The Power Of Active Choices

How many times have you said: “I have to…” 

My ears perk up when I hear it. Why? Because we have more choices than things we actually have to do. 

What are the things we have to do? Well, they’re things like eating and drinking, sleeping, using the bathroom (I know I’m a turd for bringing it up), breathing, dying and experiencing pain. 

Everything else is really just choices with consequences. Embracing this view can be a game-changer. 

A parent of an athlete once said: “College sports are dirty. You can’t trust anyone, but we have to.” 

My response: “Sometimes it is. It’s a choice to participate. Names are changed, but people are the same. You are not trapped. There are only about six things we have to do in life.”

When you make an active choice, it’s no longer an obligation, or something that happens to you.  

Experiencing pain, loss and the uncomfortable is a “have to” in life. It creates a Catch–22. 

I’m hungry. Which would I rather have? My options are kale or brussels sprouts. I choose Oreos, but my wife won’t buy them. 

One of the Catch-22s I have experienced is having clients compete against each other in state or national championship games. For example, I used to get hooked into having to pick one team to cheer for. 

It’s a great problem to have, and navigating it has changed me. I am no longer hooked to Us vs Them. You know the one. This team and its fan base are so out of control. But our fan base is filled with wonderful people. 

I choose to watch as an observer and to see them use what they have learned. Above all, I just hope for excellence, and that nobody gets hurt.    

The change is that I don’t get all wrapped up in it, and I enjoy it more. That mindset has actually spilled over into watching my son play sports.

We often think we can avoid integrating and accepting pain and loss — by numbing, eating, drinking, using drugs, overthinking, overworking, getting angry, judging or blaming. All of these choices have consequences.

The lesson? When presented with a Catch-22, don’t eat the Oreos. Instead, act according to your values. Evaluate the pros and cons. Although uncomfortable, act with courage. Choose a path that moves you toward your values and goals. 

It’s a choice. You can kick the can down the road, but in the words of John Madden: Boom — they sneak up on you and now you have a problem. All that stuff you have been avoiding, holding in or ignoring comes out. It happens in a fight with someone, your health suffers, you make poor decisions or you have a meltdown of some kind. You may even take off your jersey, throw your t-shirt in the stands and attack the one guy who stuck his neck out for you.  

Take care of your wounds. Hurt people, hurt people. Take care of yourself. Talk to someone.  Sometimes, hearing yourself out loud helps you to see the choices you do have.

Handling Difficult People

Why was there only one Yogi Bear? Because they made a Boo-Boo.

Last month, the Jacksonville Jaguars admitted they made a Boo-Boo in hiring Urban Meyer. As the story played, I noticed mental toughness myths all over it. You either have it or you don’t. He was calling his assistants losers, blaming them for failures — basically name calling.   

He acted like pain and punishment were the best ways to learn. He kicked his kicker. When he was told not to do it again, he said he was the coach and he’d do whatever he wanted.

None of this surprises me. I’ve heard similar stories on all levels of sports and in all genders. 

If they were winning, we probably would not have heard anything about this. He would have been seen as a tough, old-school coach. I sometimes wonder if that tactic is used by these coaches to justify their actions.  

Those tactics — coupled with a late-night dance with a young blonde — reflect a lack of discipline, desperation and a desperate way to coach them.  

Fear, frustration, disappointment and discouragement are often seen as the fastest ways to relieve it quickly. Scream, yell, blame, hit something. But if that’s what you do most, you are taking the easy way and the lazy way. Maybe you even tend to blame others.

Read this article from Pro Football Talk about his first interview after the incident.

I’ve often heard that old-school coaches were just holding people accountable. Everyone except themselves, that is.

Every time we moved, my dad would say: “Hans, the names are changed, but people are the same.”

My hope is that stories like this mean things are changing.  

It’s amazing what experience teaches you. My dad was right. There will always be people like this, and once you accept that, it’s easier to handle because you don’t take it personally.

So as an athlete, what do you do if you find yourself in a similar spot? You can’t change them. They have to change themselves. This can apply to a coach, teammate or even yourself.

Instead, change how you handle it in your own mind. You probably won’t be able to get them to see they are being difficult.

One strategy I have used is what I call the Schrute Strategy. I just imagine they are Dwight Shrute from The Office — or Angela, his girlfriend. I try to see their heads on this difficult person I’m talking with. It helps me to distance myself and see that it’s not personal. It’s about their own fear, unresolved wound or lack of awareness.

I wonder if the Jacksonville Jaguars did something similar.

Solutions to Resolutions

If you are reading this, you are probably preparing for the new year.

It’s the season for resolutions. We’ve all made them — lose weight, go to the gym, eat better. We make lists of things to get done that we should do, but just haven’t.  

New starts and goals are great, but resolutions, less so. On January 1st or 2nd, the gyms are packed. By the 21st, it’s back to the same group of people.  

As you probably know, resolutions rarely work. Once you fail to keep it, most of us give up and go back to the same old. Why? Oftentimes they are dramatic, quick changes.  

One of my friends often talks about dial changes. To start the new year, we make emotional resolutions. Big dial changes.  

I prefer adjustments over solutions and resolutions. Both imply an elimination agenda. Last week, I talked about a family tradition that started small and has grown.  

What adjustments do you need to make? Small adjustments over time lead to change. What’s your plan for sticking to them? Is there a theme to them? Have you made specific times for them to fit into your schedule? How will you keep yourself from turning one missed day into four, five or 31 days?  Is there self-talk you need to change to support a new habit? Can you make changes to your environment?  

These are all questions to consider when adapting a new habit. See why getting resolutions to stick is so hard?

Some people pick a theme or one or two words for the year. Then, they try to center their actions around it. These should be consistent with your performance values.  

Mine for this year: “Finish” and “Impact.” For me, that means focusing on finishing what I start. Impact means making a difference in the world.  

Mental fitness is about adjustments. The term mental fitness is an adjustment to the mental toughness myths.  

In 2022, I am planning to up my game on these videos. I’m planning to finish them sooner and find more ways to impact the communities I live in.  

The Holiday Skate

Christmas Eve Day is one of my favorite days of the year.

This picture was taken during our annual family Christmas Eve Day skate — a tradition we’ve had since 2004. It all started with myself and my two nephews, but now it’s a full family event, with breakfast included. Even the benders and grandparents lace their skates.

This day is always fun, and you can see how all of us have changed and grown. It’s a day to reflect and reconnect. Maybe we’ll meet somebody’s new boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes we’ll see how others’ skills have grown in sports, and hear about their team and how they’re playing. We’ll probably ask about a relative’s first semester at college, or their last.

There are times when we must acknowledge who is not there. That can be painful — even if we don’t talk about it.  

But it’s a tradition we all look forward to every year. 

The morning skate is a lot like habits. It started small, but it has grown and blossomed. It becomes contagious to you and to others.

In the small town my wife is from, other families have started renting ice after our time to do the same type of thing. Last year, I feared it would end because of COVID. But it didn’t. And this year, as I write this, I am waiting for COVID results for all three of us. (We all tested negative)

It’s funny how we value things more when they are threatened. We are fortunate to have the means to do this, and to be able to spend time with family and enjoy each other.

With that said, I also realize that sometimes the holidays are hard for people. I’ve heard that specifically from people I work with. 

Remember that it’s okay to not be okay. Especially if you have suffered a recent loss, it’s normal to feel like that. Recent can even mean years ago. Grief goes in cycles, and this time of year amplifies that. Be good to yourself and the people around you.  

This time of year, we give presents. Remember that your presence is important to someone. Remember you are one of God’s precious children. Nothing more. Nothing less. 

Happy Holidays to all of you from the staff at the Center for Sports and the Mind.  

Mental Fitness Friday: Mental Toughness

Yogi Berra once said: “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”  

What if he was wrong?

A couple of years ago, I worked with an athlete who wanted to make a big jump in performance. 

“What if making that jump is 100 percent mental?” I asked

 Silence. 

“But it’s not,” he insisted.

“That’s true. It’s not. But you have all the physical tools you need, the size and experience. What would change if you assumed it was?” I asked.

“A lot” he replied. “It would mean I am weak and I am soft — that I am wasting my time and my career.”

“Hmm,” I pondered.

“I guess it means I need to spend more time on it,” he said. “I need to learn more, add more tools, read, put the time in and meet with you more often.”

Yogi’s point is the mental portion is important. The mental toughness myths make it hard for us to believe that it is important. We want to divorce the mental from the physical.  

But aren’t they all the same? Your brain is an organ just like your heart, or like a muscle. Your brain coordinates it all, and it starts and ends there. It dictates the rules, the concepts, how you move or how you don’t.  

If your performance is 100 percent mental, then you need to change how you approach everything — practices, games, and all the other things you do to promote performance.  

If you assumed your performance as a student, an athlete, a coach, or as a human being, what would have to change? What would it mean about you if it was? Assuming it’s mostly physical leads us to ignore the brutal reality that it’s all connected — that the mental part matters.  

As I write this, I realized that assuming it’s 100 percent mental really means one thing. It means your performance, your big leap, is 100 percent your responsibility. I think that’s what I was trying to get across to my athlete. When you make it only physical, it makes it your parents, your genes, or God, their responsibility. It’s another subtle mental toughness myth.  

Mental fitness matters. It’s a part of everything we do.

Here’s a little exercise:

1)  Dig deep. What would it mean about you, or what needs to happen, if it is 100 percent mental? Try changing the meaning. I bet the meaning you make is from a mental toughness myth. You don’t need to believe those, by the way. 

2) Write down five things you would be doing differently, or need to start doing, if you assume it’s 100 percent mental and 100 percent your responsibility to make it happen. 

Mental Fitness Friday: Never Stop Learning

When I renew my license to practice, I report 40 hours of continuing education. Though that’s the law, I truly enjoy the time I spend learning. I’m committed to finding ways I can be better at what I do.  

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

This week, I heard a coach say they’re done learning and changing. I’ll often hear this from both athletes and coaches, and it puzzles me. They may think they have it all figured out and don’t need help or feedback, but they don’t realize how important it is to continue learning. The athletes who use our coaching are open to learning.

I’ve had the chance to read hundreds of books on human development, sports psychology and mindfulness. My job is to share that knowledge.

What I’ve read in many of those books is similar, but I never stop reading. Each has its own way of looking at things, which opens so many possibilities to change.

Mentally fit athletes love to learn because it’s how they improve. If you feel threatened by not knowing something, find a way to change your mindset.

I’ve heard people say: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

I don’t know that I agree with that statement, but I do know that if you ain’t learning, you ain’t trying.

Isn’t that why we push ourselves to participate in sports — to learn about ourselves, the world and our place in the world? I realize it’s risky to learn. You can gain new insights, which may force you to change your views or your performance.

At the end of the day, I urge all of you to write down the most important thing that you learned that day. If you can, start a running list in a notebook. Some days may require more thought that others, but that’s a good thing. You’ll build that habit, and you’ll realize that you do, in fact, learn every day. The things you learn don’t have to be big things. Sometimes it’s the small things that can change your direction or lead you to better results.

If you want to take this even further, make a list of topics you would like to learn more about. Those topics could relate to work, hobbies, self-development or even your kids’ sports. Spend time reading, watching videos or taking a class.

Once you’ve learned a thing or two, maybe teach a class of your own. Teaching really is the best way to learn.  

Black Friday Freebie

This week’s Mental Fitness Friday includes a steal of a deal, absolutely FREE of charge from me to you. Are you ready for it? Today I am going to give you (drum roll please) 100 percent FREE humor, provided by me.

Yep, a Black Friday treat for you–and you don’t even have to get up at the crack of dawn or stand in line to claim it.

The joke I tell in this week’s video is not super complicated. I love telling it because it is so juvenile and simple. The suspense, focus, and unknown are all a part of its appeal. It’s a joke that requires mental fitness to tell.  If you ever want to break the ice, or demonstrate that you are willing to take a risk of looking goofy try telling the joke.  I believe it requires some expensive confidence just because it is so corny.    

All jokes aside, we at Center For Sports & Mind are truly grateful that you are a part of our audience. We began Mental Fitness Fridays to not only help change the stigma around topics associated with mental health, but to reach our audience and have a direct impact. We use our newsletter, blog posts and videos as a way to help create and change the conversation about navigating the mental skills that are needed to play consistently well. Hopefully you find it useful enough to get you started, and know that we are always ready to help you take that next step in person, too.

In the coming year, we at Center For Sports & Mind plan to expand the services we offer and give you more concrete ways to integrate what we have learned. Afterall, we hope our past experiences will help you to build a better future.  

In addition to my sense of humor, you will notice that our video includes someone new. Her name is Carissa Wolyneic, and she just joined our practice as a new therapist. As mentioned above, at Center For Sports & Mind we are working to extend our impact in several ways; Carissa is just one of those ways and we are excited to have here.

A little bit of background on Carissa: She did her graduate practicum with us at Center For Sports & Mind, and during that time (and beyond) we have been impressed with her intelligence, ability to connect with others, and her willingness to learn and ask great questions.  

Along with her direct work-related skills, Carissa played basketball at Concordia-Saint Paul and holds the single season record for 3-pointers in each a season and a career. There is no doubt that her excellence on the court will crossover to her work with athletes. 

Carissa is available to take some insurances, and she is able to coach and consult with athletes and coaches on improving their mental fitness. Watch for her videos coming soon that will help you to get to know her and her work.

We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and thank you for your continued support as we hope to support you in every way can!

6 ways to optimize coherence

Last week we talked about the highs and lows of confidence — cheap confidence versus expensive confidence.

There are a number of ways to achieve expensive confidence, but one way that I have found particularly useful is by focusing on coherence and your inner balance. In fact, there’s an app and sensor, appropriately called Inner Balance, that I have come to love.

Our body has three levels of coherence: low, medium and high. High coherence is similar to your Optimal Performance Zone.  Medium is too relaxed and low is too tense. Coherence is all about our brain and our heart being in sync with each other. Coherence is used to measure heart rate variability and is a biofeedback tool (learn more about the technology at heartmath.org).

The app is a way to practice your breathing and meditation while keeping track of your progress, giving instantaneous feedback to help you train toward high coherence.

In case I haven’t sold you enough (and no this isn’t a paid advertisement), here are a couple other reasons I recommend the Inner Balance app:

1.) It’s a habit that leads to change over time. Even just five minutes per day has an impact. As you improve, you can change the level of difficulty and learn how you react to challenges.  

2.) It gives measurable feedback and creates self awareness. Default reactions to disappointments show up quickly so they can be changed, and after each session it gives you a breakdown of how much time you spent in each level.  

3.) Success happens when you focus on returning to high coherence, something you really learn how to get to.  

4.) You can visualize while doing it which strengthens the impact of both habits, and an added bonus is that you can integrate music and videos on your phone into the app.  

5.) It gets solid results. One of my clients added it to his daily routine in the second half of his season and his goal and point production went up to about 1.5 per game.  

6.) The breathing techniques that are taught can be used anywhere, at any time.  .  

An app isn’t the only way to build coherence. There’s a quick technique that can be done in a three-step process — something I use frequently when I get nervous to speak.

Step  1: Focus on your breathing on the area of your heart and feel your breath going in out of your heart. 

Step 2: Establish a slow, comfortable rhythm. 

Step 3: The most important step: make an emotional shift to something you love, care about or appreciate (mine was sleeping on the pontoon on a warm day). 

John Wooden once said “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we we would all be much happier ” — that’s why it works. 

Email me to learn more.  I have them on hand.

Mental Fitness Fridays: Are You Confident?

Confidence: it’s something we all want when it comes time to perform on any stage. Like mental toughness, there are common myths about confidence that mess with our heads.

Those myths are:

1) Confidence is an emotion only.
2) You don’t need to work on confidence, it’s just ‘there’.
3) “My coach can take it away.”
4) “I can’t play well with out it.”

These myths developing what we call ‘cheap confidence’. Cheap confidence gets you nowhere. What I look for is for athletes that I work with to develop what I call ‘expensive confidence’. What’s difference?

Cheap confidence is built with false beliefs. It relies on emotion and often is temporary. Cheap confidence is easily destroyed,  built on superstition and status and constantly needs to be fed praise from others. When cheap confidence is gone, reactivity rains, and you hope and pray to the God’s of sports to restore it. Cheap confidence also almost always waits for something good to happen, and with it , you try to please everyone so they can believe in you (and often you please no one in the process).  

On the other hand, expensive confidence is earned. It’s durable and resilient. You recognize that it’s a skill and not just an emotion. Expensive confidence is built on the little things and while it may feel boring, it’s beneficial. Expensive confidence is pumped up by preparation. With expensive confidence you believe in you even when you don’t feel your best. With expensive confidence you’re aware and mindful, and you practice emotion management strategies to keep it in check. Expensive confidence is flexible and allows you to know when and how to problem solve versus waiting for things to happen.

So, how do you get get expensive confidence instead of cheap confidence? By practicing listenting to your own voice. Act according to your performance values and take care of yourself with the basics of sleep, nutrition, water.  Other things that can help:

• Meditate
• Visualize
• Know your strengths — and use them
• Be satisifed while striving
• Seek and Learn from criticism
• Evolve and change your game when you need to
• Separate who you are from what you do
• Seek new knowledge
• Be courageous
• Realize great relationships equal great results with others and with yourself. 

AND challenging the mental toughness myths.

That’s it. Now go forward and be confident that you have what it takes to be worth the extra price tag.

Test your character

Today, let’s talk about character and the (very) important role it plays in mental fitness.  

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say: “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” 

Wooden, rightfully so, considered character as a part of his pyramid of success. It was a huge part of the basketball dynasty he built at UCLA.

For me, character is one of the reasons I have been involved in the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top Division 1 men’s hockey player each year. One of the Hobey criteria is strength of character.  The winners I have met over the last 17 years have exemplified that character builds excellence.    

Success without character can taint or destroy how you feel about an accomplishment.  

Take for instance the recent events surrounding Kyle Beach and the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2010 Stanley Cup Season. As more details emerged about the sexual abuse and the protocols followed or not followed, you learned how those who may previouly have been deemed of ‘high character’ did not act like it then.

Character happens when we act out of care, courage and compassion, elevating those values even when it’s uncomfortable. Courage is then acting with integrity in spite of fear (two words really can’t be used in relation to the Blackhawks and Kyle Beach situation). There have, unfortunately been so many other instances in sports where you see people act without character or courage (Penn State, USA gymnastics etc.)

So much of a person’s character is built in reaction to situations like those mentioned. Reaction to the comfortable and uncomfortable. In sports, we often believe the uncomfortable means something is wrong with us, but earning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable is an important skill. It helps us to act with character.

High-profiled and extreme instances like the Blackhawks aren’t the only uncomfortable character building situations however. Several years ago, I was hired by a team that repeatedly lost to its rival in pursuit of a state championship.  

During a session, I asked the team if there was anything that they felt the coaches needed to change. The coach, hearing this and being put on the spot immediately felt uncomfortable. My reply?

“Do you want to be uncomfortable now or after you lose again for the fourth year in a row?” 

So, together — the team, coaches and I — created a plan. We learned from that conversation the players had about changes of their coach. And then, ya know what? Care, courage and compassion happened. Character was built and guess what — the team won state.    

If you haven’t, watch Kyle Beach’s interview where he talks about his experience.  It is hard, and uncomfortable, but necessary watch. Test your character and ask yourself what you would have done if you were Kyle’s teammate.

Kyle Beach speaks with Rick Westhead about his lawsuit against the Chicago Blackhawks organization

The pain is real, and raw. It takes courage, care and compassion to get the help you need.  Sometimes we need to share some of our own to help others find theirs. 

Challenge the myths. Change the conversation.