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.


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.


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.


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,


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,


You’re my Hero, Tara VanDerveer: How to achieve Goals, play in College!

If you ever needed guts in sports, I know a coach who will pull it out of you. One of my role models and college coaching heroes is Tara VanDerveer, Director of Women’s Basketball at Stanford University. TARA is a FORCE. And her coaching staff, Amy Tucker, Kate Paye, and Tempie Brown, are the best! Below, I share TARA’S LESSON on how to reach your goals and prepare to play college sports. READ CLOSELY if you want to play in college.

One of my colleagues at Stanford [in the 90s], Tara VanDerveer spoke to my team (I coached Stanford W. Gymnastics) on competing under pressure. Her talk was complete motivation.


Tara at her best, instructing and inspiring her Stanford Basketball Team against Vanguard, 11/3/13.

Tara continues to inspire! Here are Tips for High School Athletes. On March 2, 2013, Tara VanDerveer in conversation with my basketball-daughter, McKenna. I am in deepest gratitude. Tara, you were generous to give your time.

TARA’S LESSON: How to Achieve your Goals & Prepare for a College Team: 3.2.13

I sat next to my daughter in the front row in a near-empty Maples Pavilion at Stanford University. The Stanford players warmed up on the court. Then Tara appeared, walked over to us, and greeted us warmly. For the next 30 minutes, I listened to one of the best basketball coaches in the world give tips to my lanky, high school, basketball-playing daughter, McKenna.

“Number one,” said Tara to McKenna, “do you have a goal?”

“Yes,” McKenna said, “to play at Stanford.”

“That’s good. Write it down,” Tara instructed. “Put it on your mirror so you see it every day. It’s important to look at it and be reminded what you’re aiming for. Then, write HOW you’re going to accomplish your goal; what you will do on a daily basis to reach your goal. Take ownership. Don’t look to anyone else to help you. You must do what it takes on your own.”

I caught myself nodding and felt myself smiling. I love this kind of talk! McKenna was fully engaged.

“Second, stand out from everyone. 40,000 students apply to Stanford. How do YOU stand out? Of course, excellent grades, volunteer work is important, extra workouts, and being a top-top athlete.”

I asked, “Is playing club basketball important?

“The best players play club ball,” said Tara. She suggested looking into a strong club where McKenna lives in Orange County.

Tara went on: “What are your strengths? Can you shoot 3-pointers?”

McKenna: “Yes. I’m good at 3-pointers, and I’m fast.”


McKenna in 2012 after her NJB team won National Championship in Orange County.

Tara: “Okay, I have a drill for you. Around the 3-point line, you’re going to take 3-point shots from seven different positions – three positions on each of the sides, and one at the top of the key. In each spot, you have to MAKE 10 SHOTS before you go to the next. See how many shots it takes to make 70 three-pointers. Send me your percentage, then I’ll send you the percentages of the best players on my team. You can compare and see what you need to be shooting.”


Tara continued: “Watch what the best players do. What moves they make, how they control the ball. You can get good drills from videos on You Tube. Most important is to practice every day. Go before school and shoot for an hour. Can you do that?”

McKenna was enthralled. “Yes.”

“Good. Work hard and it will pay off. You are the only one that can make it happen. If you have a goal, don’t rely on anyone else. Not your mom, not your dad, not your coach. YOU have to do the work.”

Tara spoke with authority and her presence was all grit. I felt energized and I think McKenna was, too. I kept looking at McKenna as she looked up to Tara.

“Can you stay and watch practice?” asked Tara.

Yeah, I can stay,” said McKenna.

Good. Watch closely. You can see how the team works.”

Tara walked onto the court and began to coach her team. After 5 minutes and her team was in action, she looked over at McKenna (we were still front row, about 30 feet away).

Tara called out: “Do this drill. Send me your percentages.” As if she were coaching McKenna in that exact moment. McKenna nodded, “Okay!”

After the practice, the entire Stanford Women’s Basketball team walked around to McKenna and I, shook our hands, one-by-one. Each player said Hello and introduced herself. This was amazing, to say the least. It felt like: WELCOME TO STANFORD!

As McKenna and I walked out of Maples, she hugged me. “Thank you, thank you, Mom,” with the biggest smile on her face.  I said, “That was incredible!” And McKenna said, “I needed that.”

Tara’s words injected motivation into McKenna. You HAVE to be bold to reach your goals, go the extra mile, be absorbed in your dream, and do the work. It’s ALL YOU.

Finally, it doesn’t matter if you play for Stanford or a local college, Division I, II, or III. The point is GO FOR IT ALL THE WAY. Do everything you can to make your dream come true.

Tara VanDerveer was recently selected as the newest recipient of the John Wooden Legends of Coaching award. She is only the 3rd woman to be chosen. Ceremony will take place in April 2014 in Los Angeles. Congratulations, Tara!!!! Read about it here: Tara receives Legend award.

Tara Legend award pic

Tara VanDerveer – for highest standards in coaching and personal integrity.
Photo on NCAA site, credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

reach, sweat, and believe,


(p.s. I love you, McKenna)

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!)


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.


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,


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.


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…!)


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.


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.


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?

Kips A Team 1979_2

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,


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.


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…)


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

Reach, sweat, and believe,


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.


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–


(from the Mitzel files…sophomore year at Utah)


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

Reach, sweat, and believe,