One of my business clients has had great personal and business success using my high performance strategies at work and in his recreational sports. About a year ago we discussed his 17 year old son, a hockey player, and some of the attitude problems he was facing in his career. His son was clearly on different wavelength than his dad, his mom, his coach, etc. When asked to work with me, his retort was that his coach was teaching him all he needed to know about high performance. Later that year, the young man was benched right in the middle of the first round of playoffs, an indicator that he might have missed a few lessons.
Most coaches would rather have a trainable athlete with limited skills and great attitude, than have to fight to motivate an athlete who has great skills and terrible attitude. Usually by the time an athlete is 12 or older, the coach finds he has little to say in the matter, except “you’re cut, benched or demoted.” Any attitude change usually has to come from the athlete.
We all have attitude—a mix of good and bad. Our past haunts us and helps us. Our formative years influence the attitude that shows up in school, work and play. We all have our challenges – how we handle them is magnified by our attitude. What worked poorly when we were kids, works poorly now. These attitudes are sometimes evident to us and, frequently, to others.
Changing attitude is a huge challenge for a number of reasons. Mainly, even though we might have identified that our attitude is getting in our way, we often refuse to fix the attitude because it is perceived to be someone else’s fault—our parents’, teachers’, line-mate’s—or our own fault—“I’m just an angry person and that is who I am, so get used to it.”
Imagine, instead, a scenario where you have no excuses or blame—for anything. No complaining. No whining. No hangdog. In the absence of blaming ourselves or others, there is only one person who can resolve the situation: us. It is very empowering. And with that kind of attitude, we’d immediately get on with fixing our game.
My children kept me honest and taught me much about how attitude is formed. Years ago I took my then five-year-old daughter skating. I laced up her skates and she hurried out on the ice. Before I had even finished lacing up mine, she was back beside me and smiling. “I didn’t fall once,” she said.
I gave her a huge grin and said, “Then you didn’t try hard enough.” She disappeared once again and came back minutes later and said, “I fell two times!” I smiled again and said, “Way to go; now you’re skating!” We ‘high-fived’ and she beamed.
My daughter falling—failing—is either my sadistic way to totally embarrass her, to totally crush her esteem by having her be mocked by her non-falling peers and to open her up to intimidation and emotional hurt—OR, it is my way of allowing her to build attitude and skill and resilience—with my smiling support—so that she could push her skill to new heights with flexibility, courage and strength, and have a willingness to get right back up over and over. How we handle falling as parents and coaches helps form the attitudes of our children. How we handle failing as athletes (repairing these kinds of blocks created as children) allows us be high performers.
One of my karate instructors had the attitude of “work ethic” practically tattooed on his forehead. He would come back from a competition and play with any attack that beat him until he understood it, could defend against it and could use it better than his opponent.
One day I was complaining (whining at age 35) about a deep bruise I’d gotten in a tournament. He overheard me and, very sympathetically, asked about it. I showed him the bruise. He reached out tenderly to examine it and then ground his thumb up to his first knuckle in it. I howled in pain, but we all had a great laugh. It was the last time I whined about a bruise. There are consequences to competing; get used to them.
I was lucky to have him to guide my attitude, and I began to train as he trained, to think like him, and, ultimately, to compete like him. I guess you could say I admired him enough to step into his shoes and to see the world from his point of view. Mostly I did it unconsciously, because that is how we learn as humans. However, I used an exercise to help me to make the modeling process even more deliberate. I wanted all the best he could offer me and the best that I could offer myself.
We all have the ability to do the same thing. Simply pick a negative attitude you would like to change, such as a tendency to beat yourself up after a mistake or a loss. Notice that it feels pretty awful—a state of mind I call the NO-Zone. Now think of three elite athletes (whom you have seen on TV or on You Tube) and notice how they handle adversity. Then imagine stepping into their shoes, and imagine handling your adversity in the same manner they do. Notice how that awful NO-Zone feeling starts to fade away.
Every time you struggle with any part of your sport, you have the opportunity to tackle your childhood attitudes head-on with this modeling process. Identify your attitude, pick your models, and step into their shoes. It is an on-going attitude improvement plan on your path to own the Zone, no matter what your sport.