reasons why great athletes are so great: FAILURE and their attitude towards it. Great athletes are not afraid to fail. They know that failure is a normal and inevitable part of playing competitive sports, much like breathing is a normal and necessary part of life. The very best use their failures as a springboard to success. In other words they know that after a setback or two they will eventually rebound and make even further gains. This is Woods’ “big picture” outlook. The main characteristic of this big picture outlook is to learn to view your failures as temporary. When you fall down and you look at this fall from a temporary frame of reference, i.e. “Boy, I just played badly today,” “My timing was way off in the second part of the match. I can work on and correct that the next time I practice,” “I just ran out of gas in that final 50,” then you are left feeling like the failure is both correctable and short-term. Using Woods’ view, your self-confidence and motivation will then remain high. However, when you fail and look at it from a “small picture” viewpoint, just focusing on how big that failure was and using a permanent frame of reference, that is, you zoom in on this one failure and explain it to yourself with language like, “I always choke,” “I can never seem to win the big matches,” “Whenever it counts, I always blow it,” then you are left feeling like your failure is non-correctable and a permanent part of who you are as an athlete. The end result of this is that you lose your confidence and your motivation wanes. Keep the “falls” which you will always have in the proper perspective. They are a normal and necessary part of the journey. They provide you with a toehold for your very next step forward. While it may be temporarily painful when you go down, these falls will ultimately get you to the top of the mountain.

“When I’d get tired and want to stop, I’d wonder what my next opponent was doing. I’d wonder if he was still working out. I’d tried to visualize him. When I could see him working, I’d start pushing myself. When I could see him in the shower, I’d push myself harder."

Dan Gable, Olympic Gold medal wrestler and NCAA champion wrestling coach from Iowa. 
The Edge, Howard Ferguson.

Dr. G’s comments:

Gable, perhaps the best wrestler that this country has ever produced knew the ultimate secret to success. Hard work! However, hard work is really only one part of Gable’s formula. There’s no question that to achieve greatness you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else. You have to be willing to do all the uncomfortable, sweaty, extras that most people don’t want to be bothered with. You have to be willing to pay your physical dues over and over again, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, and year after year. In the end, there are NO substitutes for consistent, hard work. There are no short cuts on the road to becoming a champion. It all comes down to one simple question: Just how badly do you want it? How important is that goal to you? Do you really want to make the varsity, break into the starting lineup, get that college scholarship, set the state record, or beat that particular opponent? If you really want that goal, then not only will you be willing to suffer and sacrifice, it will make perfect sense to you. The point I want to make here is that like Dan Gable, you must have an emotionally compelling reason to keep going. You must have something that you desperately want to accomplish, a big goal or dream to fuel your efforts, keep you focused and motivate you. Without a “big enough WHY,” working hard won’t make a whole lot of sense to you. Gable wanted a goal medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics and he wanted it badly! He took that goal with him whenever he trained. He imagined the threats to that goal, (his opponents training) and that fueled him to work even harder. Because Gable always kept his goal in mind when he trained, the quality of his training was the highest it could be. He didn’t just put in the physical work and time. He didn’t just go through the motions. He didn’t just do what he had to do. He did MUCH MORE! He put his heart into his training. By thinking about the obstacles to his dream while he trained, his workouts were emotionally charged. As a consequence, he got far more out of his training sessions than had he been watching the clock, just trying to get through them. This is what makes a champion. CONSISTENT, FOCUSED, EMOTIONALLY MEANINGFUL HARD WORK.

- DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF - 
Ever wonder why you continually doubt yourself and 
struggle with low self-confidence? The reason comes down to one simple verb: "COMPARE." When you compare yourself with other athletes you set yourself up 
to feel badly about yourself and fail. Why? Because most of the time when you compare, you will over-inflate the other person's strengths, minimize or ignore their weaknesses while over-inflating your weaknesses and minimizing or ignoring your strengths. Not exactly a good formula for building self-confidence! Comparison is a losing game because you'll always manage to 
find someone better than you. Instead, keep your focus on YOU. Measure yourself against yourself. Sure, there's a benefit to seeing someone much better than you perform and modeling yourself after them. They may have a certain style, skills or technique that you'd like to emulate. This is the only positive way to focus on someone else. This isn't comparison. Comparison 
usually involves a negative appraisal of yourself in relation to others. Stay away from it! Comparison is hazardous to your self-confidence and performance health.

-HAVE A BIG ENOUGH WHY -

Athletes who are most successful start to train with a dream in mind. They have a specific, long-term goal that is personally meaningful to them. They nurture their dream nightly by vividly imagining themselves living it, performing that way and reaching that goal. Their big why drives them to get up early, train hard and push through setbacks, obstacles and failure. Having a big why will give a direction to your training. It will keep you motivated and focused. Without an emotionally compelling goal to drive you, it's easy to get lost and lose interest. Your big why should belong to YOU and no one else! In other words you should go after that goal for you, not for your coach, parents or teammates. You should get in the habit of taking your big goal with you every day to practice. This will keep you focused, give you a purpose and help you get the most out of each training session. ! Before each practice you want to ask yourself, How is what I'm going to do today going to help me get closer to my big why? By doing this you won't get caught in the trap that most athletes fall into of complaining about practice. (I hate this drill Coach! Why do we have to do this?) If you have a big, personally meaningful goal, then you will take responsibility for making your practice a good one, regardless of the way the coaches run the training.