Archive for Performance Psychology

S.C.R.A.M. Goal Setting

Goals drive us to become better, and knowing how to set them can make a huge difference. Our Sport Performance Psychologist Dr. Chris Carr uses the acronym S.C.R.A.M. to help with proper goal setting.

Specific

Setting specific goals is the first step. For example: if you went to the gym, a very specific goal would be to do three sets of 8-10 repetitions at 90% of your max weight. That is much different than saying “I’m just going to go lift some weights today.” Start with specific goals and it will be easier to maintain your focus throughout.

Challenging

A challenging goal pushes you. It’s not something easy like, “I just want to get through practice”, but it’s also not something so challenging that reaching it doesn’t seem realistic, even at your best. Challenging goals should push you just past what you’re comfortable with, but don’t push you so far that you’ll be frustrated if you don’t accomplish them.

Realistic

Being realistic with your goals simply means you understand your best. You are aware of what you’re capable of and set goals based on that standard. No one person or athlete is the same, so understanding your best is essential to goal setting.

Adjustable

There are unforeseen road blocks that can pop up while in pursuit of our goals. Sometimes the gym is shut down, you get a minor injury or something else requires your attention. Make sure you can adjust your goals and have plans in place in case your ideal conditions change.

Measurable

Lastly, goals should be measurable. At the end of a workout or competition you should be able to know if you did or didn’t achieve your goal. If you didn’t, don’t consider it a failure. Simply re-adjust for next time based on what you learned.

 

 

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A Mindset of Sacrifice

Traveling with USA Track and Field during this year’s world championships has allowed me to learn a great deal from the athletes in a unique environment. During preparation for the championships I sat down with Kara Winger, a three time Olympian and the American record holder for javelin. I asked her several questions about what athletes sacrifice and was fascinated with her response.

I specifically asked: “I am amazed at what athletes ‘give up’ or commit to. What do you think of when talking about commitment to your sport?”

She responded with this:

I’ve always been very intrinsically motivated, so when I think about commitment to sport, it’s about bettering myself and not a whole lot else. People get wrapped up in discussing the sacrifice of athletics, but I’ve never seen it as a burden. To me, it’s an opportunity to do something totally weird and different than you ever thought you’d be up to, see the world, and challenge yourself in ways you don’t expect. Maybe it’s partly being 31, but I’ve always loved lots of sleep, I enjoy feeding myself well, and I like to measure my improvement in anything, not just athletics. It’s not a difficult commitment in my mind to see if I can be the best at something, and I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that friendships formed and experiences gained along the way make the effort that much more worth it. 

The only things I feel like I give up are time spent with loved ones in the summer and outdoor adventures that I long to have someday. But I’ve also learned to prioritize time with loved ones when I have the opportunity (off-season and holidays). Smaller-scale outdoor activities help me recover from sport, mentally and physically, so I work those in too. I don’t think everyone gets to figure out that time is precious this early in life, but I truly have sport to thank for that, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Instead of focusing on the sacrifice that she has made she is clearly focused on the reward that she gains by the profession that she has chosen. Athletes at this level give up so much. They always are eating, sleeping and living with performance in mind. I know several that set an alarm so that it reminds them to go to bed on time, clearly conflicting with activities in the evening. We often don’t see this type of commitment because we are not living with them on a daily basis.

Personally, I have now been on the road approximately 18 days of a 25 day trip. This is time away from my family that I cannot get back, but I am inspired by Kara’s words. I also had an amazing moment on this trip when Amy Cragg placed third in the women’s Marathon. She is the first American woman to win a medal at the marathon distance since 1983. I was honored to hand her the flag at the finish line.

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Mental Prep: Gain the Edge Before You Compete

Spending hours on the field and in the gym are certainly going to help you improve, but one of the most neglected areas of training is the mind. So before you step into the arena, spend some time preparing away from practice. Here are two areas to focus on:

Composure

“Butterflies” really do exist for everyone and are completely normal. What’s important is how you manage them. Physical strategies such as relaxation or deep breathing techniques can work, as well as mental ones like self-talk, an inner dialogue to remain positive and confident.

The way we think, feel and speak to ourselves is impactful on our performance. Be aware of your own inner dialogue and use statements that are confidence-builders.

  • “I am prepared.”
  • “I am knowledgeable.”

Avoid statements that add pressure or lead to worries about the outcome.

  • “I have to nail this!”
  • “If I don’t do well, then…”

The key to composure is to keep your thoughts focused on the present and what is within your control.

Visualization

Confidence does not come from the absence of pressure or adversity, but rather knowing you have the tools to perform well despite these challenges. Your confidence level stems from a variety of sources – past performance, preparation, goal achievement, feedback from others, and self-talk.

Another chief confidence-building tool is visualization.

Just as a driver in the Indy 500 will imagine the opening laps of the race before their ignition is even fired or a quarterback imagines the routes the receiver will run before the ball is snapped, you, too, can visualize the scenarios in which you will perform.

Imagine yourself performing calmly, assuredly and successfully. What does your goal look like? Visualize yourself performing in a way that achieves it. Highlight what you did to make that happen.

Most importantly, have a plan for how you will practice and implement these skills!

Your perspective ultimately determines how you “perform.” When the pressure is on, mastering these skills will allow you to be better composed and more confident, which will set-up the success that follows.

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Brain power: tips to mentally prepare for competition

Great athletes put in hours practicing, eating right, and sleeping for success. The best athletes, however, also spend adequate time harnessing the power of their minds. Sports go beyond physical capabilities, and often wins and losses can be traced to mental strength. Here are some tips from our very own Dr. Chris Carr regarding mental preparation:

  1. Begin your imagery of competition the night before; visualize success, great plays and victory.
  2. Focus on deep breathing during the ride to the event.
  3. Use music to focus and visualize making great plays.
  4. Keep your thoughts on the present…one play at a time.
  5. When you have distractions in your mind, create some type of release by visualizing yourself destroying those distractions.
  6. Write down a cue word that you associate with your own optimal performance and have it on your wrist or someplace easily accessible for reminders.
  7. Use the same routine before every game or competition.
  8. Love the game and enjoy playing.

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Dr. Arnold On the Road With USATF; Part 3

Last weekend the SVSP crew traveled to New York City for the 110th running of the historic Millrose Games. The event was filled with another list of great American athletes, many coming off a successful Rio 2016.

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The week had challenges waiting for us right away because of the weather. Ten inches of New York snow threw a wrench into our travel plans. After a few re-routed flights and a medical emergency at baggage claim prevented taxis from getting to the pick-up zone, I was finally able to catch a ride and head to the venue. Other athletes weren’t so lucky, like Brenda Martinez, who was scheduled to compete in the 800 but was forced to turn around on her flight to NY.

After all of that I was quite tired and it made me wonder how the athletes deal with these types of distractions. How do they focus? Most people that travel frequently deal with these things all the time. For athletes it is no different, and there are potential distractions everywhere. Late arrivals, fans seeking autographs, no space to warm up, or a forgotten item actually happen to world class athletes.

Leah O'Connor

Leah O’Connor

At this meet I had the opportunity to reconnect with Indiana’s own Waverly Neer, who has recently transitioned into a professional runner. This was special for me as I have cared for her since high school and followed her career through many steps. Having access to her I asked her a couple of questions about her transition into professional running and where she draws her motivation. I also asked her how she finds focus:

What motivates me? I’m motivated by a variety of things in this sport. While I’m no longer running to score points for a team or chasing championships, in a real sense, I still have teammates in my new training partners. I’m motivated by their strengths; which sometimes are my weaknesses. Seeing them excel in a certain workout or a race shows me that things I personally find difficult can be done, and done well. At the same time, I’m motivated to give my best effort during workouts for my teammates because I want to be a positive contributor. And on top of all of that, I’m motivated by other runners and the high level, exceptional performances that pop up throughout the season. Things recently that stick out to me are Abbey D’Agostino’s story over the Olympics, Evan Jager taking home the silver, and any time Ajee Wilson races. I’m inspired by the people who are moving the sport forward, because at the end of the day they are human beings that work hard to relentlessly pursue their dreams. For me that’s relatable, and entirely motivating. 

 How do I focus? I think this is an evolving process for the sheer fact that life circumstances are constantly changing. Whether it’s big (moving to a new location to train), or in comparison small (it’s windy or cold the day of a big workout), as athletes we constantly have to frame and reframe our mindset to meet the demands of a workout, a race, and even life. I find what works best for me is to focus on the things I can control, and that usually boils down to just my attitude and my effort. Rather than dwelling on the negative things that pop up, or the “distractions” around me, I try to channel my energy towards creating a positive mindset and putting forth my honest best effort that day. I’ve found when I do that I’m best able to zero in on the one thing I’m really seeking to accomplish, and that’s to be a happy, healthy, speedy runner.

Find your way to focus. You will certainly have something distract you. Find something that helps you forget the issue. This applies to race day of course but I believe it also applies to training. Training with something bothering you may be limiting you from tapping into your potential. Turn the distraction off, work on the training, not the problem.

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How to Achieve Your Goals

Whether you’re going for a gold medal, state championship or you just want to lose those last 10 pounds, you need a healthy set of goals to get there. It’s relatively easy to set them, but achieving them is a whole different monster.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “The reason most people fail is they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.” So how do you achieve what you want most? By understanding the difference between outcome and process goals.

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Outcome goals are pretty straightforward: they’re the endgame. They’re the goals listed in the first sentence. Improving your record time, running a half-marathon, becoming an All-American. Those are outcome goals. That is what you want most, and it’s easy to set those without a plan in place. Enter process goals.

Process goals are what you need to do on a daily basis to accomplish your outcome goals. Getting up early to run, eating a salad instead of pizza, doing an extra set of push-ups, spending an extra hour after practice shooting. Those are process goals, and those are the goals that often get brushed aside. Those are the goals we fail to accomplish when we fall into the trap Napoleon talked about. The more we focus on process goals, however, the better chance we have of accomplishing our outcome goals.

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There’s one more thing to understand before setting out to conquer your goals: motivation. The best and most durable motivation is internal. This comes from within you and fuels the drive you need to accomplish your process goals. Being the best version of yourself, being better than yesterday, getting to another level on the playing field. Those are internal motivators. Wanting your name in the paper, looking like a million bucks, winning that coveted award. Those are external motivators. Sure, motivation comes from those things as well, but only the fire from internal motivation lasts when you don’t want to get out of bed.

Shift your motivation internally, attack your daily process goals and watch your outcome goals get closer and closer to reality.

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Brace Yourselves: Winter is Coming

It’s inevitable in this part of the country, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The weather becomes cold, the days become short and those holidays allow for easy overeating. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to counteract the fitness doom and gloom of winter.

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Plan Ahead

If you’re not prepared, winter workouts (or lack thereof) can eat you alive. Formulate a plan of attack to stay in shape, and stick to it. Write your plan or schedule down, and check things off when you accomplish them. They can be as easy or hard as you like, just get in the habit of sticking to your schedule.

Utilize Your Surroundings

There are plenty of workouts you can do with no equipment needed. Our Jeff Richter knows plenty of awesome cardio workouts you can do in the warmth of your living room. You don’t have to go to the gym everyday if you use your surroundings well.

Be Accountable

It’s easier to be motivated in the summer sun when beach days are prevalent and outdoor activities are endless. Having someone hold you accountable to your goals can go a long way in the winter time. Accountability is a must when it comes to your winter diet as well. After all,  slacking off is tougher when someone has the opportunity to call you out on it.

 

Your fitness doesn’t have to fall behind when the temperature drops. Create a plan, utilize what’s around you, and don’t fly solo. Stick to it, and come January, you’ll already be way ahead of the curve.

 

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[Free] Running Education Series

Prepping for the Mini Marathon or another race this spring? Looking to learn more about running? SVSP is offering a FREE Running Education Series. Beginning January 13, the eight week series will cover all aspects of running from the physical to mental.

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Our Licensed Athletic Trainers and doctors will discuss how to avoid knee and hip pain and reduce your risk for stress fractures. Sports dietitians will share tips for proper meal planning and the importance of good nutrition. A sport & performance psychologist, and avid runner, offers advice on mental toughness and training your brain for a good race. Plus, you’ll get to try an AlterG Treadmill and zip into Normatec Recovery boots.

It’s all free and located locally at St. Vincent Hospital in Carmel. Register now!

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Superstitious Young Athletes

Lucky socks, tying your shoes a certain way, stepping over the foul line, putting your gloves on left hand first, then right hand, rally caps… Superstitions abound among young athletes. Are they good? Are they bad? What can a parent do to help a child with useful pre-performance routines? Kacey Oiness, Ph.D., HSPP, a Sport & Performance Psychologist at St.Vincent Sports Performance is here to answer those questions and more.



Kids often develop superstitions in an effort to create consistency in performances and feel as though there is something they can control each time they compete. Therefore, encouraging kids to develop performance routines can be useful, as it can allow them to identify things that are within their control that can contribute to success. You can assist your child in creating pre-performance routines that contribute to performance such as healthy behaviors (i.e. a good night’s sleep, eating healthy, etc.), as well as incorporating mental skills that lead to greater levels of confidence and an ability to maintain composure (i.e. positive self-talk, relaxation strategies, visualization). By encouraging them to develop a routine that facilitates their performance, you are giving them a way to feel a sense of control and consistency, without necessarily having to turn to superstitions.

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Superstitions, however, can be a part of sport and are not necessarily bad. But it is important to be cautious about allowing an athlete to depend  on their superstitious behaviors. Flexibility is key: if an athlete is unable to perform an aspect of their performance routine or engage in a superstitious behavior, it is important for them to learn to refocus on things that are within their control moving forward. When an athlete has difficulty moving past the idea that they have to engage in a superstitious behavior, that is when it can become harmful. The more you can assist your athlete in developing useful physical and mental performance routines and reinforce flexibility in that routine, the more beneficial it will be to their athletic performance.

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When Should Athletes Work with a Sport Psychologist?

It is valuable for any athlete to work with a sport psychologist to develop a structured mental skills routine. Whether the athlete is performing well, or experiencing decreases or plateaus in their performance, a sport psychologist can provide all athletes with mental skills that can help lead to their peak level of performance. Sport psychologists also work to assist athletes in coping with outside stressors that can negatively impact their performance.

Things to look for:

  • Inconsistency in performance
  • Lack of clearly defined goals
  • Differing levels of performance in practice versus competition (not performing well under pressure)
  • Excessive nervousness prior to and/or during performances
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty controlling emotions when playing (i.e. anxiety, anger, frustration, etc.)
  • Negativity directed at oneself or others
  • Focusing on things that are not within their control (i.e. weather, the other team, etc.)
  • Lack of, or decreases in, motivation
  • Low levels of confidence

Athletes going through any of the following could benefit from working with a sport psychologist:

  • General mental health disorders: anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders
  • Conflict with coaches, parents, or teammates
  • Outside stressors (i.e. academics, social relationships, etc.)
  • Injury
  • Signs of substance use/abuse
  • Disordered eating/body image concerns
  • Sleep difficulties, changes in appetite

Lastly, it is important to answer the question, “How do I know if they are qualified to help me?” Identifying who is qualified to work with athletes is an important step in getting them the resources they need for success. Identify licensed mental health professionals in your area with a specialization in sport psychology. Mental health professionals with a counseling or clinical psychology background will be able to assist athletes experiencing a wide range of things, including both sport performance challenges and general mental health concerns.

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