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World Cup Series: Good coaching psychology or “over the top”?

June 12, 2010

It has been reported that various World Cup teams have certain restrictions (and even total bans) on players’ use of social media (e.g., Twitter) and internet. Do you think this is good coaching psychology that will help keep players focused? Or do you think the restrictions are going too far and may keep players from having a stress outlet? Anyone know which teams have which restrictions? Here’s an article on

Workshop accepted, co-presenter on CNN

June 8, 2010

I’m grateful to have my workshop accepted for presentation at the 2010 Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) annual international conference (via blind peer review): “Teaching Sport Psychology in Interdisciplinary Environments: Challenges, Opportunities, Applications, and Outreach.” Special thanks and congratulations to my co-presenter / 2nd author, Conrad Woolsey, PhD, at OSU, who was just quoted on CNN (in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s blog)!!:

Performance without a performer

May 8, 2009

Most of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as “the Zone,” “flow,” or “peak experience.” Whether playing sports, playing an instrument, selling, presenting, or executing some other task, we’ve likely had those special streaks of great yet struggle-free performances. Flow has been examined in many studies found in sport and performance psychology literature. Athletes, performing artists, executives, surgeons, and other performers frequently describe the experience as a top performance in which maximal output and concentration are achieved with minimal effort. There is often a sense of absorption in the activity, as if the “self” or sense of “I” melts away and only the performance is left. The experience may feel like a “performance without a performer,” to play on Mark Epstein’s, MD, book title, “Thoughts Without A Thinker.” Some people even describe the performance as a mystical experience.

In contrast, many self-help books and performance interventions have a disproportionate focus on building up the “self”: self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-control through, for example, the use of self-talk. These interventions definitely have a valid and effective use, but a subtle shift in thinking may also be of great value. A sport psychology professor of mine frequently quipped, “Drop the ‘self’ in self-esteem and self-confidence and focus instead on esteem and confidence” …in other words, how we feel in general, not just how feel about ourselves.

Let me give you a few basic performance examples. If you’re a golfer, and your concentration during your swing is split between swing mechanics (or some other task related cue) and the words you are speaking in your mind (whether positive or negative self-talk), part of your attention is arguably off-task. Your shot may suffer. If you’re an entrepreneur or sales executive, and your concentration during a presentation is split between feelings of insecurity (e.g., you’re still trying to sell yourself in your mind) and the audience’s particular questions or reactions (e.g., a smile, a lean forward), you may miss important opportunities to capitalize on their interests. In sport and performance psychology collaboration, mental strategies and skills like these are integrated and practiced like physical skills in sport.

A number of other fascinating observations have been made about common flow traits such as an adequate challenge level of the task, the tendency of the task to match the performer’s belief in his or her ability to execute that task, and more. I will revisit “the Zone” in future posts. In the mean time, you may be interested in a classic book examining peak performances across a variety of activities called, Flow, by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (frequently referred to as Dr. C.). You can browse related books on my recommended reading lists (books I’ve read, with commentary) and my Amazon hodgepodge reading list (books that have piqued my interests but I haven’t read). You can also register for the AllWorld.Newsletter (email) or AllWorld.ActionWire (sms) to be notified of new selections, including the publication date of my chapter.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of flow. Please leave a comment telling us about your peak performance!

Jamie Foxx opens up about a childhood fear…

April 8, 2009

I recently saw Jamie Foxx open up about a childhood fear of “going crazy” in an Entertainment Tonight interview for The Soloist. I thought it was cool he was so candid about his humanity and his experiences:

“I had a childhood fear of losing my mind,” he says. “When I was 18 years old something bad happened to me in college. Someone slipped something to me (a drug). I flipped out. For 11 months I wondered if I’d come out of it. I thought I was going to be crazy.”

I can’t find the posted video or the ET transcript yet, but you can read more here:

A better relationship with difficult emotions: Learning from our strengths

April 8, 2009

We all experience difficult feelings. The way we deal with difficult feelings, however, varies widely. For example, one person may deal well with working under pressure but struggle greatly with the loss of a relationship. Another person’s profile may be just the opposite. Having learned to accept loss, grieve, and move forward, person B shuts down when faced with an imminent deadline, a big audition, or tournament play. The good news is, just as we learned to handle certain difficult emotions well, we can learn to handle our more frightful emotions better too.

One of many ways to do this is to look at how we “relate” to our feelings. Using our example, do we welcome pressure as a feeling that can help us focus, work faster, or overcome indecision? Or do we set it up in our minds as an insurmountable enemy? Perhaps the relationship is somewhere in between. When we begin to recognize our relationships vary with different difficult emotions though, we may be able to recruit helpful strategies from our strengths. Let’s get a little more specific…

If we perform our best in the clutch situation, how might that help us deal with loss better? Well, if we see pressure as our teammate, maybe grief can be our teammate too. Grief, for example, can be a great teammate (or coach, instructor, board member, etc). Grief can slow us down in a way that helps clarify who and what we value. It can encourage us to ask important questions about the direction of our lives, about how we live most days, and to be grateful for what we still have and what we will have in the future. If it’s too much to see a difficult emotion as a valuable team member, maybe begin with it as an opponent that challenges you to step up your game.

There are so many emotions and so many ways to relate to emotions but hopefully this entry is a lead-off for you. I will be revisiting this topic with other strategies and other examples, especially related to sport, performing art, and business. If you find yourself struggling with this exercise on your own, try exploring it with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor. Also, just as a self-coached athlete may benefit from a personal trainer, a nutritionist, or the like, we may also benefit from a good therapist specializing in our particular need. Make it a great day! Joe

The Soloist (Jamie Foxx & Robert Downey Jr.)… performing art, mental health, life.

April 5, 2009
The Soloist looks to be a compassionate and courageous story about performing art, mental health, and life. The movie is based on the real-life friendship between LA Times columnist Steve Lopez and musician Nathaniel Ayers, who was homeless and suffering with schizophrenia. Definitely watch the trailer. Learn more about the psychology of performing art at Coming April 24 (2009).

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