Words Stick

As you prepare your athletes for tough challenges, pressures, and competition, they will struggle, they will worry. They ALL do it. So remember, choose your words wisely, because your words have impact.

It’s a fact, for an athlete to feel confident in practice and competition, they need to say to themselves over and over, “I can do this! I’m strong! I’m gonna nail this.” But the biggest issue is many coaches have a habit of saying things like, “No, do it again,” or “No, you’re too slow,” “You keep making the same mistake,” “We’re going to stay on this drill until you make five.” The message athletes get: No. No. I keep making mistakes. Stay…I keep failing.

Words stick in their minds.

What coaches and parents can become more aware of is the balance of pushing an athlete to improve–which challenges them–and acknowledging their effort and strengths–which focuses on the positive. Too many notes on the critical mistakes does not build confidence. It builds negative self-talk.

I have two sons. They played Pop Warner (tackle) football. Players from ages six to sixteen practiced hard and played for the Vikings from August to November. I was a Viking mom for six years. I also have a daughter. Long, thick, curly hair. My jock-daughter played three years (believe it or not)—full pads, helmet, tackle football—she was the girl on the football team. I wasn’t thrilled at first, my girl getting hit and tackled, but she was strong and fast. Determined like no one else, and faster than most of the boys. Yep. I also knew the coaches, and I listened to their messages. They were all about safety, encouragement, and team spirit. Those messages trickled down to the parents and the players. Everyone supported each other. We felt like family.

My daughter is grown up now, in college. I asked her what she liked about playing  football and what sticks in her mind the most. You know what she recalled? She said, “I confident emotion001remember seeing our opponents at games, looking at me and saying to my teammates with a sneer: You gotta girl on your team? And the boys stood up for me. They said, Yeah…and you better watch out. She’s fast.”

Words stick.

 

This article is from a section in CHAP 4: “Let’s be Partners” of my new book: Focused and Inspired: Keeping Our Athletes Safe in a Win-at-All-Costs World.  You can check out my books here: tinyurl.com/LisaMitzelBooks (See Special Holiday prices!) or go to my website: LisaMitzel.com

Martha Got Mad

I was working twice a week with an athlete who was struggling, mentally and emotionally. One of her coaches (we’ll call her Martha) was not a fan of mental training or anything “Psychology.” Hard work was her answer. The athlete was fourteen-years-old and training for an advanced level. Multiple times she had reached the point of quitting; her fears had literally taken over her, she cried often, broke down in practices with the red face and panic, and was terribly scared to do certain skills. In fact, she could not keep up with her teammates for months and her coaches were at a loss. If this girl had a future at all in the sport, she needed intensive mental training. So, we were doing that.  worried emotion001

Fortunately, this young athlete “bought in” and is now very successful in her career. But it was months of commitment to train her mind, apply tools, and create new perspectives. All the pressures and expectations, especially from Martha, had added to her emotional struggles. I advised cutting back a little on her regular team training, only because her schedule was so tight, and she needed to increase the mental work to make progress. Martha blew a fuse. “She needs to finish her assignments today!” she yelled at me one day in the middle of a mental training session. (That was uncool.) It was clear to me that Martha did not trust the process. I was unnerved, but I realized she didn’t understand that physically, the athlete would never advance without learning to manage her thoughts and feelings. Plus, she didn’t feel safe and that was the larger issue. I briefly acknowledged the outburst, then walked away…

A few months later, this brave athlete had gone through a complete transformation. Where she’d been confused, she was clear. Where she had dreaded competition, she enjoyed it. Where she had been unraveled by nerves, she became focused and deliberate in her performances. This young lady was not only brave and persistent but amazed us all. She had a great competition season. Her confidence bloomed. And I am pleased that, not long after that, she earned a full scholarship to a great academic university.

The Question: Was It Working?

Were the regular practices with her coaches helping her reduce her fears and regain her skills? No. They were not. Was Martha supportive of the athlete’s emotional well-being? patient coach-2Not in this situation. It’s so hard for some coaches when the mental and emotional issues are considerable. Coaches are not required to be trained in psychology or understand emotional issues. I suggest continual professional development for all coaches, and always include a psychological component that teaches human behavior. Meanwhile, it’s imperative to be openminded and trust the athlete’s emotions are real (just like a broken bone) and something is seriously wrong.

In an emotional spiral with an athlete, would you be able to ‘trust the process’ in order to create a safe feeling and support that athlete? 

It will take time, it may take four weeks, eight or twelve, to overcome certain issues and employ new habits. Deep fear or anxiety bids us to be patient, so the athlete can feel more at ease in learning and applying the tools. If you are concerned about the team environment, then a mindset of learning through the struggle is needed. Because no one can change from “struggle” to “control” in a split second. No one can feel confident and manage their fears in a week. It is a p-r-o-c-e-s-s.

Martha, later, saw the progress…and was surprised. 

This article is from a section of CHAPTER 5: “I Won’t Be Too Hard on You” in my new book: Focused and Inspired: Keeping Our Athletes Safe in a Win-at-All Costs World. To check out my books, go to: tinyurl.com/LisaMitzelBooks  (See Special Holiday prices!)

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!

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 1 How I lost my skills, nearly quit, re-learned everything, and by a MIRACLE won 2 National Titles.

I placed 15th in the country at Junior Olympic Nationals (age 14). Then I began training for the next level, Elite, the Olympic level. I always dreamed of competing in the Olympics. I’m tall for a gymnast, but it didn’t matter. I thought I had a shot to make the U.S. National Team.  Maybe I could make Olympic Trials, then get a chance to make the 1980 Olympic Team! Six months of hard training, learning new tricks, I could qualify for Elite. Maybe it would happen.

A few months later, I was 15. It was August. I had a crash in the gym. BAD CRASH. A new tumbling pass across the floor, round-off-backhandspring-JUMP-UP for a double back (2 flips backwards). I was in the air, tuck position, flipping, but suddenly I got lost (Where am I? The first flip? The second flip?). So I opened up–too early. CRASH! I hit the ground, WHACK!!!!! my knee hit my forehead. But it was more like – CRASH! WHACK!!!!!                I was out.

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L: Me, flipping in the middle of a double-back, Coach Tom Masuda spotting.
R: Deep in thought. (both pics, age 15)

Minutes later, I woke up with a GARGANTUAN MELON on my forehead. Oh, the throbbing! They brought me ice, made sure my neck wasn’t broke… My coach, Jim Fountaine (a former football coach), said: “Mitzel, go home. Take 3 days off.”

This was unsettling. I never took three days off. THREE DAYS was F-O-R-E-V-E-R-R-R-R-R. 😦  I played and re-played, over and over, for three long days what happened. I jumped in the air, started to flip–? I tried to break it down, figure out where, what, how, but my mind was blank. I felt confused at why I didn’t complete the double back. There was no answer. I guess I jumped up, lost control, and got amnesia.

When I returned to the gym – nerves fluttered through my mind and body. I told myself: You’re fine. You’re fine. Just practice like always.

But I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine every day for the next six weeks. I was afraid of the double back. And I developed a fear for any type of backward movement, on every event. The fear became a contagious disease. I started to run, then stopped. My coach yelled. I tried again. I did a round-off, and freaked out.  I got super scared. I couldn’t remember how to do my tricks. I cried in the car and at home. I prayed, but nothing. For six weeks, I regressed and fell apart. I lost 70% of my skills. No one could help me. All I could do was dance and basic practice drills.

Finally, I was so far from the gymnast I’d been, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my mom, “I’m going to quit.” It was hard to say it, but in the gym, I had nothing to look forward to. The coaches were extremely frustrated, I was depressed, and the struggle was just too much.

[Message #1 – Do NOT give up, Do NOT quit. Here’s why.] While my gymnastics career was dying, I had a horrifying realization that something else was much, MUCH worse. My mom came into my bedroom: Lisa, it is up to you to continue or not, but if you quit now, when you’re at your lowest, you will always wonder what would’ve happened if you stayed in it, fought harder. This didn’t help me much. I had fought my hardest. What more could I do? Then she added: If you quit, you will not get out of school early to go to practice, you will have to take P.E. class, you will not have nice leotards or team sweats, you won’t travel, you won’t compete. You will not be a gymnast or do those special things. You will be normal like all the other kids at school.

What? Normal? Like everyone else? This was ALARMING.

I went to bed, had terrible nightmares, and woke up. In the morning, I was terrified. If I was not a gymnast anymore…then who would I be? What would I do? Who would I be?

Well, I knew. I was a gymnast. I loved it and I could not quit.

[When you realize your greatest passion and your identity is being stripped from you, you understand that you must go through the struggle. Something good will come.]

(part 2 coming next…)

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I’m a California girl! Age 14 at the beach.

Reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz

You want to Excel – then PRETEND

Sport is so darn mental, and competitive, you need magic tools in your brain pocket if you want to really excel. One tool I strongly recommend, and you make think I’m completely nuts, is a child-like approach – Pretend. Now, I’m totally serious. I am. Because when you pretend you’re Wonder Woman, or you impersonate an awesome athlete – like Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin, or Hope Solo – you reach for the highest energy and skill level on the planet, and you get a boost, a rush, a flair! and you CAN ABSOLUTELY produce exceptional performances. You can. When I was 7, my sister, Sheila, and I pretended we were actresses and singers. We danced and sang in our living room as if we were in the movie, The Sound of Music. Sheila, two years older, got to be Maria. I was one of the children. But it didn’t matter who was who because we played the tape, sang and danced, and we were fully absorbed in that imaginary world: In Austria, singing “Do-a-deer” on the grassy hill, at the fountain, riding bikes. We were silly and loud. Confidence oozed from our beings. We were IT. And through our imagination, through PRETEND…we transformed into amazing performers.

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In gymnastics, that screwball balance beam requires much pretending. Otherwise, you’re screwed. I’d pretend my feet were massive, like Sasquatch, so there’s no way my foot could slip off. Or that my hips were cable-strapped to the beam, no way I’d lose my balance. This gave me confidence and it worked most of the time. Until age 12, I had to compete a side aerial (a no-handed cartwheel). This foolish trick, side-flipping through space to land on the beam, was thrilling, but also risky. It jerked my thoughts away from sureness. I kept concentrating, but I fell. A lot. What was wrong? I did many, many, MANY side aerials on the line on the carpet, 100, and on the low beam, another 100, and I stuck them. I was a machine. But on the high beam, especially in competition, with judges, parents, and competitors all around me – my focus and confidence blew away with the wind.

Enter, silly mother with good ideas. (And, this is silly.) It’s the day before a meet. I’m concerned about nailing the side aerial. My mom says: “Lisa, you won’t fall. You can’t fall. You see, God has you. He’s a puppeteer high above you, and you are the marionette. You are attached to his strings. He’s holding you up!” I sat there, “Huh?” trying to imagine me on the beam, with strings going up to heaven, and God controlling me, holding me up. My mom laughed and smiled, exuberantly. She acted convinced. Like it was true. She was PRETENDING. So…I tried. Old man in they sky, white hair, white beard, white robe, he’s a puppeteer, I’m the puppet. Got it. The next day, I competed. Nervous stomach arrived (always did). I went to beam and warmed up. The side aerial felt fine, but nerves lingered. I paused, recalled my mom’s voice, held onto that image of God and his puppet strings attached to me, all the while hearing, “You can’t fall–he’s holding you up!” I started to get into it, really pretend. I began to relax and feel the confidence – I couldn’t fall. It was impossible.

You may not believe it, I hardly did myself, but on the beam in front of judges and parents, I was in another reality – the PRETEND reality – and that Good Guy in the sky wanted me to stay on the beam. And I did! HA! Now it doesn’t have to be God, it can be Sponge Bob, the Easter Bunny, or someone you know and trust. But the truth is, and I’d lay my life down, PRETEND WORKS. Numerous times after that, I pretended / visualized images and won many competitions. It’s silly. But we do create magic in our minds. Just like children. It’s fantasy. But, you must try it 100%. Pretend. You can do it, and I bet you will not only improve–

YOU WILL EXCEL.

(from the Mitzel files…sophomore year at Utah)

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Side aerial – mid air – competing for NCAA National Champions, the University of Utah.

Reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz

My TED Talk – Vulnerability, the power in sports

So I’m writing my TED talk. Well, it’s in my head. And it’s all because my friend, Julia Zanutta, told me that in addition to this blog, and writing a sports book, JULIA SAYS: “You’re going to get speaking engagements, you’ll need somewhere to provide booking information and links to Amazon for your book and a link to your TED talk.”

(Wha…? TED? lol…  Then, I stopped. Hmm, I thought, maybe…I guess it’s possible). “You have a point,” I said, “TED is in my future.” And I briefly rambled – Couldn’t I do all that booking and linking on my Blog site…?

Vulnerability. Julia also told me about incredible TED talks by researcher, Brene Brown. Vulnerability and Shame are amazing. And after watching Brene and hearing her message, it got me thinking how us athletes and coaches have such a hard heel dug into “don’t be vulnerable” and “never be weak,” because, hey, it’s sports and you have to be tough and tougher to fight hard and win, never be weak, never give up, just go, go, go. Got it?

But at times, athletes are vulnerable. Don’t fight it. That’s when you are most brave and connect with others. If you suppress emotion too much, you create obstacles and inner stress. It is suppression that stops us, keeps us disconnected, untrustworthy, and even powerless. In human nature, it’s our core desire to express – shout when you’re happy, cry when you’re sad. Right? So we need to connect. Through personal exposure and shared empathy, you can become a vessel of truth and power. If you struggle while avoiding vulnerability, you are only defeating yourself. You are not perfect. No one is. And it’s all a *big show* if you always fake it (faker faker). So think: You can’t know or learn about your teammates OR yourself if you keep faking, always hiding your pain. It’s not real. And the best athletes in the world, like Venus Williams, who are tough, face challenges, yet openly share vulnerabilities – THEY ARE REAL AND BRAVE – and that’s why we want to be like them.

So Talk. You don’t have to do a TED talk. Just talk to your mom, dad, sister, brother, friend. What are you feeling, thinking? Maybe, just maybe, your coach or teammates will understand. Maybe they will help you. Maybe, a teammate will say, “Yeah, me, too.” But I guarantee, you will feel brave to speak honestly and relieved to open up. And, you will find others who feel the same way. In becoming vulnerable with your teammates, you will automatically start to lean on one other, then support each other, and push each other to overcome the toughest moments. Through all of this you will become closer. Together you will feel powerful, and possibly, invincible, and when you do, you will rise and soar higher and higher, reaching the most amazing heights–together.

And that, my friend, is the power in sports.

Now, back to writing.  TED may be calling.

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Hannah, Annalisa, and my daughter, McKenna winning Regional Basketball Championship. The girls talked, became a close team, and went on to win the National title.

Reach, sweat, and believe.

~mitz