I was lucky enough to have Dr. Fred Hatfield, President, International Sports Sciences Association, review my newest book, Mind Over Head Chatter — The Psychology of Athletic Success…
From Dr. Hatfield:
Right out of the blocks, I said to myself, “This is going to be good!” You see, Justice begins his book with an excellent treatise on the criticality of passion in sports success. Had he begun his book any other way, it would have been just another how-to book on sports psychology. But he planted his feet in the concrete of what sports are all about, and made his stand. I was compelled to read further, and stayed up late finishing the book. Let me mention a few notable topics.
Sports are a team effort. You’ve all heard the slogans: “There is no I in Team.” “Machine.” “Division of labor.” Stuff like that. Point is, regardless of what sport you’re engaged in, you will need the support of all of your teammates, your coaches, your friends and family, even your doctor, physiotherapist, sports psychologist and nutritionist, for all are part of the team, and all share a common goal. Justice summarizes the research on the effects of team cohesion, and concludes that the “secret weapon” for all athletes is this sort of broad-based support. Each part of this base can be thought of as a spoke in the wheel. The more spokes, the stronger the wheel. These are the “technologies” of sports training.
Back to passion, as it seems that in order to be a champion, this is the one common thread spoken of by athletes and coaches alike. Justice quotes many. Here’s a few:
“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” -¬‐ Babe Ruth
“To be a champion, you have to learn to handle stress and pressure. But if you’ve prepared mentally and physically, you don’t have to worry.” –Harvey McKay
“There’s always the motivation of wanting to win. Everybody has that. But a champion needs,in his attitude, a motivation above and beyond winning.” — Pat Riley
“Which player is mentally stronger? Which player is going to fight the hardest in the big points? These are the things that determine who is the champion.” — Novak Djokovic
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” — Muhammad Ali
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides theca hampion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
The ability to play under pressure, teachability and attitude all hinge on passion. Justice points out that it isn’t just intrinsic elements such as DNA that go into creating a champion, it’s also these and other extrinsic elements. In fact, all of Chapter Three can be summed up in this little affirmation:
NOT commitment to excellence…
Rather, utter disdain for anything less!
NOT endless hours of practice…
Instead, PERFECT practice!
NOT ability to cope…
Rather, total domination of EVERY situation in life!
NOT setting goals…
Goals too often prescribe performance limits!
NOT doing what it takes to win…
Instead, a burning commitment to do what no one has ever done — or will ever do again!!
NOT need to achieve…
Instead, doing what it takes to EXCEED the bounds of mere convention
NOT force of skill or muscle…
Rather, it’s the irrepressible, sometimes explosive, force of WILL!
If you believe in and practice these things, then for you, winning is neither everything nor the only thing as the great Vince Lombardi once said. If you believe in and practice these things, then, for you, winning has become a FOREGONE CONCLUSION!
But if, along the way, you somehow stumble, PROFIT from the experience! Then, vow, by the power of Almighty God, it’ll NEVER happen again!
Justice goes on to discuss mental imagery — your “Highlight Reel” — and its importance in establishing both confidence in oneself and in perfecting techniques. If you can see yourself succeeding, you will succeed. Conversely, if all you can do is fail in your thoughts, you have work to do. This “visualization” technique has been used successfully by every champion athlete I have ever known. Justice breaks it down into five simple steps.
Goal setting in sports training is important according to much research. In addition to being motivational, carefully established goals provide you with benchmarks in systematically plotting and acquiring ever-higher levels of skill, strength or endurance. In establishing goals, one must be ever vigilant that they do not limit your upward path. “Even the best can do better,” Justice advises. You have to “be “SMART” about it:
SMART usually stands for:
S -¬‐ Specific (or Significant).
M -¬‐ Measurable (or Meaningful).
A -¬‐ Attainable (or Action-¬‐Oriented).
R -¬‐ Relevant (or Rewarding).
T -¬‐ Time-¬‐bound (or Track able).
Justice elaborates on short- and long-term goal setting, and exactly how to go about it. He points out that there are four kinds of goals:
• Outcome Goals (focus on objective results)
• Performance Goals (based on past performances)
• Process Goals (skills needed)
• Results Goals (these cannot be controlled, and often lead to undue pressure)
I found this section particularly fascinating, as I can’t remember ever seeing it so carefully laid out.
Confidence, courage and commitment — the three Cs — are attributes which have strong research support. Justice covers each in minute detail, as he does with the concept of mental toughness. Pressure, personal issues and self-criticism are factored in to one’s mental toughness, and Justice covers all of the tried and true coping strategies for each. It is simply amazing how one’s mind controls all of these psychological factors, and just as amazing how easily they can be acquired or eliminated. He proposes a five step approach:
1.1.1. Think carefully about what successes you have, not dwelling on past failures
1.1.2. Focus your attention to detail
1.1.3. Regulate your energy through breathing
1.1.4. Goal setting
A competitive advantage can be gained by sharpening your mental skills, not just your physical attributes. Managing anxiety to razor focus, people skills to positive attitude are covered in detail.
“Mind over head chatter” is part of the book’s title. In this section, which I found to be particularly insightful and unique — and hugely important! Self-talk, visualization, relaxation and breathing techniques are methodically addressed with the ultimate goal of getting you “centered” and “in the zone”. This attribute, centeredness and in the zone, is often fleeting, rarely mastered and extremely vital to championship level sports performance! Yet, it is achievable, so much so that once mastered, success becomes a foregone conclusion!
Justice explains, “Centering was first designed by sports psychologist Dr. Robert Nideffer and used by Olympic psychologist Dr. Don Greene back in the 1970s. The technique is designed to channel nerves in a productive manner to help the athlete direct focus when encountering any circumstances,and maintain focus, poise, and calm-¬-and quieting the brain’s unproductive ‘head chatter’.”
Well! When I read this, my mind went to the scriptures where it says (more than once), “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still, focus! Even in the midst of a storm! ESPECIALLY in the storm of intense competition! For, when you are able to do this, you WILL achieve a peak performance! You will be calm, the mindless head chatter comprised of a veritable flood of competing thoughts of past and future events (sometimes called “the monkey mind”) that most people endure throughout their entire lives will cease, leaving you with naught but the task at hand. It is only in the stillness of the NOW moment that this can be accomplished, just as it is the only way to know God. The head chatter is a sure sign that you are not in the present, but are in the past or future, with worry, anger, depression, fear and anxiety. These do not exist in the present moment, and are merely illusory. Now is all you have that’s real. THAT is where you must be. THAT is what focus is all about!
Justice elaborates on this important concept:
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to the present moment by ignoring distracting thoughts or feelings to your concentration on the present moment. Mindfulness teaches ways to be able to keep all your energy invested in your present moment, rather than having any of it get wasted on trying to get rid of or blocking unwanted thoughts.
Mindfulness can be learned, and Justice elaborates on the steps to achieving it through meditation, learning how to think by overcoming obstacles to thinking (there’s a long list of them), and mastering the mind chatter. For me, this was the highlight of this remarkable book!
Justice ended the book with a very moving discussion entitled, “We Are the Champions”. Several great athletes are highlighted in his closing section:
Bruce Lee, Wilma Rudolph, Dan Gable, Nadia Comaneci and Michael Jordan.
“What perhaps sets great athletes apart is they combined their talents, skills and passions to the nth degree and beyond-¬-showing the world, proving to us that all the beauty, the splendor, the perfection of athletics is indeed humanly possible-¬-and it is possible to have all that wrapped up in a single individual. Maybe the next one could be you.”