3 parallels between the Aerospace Industry and Sport

Rocket

I’d like to start this Sport Mental Game Coaching year by sharing 3 parallels I made between my experience in the aerospace industry and sport.

  1. Be prepared and ready and focus on what you can control to boost your confidence

As a swimmer, I used to lack confidence in competition. And as I started my career as engineer and quickly project manager in the space industry and for the French and European Space agencies, I had that same lack of confidence at first. I built it with experience of course. But I noticed one thing. The more prepared and the readier I was, the more confident I was. When I had to present and defend a certain position, if I had reviewed all my technical points, prepared my argument, prepared for the questions that might be asked, I was feeling confident. If I was not completely clear, if I had doubts, if I had failed to analyze something, I was not confident. And the more I focused on what I could control (my analyses, my actions, my presentations, etc…) rather than worry on things I couldn’t control (what if something new shows up, what if someone doesn’t understand what I explain, etc…), the more confident I was.

This is the same in sport: if you are prepared (you know you trained well physically, technically, strategically and mentally, you rested well, you ate well), if you feel ready to just do what you have learned, if you don’t let room for doubts, AND don’t focus on what you cannot control (the other opponent, the weather, the referee, what people will think, even just the outcome), then you will be more confident.

  1. Differentiate yourself from your sport and performance

When you work on Rocket launches, you can feel like the whole launch’s success is in your hands…Even if you work on small part of the program, even if you are not the only one to check and validate. It feels like one error can lead to a failure. And it can be overwhelming. It feels like your whole life depends on what’s going to happen. So, I learned to differentiate myself as a person from my job and work. I learned to remind myself that I was just a guy doing his best, doing his part of the job, and that no matter what would happen, I would still be a good person, with another part of my life still there, with family and friends to care for and to be cared from.

When we are passionate and competitive, our sport can take all our mental space. And as soon as we lose, we feel like our whole person is a loser, failed, disappointed others. And it can be devastating, specifically at a young age. So, my invitation for you is to remind yourself as often as possible that, no matter what happens, your sport performance doesn’t define you. You are more than that and if you feel not good enough, that you are less than others, just know that this is not true. There are parts of you, strength, qualities that others don’t have, that may not be seen in your sport and performance and that make you an awesome person overall. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to improve and develop certain qualities and be ambitious, just that you should see the whole picture.

  1. Have Fun

I remember difficult times when we had to work late and hard to clear a launch. It can be draining on the long run. Bringing some fun helped recharge, stay motivated and focused and move on. Even in the tough times, you want to allow some moments of fun, to take the pressure of.

This is the same in sport. If you forget to have fun, you won’t last. If you forget to have fun, you won’t even play at your full potential. If you forget to have fun, what’s the point in training so hard?

Take care,

Self-Esteem, Perspective and Perfectionism through an inspiring Golfer-Puppy Story

Lexi Thompson by Keith Allison

Lexi Thompson – Photo by Keith Allison

I recently read an article in the NYtimes about how Lexi Thompson, the leading American in the women’s golf rankings with a six consecutive years L.G.P.A. title streak, came back to her best after a slump with the help of …. her puppy.

Lexi Thompson had a complicated 2017 year, losing majors, suffering from social media pressure and dealing with personal issues in her family. She also had body-images issues leading to more stress. All this accumulated and led to a sort of burn-out.

When she started to come back, she took her new puppy companion, Leo, “a fluffy six-month-old, five-pound Havanese and miniature poodle mix” with her on the course. Here are 3 takeaways from this story that you can find in full HERE:

  • Self-Esteem comes from within, not from outside. The only way you’ll ever be truly happy,” she wrote, “is if you love yourself first” referring to her body-image issues and quest to look like fashion and fitness models. Build your self-esteem internally rather than just and always seeking external social approval. And know that it takes time and practice.

  • You need to separate yourself as a person from your sport performance. Your sport performance doesn’t define who you are. You are more than that. No matter what happens in the sport arena, you are a valuable person, a human being, doing his/her best, having family, friends, pets to love and to be loved from, going through life like anybody else. As Thompson said referring to her puppy: “No matter what I shoot, this guy is giving me kisses”. I really love this. It also reminds me of the Tennis Player Mischa Zverev who is used to watching his mum in the stands each time he makes a big mistake, because, he said, she is always smiling. Even if he is doing this to refocus (great example of a personal unique way to refocus), this also relates to the need to be reassured and know that even if we fail/don’t perform, we are still a valuable and loved person.

 

  • You are not perfect and that’s OK. As mentioned in the article: “It was instructive, Thompson said, to recognize that she loved Leo all the more because of his unruly ears, something others might see as a defect. On some level, it helped her realize how silly it was to invest so much energy in fixing or hiding flaws. “Yeah, exactly,Thompson said.I mean, everybody has imperfections. We’re all not perfect and we have to own it. Own it and love who you are.” It’s easy to say and yet so hard to really embody. I know it, I’m a perfectionist…

 

So, what are you taking away from this story?  What/Who is your “puppy Leo”?

Take care,

TRUST, CONFIDENCE, TOUGHNESS in Sport

Trust Confidence Toughness

One athlete recently shared with me 3 words she regularly reminds herself of: Trust, Confidence and Toughness. I thought that was a great example of Power Words.

I love these words because they capture many different things all together (which, by the way, may not be exactly what these words meant to this athlete):

  • Trust: it captures the fact that at some point you need to commit yourself to the unknown and to the fact that you cannot control everything. It helps being OK with whatever happens and being detached from the outcome.
  • Confidence: it captures the more inward feeling of believing in yourself, based on what you have previously accomplished and on what you know is true about yourself despite your inner critic and negative thoughts.
  • Toughness: yes, sport is tough. Whether it’s physically through the pain of pushing oneself, through contacts in some sport and through injuries, or mentally when pressure is high and a lot is at stake, during downs in results, when being on the bench in a team sport etc… Being OK with the toughness of your sport will help better deal with it.

Other power words, depending on your personality and on what you may want to improve, could be Relax, Focus, Fun, Energy, Ease.

Words may mean or remind different things to different persons. Pick whatever words which resonate with you and help you be at your best. And really feel and embody their meaning (as opposed to just think about them): if you are reminding yourself of confidence, really embody that, remember your past peak performance to reinforce this feeling, not just believe, know you can make it. If your power word is Relax, really relax physically (your muscles) and mentally (create some space in your mind, slow down etc…). If it is Energy, you may for instance feel a warm and yellow/orange light in your body or sensations of being energized.

Just be creative with your words and feelings. And remind yourself of your power words when practicing, preparing or competing.

So, what are your Power Words?

Take care,

Evan

How to adapt to a higher level of pressure

Photo by Humberto Santos on Unsplash

Corentin Tolisso is a French midfielder playing for the Bayern (Munich). He was very good during the month before the 2018 world cup and arrived in Russia being in the French starting team. But he didn’t play well on his first game against Australia (France Win 2-1) and, as a consequence lost his position in the starting team for the rest of the competition.

Why didn’t he managed to play the way he was on the month before the world cup? “It was my first game in the World Cup he said, I need to play more relaxed, as I did in the games during the preparation, I need to be more focused”.

This sentence says it all. The exact word he used is actually “libéré” which in French means freed. It means that he has to get out of the mental prison that pressure (from playing for the first time in the World Cup) is building around him, that he has to be free to fail, free to trust his skills, to feel confident, to feel that he belongs, so that he can then focus on what he knows and play at his best.

Any athlete will face new levels of challenge, new levels of pressure throughout his/her experience in sport. For some, any normal game is bringing some uncomfortable pressure, for others who are in their comfort zone at a certain level, going to the next level (middle to high school to college, from one league to a more competitive one, from amateur to pro, etc…) will bring a higher pressure due to a higher level of competition, to being like a newbie again, needing to prove oneself, to be accepted and all this will impact their confidence.

Here are some tips to adapt to a new level of pressure:

  • When getting to a new level of competition (new league etc…)
    • Accept the fact that you are in a new situation, that’s OK
    • Accept that there might be some time to adapt; focus on observing (yourself and others), learning and improving specific details rather than on needing to be perfect, worrying about what other people might think about you and on the stress that it might generate.
    • Trust your skills and that you will adapt

 

  • For the most important games/meets of a season:
    • Play/Race the same way as if you were in a usual, familiar, low pressure event. Be as relaxed and as freed, detached from the outcome, focused on the process and the task at hand.
    • Approach every Game/Race the same way, with the same mindset, with the same routine This will help you brain feel safe (vs emphasizing that there is something different which, for the brain, means danger). Michael Phelps once said in an interview: At the end of the day, a meet is a meet, I warm-up the same way, I warm down the same way, I have the same attitude, behind the bock, as I do in any other race. If approaching big meets as a not important one is too hard at the beginning, you may want to approach not important meets as if they were a big one.
    • Practice techniques like mental imagery, positive self-talk, deep breathing, etc.

Simple, but not so easy.

Take care,

Evan

Equanimity to avoid the roller coaster of emotions in sport

Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash

Equanimity is usually defined as a mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain (calmness; equilibrium) but also under positive emotions. It is the ability to keep the same state of mind no matter what happens, negative of positive.

Rafael Nadal is a great example. He takes his career very seriously, is super motivated, highly competitive, hard-working AND, he accepts whatever comes, without being attached to it, good or bad. He is never in the excess. Here is what he said last year after coming back to his best level and winning his 16th Grand Slam:

“I’m not someone who has lots of emotional ups and downs. When I am in a negative moment, I don’t go very low. And when I am in a positive moment, like today probably, I don’t believe I’m the best. When everything is going well, stay calm, when everything is going wrong, just keep working on what doesn’t work. In the end, I’m very much normal”.

Well, not so normal. What he takes for granted is what has helped him go through the ups and downs of his career, to stay grounded in the face of success and to keep motivated in the face of adversity (injuries, personal issues). 

Why is it important?

If you are riding the roller coaster of emotions, you lose energy and focus, you react (rather than respond) to what happens, it prevents you from working consistently, and it gives you a stressful experience. You get more and more addicted to higher and higher ups, and fear more and more the downs.

Counter intuitively, if you want to be more resilient and bounce back after setbacks, in addition to working on this specific skill, you also have to work on the way you react to success and positive experience. If you make it the only important goal, if you get so attached to it that it becomes the only rewarding and satisfying experience, then as soon as you won’t have it (and it will happen), you will feel frustrated and you’ll drop down on the roller coaster. On the contrary, if you put it into perspective and see it as an outcome among any other outcome, then you won’t be so attached to achieving it. This will help you with all the other mental skills, like dealing with nervousness and being free to fail which are often linked to high expectations, with being resilient (how to bounce back after setbacks), or having fun. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious, competitive, wanting to be the best, work hard to get there, and enjoy and celebrate your wins, but just that there is more than the outcome, that you can’t control everything but you can control how you respond and that your experience will be better if you accept what comes, good or bad. So simple, but not so easy. There will always be some sort of roller coaster in your emotions but you want to make it like a kids roller coaster rather than the biggest one in the world.

What can you do to develop equanimity?

  • Learn to enjoy the process (playing, swimming, running, practicing, competing, outdoing yourself and doing your best, improving a skill etc.) even more than the outcome.
  • Practice accepting whatever comes, good or bad. You may want to try to respond the same way in all cases (like a routine): notice what else there is in your life, what you can learn from the experience, what you can celebrate (even in failures) and what you can improve (even in wins), etc… This will help reduce the gap in how you feel with opposite outcomes.
  • Be motivated, competitive, enjoy and celebrate your wins but don’t be attached to them.
  • Remember Nadal’s quote: When everything is going well, stay calm, when everything is going wrong, just keep working on what doesn’t work.

Take care,

Evan

Why staying composed in sport is important and how hard is it – Serena Williams’ example.

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If you follow tennis, you have probably seen or heard of Serena Williams breakdown during last Grand Slam US Open final. At 6-2, 1-0 for her opponent, Serena got a 1st warning for being coached from the stands by her coach (through signs and gestures) which is not allowed and which he didn’t deny after the match, saying that he had never been warned for coaching in his career and that every coach was doing this all year long. Serena apparently didn’t see the gestures of her coach and went toward the umpire: “I don’t cheat, I’d rather lose than cheat” she told him. She took this warning personally, as an attack to her own integrity.

She later smashed her racket furious of having lost an advantage and got a 2nd warning. After the minute rest, she again spoke to the umpire: “this is incredible. I wasn’t coached. I don’t cheat, I have never cheated in my life, I have a daughter and I defend what’s right, you ow me some excuses”.

Later in the game, still upset, she aggressively told him: “You attacked my person. You have insinuated that I cheated. You’ll never referee one of my matches again. You are the liar, You ow me some excuses. Say it, say it!”. She then treated him of “thief” and finished with “don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me”. She eventually got a 3rd warning, which meant a penalty with 1 additional game given to her opponent. Serena couldn’t believe it and further exploded, broke in tears and finally lost the set and the match.

My point here is not to blame Serena and give lessons to her. She is a great champion who has accomplished an amazing career with 23 Grand Slams and she was on her way back after giving birth to her daughter and aiming at that 24th Grand Slam that would place her at the 1st place with Margaret Court so there was a lot at stake in this final. My goal is to point out a few lessons from this event:

  • First, even great champions may have a hard time to stay composed. So, don’t blame yourself when you don’t stay composed. It’s hard simply because we are humans and have emotions. Now if you keep bursting out, breaking down, not controlling your emotions and don’t work on it to improve, then you can blame yourself.

 

  • Second, when you are ruminating negative thoughts, your energy and attention goes there and not on your task, on your strategy, or in your body. Negative emotions are a huge energy drain. If your overall energy and focus is like a plastic glass full of water, it’s like having holes all around that will empty the glass very quickly. So, if you don’t manage to refocus on the task and keeps these thoughts in your head and emotions in your heart, you’ll have less energy, less mental focus and play worse. You’ll lose control of the game. It’s better to let go of it for now and come back to it after the game.

  • What could you do in this situation?
    • First, get prepared: imagine something similar happens, and choose how you want to Respond (instead of React). What do you want to remind yourself in that moment? Visualize yourself responding the way you want.
    • In the moment, you can remember the 3Ps: Pause, Process, Proceed.
      • Pause to not being pulled in this vicious circle of negative emotions (just a few second give some space to not react and enable a clearer thinking of the situation),
      • Process what would be the best way for you to respond: what is triggering you? what are the consequences of such response?, etc…
      • Proceed with how you chose to respond.
    • Refocus on the task and let go of these thoughts and emotions. It’s not easy and you need some anchors and triggers to make it a new habit. An easy start is just to take a few slower than usual breaths and repeat “I inhale calm(or composure)” … I exhale tension (or frustration or whatever the word is for you)…”. There are also some more advanced emotions management techniques I usually teach my clients to ease that process and that impact the heart rate directly, not only the “mental/head” part of it.
    • Practice, practice and practice. Knowing something won’t serve if you don’t practice. You need to reset your automatism and that happens only by practicing, not (only) by reading a blog post 😊

If you want to improve your mental and emotional games, reach out to me for a complimentary introduction.

Take care,

The importance of Resilience in Sport

Rafael_Nadal_(19047517620)

One of the 8 mental skills I identified in the WOMP (Wheel of Mental Performance) is Resilience and is usually known as the capacity to bounce back after a setback, whether it is after a loss or a bad performance (going into the next game or next competition) or during a game after a mistake or bad play, or when being led by the other team.

A more general definition I learned from the Heartmath institute is that Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity. This definition was made in relation to stress and emotions management but can be used in a more general way. It emphasizes the fact that we can:

  • Prepare for some situations in order to better RESPOND when facing them, rather than just REACT to what happens.
  • Adapt in the moment when a stressful or challenging situation arises
  • Recover from a setback and not let it impact our future performance

During games and competitions, through a season, a high school or college period, or through a whole career, there will be hard times, there will be downs, with lost games, poor performance, and injuries. Having the capacity to accept it and to move on will make the difference between those who sustain on the long run and those who quit or lose faith, determination and energy.

 Here are a few examples of a strong resilience:

  • Short term resilience: I recently gave an example of resilience during a world cup soccer game Here.

 

  • Long term Resilience: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all had to deal with injuries in the past years and with the loss of confidence that often comes with it. All of them were resilient enough to continue to work and believe in themselves despite their inability to play at their best for months and even years,  not winning any Masters or Grand Slam, being eliminated early in tournaments, going down in the world ranking. And they are now back at their best level (Nadal won 2 Grand Slams in 2017 and 1 in 2018 and is world number 1, currently in semifinal at the US Open; Federer, world number 2, won 2 Grand Slams in 2017 and 1 in 2018, Djokovic’s come back is more recent and after winning Wimbledon in July, is in semi-final at the US Open)

 

  • Injury related Resilience: Ait Said, a French gymnast aiming at an Olympic gold medal, after already being unable to participate to the 2012 Olympics due to an injury, broke his leg on the first day of competition during the 2016 Olympics when landing after a jump. Can you imagine the frustration, the desperation of such a thing? It means as far as Olympics are concerned, which is the main objective in gym, that it’s 8 years lost! Well the next days, from the hospital where he had had surgery, here is what he wrote on social media: as soon as I am back on my feet, believe me, we’ll go back to training and go for the gold! (in the next Olympics in 2020). If his body is sometimes weak, his mental is unbreakable.

Here are a few things you can do to build your resilience:

  • Short term resilience (on the spot, during a game or competition)
    • Prepare for scenarios where you make a mistake, or take a slow start, or don’t feel physically well, and decide how you want to respond in this situation.
    • Find a mental trigger to let go of the mistakes you make. Some golfers might grab a handful of grass to represent the bad play and throw it away, as a symbol that it’s gone; some soccer players I coach use a word like “Refocus”.
  • Long term resilience:
    • Don’t generalize a past poor performance (the past doesn’t predict the future), remember times when you performed well, and find evidence that you can perform better in the present and in the future (more training, better preparation and readiness, etc…)
    • Look for stories about athletes you admire and what they overcame, and use them as an inspiration when you are going through tough periods.
    • Use positive self talk
  • Injury related resilience:
    • Use the time when you are injured to work on things you usually don’t have time to, like other parts of your body, or strategies, etc.
    • Use specific techniques like mental imagery to work your moves or keep your mindset positive and prepare your come back.

If you want to seriously improve your resilience or any other mental skills with specific techniques and support, contact me to learn about my different options.

Learning from the World Soccer Cup: the importance of Resilience during a game

Gol_de_Pavard

On the way of France team to their final Victory in the soccer World Cup, the game against Argentina (France 4 – Argentina 3) was the shifting moment of their competition, the match during which they built (or confirmed) the confidence that nothing could stop them, even a tight game against Belgium (France win 1-0) and a suffering against a brilliant Croatia in finale (France win 4-2).

During this game against Argentina, France was led 2-1 at the beginning of the 2nd half time and that’s when right back defender Benjamin Pavard chose his time to make an “out of the blue” goal that put the team back on track at a crucial moment. This goal was a little bit irrational to some people (see video HERE). However here is where it came from according to Pavard:

“It is rare that I attempt such a shot, even in practice. I like the move but I never do it. I felt a little guilty on the 2nd goal from Argentina (he led to the free kick and also made a small mistake on the goal itself). I had to react, to not give up, show that I was mentally tough. My objective was to make an assist pass or score a goal. When I hit the ball, I told myself to hit it not too strong and aim at the goal. If I hadn’t been at fault on the 2nd goal of Argentina, I might have not gone that up the field” (and been in the position to score).

This is a great example of resilience. Instead of ruminating his mistake and getting distracted by these negative thoughts, he used this mistake to motivate himself (intention to make an assist or a goal) and to be even more focused on the task hand (where to go on the field, focusing on his gesture while hitting the ball etc…)

Next time you make a mistake or have a bad time during the game, here is what you can do:

  • Let go of the mistake, it belongs to the past
  • Use that mistake to motivate you even more
  • Refocus on the task at hand and not the outcome of the game

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How to keep your kids/athletes motivated? (for coaches and parents)

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Motivation is a key mental skill that I identified in the Wheel of Mental Performance. I already wrote about how to sustain your motivation as an athlete and in this post, I want to address how to keep athletes motivated (for coaches and parents).

If you want to improve your athlete’s motivation, you have to start to understand what motivates them (win, have fun, be part of a group, be fit, please parents, etc…) and what makes their motivation to drop (lose, have no or little fun, being excluded, stagnating, etc…).

There is no one size fits all strategy. As a coach or as a parent, specifically when being oneself a former athlete, it is hard to let go of one’s personal motivations and the desire to transmit that. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be part of the process but that there should be no attachment to it being necessarily the right and only way.

Tips to improve your kids motivation:

  • Find what motivates demotivates your athlete. Find their individual Why and for team sports, provide the team’s WHY.
  • Adapt to each athlete, keeping in mind their unique greatness: challenge the ones who need it, make smaller tasks for those who need to reinforce their feeling of being successful etc…
  • Be inspiring (tell stories), show enthusiasm and walk your talk
  • Adopt a Growth mindset (effort and possibility oriented, anyone can improve in anything through effort and determination) rather than a fixed mindset (results oriented, “you are good at this” or “you are weak at that”). If they identify as bad, they will be de motivated, if they identify as naturally good, they will be completely disturbed when they face bigger adversity with better opponents and at the next level (High school, College, higher league etc…) and this might demotivate them.
  • Focus on the process (following a strategy, doing one’s best, etc…) rather than on the outcome of the games (win or lose) and celebrate small (and of course big) achievements.
  • Be mindful of external rewards as they might make the athletes to play for these rewards and not for the fun and enjoyment of their sport
  • For parents: it’s hard but try to be more of a cheerleader than a coach

So, how motivating will you be?

 

How do you sustain your motivation as an athlete (or in any other part of your life)?

Motivation 1

Motivation is one of the key mental skill of the The Wheel of Mental Performance.

It can be seen as the internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to an activity and to make an effort to attain a goal. Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors such as the:

(1) intensity of desire or need,

(2) incentive or reward value of the goal,

(3) expectations of the individual and of his or her peers.

How do you sustain your motivation when the road seems long and monotonous, during the less exciting period of the season, during the tough winter time, when you doubt or when the results are not there?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Find and understand your Why: the first and key factor in motivation is to understand why you are doing your sport and what you want to get out of it. And then remind yourself of this Why when feeling demotivated.
  • Early on, make the decision to CommitThe power of commitment is huge, this is what will really keep you on track each time you want to just give up. It has to come from within. It is saying to yourself that no matter what, you will continue to work toward your goal.
  • Set up Intermediate Goals that seem closer than the big end goal.
  • Create an Inspiring Vision and visualize it every day. It will keep it fresh at the top of your mind and help go through difficult times.
  • Create a Positive Outlook: focus on the positive rather than complaining, find opportunities in every difficulty or set back, focus on and celebrate small achievements.
  • Practice being Focused and Relaxed as it will ease to stay motivated
  • Vary your work outs to avoid monotonous training and avoid to be bored and make it Fun (for instance, set some intermediary fun goals/meets)
  • Get some Support, whether from the coach, your friends and family, etc…
  • Build a Sport/Life balance: vary your interests, socialize and meet with friends, eat and rest properly, get appropriate support, have an open heart, take some time to pause and reflect etc…

So, how motivated are you?