Taranaki Sports

It has been a while since I have been on the blog front with a 3rd young child and other commitments but I have been reinspired to tap at the keyboard again. On Monday and Tuesday this week I have been working with athletes and coaches in the Taranaki Region and really enjoyed the quality of persons that I interacted with.

The young athletes that are identified in their respective regions are genuinely talented and offered a degree of sport science and performance support. My role is to come in and assist them with their ever improving records and help them to get to know them selves a little better so that they can feel in better control of what is within their control. The counter to that is to let go of expectations around what they cannot control so that their focus and energy supports better outcomes.

The only way for me to be effective is for athletes to be honest with me and explain the areas of performance that they are not happy with. Considering I have a very limited time with them I feel very privileged that they are able to open up to me after a very short introduction. The areas that I tended to work on were when the athletes had to deal with something unexpected – either positive or negative. A lot of the time as athletes we train to improve our skills and perfect our game plans. Most of the time this does not include how do we deal with the unexpected, for example, how do we re-focus after a mistake.

So if we don’t plan and practice how we will deal with a mistake then we are unlikely to do it well in a performance environment when the pressure is on. We will just do what we have always done and hope that things come right – doesn’t seem like the best way to deal with ‘dropping the ball’ in a final. So I take athletes through a 3 step approach of acknowledgement, acceptance and refocus. This allows the emotion to be expressed, the rational side of the mind to be on board with the experience, and then for the appropriate action to follow. When planned and practised this allows the athlete to carry on with the performance as though nothing unexpected or negative has occured.

I always say that what makes a great sports person is not that they don’t make mistakes, it is how they come back from mistakes that counts. And I think that from what I have seen from earlier this week that the Taranaki will continue to be proud of the great athletes that they produce in their region. Thanks for the hospitality.

… and so the bubble bursts

Bonds body not as strong as his will

Bond's body not as strong as his will

Well barely three days after the amazing Black Caps test victory over the competitive Pakistani team the man-of-the-match Shane Bond has been ruled out by injury. It almost seemed inevitable that history would continue to plague his cricketing career but not once was there any news of an injury in the four months that Bond has been playing for NZ cricket in his return from the IPL. Certainly, this is a blow for NZ cricket fans and probably a lot of cricket fans around the world, however, imagine the difficulty that Bond himself is going through … again.

He now has to move himself away from a team that he seems to have so seamlessly re-entered, where he was a welcome addition to a reasonable team. In Shane Bond’s short (number of games) career he has some incredibly good statistics and an unusually high number of highlights on the field which are punctuated with a consistent line of injuries. For the fan, the number of injuries would not be nearly as frustrating except that he has always, and continues to prove, that he is a fantastic talent that provides such great balance and bowling strike to the NZ team.

So how to move on, how to engage the mind in assisting the recovery from injury. Imagery and affirmations are great adjuncts to the traditional therapy provided by the medical profession. Imagery to see the injured body part healing and becoming stronger than previously, to see the muscle fibres knitting back together and being well supplied by the blood vessels around it. Imagery also for motivation, remembering the joy of cricket and performing at your best in tight competitions against quality opposition. The opportunity to test oneself at the pinnacle of sport is a great way to stay motivated or become motivated to undertake the discipline of training, resting, and eating well in the pursuit of getting the best out of yourself.

Likewise with affirmations, they are the positive words of encouragement that need to be heard, especially for the likes of Shane Bond as there will be many nay-sayers touting their end-of-the-line arguments for him. However, whether it is or it isn’t doesn’t matter, a positive mind set with a clear joyful goal will always assist recovery from injury more than a negative depressed state of mind. Therefore it is important to see affirmations as a skill to develop into a habit so that during difficult times you can still pull out the positive mind-set. Just like when the pressure comes on in a performance situation, the body will fall back to what it knows, what it has been practising for a long time – trying to bring an unpractised skill into the pressured performance arena is an invite for things to go wrong. Trying to begin affirmations when you are depressed is just as difficult.

Making the switch – Black Caps take confidence into T20

The Black Caps are pretty chuffed with their ‘away’ series victory against Pakistan and with good reason if you look at the history books. Three quarters of the way through the match it looked like it would be an early finish with a victory for the Black Caps despite falling short in their own batting performance. Pakistan collapsed with even greater speed which is not an unusual trait for their cricketers. They continue to run hot and when their confidence grows generally so does their ability to achieve outstanding feats on the cricket pitch.

Certainly, the Pakistani team would do well to search for and create confidence outside of success alone because that confidence is such a potent weapon for them, whereas winning is out of ones control. There is no doubt that passion is a big influence in the background of the sport/religon of cricket so perhaps they were missing their highly vocal fans and the rest of the colour and excitement that support base brings to cricket in Pakistan. Leaving one’s confidence levels to rely on success is a common behaviour of the budding sports person but it really needs to be worked on like any other skill and improved with practise. For more detail about improving your confidence building skill see my videos.

So while the Black Caps celebrate their success they now need to bring their focus to the razzle dazzle of the express form of the game now known as T20. 20 overs each to decide who is the better team on the day, and that can be decided by one player or a fickle decision because of the brevity of the game. However, the players now need to make the mental adjustment to be that little bit more aggressive. I believe the change requires a lot of subtle changes to routines and keywords that keep the players focussed on the limited opportunities so that they make the most of that opportunity with the bat or ball. I am looking forward to see how well the NZ Black Caps handle the challenge of switching their mind to the two T20 games to be played on Thursday and Friday. Perhaps another series victory is in the offing!

Cricinfo photo of the celebrating Black Caps team

Cricinfo photo of the celebrating Black Caps team

Talented Athletes – Sailing through their challenges.

I spent a good deal of last week working with some of the best talent in NZ sailing. In the greater Wellington region we are running a great programme sponsored by the Wellington City Council and Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club and being administered by the NZAS North Island. Presently I get to work with the sailors three times in a year, in these sessions we review the progress based on the goals and actions points from the previous session. The progress has been very positive and the sailors, parents and coaches have enjoyed the lift in their performance that comes from the focus, motivation and confidence they set and build from these sessions.

Sailors in the programme have had great outward success as well with World Championship wins and further representative selection honours. Some are focussed on goals that align with Olympic aspirations while others are enjoying the experience and skills developed for the more lucrative match racing options. In NZ sailors have tended to start off in the Olympic classes (vis Russel Coutts and Dean Barker) before finding the paid route in the likes of America’s Cup match racing (although recent competition has included fleet racing). So it is fascinating to watch the popularity of match racing amongst some of these sailors as young as 14.

Interestingly, some of the sailors that have been in the programme for a number of years are not fully taking advantage of their mental skill application, mainly in the training environment. I can still see that some big gains can be made from disciplined application and consistent structured review. However, in saying that, they are generally outperforming their ‘peers’ from other parts of the country so they are certainly progressing well and I am looking forward to hear how they perform over the busy summer season ahead.

Ironman World Championships – How to keep going

Another opportunity to challenge the home of Ironman has been completed on the weekend with the four NZ athletes contesting the elite grade having mixed results compared to expectations. Jo Lawn had to deal with two time penalties but still came in a credible 8th while Gina Fergusson pulled out due to injury and the irrepressible Chrissie Wellington (UK) broke the course record and came in almost 20 minutes faster than the 2nd placed woman. On the men’s side the race was won and successfully defended by Craig Alexander (Aus) while NZ’s Terrenzo Bozzone came in 11th at his first attempt in the difficult Hawaii conditions. NZ’s best performing Ironman competitor in the past decade, Cameron Brown, came in 22nd after unexpectedly finding “nothing left in the tank” on the return bike ride.

For Cameron Brown, Hawaii has been a difficult challenge after being tantilised with podium finishes from 2002-04 it seemed that it was just a short matter of time before he would take out the win. However, since then he has had to deal with various training set-backs or difficulties on the day and this year it seems that a bee-sting the previous day may have seriously affected his energy levels. Brown reports that he was feeling really good leading up to the event and he could not figure out why his energy levels were so low at the turn around point on the bike leg. For someone as consistent in preparation and aware of his body as Brown is, it would indicate that an outside influence was the determining factor.

So it is back to another 365 days focus to next years Hawaii Ironman as Brown seeks to achieve the more elusive win. Most athletes would be fazed and disconsolate about investing such a big effort of time and money, while sacrificing other freedoms of late nights and eating without care, however, an athlete like Brown knows what is important to him and how to motivate himself to stay disciplined. That in itself is a winning attitude and stands Brown as an incredible athlete let alone his record of 8 NZ Ironman wins. He is certainly a model of discipline, consistency and professionalism and the best news for all aspiring athletes is that these are all skills that can be learnt! For more advice on motivation check out my video below:

The Challenge of Winning and setting Goals

The NZ Black Caps have come good and again have surpassed expectations while leaning on their underdog status. This conscious or unconscious formula has often helped NZ teams to do well at international events, pressure is alleviated when there is no expectation and media take little notice and determination is usually enhanced when outside sources play down the likelihood of an outside win. Most of this is externally controlled so there is little an individual or a team can do to affect that process. However, my concern is that it seems that the Black Caps may have set a worthy goal of surpassing their usual semi-final exit but not had the Tournament Win in their sights for more than a couple of days.

I have worked with athletes in the past that have enjoyed considerable success on the international stage and they have explained to me that their goal setting “had let them down”. Rather than setting out for the international event with a win as their outcome goal, it has been the vision of medalling or getting on the podium that they believed would illustrate a good performance. And indeed, when they set the goal months earlier it was certainly a worthy challenge, but the feeling that the job is more than half done is not useful before the ‘toughest’ game of the tournament. The winner in a final often comes down to the team that wants the outcome most, who is willing to dig deeper and ensure that they are focussed and confident in what they need to do.

Certainly, there should be no focus on the outcome during the game itself; it is only the processes, routines and game plans that should be running through the players minds. The determination can often be seen in the training environment and the effort to be completely prepared, however, for the Black Caps it would seem that their efforts should be targeted towards resting up as they have such a short turn-around between the semi-final win and the final itself. Captain Vettori is stating that adrenalin will get them through so it is obvious that they are feeling the drain of this tournament and the previous tour of Sri Lanka which half of the playing eleven were involved in.

The crux of this blog post though comes back to the question what outcome goal to set when looking at tournaments or pinnacle events. As we all know, outcome goals should be challenging and realistic because we know that they assist us to garner the effort and aspire to the challenges required to get half-way there (there is also the intrinsic enjoyment of training and mastery of skills to draw further effort). So these outcome goals should be based around what kind of dream or vision will assist us most to take that next step when we are tired, battered and bruised; and it is unlikely that a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ vision will support this.

So, my opinion is that the ‘make-the-finals’ goal was indeed supportive and challenging after all we have to be able to ‘walk’ before we ‘run’. Then to ensure that you remain determined for the final training run and the last performance, review the challenges that have been overcome and the prior effort that has been exhausted to arrive at this point. Looking back at sacrifices should reignite the ‘fire in the belly’ that will ensure a determined effort in that final week.

Next week I will begin my video series on Being Mentally Tough – How to stay Motivated. Meanwhile here is my final video on Staying Focussed.

How can Black Caps take confidence through to (semi-)finals?

The NZ Black Caps have maintained their consistent record in one-day competitions with again qualifying for the knock-out section of a one-day international tournament. After convincingly losing their first game to a fired up South Africa the Black Caps have beaten the Sri Lankans and English by large margins to end up topping the pool. Despite this, there remains a number of areas that the Black Caps can still be anxious about – one of them is the continuing loss of players to injury, the other is the misfiring middle order batting.

With that in mind, how is it that the Black Caps should be building their confidence towards the game against Pakistan, a team that has consistently been inconsistent easily beating teams one day and then being easily overrun the next. The Black Caps will be best served focussing on their own game and strengths to build that required confidence. Also they should now have a very good idea about what sort of game plan they will use as it will be their third game in a row within a week at the New Wanderer’s stadium in Johannesburg. Of course the pitch itself has provided two contrasting scorelines with almost 600 runs being scored in the Sri Lanka game and then less than 300 runs in total in the game against England with just one less wicket being lost!

From my perspective the focus would need to be in how well the team has bowled the opposition out in those two games and how well the top 3 batsmen have scored over half of the runs at a good strike rate. The Black Caps have tended to have a decent lower order batting line up in the past so they know that the lower order can score runs quickly at the end provided they are not required to start batting conservatively when less than half the overs have been bowled.

Certainly the only team that has not had a loss at the tournament so far are the Australians who have gone about their work tidily, though they did struggle to a win on the last ball in their final match v Pakistan so they should carry good confidence through to the knockout stage of the tournament. Confidence can be fickle if it is not based on controllable factors and that is where good mental skill routines come into play. To learn more on confidence control see my videos on Building Confidence.

Will the Black Caps keep their Focus

The NZ Black Caps are playing England tonight in their 3rd game for the tournament where they will need to perform well to take confidence through to the semi-finals should they qualify. Their first two games have been a contrast in outcomes mainly illustrated by the batting at the top of the order. The win against Sri Lanka came with the top 3 combining for 186 runs, whereas in the loss to South Africa they combined for just 73 runs with inning totals of 315 and 214 runs respectively. However, in both games the third wicket was not lost until almost half way through the innings with 133 runs (against Sri Lanka) and 92 runs (against South Africa) so they are not exposing the middle order and putting them under pressure from early loss of wickets.

Interestingly NZ’s win over Sri Lanka was set up by a swash-buckling innings from Jesse Ryder who was obviously frustrated over the injury he experienced early on in his innings. Instead of letting the injury distract him he made the increase in intensity work for him by becoming more focussed on each delivery, wanting to make the most of his batting time as he knew the injury would force him out of playing further in the tournament. It would be good to know what sort of refocus technique he used as it would have been a perfect example of when to ‘Park’ a distraction (click for more details on Parking a distraction).

Tonights game will be a good test for NZ as they have had the advantage over the English as of late and they will need to bring that confidence through with them as the English have played into good form with convincing wins over South Africa and Sri Lanka. NZ need to win or draw this game to progress through to the semi-finals and interesting ly enough if they win well they could top the pool or lose badly and they could finish at the bottom. They will need to focus on the game at hand and their individual plans to execute each delivery well while they are fielding. Then reviewing the Performance can be based on more than just the outcome, although some fans at home may only be interested in a winning outcome.

From a mental skills perspective the advice we provide to athletes is to plan to peak for your most important events; with international cricket this becomes a little more difficult due to the 3 versions of the game being played throughout a tour, as opposed to being sorted into 3 different seasons of 4 months at a time. Therefore the transition from one form of the game to the next needs to be well practised and honed. In saying that however, the changes to the techniques will be reasonably subtle and so the main skill involved with changing from one version of the game to the next is a mental switch. That mental switch can be well supported with a good performance evaluation.

As suggested, the performance review guides a balanced view of a performance following the event, however, the performance evaluation should be based on the game plan or in the absence of a game plan should provide the focus for the areas of most importance for that event. Therefore setting up a Performance Review has the athlete performing the sport in their mind well before the event as well as refreshing the focus just prior to the event. For more on Performance Reviews and Focus watch the following video:

Silver Ferns and Van Dyk apply mental toughness for 60 minutes!

The Silver Ferns showed a resolve and an intensity to the start to the final game of the 5-match series (already won by the Australian Diamonds) to win by a big 16-goal margin. The poor start to the games was an area that Temepara George had commented on several times where the Diamonds had leapt out to an early lead. George had prevously said that the team was not at the game intensity from the first whistle and thus handing an advantage to the better prepared Australian team.

However, at the end of the first quarter on this ocassion the Silver Ferns had taken a 2-goal lead and so for only the second time in the series did not have to play “catch-up”. Instead it was the Australians that lacked a little confidence and cohesion which lead to a 10 point deficit by the half-time break and the Silver Ferns winning every quarter. Being able to focus on the processes of finding space, passing into space and making themselves available is what the Diamonds should have been doing but they struggled to find the momentum to force a come-back. Whether they had subconsciously given up the fight in the second-half or if they had already thought they had the game won before the start as suggested by the Diamonds coach Norma Plummer, it indicates that they did not apply themselves mentally.

Certainly the previous 4 games in the series had a highest winning margin of 4 points, so a repeat of that sort of margin should have been expected if the Diamonds had mentally applied themselves to the point they had in the previous 4 games. Another interesting point is that in every 4th quarter of the series, the Silver Ferns outscored the opposition, unfortunately that was usually when they were already down by a large margin. However, this point also lends credibility to George’s statement that the Ferns get into the game as it progresses thus highlighting how important it is to be at your best focus and intensity at the start and then of course being able to hold that through the entire game.

Interestingly Irene van Dyk received a suprise just prior to the start of this final game where she received a special round of applause to mark her 100th game for the Silver Ferns (also having played 72 games for the South African national team). This kind of suprise can unsettle one’s focus and disrupt the flow of a pre-performance routine so it is important to have a strategy to be able to “park” things that are irrelevent to the performance itself which it appears van Dyk was able to do. The tool of being able to “park” a distraction can include dealing with worries like upcoming exams, or distractions like being selected for a higher team. The following video will help you to set up a strategy to “park” these kinds of distractions so you can focus on your performance:

Working with Talented Athletes

I recently returned home after enjoying a hectic week with very talented athletes in both Taranaki and Hawkes Bay regions. Over a 3.5 day period I worked individually with almost 20 athletes and presented to about 40 athletes, coaches and parents in the evenings. These athletes are all representing their province or NZ age group teams and some also represent their respective sport's open grade teams.

What I have almost always found is that with all of the physical and technical preparation that these young athletes put into their sport, I am still surprised at how little mental preparation they put in. This can be viewed in two ways, one is that they are often letting themselves down with inconsistent performances and often against international opposition (i.e. there has been a lot of money invested to support them to international events) the other is that they have a great deal of potential that just needs to be managed with a consistent and structured mental effort.

As has been highlighted in the expert interviews I have made available (click here for access to experts on being mentally tough)– it is the athletes that include mental skill training alongside their physical and technical training that make the biggest inroads into that consistent excellent performance with the confidence to continue that. However, I am always reminding athletes, as easy as the strategies are to do and include (usually not more than 1 hour per week) they are also just as easy not to do! So a commitment is required to improve one’s performance

The most important aspect in setting yourself up for good consistent performance from a mental perspective is to have a well-structured and highly practised pre-performance routine. This routine should be based on previous excellent performance and contrasted with previous weak performance. It should also set you up to be 100% mentally and physically ready for all the skills that you are likely to undertake in that performance. Watch my video for more advice on Pre-performance routines: