MAP IT. BELIEVE IT. ACHIEVE IT. How a Stanford Team became Fierce

We had nine women on the team for the ’91-’92 season: four freshmen, four sophomores, and one junior. Very small, and very young. I had just arrived at Stanford University to be the assistant coach for the Women’s Gymnastics Team. Up to that point, Stanford had little success. They’d never made it to the NCAA National Championships, before. They wanted to break into that level, yet talent was an issue. And worse than that, what I observed almost immediately, these young women did not play the part. They lacked the confidence and ‘grit’ you see in a driven team.

I wanted to change that.

As a college gymnast in the 80s, I competed for the University of Utah. We were the best in the nation. While I was on the team, we won 4 consecutive NCAA National Championships. Under Greg Marsden, one of the winningest coaches in college sports. We had extremely disciplined practices, killer conditioning, and consistent mental training with sport psychologist, Dr. Keith Henschen. The mental training was powerful, and, furthermore, Utah had fiercely determined athletes. Every gymnast trained with a boldness I admired. I was motivated every day by my teammates. They had ‘sass’ and vision. Greg drilled us into the strongest and leanest bodies, with focused minds and exact performances. Wewould win.

I wanted to infuse that into Stanford.

In Fall pre-season training, one day, I entered the gym with a map. We had talked with the team about their goal to make it to nationals and I had an idea. I unfolded the chart of The United States of America and showed it to the girls: “Here we are in California.” I tapped Palo Alto. “Nationals are in…” and I pointed way across the map, “Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”

I folded my arms and said: “We are going to Alabama.”

Their eyes grew wide…and they smiled.

I had a red marker and made a RED DOT where we were in Palo Alto, and another RED DOT where we were going – Tuscaloosa. I taped the map to the wall in the gym, right by bars.

“Every extra hard practice you do, we will draw a small red line toward Alabama. Every conditioning round. Every bike circuit. Every early morning aerobics. You will be stronger, more focused and more disciplined than ever before. You will become a top team and you will earn your way to Alabama.”

I could feel my own determination buzzing in my body, and as the team looked at me and the map, I could also feel their energy – it was palpable.

Over the following weeks, we drilled and drilled: lots of basics, solid technique, perfect form, repetition, repetition. We broke down the gymnasts physically till they cramped and moaned. It was exhausting…and thrilling. Then we had team talks. Intense talks. They were asked to reveal personal challenges, doubts and fears. Acknowledge their own conflicts and struggles. The girls got to know each other deeply, and in kind, supported each other in every way. They pushed each other to overcome, to work harder, draw red lines on the map, and keep going and going… The drive began.

In the locker room, they kept a team journal. The women randomly took turns entering positive, inspiring messages to each other. Writing and reading those messages kept them hooked into believing Nationals was possible.

In the winter, we started competition. I said, “Now, you need to TELL SOMEONE 10 times a day – A friend, parent, dog, anyone. Tell them you’re going.

They paused….got quiet.

“This isn’t bragging or wishing,” I explained. “You are being assertive. You are taking action and spreading positive belief. You are saying what you want and what you will do.”

They looked at each other, hesitating, but a new challenge stirred inside them.

Soon, I had daily phone messages, “Hey Coach, we’re going to Nationals!” “Coach, see you in Alabama.” “Coach, did you know we’re going to Nationals? hahaha”

They took it seriously, it was fun, and they started to become fierce. They strutted into the gym, arms swinging, and heads held higher. They shared with each other who they were telling, who was excited for them, and also, who believed in them. They kept marking red lines on the map. They built mental powers. They were beginning to believe. 

The season progressed; we competed every week. Going against UCLA, Arizona State, and other dynamic teams was not easy; we were not winning. So we had to remind our Stanford gymnasts the journey is a process: “Keep your eyes on each other, focus on performances. Don’t watch the other team.” They listened. They re-focused. And soon, we were breaking Stanford school records. Other coaches and teams took notice, and our routines were securing solid scores from the judges. This. Was. . We were emerging as confident competitors.

In practice, we sat in a circle and imagined. We talked about Alabama, what Tuscaloosa looked like, the 2-hr time difference, southern culture, which famous bbq restaurant we’d eat at, and we performed mock ‘national’ competition in our gym. The team pretended to go against other teams at Nationals. and rehearsed the determination and focus for ‘the stage.’ As we approached NCAA Regionals, the lo-ng dotted red line on the map, from California to Alabama, was complete. When the team saw it, in some way it cemented all of their hard work. They had earned it. And by the time we arrived at Regionals, the Stanford team had evolved.

They created courage and honed a calm stance. Before competing beam, they blocked out everyone else, a mental ritual I taught them. They gathered in a circle, held hands, closed eyes, and stood very still…breathing….as one. The crowd made noise, music played, and our opponent rumbled. But our team focused solely on themselves. Going inward and connecting with each other gave them inner power—it made them believe in their abilities and the strength of their collective energy. We were one of the most consistent beam teams in every meet we competed.

Finally, after 6 months of preparation the night arrived. NCAA Regional Championships were hosted at UC Berkeley. Our team knew it was the deciding meet. I could feel the tension. After warm ups our nine women-athletes were dressed and set in red sweats, ponytails, and white bows. It was time to march into the arena for competition…they were strangely quiet.

Then, Kerri, one of the sophomores broke the silence. She yelled, “EVERYONE…JUST RELAX!!!!”

There was a silence…and they all burst out laughing. They giggled and nudged each other, making little cracks, “Guys, it’s just a meet.”

You may not believe it, but that night of competition wasn’t about Nationals. It was about who they were; who they had become as athletes; how they matured as competitors; who they wanted to be for each other. And, ohhh, how Stanford did it. With Athena-like valor, the gymnasts transcended, flying high, nailing dismounts, and peaking at NCAA Regionals. When it was all over, when the scores were in and double checked, Stanford University squeaked in as the 12th and final qualifier to the 1992 NCAA National Championships. Stanford Gymnastics was going to Alabama!

At Nationals, we did very well. We moved up a spot and finished 11th in the country, the highest Stanford ever finished.

Since then, Stanford Women’s Gymnastics Team has competed in 15 NCAA National Championships and is one of the premier teams in the country. I often recall that year, that journey, and how amazing it was. Sometimes I shake my head and think to myself…Noooo waayyy, I can’t believe it.  :)

They Always Forget to BREEEATHE: the Key to Free-Flowing, Accurate Performance

For years, I trained and competed. I was young, faced the best athletes, and did well. But even after ten-plus years, I was still learning about my body, how to breathe…relax…and use awareness… Use mental skills to consistently win. I didn’t know breathing could help.

Then, my freshman year in college, I was struck. Beata Jencks was an older, grey-haired, German woman with a really thick accent; she was intellectual, warm, and one of my brilliant professors.  I took her 2-day workshop on psychophysiology along with many student-athletes. I was mesmerized, post knee surgery, to learn the interconnection of the mind and body for healing and maximal body function. Then she used me as an example: “Lisa, Lisa, come up here,” she prodded. I gimped through the desk-aisle on my crutches. Beata proceeded to teach me and the class how to breathe and assist our bodies to take action. She referred to my knee injury, the exact spot where the meniscus was repaired. Then carefully, and mindfully, she explained how to breathe deeply and be in tune with each body part; she described being aware of my body’s status (tense, injured, or ill), and to visualize the lively inner workings (muscle fibers, tendons, blood cells, bone cells…), that they are in constant action, mending and radiating. As I started to focus on my knee, I imagined the healing inside my body. I could “see” the tissues and cells mending as I breathed new air and sent vital energy to my knee. It was amazing. I felt different. I was uplifted. Throughout the workshop, Beata taught from her book,Your Body – Biofeedback at its Best. And above all, Beata Jencks demonstrated that the breath was central to creating affirmative action. The breath is central to ALL body movement.

finished easy golf swing  In every sport, for competition and games, athletes and active adults aim to play their best. They want to win! But the most common problem is trying — trying so hard they clench muscles, get tight, and often forget to breathe deeply. Of course, we all breathe involuntarily. Of course. But to keep oxygenating the muscles, and produce smooth, fast, powerful, expanded movement, maximum voluntary breathing is necessary. Athletes don’t realize that breathing is an integral tool to heighten physical play—free your movement to a natural swing, kick, or shot, run faster, swim faster… So, allow me to share…

I currently teach deep breathing and imagery to my athlete-clients. My clients become more aware of their body, their thoughts, and how to channel their energy toward positive and productive action. Everything derives from the breath. For myself, as a national champion gymnast and former coach at Stanford University, I highly recommend you give the practice of deep breathing a try; incorporate it into your preparation and competition. Here is information and steps to ready your mind and body for top performance!

breathing lying down

KNOW

1. You can train yourself to breathe fully and intentionally; create a respiratory rhythm that enables you to do [and be at] your best.

2. You can accomplish a careful retraining of productive breathing by using your imagination and joint movement. (Yes! Use your imagination!)

3. Understand that shallow tight breathing constricts your air and body movement.

4. Often, held unnecessarily, the short breath tenses muscles throughout the body; you limit actions and “fight” yourself.

5. Progressive relaxation is a valuable exercise. It teaches you to recognize the difference, when your body is tight and when it is loose. You intentionally tense up your muscles, inhaling and holding your breath, then blow out, releasing completely to be relaxed and limp. Like a wet noodle. Experiencing these two states — tense, then relaxed — bestows an acute awareness of your body so you can prepare to perform.

Breathing exercises

DO

1. Inhale completely through your nose, filling your lungs, chest and diaphragm with air. Count slowly to 3 or 4 while inhaling. Feel the expansion of the ribs. Feel your abdomen spread. Be in tune with this In-Breath.

2. Hold the breath for a moment…again, fully aware of this sensation, being expanded, tight, and filled with air.

3. Exhale slowly on the Out-Breath, counting to 6 or 8 (twice as long as the inhale). As you exhale and empty your body, the Out-Breath brings you to be calmer and more Zen-like. In this state, you release tension and can get ‘in the zone.’ A “relaxed readiness.” Clear. Sure. Distractions and doubts leave, and you can focus sharply on your tasks.

4. Do this deep breathing often — in practice, 3 times in a row (to create change) before you start to perform a move or play. Practice breathing at night, before bed. 5 times in a row. Relax all muscles, become heavy, on the out-breath. After a week, or 7 days, of doing this intentionally, you can reduce to 2 times in a row. Do 30 days. Make this a habit.

You CAN create positive change in your body and mind through breathing practice. Dr. Ken Ravizza and Dr. Keith Henschen, both ground-breaking sport psychologists, taught me all the mental tools, including deep slow breathing. Use deep breathing, along with positive talk, and you can ground yourself into a calm, focused state. And you will improve your performance.

Me, talking to college track team about breathing and applying mental skills to performance.

Me, talking to college track team about breathing and applying mental skills to performance.

Breathing rocks! And if interested in group or one-on-one lessons, let me know. I’d be happy to work with you!

reach, sweat, believe,

mitz

Awareness, awareness, awareness! – Self 1 vs. Self 2

“Oh, that was bad!” “Man, I’m slow,” “What’s wrong with me, run faster!” “God…I can’t do this.”

Allow me to introduce you to yourself as…Self 1, better known as, your Critical Voice. Such a judgmental and bossy voice — a voice that’s hard on you when you make mistakes, it’s not forgiving, and not objective. This voice tightens you up in the midst of self-criticism. 

Do you recognize that voice inside you? Of course you do — we all do it. But does it feel good to criticize yourself? that is the question. And does it motivate you. Orrr does it cause you to doubt your abilities. And moreover, is this how your coach talks to you…? If so, maybe imagine silver duct tape over his/her mouth, because those critical messages are not instructional, nor encouraging.

Now, consider your other self, Self 2 – the body, the performer, The Doer. (Not a voice.) Self 2 is often overpowered by Self 1, because your critical voice tells your body what to do and does not trust your body’s ability to perform. Self 1 tries to force things, it tries too hard, and that creates tension and an inner battle. You, my friend, battle yourself. And an inner battle tightens, it obstructs, it stops free flowing movement, and therefore, kills your performance. 

Self 2, The Doer, learns best through sensory experiences: seeing, feeling, listening, while performing. What does a basketball player FEEL in her elbows, wrists, and fingers when she shoots a free throw shot? Is it quick? Abrupt? Extended? Fluid? What does a gymnast SEE before, during, and after she jumps backward to do a back flip?  

Put your attention on what you SEE and FEEL during your performance. Be in tune with the sensory experience and you will be in tune with your body. Not distracted. But very focused.

Put your attention on what you SEE and FEEL during your performance. Be in tune with the sensory experience and you will be in tune with your body. Not distracted. But very focused.

SENSORY EXPERIENCE BRINGS FOCUS: Being aware of sensory experiences keeps you in tune with your body, therefore, more connected to Self 2, The Doer. And that gets you out of the critical mode, the doubts, the nervousness, and INTO FOCUS. Get connected to Self 2. Leave the critical voice behind. Be clear and positive for best performance by connecting to your body. 

USE YOUR BRAIN – BECOME AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS: How do you connect to your body? The trick is this: First, you need to PUMP UP AWARENESS. Use your brain! Become very aware of your critical voice. What does it say? Learn how your mind works, because once you recognize what’s happening – what your train of thoughts sound like – that’s how you can stop the negative and critical messages. Then shift into a clear, positive, and powerful mind that cooperates with your body. Start playing [in your mind] positive messages about yourself and what you want to do. The prize of learning awareness is to be able to change your thoughts, which changes your whole approach, which of course effects your performance. Again, you will perform better when you use your brain to think positively and stay in tune with your body. 

Use your brain in a strategic manner, practice awareness, observe your performance, play positive messages. Because...your brain IS a muscle!

Use your brain in a strategic manner, practice awareness, observe your performance, play positive messages. Because…your brain IS a muscle!           Illustrated by Lisa Mitzel

STEPS TO BECOMING AWARE AND PERFORMING YOUR BEST: Here are steps and exercises, that you can practice daily. I guarantee, once you put effort toward being aware, your attitude and performance will improve.

1. First, sit with paper and pen and think… Ask: What do I say to myself when struggling in practice? Write down the criticisms and negative messages you tell yourself.

2. Second, create a list of positive things you can say to yourself. Statements that are true. Like…I am fast, or I am strong, or I am good. Any message that someone has said about you and/or you know to be true about yourself. Say these messages to yourself. Like a mantra.

3. When practicing, put your attention on your thoughts. Listen to Self 1’s critical comments. Then stop them. Either use a mental Stop Sign. Or see and hear a ringing bell. That means STOP or ALERT! then change to your positive messages.

4. Observe. Learn to use your awareness to observe your own performance with no judgment. Observe your moves calmly, not emotionally, just note facts. For instance, “I kicked to the right,” makes you aware of what you did. It’s not a judgment. It’s a fact. And with that information, you can then say, “I’m going to move my leg in a straight line forward, kick straight.” This is instructional. Assertive in a positive way. Accurate. Not emotional or critical. 

5. Put your attention on what you SEE, FEEL, and HEAR. While you perform, create a fully-alive sensory experience. Don’t let you mind blank out. Focus on what you see and feel in moments of performing. Examples: I saw my hands hold the ball, I saw my leg kick straight, I felt my head tilt back, I felt my arms stretch up. See. Feel. Be in tune.

QUICK REVIEW:

1. Write down and learn about the critical messages you say to yourself.    

2. Make a list of positive, true statements about yourself.

3. During practice, listen to your critical voice and stop it – change to positive messages.

4. Observe your performance with no judgment, no emotion. See what you did, then give clear instructions to your body to make adjustments.

5. See, feel, and hear while you perform. Know what your body is experience through sensory perceptions. Note what you experience. Get into the experience.

Once you practice and do these steps, over and over, you will become less tense and more analytical. You will be using your brain in a strategic manner. You will trust your body is doing its best. You will be self-encouraging and, absolutely maintain a higher energy and free-flowing action. You will perform better! 

I like the model of Self 1 and Self 2. Thanks to W. Timothy Gallwey, who wrote “The Inner Game of Tennis: the classic guide to the mental side of peak performance.” It’s an excellent book! I suggest you read it, if at all interested.  

An excellent book - easy to read - to help you learn how to control your thoughts and perform your best. I teach similar methods when I work with my athlete-clients, teaching them mental skills. It's good stuff!

An excellent book – easy to read – to help you learn how to control your thoughts and perform your best. I teach similar methods when I work with my athlete-clients, teaching them mental skills. It’s good stuff!

I hope this helps you.  Send me any message if you’d like to! 

reach, sweat, believe,

~mitz

If you’d like assistance in learning mental skills – learning how to perform your best – reach out, contact me. This is what I love to do. See LisaMitzel.com. And smile! 

 
(photo credit: “eye” photo from article about kids with ESP)

LISA SELF-ACTUALIZED A TED Talk…for real!

WELL…I’M NOT LYING, THE TED TALK IS REAL!  Like I’ve said before – say what you want, then go get it! Last fall, I said to a friend, “I really want to do a TED Talk.”  And guess what. I got invited to speak at a TEDx Youth Event at Summit Prep in Redwood City in exactly 1 month – June 6, 2014. hahahaha

I’M DOING A TED TALK!!! 

Am I nervous? Ohh, I will be, but I can SEE myself there, at the event, on stage, smiling, doin’ mah thang. It’s all good. And of course, I’m writing my speech, and I will practice up the kazooey, but I want to say to the Summit students: “I’m so psyched to come talk with you!”

So that’s the BIG news…and I have a new website. Yes, it’s hard to remember:

LisaMitzel.com 

hoo-boy, that’s so unexpected!  :)  And I have a new logo. I’m pasting below, but do click to LisaMitzel.com. It looks way cooler, there. AND I offer speaking and coaching services, I’m teaching writing camps, workshops, and I tutor one-on-one. Multi-talented. Or, multi-passionate. So, yeah, I realized…THIS is what I’m supposed to be doing, my friends. And along with that, I’m sending you all good vibes and fairy dust to follow your passion. Magic happens when you do what you love.

My Logo!  Huge thanks to design master, Bob West, at Thoughtnozzle.com. You're the best, Bob!

My Logo! Hurray! This version is for  email – ergo, positioned left for signature :) 
Huge thanks to design master, Bob West, at Thoughtnozzle.com. You’re the best, Bob!

SPEAKING & COACHING COLLEGE TRACK TEAM Two weeks ago, I was at Santa Ana College speaking to and coaching the men’s and women’s track team. They. Are. AWESOME! I asked them what they want to do, what they struggle with, and we had a conversation. They asked me a LOT of questions, too, like how DID I (and my Utah team) win 4 consecutive national championship titles. No one does that! they said. hahaha. True. Tis’ rare. But I learned to be bold, take risks, say what you want, and keep surrounding yourself with like-minded people who support you. Yes, you must be disciplined to reach big goals. Yes, you must work closely with your team – show respect. And biggest most profound Yes, you MUST believe in yourself and use mental skills: visualize, positive self-talk, breath, relax, concentrate, and recall best performances. I took the team through breathing and relaxing exercise. They liked it!:)

Thanks for having me, Coach Miriam and Team. You guys rock!

Santa Ana College Track Team -  I got to speak with them and help them on performance/mental skills. Go Dons!    4/23/14

Santa Ana College Track Team – I got to speak with them and help them on performance/mental skills. I’m in middle, wearing red.   Go Dons! 4/23/14

Okay kids, I’m signing off. Wish me LUCK!

reach, sweat, believe,

~mitz

 

I JUMP ON THE LINE: How Athletes Self-actualize Success

“Come on! Jump on the line! You keep hitting the back of the board!” coaches say.

In gymnastics, there’s a line, a ‘sweet spot’ on the springboard. The line is key to hitting and compressing the board to get ultimate power and flight for the vault. It is hard. Because a gymnast runs full speed, and to jump on the line takes courage and practice. If you jump over the line, you may crash into the vault-table. Painful, could get seriously hurt. So many gymnasts jump behind the line. It’s safer, but less power. Less of a vault. Less of a score.

JUMP ON THE LINE: Speed and hitting the sweet spot--the line--on springboard is key to a Huge Vault!

JUMP ON THE LINE: Speed and hitting the sweet spot–the line–on springboard is key to a Huge Vault!

So it comes down to the question: Are you happy with what you’re doing, whatever you’re doing? Or do you want more? And if so…What do you want?

THINK: Most people think about what they want. It’s easy to think: I want to make the All-Star team, I want to be a fashion designer, I want to make a million dollars. Lots of people think those things. The thought is in your mind: I want…  And there’s no doubt, you have a desire. You may be distracted, “But how?” and there may be low-lying doubts, “I’m not sure I can.” But all-in-all, it’s clear — you are wishing.

SAY: Many people will take it another step further. For instance, in conversation, an athlete will say in a determined voice, “I will make the All-Star team.”

PRACTICE: And the athlete works for it, she practices, she sweats and cramps, and pushes herself hard — awesome! The wish is there and the work is there. Two for two. Game on.

BUT SOMETHING IS MISSING…

KNOW: This is the hardest thing for most athletes, professionals, or anyone who aspires. What is missing is KNOWING. Having 100% complete knowledge that your ‘want’ and ‘will’ is going to manifest into real life. Huhh? Yep, know what you want and manifest that into real life. For the athlete, you see the full vision — you’re on the All-Star team, wearing the team uniform, practicing with teammates, getting cues from the coach, traveling to away games, playing for the team, and, winning. You got it? You are there. You’re good enough. You are on the team, already. Perhaps it’s in your head, but that’s a minor detail. The bottom line is, or the higher mind acts as if, you have it. You already have it. It is real. You see it, believe it, and know it. The best athletes in the world use this type of vision and mindset of ‘knowing.’ It’s what makes them the best.

So, what are the steps to doing that, manifesting and self-actualizing what you want? Here is one powerful exercise that I used with the team I coached when I was at Stanford University… And the team was successful.

Me coaching at Stanford with Linda Chun (gymnast). We worked a lot on programming the mind. And it worked!

Me coaching at Stanford with Linda Chun (gymnast). We worked a lot on programming the mind. And it worked!

TO SELF-ACTUALIZE, PROGRAM THE MIND: I was the women’s gymnastics coach at Stanford University in the 90s. We had a volunteer sport psychologist, a Masters student, working with the team. For a few months, he facilitated discussion and/or mental exercises on a weekly basis. The team’s ultimate goal for the season was to compete at NCAA National Championships. And we needed help with jumping on the line. The ladies struggled. It seemed to be a psychological block. They held back. But they wanted to improve. They were hungry.

THE MENTAL EXERCISE: We gave the gymnasts recorders and they did this…they found a quiet spot near the gym and followed these instructions: Say and record what you need to do, say it multiple times, and listen to it repeatedly (3x), 6 days a week for two weeks (minimum).

DEVICE: Use a mini-recorder/mobile device and tape yourself saying each line (note the emphasis on certain words):

First series – WANT

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

 

Second series – WILL

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

 

Third series – I DO

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

Know you can HIT THE LINE. Whatever you want, KNOW you can. Program your mind and manifest what you want.

Know you can HIT THE LINE. Whatever you want, KNOW you can do it. Program your mind, SEE it, and manifest what you want.

ATHLETES PROGRAM THEIR BRAINS TO PERFORM ACCURATELY. Through repetitive phrases, you are embedding in your mind what you will do. There is thought, spoken word, and the successful result. LISTEN to your recording, and visualize yourself doing the physical task. Feel it in your muscles. By speaking it, you tap into your personal power. You create the desired experience. It’s real in your mind.

You jump on the line. It’s what you do.  The Stanford Team did improve – they got MUCH better at hitting the line on the board. And they did go to Nationals – 1990s. Fabulous ladies.

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Now, what is your desire! What do you want to make happen? Program your mind. Write it down. Say it. Listen to it. You can do it!

Reach, sweat, believe,

~Mitz

And a shout out to Utah Gymnastics, my college team – they WON NCAA REGIONALS, TODAY in Arkansas. They are heading to Nationals! Go Utah!  

Utah Gymnastics Team 2014 - Pac 12 Champs. NCAA Regionals Champs. And cross fingers - NCAA National Champs. Ha!

Utah Gymnastics Team 2014 – Pac 12 Champs. NCAA Regionals Champs. And cross fingers – NCAA National Champs. Ha!

The Positive CD in your head – play it, and CONQUER!!!

It happens to ALL athletes – distractions, concerns, negative thoughts. But the most consistent athletes, they control their thoughts, they conquer distractions. One of the best strategies you can use is to play A POSITIVE CD IN YOUR HEAD. It works.

CD image

A couple months ago, I had a consulting session with a multi-sport athlete; for this blog, I’ll call her Jan. She’s a high school sophomore, lean, muscular, a pure jock, and was near the end of cross-country season – her fall sport. Her dad contacted me and asked if I could help her; Jan had NOT been able to perform well. She’d been struggling all season with migraine headaches, nagging tendonitis, and feeling low about herself, especially compared to her very successful freshman year with copious accolades and attention. Now, she was in a hole.

Jan and I met. I told her that I’d experienced debilitating struggles when I was 15; I nearly quit my sport. But then I worked closely with a sports psychologist and learned important tools that helped me overcome distractions and fears.

I asked Jan: Do you have distracting thoughts? For instance… Man, everyone here is really good. Oh my gosh, she’s fast. I don’t think I’m good enough. What am I doing here? I feel slow. I have hardly any energy.

Jan said with conviction, “I have them ALL the time.” (Hmmm, just what I thought…)

I continued… There are ways to manage those thoughts. There are 6 main Mental Skills: 1) Concentration, 2) Breathing, 3) Relaxing, 4) Positive Self-Talk, 5) Recall, and 6) Visualizing. But first, let’s get simple: When things feel out of control, you need perspective…

Question: What CAN you control on your path to achieving your goals? I gave her an exercise to do on a sheet of paper. This is it, below…see THE LIST, THE MOUNTAIN, and THE EXERCISE.

THE LIST: Thoughts, Feelings, Anxiety, Nervousness, Breathing, Communication, Actions, Decisions, Sleep, Food intake, Texting/FB, Social time w friends, Accomplishing homework, Participating in family activities, Respecting yourself, Respecting others, Supplementary/extra workouts , Athletic field, Weather, Injuries, Officials, Time/clock, Opponents/competitors, Parents/rules, Others’ expectations, Coach, Teammates, Your health, Colleges you apply to, Colleges that accept you.

THE MOUNTAIN:

mountain sketch EXERCISE: WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL on your path

Write down each item (from THE LIST) that you can NOT control, put those at the bottom of the mountain. On your journey to the peak, you will leave those items behind. And write along the outside of the mountain, going upward, the items you CAN control – those are what you will take with you to the top. This exercise will make it distinctly clear what you can control.

The first item on the list is THOUGHTS. Now, instead of allowing negative and distracting thoughts to enter your mind, you need to create new thoughts. New thoughts will be POSITIVE AND TRUE FACTS and they will replace the others. So…let’s create a Positive CD you can play in your head.

MAKE A POSITIVE CD

I asked Jan what kind of compliments she has received. No answer. I asked, Has anyone ever told you, “You’re fast”? She smiled and said, Yes. I said, write that down. She did. We came up with two more facts so she had three total. This was the beginning of her Positive CD.

OMG…SUCCESS

In a crowd of runners, you must control your thoughts!  (photo: Biola University)

In a crowd of runners, you must listen to your positive thoughts! (photo: Biola University)

Five days later, equipped with a Positive CD, Jan was ready. She played her positive messages in her head at the race, and she had her BEST X-Country race of the season! Wow! She came to me for a second session and we worked on the Positive CD and relaxation techniques. After that session, at her next race, she got a PR, improved 30 seconds over the week before, and made All League. Amazing! She listened to her own positive voice and conquered her distractions.

With practice, you will find that YOUR positive voice is louder than anything or anyone else. Of course, still listen to your coach, teammates, and the game plan, but balance that with being directly in tune with yourself. You will be focused, and sometimes, when you are that focused, a certain seriousness may show up on your face. I know a college gymnast who tells me, for balance beam, she puts on her Bitch Face. Which means her ultimate concentration is in action – nothing can distract her. I love that. Bitch Face. Maybe put that on your Positive CD – it will make you laugh. And that’s a good thing.

reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz

A very energetic mentor of mine, Ellie Bryant, author, and college professor in the Spalding University MFA program (where I graduated) – Ellie helped me with my Positive CD for writing! Thanks, Ellie!

Lisa & Ellie at Spalding.2006

Need your opponent, then kick her ass: Sport Community is everything

My mom and I used to pray before practices, and ALL the time before competition. One meet, we not only prayed for me to do well, but my mom said (as we held hands, sitting in the car, me in a leotard and sweats): “…and may all the girls do their best, today…”

"We pray ALL the girls will do their BEST, today." -- my mom

“…and may ALL the girls do their BEST, today.” — my mom

Huh. Reeeally. We want everyone to do their best? Not just me? (I was 11)

This began my education, specifically in sports, to WISH EVERYONE WELL. That they will have a positive attitude, be safe, and perform their best. (I know, I know, why send anyone else good energy when you need it yourself to win? So keep reading…)

My mom demonstrated for me how to “bless” my opponents, as she openly wished them, “Good luck!” at gymnastics meets. She commented on how cute their hair ribbons and ponytails were, she buzzed around other moms and said nice things like, “Isn’t this exciting!” with a big grin on her face. My mom was absolutely happy, no, tickled, that all the competitors were there, together. Didn’t matter what team they were on. She delighted in the energy and anticipation of the event: the athletes marching out, standing in straight lines, singing the National Anthem, and heading to their first event. The competition was pure excitement for all to experience and watch!

Sports camp at Stanford inspires girls from all over. Sports community is key!

Sports camp at Stanford inspires girls from all over. Sports community is key!

So think *community.* A sports community. You need athletes, coaches, and officials in your sports community. And, consider your opponent…even if your opponent is a jerk or (pardon my french) an ass, this well-wishing is worth doing: So picture her in your mind, your opponent. Okay, now give thanks for this awful opponent. Better still, wish her well! (Smile, nod your head, shake hands.) Because you need her. And her fierce play can only give you the best test of your preparation, skills, and attitude. Choose the high road to be your finest self. Your energy – when you genuinely wish someone luck – will vibrate on a higher frequency than usual because of your positive thoughts, making all doors open for you in terms of performance and, yes, for miracles to happen.

So think about it: You NEED your opponent. NEEEEED. Or probably a better word is to ‘respect’ and ‘value.’ Because, without your opponent, there’s no one to challenge or play against. In addition, there would be no games – and no YOU as an athlete. It’s clear, you, by yourself, does not a sport make.

Gather, look in each others' eyes, and create energy and focus! Need each other!

Gather, look in each others’ eyes, and create energy and focus! Need your teammates!

Simply put, sport is people. Sport is community. Sport is a powerful connection with coaches and athletes who train, prepare, and compete. And sport is life-giving. If you genuinely wish opponents the best, in a flash, you can focus back on you, your breathing, and your performance. You can bring out your own inner “tiger” to go out and attack!

Come on. Say, “Good luck.” Wish your opponent well and mean it. Then, go get her…go kick her ass. That’s great competition!

And the cool part is that well-wishing is pure and good and inspiring to others. It is sport at its most magical high point. It’s you, me, everyone doing something amazing…like human beings…flying.  And that is *wow.* :)

reach, sweat, believe,

~mitz