You are NOT some corner cutting, “rah rah”, pom pom holding hype-man. You are a POWER COACH. A coach that knows maximizing their athletes’ peak performance is YOUR responsibility. A coach that knows that their athlete’s cannot achieve their highest level of greatness without you. A coach that systematically applies physical and mental stressors to prepare their athletes to thrive in competition. Yes, you are Power Coach; and you see training beyond measurements, understand the powerful connection between the mind and performance, and can palm a 20 pound medicine ball.
FREE YOUR MIND – The Mind-Performance Connection
Connection between mind and performance is no new topic for Power Athlete, as our guest list testifies: Sports Psychologist, Vince Lodato; former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf; Underground Strength Guru, Zach Even-Esh; Raph Ruiz on multiple occasions (51 and 132), and a very enlightening conversation Paralympic Gold Medalist, Brad Snyder.
These conversations helped influence much of the material in the next few Power Coach articles, but none more so than the conversation with Dr. Fred Hatfield and his book, POWER: A Scientific Approach.
Failure is inevitable in sport. How soon they appear is determined by limiting factors, thus becoming a huge focus at Power Athlete. Usually, physical inhibitors such as footwork, trunk rotation, and the hip hinge have been the primary targets. Dr. Hatfield has since presented three mental factors that can be influenced with proper training; self-esteem, fear, and concentration.
We will dive deep into these three constraining factors and synthesize mental development into their strength and conditioning training from an individual, team, and competition perspective. Power Coach: Self-Esteem will focus on the individual level, because without it, an athlete will never make the team come Game Day.
Self-esteem is an athlete’s conception and reasonable approximation of their capabilities – neither more nor less than they are. Developed poorly, this can be a very powerful constraint, but if cultivated properly, it yields a very empowering effect.
Self-esteem must be forged with periods of self-realization. A Power Coach can accelerate this process with the right tools, if they understand (2):
1) Actions, feelings, behaviors – even performance – are always consistent with self-esteem.
An athlete will “act like” the person they perceive themselves to be. The ‘failure-types’ will find a way to fail, only to save face with a magical limp after a play. ‘”Victims” will find circumstances to verify injustice in their arena.
Self-esteem is the Victory Foundation on which behavior, attitude, and consistent performance are built. Experiences can either be vicious and justify negative esteem, or used as teaching moments by a coach to mold, thereby strengthen, positive self-esteem.
2) Self-esteem can be changed.
This is not positive thinking or turning a frown upside down. It is giving athletes an accurate portrayal of themselves by providing the mental and physical challenges to guide their hero’s journey.
To effectively evolve, belief and behavior must be accompanied with deep desire to change. How many incredibly gifted athletes do we see fail for lack of passion?
Train the Brain
The brain and nervous system are engineered to react instinctively and accurately to challenges in the environment – the ‘fight or flight’ scenario. Interestingly enough, the system that reacts automatically to the environment is the exact system that tells us what the environment is. We act and feel, not according to the actual environment, but to the image the mind holds of it (2).
An athlete’s self-image is affected by their position on the team, coaching labels (‘injury prone’), strength of competition schedule, etc. They act as if these are truths. If an athlete has distorted self-esteem, then their environmental reactions will be just as distorted.
For a Power Coach to empower, the key isn’t pampering, self-help bullshit, or ego handjobs; it’s failure.
Stress to progress – how to Fail Up
“But if, along the way, you somehow stumble, profit from the experience!”
Skill learning is accomplished by trial and error – performing the task, missing the mark, consciously remembering the degree of error, and making corrections during the next trial until successful (2).
An athlete’s failures, mistakes, and even humiliations, are necessary for learning the skill, AND their self-actualization: the aspiration to achieve goals and fulfill potential – a hero’s journey. However, failure is a means to an end – and not the end itself.
When a failure has served its purpose, it should be forgotten. How many failed 1RM’s can you recall? If an athlete consciously dwells on the failure or subsequent guilt, the error itself becomes the ‘goal’ (2).
This is where a Power Coach must intervene, taking the invaluable teaching moment (failure) and showing them how to fail up. We develop self-esteem on three fronts: Visualization, Vocal Awareness, and Physical Routine, then solidify with Physical Feats.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW – Visualization
“Not endless hours of practice. Instead, perfect practice!”
To succeed, an athlete must have a target. Visualization removes excess thoughts and distractions from the mind, focuses on a task/target, and mentally witnesses its successful completion.
We’ve all been there – that big lift, that crucial play. We’re trying hard to complete the task with every ounce of ironed-jawed willpower in the tank. But without visualizing success, our mind drifts – what if I don’t…? What if I can’t….? Don’t let your athletes suffer the same fate.
If you can see it, you can be it – Application
Like any other skill, visualization takes dedicated, targeted training to drive prudent application, which then yields accelerated returns. In other words, it takes reps.
Athletes with a clear picture of correct execution will succeed – easier said than done, as folks new to this may not feel comfortable with this “new age shit”. To ease the athlete in, lay them down, eyes closed. Set their posture on the floor, and have them focus their breath. Talk them through the set-up and execution. Coaches, lead the visualization until the athlete learns the thought process and progressions.
Begin with visualizing warm up movements like the SeeSaw Walk and Leg Cradle Lateral Lunge w/ Twist. These movements require more stability and awareness than strength, and their successful execution leads to successful barbell lifts and the sport skill drills (to which visualizations will eventually progress).
Visualization forces an athlete into “positive thinking”. When an athlete blindly wants and tries to execute a challenging task without visualization, a futile mental conflict results, and, regardless of intent, they picture themselves failing. Once the athlete sees value in visualizing, encourage them to take this on before practice. As positive results accumulate, build towards Game Day visualization.
Say it, then slay it – Vocal Awareness
“Not a force of skill or muscle. A calamitous force of will!”
Meditation fascinates me, in particular mantras (“Man” means ‘mind’ and “tra” means ‘projections’) One source describes the Power of Sound mantras represent:
“A small pebble thrown in a pond creates numerous ripples reaching quite far, in the same pond itself. Same way, the words, which we pronounce, creates vibrations and waves in our mind, which awaken subtle powers in us. Thus the Effects of whatever Words we speak, falls on our self, our society, and even on the universe.” (3)
Similarly, the weight and locker rooms are filled with passages designed to bring focus, called mottos: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!”, even, “Roll Tide!”. I encourage my athletes I work with to find their own bible verse, mantra, or something unique to them they can connect with.
For me, verbalizing thoughts transform them into commitments, forcing an athlete to put some skin in the game. I want to take back mottos like “do work”, and bring the Power back into these statements. Sound is a powerful tool with which one can connect visualization of success with actual success, much like meditation and mantras. If they state these before their 3×5, the mantra will get the athlete going!
Vocal Awareness Application
Success begets success. A positive correlation between successful lifts (or plays) preceded by a verbal commitment to performance will add to the Victory Foundation on which self-esteem is built. Visualizing and verbalizing successful execution focuses the athletes on preparation and the process, and away from the numbers and bullshit that retards self-actualization.
Application is simple: the athlete must vocalize their mantra before each barbell or high stress activity to reset their mind. While an athlete can cheat on visualization, they can’t cheat the auditory cue.
Find a Routine
Routine is a powerful component of self-esteem and getting your mind right. I will save the juice for the upcoming article, Power Coach: Concentration, but here’s how the concept applies:
From a weight room standpoint, I can differentiate an experienced lifter from a novice by observing their pre-squat/deadlift/bench routine. I don’t mean whiffing smelling salts or a chest slap. It’s a consistent set-up routine, regardless of load or reps.
We’ve all seen the waves of self-esteem; one moment an athlete’s performance skyrockets well past athletic expectations. An instant later, he/she screws up, torpedoing their self-esteem, which inhibits their performance for the remainder of competition. This emotional roller coaster can be disastrous for all involved.
The conscious mind is responsible for situational awareness, while automatic mechanisms drive instinctive responses to inputs like trajectory of a pitch or bounce of a rebound. Both need a reset between plays. Routines like Nomar’s pre-swing ritual or Lebron’s chalk toss allow an athlete to maintain situational awareness and return as close as possible to homeostasis between efforts.
Empower Your Performance – Play Like You Practice
“Your psychological makeup determines how you approach training. These factors determine how you approach competition. They will modify your efforts in the gym to which you succeed in sport. And, perhaps most importantly, they can be modified.” – Dr. Fred Hatfield
We are not creating a false image or telling athletes who they are. We are putting them in a stressed position during training and providing self-actualization tools with which they develop self-esteem. Accelerating this process requires synthesizing visualization, vocal awareness, and routines with proper stress. Look no further than Field Strong and The Basics. These programs provide consistent opportunity to succeed and fail at athletic feats through balanced volume and intensity.
Even on these programs, failure is inevitable. They will get buried by a weight, lose a foot race to a teammate, or miss reps. Power Coaches, address the technical issue(s), that goes without saying, but also observe how the athlete reacts to failure.
Improved self-esteem is a contingency plan for athlete failure. If they miss a tackle or blow a play, a coach will ask them what happened. Consistent visualization practice increases situational awareness, which in turn improves their ability to communicate.
The Power of Sound is crucial for self-esteem and not getting hung up on past plays. Having a mantra promotes consistency in emotion and resets the mind on the single task that is in front of them. No matter if they’re up by 4 defending the goal line, down by 31 at half, or torching 6 victims across a net, you win one play at a time. But waiting until Game Day to implement this leads to dire straits once a moment goes against the athlete. Winning is a hell of a lot more fun than that emotional roller coaster ride.
- Hatfield, F. (1989). Power : A scientific approach: Advanced musclebuilding techniques for explosive strength and peak performance! Lincolnwood, Ch.: Contemporary books.
- Maltz, M. (2015). Psycho-Cybernetics: Updated and expanded (Updated Perigee trade paperback ed.). Perigee Books; Upd Exp edition.
- Hindu Mythology – Wisdom of Hinduism: “SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS OF “MANTRA”: http://hindumythologybynarin.blogspot.com/2013/05/scientific-analysis-of-mantra.html
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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