Labels: The Natural vs. The Bust

Labels are a part of life (right or wrong). They help us identify ourselves and others. In sports, we’re often quick to label athletes; good, bad, great, elite, and so many others.

There are two labels in particular when it comes to athletes that I want to dive into: the natural athlete versus the bust athlete.

The Natural – Believes they are entitled to perform well and everyone should make the conditions around them perfect. Any mistakes are never the natural’s fault, but someone else’s. If the natural is critiscized, they label themselves as a bust. The natural athlete trusts their physical skills too much, and any extra effort they feel they have to put forth means they aren’t good enough. Their default future, as the see it, is an easy life.  

The Natural’s Problem: It discounts hard work and creates entitlement. Natural athletes are viewed as winning the genetic lottery with god-give talent.

The Bust – Believes that always being harshly critical leads to success. A coach pointing out mistakes to a bust is a punishment for being bad and is entirely their fault. A bust athlete doesn’t trust physical skills, and they think that they don’t belong. Any bit of adversity in a bust athlete’s direction makes him or her give up or flip out.  Effort is not worth it and means they suck.  The default future is a road to nowhere good.   

The Bust’s Problem: The belief by them that there is no way out. No amount of work will help improve from being a bust and you are seen as a problem and just fooling yourself.  

Each label develops its own outlook and language, but the two labels are closely linked. It’s not uncommon to see someone deemed a natural athlete become a bust, and vice versa. So often athletes with either of these labels are trying to prove (natural) or disprove (bust) their given status which results in inconsistency.

I’ve helped a ton of athletes work through these labels. Below are examples of two whom I recently helped.

  1. A 14-year-old hockey player was told he was so naturally gifted that he was the future of a high school program. He was going to bring his team to the state tournament for the first time ever. He heard this over and over from coaches, parents, and his peers. The pressure was too much. He believed every mistake made him a disappointment to all. We worked together so that he could see he needed to put in more work and needed help from his friends to play on a competitive team. 
  2.  A 13-year-old girl was told by her coach she would never be able to develop the athleticism needed to be a great basketball player. Her coach told her she should spend her time trying something that was a better fit for her natural talents. She was devastated and struggled to stay motivated to play a game she loved. With the help of her parents, we were able to help her see that with some work she could could improve. 

Now I truly believe that, in both cases, the coaches thought they were being helpful, yet they were unaware of how their view and their words impacted those young athletes.  

In the exercise this week we use a little exercise to tease out what you think it is and how you might be thinking about yourself: Have you been labeled? By coaches?  By peers? By Parents? By Yourself?

Are you a natural? A bust? Is it even important?

We encounter labels everywhere, and it’s labels that help us to avoid challenges and the fear of embarrassment.  But labels create an illusion of certainty–good or bad. When you realize that your success depends on effort and when you believe being you is enough to succeed, that’s when you realize how unimportant labels are. 

So what’s your best approach? Work hard to drop the labels. Instead, focus on your why.  Play and live according to your values, and adopt a high-performing mindset that focuses on challenging yourself (i.e. compete with your last performance). Be self forgiving and learn from your mistakes while being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Don’t give up and develop a grit that no one and nothing can grapple with. That’s how we’ll move past the labels and into the athlete mindset you want.

This ted talk by Angela Duckworth talks about the power of developing grit.  TEDxBlue – Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D – 10/18/09

The Tough Conversation

There’s one frequent question that always finds its way to me from coaches, parents, and athletes when it comes to mental fitness: ‘How do I talk to an athlete about getting help with mental performance or mental health?’

Mental health is a tough subject for many. Well-meaning folks who are concerned about a person’s well-being often ask how to approach that conversation because no one wants to make it worse for anyone who is struggling with mental health. It can be one of the toughest conversations you have with a person.

So, what do you say? What do you do? 

First, I encourage you to check in with yourself. Be aware of the mental toughness myths that hook you. The myths make the conversations difficult because we are afraid a person we approaching might hear the wrong thing. Instead of hearing the well-intended desire to help, the myths suggest these conversations will come across more negative in nature. If you believe the mental toughness myths, telling someone they may need help may mean you are telling them they are damaged, weak, unfixable, soft or psycho. If they believe the mental toughness myths it may be even harder. No wonder such a conversation would be difficult.  

Also, you should be prepared to listen. If you are judgmental, dismissive, shaming, or angry or offer simple solutions like ‘cheer up’, ‘it’s a phase, you ‘ll get over it’, you may make things worse. 

When you have the conversation, you’ll likely hear the myths in response.

A few other tips when approaching the tough conversation of mental health:

  1. Make sure your talk is mostly private (though it may be necessary to have two coaches present). Let them know you care and want to have an important conversation.  
  2. Lead with, ‘I have noticed you have not been yourself lately’.  Tell them what you have noticed and why it concerns you.  
  3. Let them know that it is normal to struggle. Normalize seeking professional help by talking about your own experiences with a professional, or pointing out athletes who have (Michael Phelps, Simone Biles are very public examples). Google athletes and mental health, you will find at least one specific to your sport and be surprised .
  4. Share that you believe they can change. Remind them that they are capable of more. Frame seeking help as an investment to build skills to enhance athletic training.

If you want to learn more about the importance of mental health in athletics, watch this video about Madison Holleran.


I need somebody
(Help!) not just anybody
(Help!) you know I need someone

The opening lyrics to The Beatles hit, “Help” takes on one of the most problematic mental toughness myths: asking for help means you are weak.  

In fact, it’s more than just the opening lyrics, the entire song tackles the myth. Take a look:

I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured (but now these days are gone)
(And now I find) Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me?
And now my life has changed in oh so many ways (and now my life has changed)
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure (I know that I)
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

Many people want everyone to believe that they were born in a log cabin they built themselves. Here’s the problem with that mentality–it’s impossible. Think about what you have eaten today. You had help from hundreds of people to get that meal (the cook, the farmers, the production line, the grocerers, etc.). You simply cannot go through life without help. We need relationships. We need other people to help us get through life. No one gets anywhere alone.

So why do we want to believe the myth that asking for help displays weakness? Because it allows us to believe that we are superhuman. That we’re special. We’re superheroes in our story and destined for greatness at every turn. The myth creates a default future that means our path to greatness will be easy. But, you will find out as you move through life, helps is needed at almost every turn.

When it comes to mental fitness and mental health, the critics are even harder to silence.

“Asking for your help with your mental fitness means you are really soft and really weak.”
“If you need medication for your mental health then you’re really weak.”

It’s ironic to me that asking for help for in some of the harder situations of life like mental illness means you are weak. No one thinks that about diabetics who need insulin, or someone who takes meds for acid reflux. 

The truth is, the higher you climb, the more help you need, because details matter even more. If you don’t seek help, odds are you’re likely to feel more isolated, a feeling no one battling situations wants.

Michael Phelps, one of the greatest athletes ever, talks about the specific challenges he faced after the Olympics and how he asked for help (and if you think he is weak, you are delusional).

Let’s circle back on the Beatles song conclusion tells us what happens when we accept help. 

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured (but now these days are gone)
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors
And now my life has changed in oh so many ways (and now my life has changed)

Nearly every time I ask for help, I find that I learn, grow, and find a new perspective.  You can too.  Accept your fear and the vulnerability that comes with asking for help.  Afterall, sometimes asking for help holds the key to better performance.

Change will do you good

Change: It’s the only constant in life. Change is messy, stressful — even when it is something you want to do. 

Mentally fit athletes are okay with change. They are prepared for it, and see it as a challenge and opportunity to learn. They adapt and create something new. 

Why as athletes do we need to be prepared for change? Everything changes: Conditions, coaches, teammates, roles, your body, your opponent, your game plan. You have to accept that it happens. 

My family and I recently made a change. It’s something we wanted to do for a while now, but, things changed. The events of the world forced us to pivot. 

We had hoped to move a couple of years ago. I have been through numerous moves in my life and all had their challenges.  

Being okay with change was a process for me. At times it’s filled with challenges that I created, and some that were just plain unavoidable. At times I really struggled with the unknown, and in some cases the commitments that went with it. 

The most flexible people survive and find success. This time through, the change went better than most I have experienced, even though there was more to do as it wasn’t as easy as just packing up, but we also had to ready our old house to be sold.  As I said before, we had been ready to move for awhile and although we had many improvements, the change in our timeline meant re-doing some, and more being added.  

So I wondered what was different and how did I handle this change better than others? Here’s what I came up with:

• I accepted that the unexpected could happen but knew I could handle it. 

• I knew we would have help from our friends and family were there.

• I stuck to my habits, meaning mostly good nutrition (although I had some – like a bag of it –  candy corn and peanuts). 

• I meditated everyday, but maybe not at the same time. 

• I let people know when I was stressed, and I viewed it as normal.

• Last, I let go of unrealistic expectations and focused on the next most important thing.  

We struggle when we hold onto past success by clinging to processes that are outdated, and blame and complain, see change as a conviction of poor character while refusing to learn.  

Embrace the shake that goes with change.  Here’s a great ted talk by Phil Hansen, who did just that. 

Like with moving, when it comes to change as an athlete, it’s important to remember:

1) Stay in a learning zone. Don’t box yourself into thinking it will always be this way — it won’t always be this way.  Settling into a new normal requires unpacking the old and finding a new place for it. Be confident you can adapt.  

2) Adapt. Be satisfied but strive. Your opponents will.  Don’t rely on that’s the way we have always done it.  Discard poor habits.  Create new ones.  Tweak what works. 

3) Maintain a high performing mindset; View skills, self-talk, game planning as a changeable. Challenge yourself.  Self-Forgive. Embrace the uncomfortable. 

Success comes when we learn what to hold onto and what to let go of. Moving forces you to do that over and over again (especially when you have 20 years of stuff in one house). Care but don’t overthink, and be confident but coachable. Don’t forget to pay attention to the results and the process, and always differentiate between who we are versus what we do. 

When it’s time to change you got rearrange like the Brady Bunch did. 

Mental Fitness Fridays

I’m sharing this article by Steve Mann of Minnesota Hockey on Mental Toughness and Resiliency.  Knowing we all share the mutual interest of making athletes better, I think you will find it very interesting. I appreciated being approached by Steve to share my perspectives in the article. 
Here’s the link.

I purposely used the term “Mental Fitness”.  The term Mental Fitness changes the narrative away from the damaging myths of the often-used “Mental-Toughness” term.  I believe “Changing the narrative” helps “change the paradigm.”

Over the years, the stigmas about mental health have been changing. I’ve been told that I can’t talk about mental health and performance psychology together because it will scare people away. In some cases that is true, but over the last 20 years, my experience tells that most of the time it is not.  We seem stuck believing many of the myths about mental toughness and mental health.    

The last year has been extremely challenging time for everyone on planet. The stress we are all feeling often can be indicators that we are having challenges with coping and many times we are either reluctant to address them because of the stigmas associated with these myths. As the pandemic has unfolded, the need to challenge the myths has grown – because our mental health is suffering.  

Demand for our services has never been greater and our reach is limited by the hours in the day. We feel a responsibility to do as much as we can.  I would sincerely appreciate your assistance in helping us to change the conversation and the stigmas. Initiatives like #BellLet’s Talk are terrific, and we want to help amplify them! 

So, this Friday, February 19, I am launching Mental Fitness Fridays. We plan to create a series of short videos we can all share to help change the conversation and better understand how to build Mental Fitness.  

Day Three – Relax and Recover

You are to your last day of the tryout weekend.  One of the important life skills hockey teaches us is learning how to take care of yourself so you can maintain consistent performances despite all of life’s pressures and circumstances.

Before you start your day take some time to de stress as part of your preparation routine.  Practice visualizing and progressive relaxation.  If you don’t have a routine, you can go to our website and download our FREE Stress Management Visualization.  It’s less than 10 minutes and an effective to de-stress and practice setting aside the stresses of life.

Relaxation and progressive relaxation help you and your body recover.  The relaxation response as opposed to the stress response helps you to learn an important skill.  The ability to shift from tense to relaxed and relaxed to tense.  Having a familiarity with knowing how to do either gives you the ability to use thoughts, emotions, and physiology to dial up the state of mind you need perform in any given game or life situation.

It also helps you to managing your body language. Managing body language is a skill that can be developed.  Managing body language starts with having an awareness.  You must be aware of your thoughts, your emotions and your body’s physiology.  These three things pour the foundation for you.  In order to control your body language, you need to know if you are too tense, too relaxed or in your Optimal Performance Zone.

The key to learning how to move yourself back to your OPZ – is know how to manage thoughts, feelings and physiology.  It starts with knowing how to move your body into that zone.  All of our high school, college and professional athletes have a routine that helps them return.  Your routine should include

  • Rebooting your brain – The thinking and feeling parts of your brain need to work together and both need to be online. You can get them working together by doing one of the following; Take a centering breath, do alternating fist squeezes, alternate touching your toes to the top of your skates, or count down from 200 from by 7’s.  Or set a mouse trap – really it works – you need two hands to do it and engages all parts of your brain.
  • Visualize playing in your OPZ. Come up with four words that describe how you play when in your OPZ.  Write them on the knob of your stick.  Visualize using all your senses and your emotions.
  • Smile or laugh – Easy for me to say and harder for you to do. But seriously think of a joke, tweet or Instagram.  Try to smile at someone in the stands, or find some reason to laugh.  Smiling actually changes your brain and body state.

The order you do these in is not important.  If you have a routine that works, you may not need to change anything.  Increasing your awareness and implementing a routine will help you to manage your body language, and consistently access your skill and talent so you can perform at a high level.   You’ll get noticed for your character and mental toughness instead.

To learn more about how we can help you enhance and develop this skill check out our website at

Day Two – Great Moments are Born from Great Opportunities

Great moments are born from Great Opportunities – Herb Brooks.  Whether this is your first high performance event or your third the High Performance Program is a great opportunity to showcase your skills.  Don’t keep yourself from experiencing great moments.  Many of the hockey players we have worked with over the years, with the benefit of hindsight, tell us that the best way to make the high performance program a great opportunity is to see just as that.

Your play this weekend is a snapshot in time.  If you view at as more than that you may succumb to the pressure that creates for you.  It is tempting to take a “sportscenter mindset” in these situations and try impress the evaluators, scouts and coaches with flashy plays.  Make plays but don’t press.

Too often players make the mistake of believing that the impression they make here will a create a default future of glory and commitments to college or destiny of failure and a struggle on road to late night hockey with their friends.

Instead, take a mindset that views this weekend as a challenge to the skills you have prepared your entire career to showcase.  Play within yourself, to your strengths, and don’t try to be someone you are not.  Compete against your last performance each day and be willing to self forgive if you make mistakes.  Stay hungry if you played “lights out” the day before.  The key to being an elite performer is consistency.  Whether you move on to the next phase of the process, find a way to learn about yourself as person and a player.

The evaluators, college coaches, and your team’s coaches are professionals who are trained to notice the little things that make you a great player.  Be a team player.  Don’t be a jerk.  If you are on the bubble in any way being a team player may break the tie.  Consistent play will show you and those watching that you are making the most of your opportunity.



Day One – Miracles start with Mindset

“The Miracle on Ice.”  Everyone reading this knows what that means. Although Herb Brooks was correct in saying “If we played them 10 times, they might win 9. “ Our experience with high performing athletes tells us that a miracle starts with a mindset.  Many of our athletes set goals for their future that don’t immediately see as achievable.

Calling the 1980 upset a Miracle discounts the hard work, vision, and mindset they used to achieve their goal.   Miracles start with your mindset.

The simple definition of a mindset according webster’s is “a particular way of thinking. a person’s attitude or set of opinions about something.”

Your mindset sets the tone for how you perform.  It’s the operating system that determines how you evaluate your performance and what you need to do to adjust your immediate performance.  It tells you what you need to do to push into a training and development cycle.

This is the mindset you need to take with your performance this weekend and this way of thinking needs to become a habit for you.

Awareness.  Without it, you cannot change what you don’t know.  At the Center for Sports and the Mind we have developed an online mindset assessment. (Link)  To find out where you stand with your mindset, take our assessment that evaluates your mindset and gives you tips and pointers about how to change and develop it to push yourself toward your Miracle. We have discounted this for High Performance participants.

Our assessment will help you determine where you mindset falls and how it impacts your performance.

Our culture often tells athletes to take a fixed mindset into tryouts like these and have the mindset that they cannot make any mistakes or show any weaknesses.  Simply – you have “it” or you don’t.  If Herb Brooks had taken this mindset, there would have been no “Miracle.”  The Soviets took that mindset and they failed because they believed they had “it” and the U.S. did not.

We teach our athletes, whether it be a PeeWee or a pro, to take a “Developmentally Competitive” Mindset.  It is focused on the idea that you can be both competitive and develop.  Not one or the other.

What does a developmentally competitive mindset mean and how do I create it for myself? Below I have listed the most important characteristics.

  • Be comfortable with uncertainty. – Accept the fact that after the puck drops you can only control yourself and your play.  You cannot control the future.
  • Challenge yourself every day and compete with your last performance. Doing so will help you gain the confidence you need to believe that you can influence the outcome of the game.
  • Be Self -Forgiving- Don’t mistake forgiveness for lacking accountability. Learn from your mistake and then focus on the immediate moment.
  • Failure = Learning – Use failure as an opportunity to learn.

Our online assessment will give you tips and information about what you need to do to make a developmentally competitive mindset a habit.