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.  🙂

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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)

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!

WORST SETBACK EVER – Part III How I lost my skills, re-learned everything, and by a MIRACLE won 2 National Titles

RECAP PART II: Two angels entered my life: Lynn Rogers and Ken Ravizza, coach and sport psychologist at Cal-State Fullerton. They worked with me for 3 mos, I faced my fears, learned mental skills, slowly re-learned gymnastics skills. Almost all. But the fear lingered. Now, it was time to compete. (gasp!)

PART 3

ELITE QUALIFICATION? I got in ‘routine-shape,’ entered the meet in mid-January, hoping to qualify for Elite (my dream). Well, I tried, but I had to ‘water-down’ my routines – I was not really ready. Not confident. The success? I did not run away screaming. I made it through all four events and did not die. I was a gymnast, but I would repeat the Junior Olympic (J.O.) level for a third year. Baah. I felt very “junior.” But…I accepted it. Because that’s where I was at.

Message #4: Plant a seed and nurture it. Watch it grow, and you never know what will happen.  I was home, grabbing a snack in the kitchen. My mom, Lorie Mitzel, was in the kitchen, too. A natural You-can-do-anything person, my mom often encouraged me to reach for goals. She said: “Lisa, since you didn’t make Elite, what’s your goal this season for Junior Olympics?”  Hm, I hadn’t thought, so I joked: “Oh, I guess I’ll just win Nationals…” My mom raised an eyebrow, “Wow, wouldn’t that be something.” We were both surprised–it seemed like a huge dream–National Champion…huh.

Sophomore at Canyon H.S. Me...Mitzel.

Sophomore at Canyon H.S. Me…Mitzel, at 15.

PRACTICE MENTAL SKILLS, RELAX UNDER PRESSURE. Even though I wasn’t seeing Ken and Lynn any longer, I continued to practice all the mental tools. I stood in front of the equipment at the gym, took long deep breaths, talked to myself, “You can do this, Lisa, one move at a time.” I imagined each skill, visualized it, and what it felt like – a series of photos, still shots – because separately, each shot was a position I could “see” and “feel.”  My body moved from one to the next. Gradually, I got better and became more confident. Emotions–even–I didn’t judge good or bad, I was simply present in my mind & body. February and March, competition really improved, I was relaxing under pressure. Message #5: When in doubt, break it down. Break it down more. And keep your mind still and present, no judgment.

Mental Skills pyramid from Ohio Center of Sport Psychology

Mental Skills pyramid from Ohio Center for Sport Psychology. Great way to approach training & performing at your best!

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING. For competition, I prepared in every way, then ‘let it go.’ I prayed with my mom and simply believed that something good would happen. We stayed positive. We sent Good Luck to everyone at the meets – opponents, judges, coaches. We said: “Let everyone be their best.” And though I still got nervous, I channeled that energy to perform. And with all of that good stuff goin’ on…I began to win. I exuded calm and joy while competing. I was scoring high and people noticed me. The fearful athlete was fading–a new performer was rising.

APPROACHING 1980 J.O. NATIONALS. At the State and Regional competitions, there was a lot of talent. Lots. But guess what, I ended up winning! Me! And at Sectionals (Western U.S. Championships), I placed second all-around! No kidding! Finally, in May, Nationals were in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts University. AT NATIONALS – there were crazy-talented gymnasts, like Mary Lou Retton (who in 1984 would come to win Olympic Gold at the Los Angeles Games). If I looked around, it was intimidating. So all I could do was focus on me: Breathe, concentrate, talk to myself. There were three days of competition – Compulsories (my strength), Optionals (not my strength), Individual Finals (Optionals). Day 1, I didn’t think about my competitors, I concentrated on being in my zone. I was strong in Compulsories, which I needed to be, and at the end of the day, get this, I was in first place! Again–me! It was nuts.

IMG_2811

From the Mitzel Files…in the middle of back roll to handstand. The photo caption says, “Mitzel uses her head to lead.” They didn’t have a clue how much I was really using it.

J.O. competition has age groups. Juniors - 14 and under. Seniors - 15 and up. I was 15, so in the Sr. age group.

J.O. competition has age groups: Juniors – 14 and under. Seniors – 15 and up. I was 15, so in the Sr. age group.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? On Optional day, I wasn’t thinking about results, that was out of my control. I could only control ME. So you know what I did – I went for it! Had fun! No fear! And every event was great! Vault, Bars, Beam, and Floor. I stayed focused and enjoyed the meet. I did my job on each routine. Other coaches patted me on the back, “Nice job, Lisa.” It felt good. Finally, the scores were totaled (Compulsories and Optionals). How did I do in the All-Around? Did I make Top 10? Maybe Top 6? Results were posted on a wall. I walked over, saw a white piece of paper with names and scores. I scanned the list and…there, right there, in the top #1 spot was “Lisa Mitzel.” OMG! OMG! I couldn’t believe it!  I was first? Me? I won? HA! I was a National Champion! My coach, Jim, laughed so hard. I was STUNNED.

Article: Mitzel Nearly Quit, and made a big comeback

Article: Mitzel Nearly Quit, and made a big comeback

FINALS: Next day, I competed in 3 events, Vault, Bars, and Beam. Vault, I placed 5th, Bars, I fell. That left Beam. That night, many girls fell off beam. The arena was packed and all eyes were on one person competing at a time. The pressure was thick. I mounted the beam, I was relaxed and IN my zone, I was hitting, double backhandspring, back tuck, turns, leaps, doing great! Then I realized, I didn’t want to risk my front flip – so I skipped it, dismounted, and nailed it! My coach said, “Uhh, I think you forgot something.” I smiled, because, I just hit my routine in Finals. But I was sure I’d get a deduction, not enough difficulty.  But…the score was good! A 9.6, and that won beam! I was the National Beam Champion, too! I was now a 2-Time National Champion!!!!  IMG_2817

It was a Miracle. I was rock bottom just months prior. I nearly quit. I still struggled inside (tumbling still scared me). But the mental skills and positive attitude conquered all. It was a miracle that I did it – won 2 National titles. And people who helped me: My coaches at Kips, especially Jim Fountaine, pushed me. Ken and Lynn, were so patient. My teammates, my parents – especially my mom – all were my entire life line and support.

I hope this story helps you realize  – You can conquer any obstacle. You can.

Message #6: REACH for a goal, SWEAT and work hard, and BELIEVE in yourself, and you CAN ACHIEVE.

Reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz

WORST SETBACK EVER – Part II How I lost my skills, re-learned everything, and by a MIRACLE won 2 National Titles

RECAP PART I: Six weeks of decline, tears, fear, and hell, there was no hope. I decided to quit. My mom introduced reality: If I quit, my life would change – I wouldn’t train, travel, or compete – I will be NORMAL like other HS kids. I became terrified: If I’m not a gymnast, Who am I?  …I love gymnastics. I am a gymnast. I cannot quit. I must try.

PART 2

I re-entered the gym. But I had NO strategy. None. I just did small stuff, drills, 20 split leaps, 20 handstands, simple moves. No flipping. The question loomed, “How will you get back to the gymnast you were?”

[Message #2 – Miracles happen when you are Hopeful.] That week, Angel #1 appeared in our gym: Lynn Rogers, Head Coach of Cal-State Fullerton Women’s Gymnastics Team. His team won the National Championships in college women’s gymnastics. Previously, Lynn had worked with my coach, Jim, and he’d heard that I was struggling. “What’s up with Lisa?” he asked. Jim explained. Lynn suggested a Sport Psychologist at Cal-State Fullerton – Ken Ravizza – enter, Angel #2. Ken had worked successfully with the CSUF women’s gymnastics and baseball teams. (Women’s gymnastics had won the national championships…!)

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Coach, Lynn Rogers, W Gym CSUF

SPORT PSYCHOLOGY? So we met. Ken and Lynn offered to work with me twice a week, 2 hours a day – teach me methods in sport psychology. It seemed strange to talk about fear, do breathing and meditation. But hey, nothing else worked. I was willing to try.

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Ken Ravizza, Sport Psychologist

LEARN MENTAL SKILLS: The first hour was always in Ken’s office. We talked. He asked me questions, what I was thinking and feeling when I attempted my tricks in the gym. At what point do you start to feel afraid? Hm, this was not easy. I tried to imagine doing my skills, but often, I couldn’t or just got scared. So we started at the beginning, with very basic moves. I wrote and wrote in a journal. I captured details and emotions. He taught me Mental Tools: How to STOP, BREATHE, and USE A TRAFFIC SIGNAL as a model to manage my fear – green was go (no fear), yellow was pause (little fear), red was stop (peeing my pants from fear). I learned and practiced deep breathing, relaxation, clearing the mind, concentration, positive self-talk. Then I’d focus on one image or a word (that cued me). I visualized the simplest moves, then, harder moves (mental imagery). I did everything in my mind in slow motion, s-l-o-w–m-o-t-i-o-n. After a few weeks, I started to gain mental confidence. My fear temporarily disappeared at times, when things seemed easy and in control. But I was nervous. Ken put me AT EASE. His voice, gentle, his energy, very patient. I trusted him.

APPLY MENTAL SKILLS IN THE GYM: The second hour I spent in the gym. Lynn was my spotter, Ken guided me, starting with most basic skills. Front roll. Back roll. Like a 2 yr-old. Lynn supported me with his hands on my neck and back for safety and comfort. I did everything in slow motion, staying present in each moment, like slicing the skill into fractions. A single somersault had 10 slices – I became aware of the position of my chin, my toes, my knees, in every slice. I was acutely aware of every body part in every moment. I gradually advanced to handstands, walkovers, and more. At times, I’d get scared, but Ken and Lynn were patient, encouraged me to apply the tools, breathe, relax, and stay present. They put me in a spotting belt attached to cables and pulleys. I was held safe, so I relaxed a little more. Gradually, my confidence grew. I moved to handsprings and single flips. Each week, more and more, I became a master in the art of self-awareness – to notice anxious thoughts, breathe, release them, be present, and re-assert myself. Allow the natural flow of movement to come. I had to TRUST it would come.

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Spotting belt

AFTER 3 MONTHS: I re-learned my skills, except the double back. I got in shape for competition, but I was not completely healed. Anxiety crept up on me, often. But now, it was January and time to compete. Would I be able to do my skills — under pressure? Could I qualify for Elite?

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Kips A Team 1979 (L-R): Dena, Donna, Sharon, Karen, annnd me, during competition. I looked up to my teammates. They motivated me.

(Final, Part 3 coming next…it’s a miracle ending 🙂

Reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz